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  • Writer's pictureBenny Kuriakose

Western Style Construction Influence On Climate Change and Extreme Heat Effect

Climate change will have an impact on every area of our life, including the structures around us. The environmental circumstances in which the structures are supposed to function are fundamentally changing as a result of climate change and global warming. Climate change poses an existential threat, and buildings are a major contributor. This blog discusses the impact of modern construction on global warming and climate change, and vice versa, as well as the construction mistakes we made and how to move ahead.


List of Contents



1. Western-Style Construction and its Influence In India


There has always been a tendency in India, due to our post-colonial mentality, to look to the west and to try and imitate western modes of living. So, there has been widespread adoption of western architectural styles that we have copied and pasted across our landscape, forgetting the values of indigenous building practices. For instance, my father was very proud of the fact that his house, built in the 60s, in our village in Kerala, was one of the first concrete flat roof houses in the village. You can imagine how a building like that fares in a region with torrential monsoons and hot, sweltering weather. The house is almost uninhabitable, turning into an oven in the heat and leaking constantly when it rains. The funny thing is that even half a century later, people don't seem to have learnt that, maybe sloping roofs, built with locally sourced materials and with adequate sun shading, might be the best solution. Unfortunately, this is not what we are teaching in architecture schools and people generally think that looking to the past for ideas is not the way forward.


2. Concrete - A Major Cause of the Global Warming


I am genuinely worried about the extreme heat we have been experiencing and worried about how future generations will live in this heat. It is hard, not to be shocked at the large, tall glass-covered buildings being put up across the city. I think people often look towards the Gulf States and the west when designing and building these tall buildings and rely on technological fixes when combating the heat. What we have to understand is that " technology " cannot compensate for poorly thought out design.


Another big issue which contributes to the heat is the lack of tree cover and how we in India are taking the approach of covering up large swathes of land with concrete and asphalt. I think this has a detrimental impact on the climate as well as biodiversity. I don't think this is purely an Indian problem because I was in Aarhus, Denmark a couple of years ago and noticed that a lot of their seafront development had done the same thing. They have just covered the surface with concrete, but I guess, Denmark right now has fewer problems with heat. So it seems like wealthier countries are making the same mistakes.


We have to understand that the built environment and its related construction is one of the major drivers of the global warming which is happening today. It has become a reality, affecting the present generation too. The effects of global warming are being felt much faster than expected.


3. Mistakes in Construction and Material Choices


I think there are mistakes being made with regards to planning as well as material choices. I think one of the biggest issues is our over reliance on concrete, and in this too, we have looked to the west but not learnt from their mistakes. We know it's unsustainable, we know it's not terribly long-lasting, but it's cheap and most people are not posing viable alternatives to it.

We know that concrete roofs exposed to the sun and rain are not durable and develop leakage over a period of time. At the same time, our age old timber roofed - sloping roofs with clay tiles can easily last for more than a century, especially with the modern know-how of science and technology.



 Old Timber Sloping Roofs  in Panicker House, a century old Nalukettu  conserved by Benny Kuriakose & Associates
Old timber sloping roofs in Panicker House, a century old Nalukettu, conserved by Benny Kuriakose and Associates

4. Solutions - The Way Forward


I think where we differ a lot from other architects is that we have been working with conservation of old buildings and we take a lot of our lessons from that.


Kottapuram Chapel Conserved by Benny Kuriakose & Associates as a part of Muziris Heritage Project
Kottapuram Chapel conserved by Benny Kuriakose and Associates as a part of Muziris Heritage Project

Abdul Rahiman Sahib Museum Conserved by Benny Kuriakose & Associates as a part of Muziris Heritage Project
Abdul Rahiman Sahib Museum conserved by Benny Kuriakose and Associates as part of the Muziris Heritage Project

Calicut House In Dakshinachitra transplanted and conserved by Benny Kuriakose and Associates
Calicut House In Dakshinachitra transplanted and conserved by Benny Kuriakose and Associates

A simple tiled sloping roof not only provides water protection, but it is also excellent at quickly radiating heat off due to its low thermal mass compared to a concrete roof, and if designed properly with overhangs, it prevents the walls of the building from picking up heat. I think something as simple as that would help us deal with this extreme heat, but it's not what you see, when you look at new developments around the city.



Huliekere House designed by us has simple tiled sloping roof to protect the walls from extreme weather.
Huilekere House designed by us has simple tiled sloping roof with overhangs to protect the walls from extreme weather.

Another thing is how important plants and trees are to our buildings because not only do they contribute to our well being but they help purify our air and reduce heat to such a high degree, and this is something our ancestors knew very well.


Puthran and Sima residence in Velacherry  adorned with lush plants and trees landscaping.
Puthran and Sima residence in Velacherry adorned with lush plants and trees landscaping.

5. Conclusion


The fusion of modern construction techniques with traditional ideas is what we have been trying to perfect over the years. The wide regional variations within a state in India is something we must learn to appreciate, and learn from, and adapt to a modern context and our contemporary ways of life.


New Model Coir Society conserved as a part of  Alappuzha Heritage Project
New Model Coir Society conserved as a part of Alappuzha Heritage Project

We recognise that the varied materials, climate, and culture in India are sufficient to provide us with varied ways of designing and constructing unique sustainable buildings and we wish to challenge the way the modern construction industry operates.


The Tharian house surrounded by lush foliage and  covered by a sloping roof, a distinct feature of Kerala architecture .
Ninan Thariyan house surrounded by lush foliage and covered by a sloping roof, a distinct feature of Kerala architecture .

For more information on the sustainability in architecture, visit the link links given below:

3. Sustainability Lessons From the Traditional Building Materials: https://www.bennykuriakose.com/post/sustainability-lessons-from-the-traditional-building-materials



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