SUSTAINABLE ARCHITECTURE in a Different Perspective

January 29, 2020

Sustainable Development is a development which meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs. This definition is given in the "Our Common Future" report commonly referred to as the Brundtland Report. But I like the two very old statements which convey the meaning very well when the word Sustainable Development was never used in the present sense. The first one is by John Muir in the late 19th Century - "Not blind opposition to progress, but opposition to blind progress". The second one is attributed to the Father of Nation Mahatma Gandhi made in 1909. - “The world has enough for everyone's need, but not enough for everyone's greed.

Photograph of the "Quiet by the River", a resort in Ernakulam district designed by us. Click the image to visit the page.

 

The architecture of each place develops according to its climate, culture, materials available locally etc. Generally, our buildings from the past are much more sustainable than even the platinum-rated buildings (the so- called "green buildings") that are being built today. Our "vernacular architecture" is more suited to the climate, culture and society, while the so-called modern buildings can follow the same style and they look the same whether they are in Brazil, Europe, Egypt or in India. Some of these glass buildings in a hot climate let in all the heat and then we use "green methods" of air-conditioning and still the energy consumed by these buildings are so high which make them unsustainable.

The Photograph shows the Anantya Resort which has been designed by us.

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Sustainable Architecture will vary according to time and place. What is sustainable in Assam, may not be sustainable in Kerala or in Rajasthan. Bamboo buildings might be common in Assam, but in Rajasthan, this might have to be transported for a long distance.

 

What was sustainable in the 1970s may not be sustainable fifty years later in 2020s. During the last 35 years, the cement price has increased 15 times, while the labour rates have multiplied 30 times. The equation has changed. Then how can we measure "green architecture" based on certain points all over India and classify them as platinum, gold, silver etc. The architecture I know is very complex and it has many dimensions such as physical, psychological, social, cultural, political etc.

Photo is that of the interior of a house we have designed.

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What sustainability are we talking about, if our buildings can last only twenty-five years?

 

I have talked to many building professionals and none of them believes that concrete buildings will last for more than 75 years considering the bad quality of workmanship. The World Bank in a study has said in 1992, that unless our buildings are used for at least 75 years, we are never going to solve the housing problem.

 

When 100 new buildings are constructed, 50 sound old buildings are demolished. No wonder that the number of families (not people) without a house in India has increased from 25 million in 1984 to 50 million families now, despite all the developments which have been made in India. As Laurie Baker said, "it is a shame to the building profession that we had allowed these numbers to increase". Although the Government of India thinks that houses will be given to all by 2024, we don't have enough resources to build these houses in concrete or steel.

Photo is from the project "Once Upon a Hut" designed by us.

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What sustainability are you talking about when every third building develops leaks within ten years of its lifetime?


You go to any building exhibition, the stalls are occupied by the kitchen and bathroom companies. The next is by the construction chemicals companies. None of these chemicals can replace good craftsmanship. But unfortunately over the years, the quality of workmanship has come down drastically, thereby the durability of buildings is also suffering very badly. A study done in the UK in the early 1970s has shown that one-third of the government buildings built with concrete is leaking and it was referred to as the "Flat Roof Scandal" by the Architectural Review magazine in 1972.

Photo is from the project "Vishram on the Sea" designed by us.

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What is sustainability when the buildings which are built for the tsunami victims do not match their social & cultural requirements?

 

When we talk about sustainability, it is not only the environmental sustainability that is important but also the economic and socio-cultural sustainability.

 

Mostly, the kind of architecture that is being done today looks only at the technical aspects. The social and cultural aspects are being neglected and it is a balance that is required. The solutions that are proposed shall look into equity, livability, accessibility and viability. One has to look into the different dimensions that architecture is able to influence, so as to avoid its failure.

Photo is from the project "Vishram on the Sea" designed by us.

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"Poverty is the greatest pollution", said Mrs.Indira Gandhi, the former prime minister in 1972 in the UN Conference on Human Settlements. She linked poverty and environment. 6% of the world’s population consumes more than 35% of its resources (an old statement, but still valid).

 

When the book "Limits to Growth" was published by Club of Rome in 1972, the resources were seen as limited. Now the waste disposal has become a very serious issue in addition to the limited resources. Roughly the construction and maintenance of the buildings account for  global warming and climate change. The problem is around the corner and it is high time that the building professionals need to look at these things from a different perspective. I am attaching an image showing statistics of the per capita emission of carbon emissions. An average American produces 16.1 tonnes of carbon emission while an average Indian produces 1.9 tonnes per capita. If this 1.9 Tonne becomes 16.1 Tonnes, the issue will be very serious. For some of the highly populated countries such as India, China, Indonesia, Pakistan etc. (500-600 crores), the figures are low when compared with the developed countries (100 crores). In one way, it is the poverty of the poor nations in the world which is preventing global warming and climate change.

 

Many reports say that climate change is a man made problem. Out of 700 crores people in the world, only 100 crores are responsible for it.

 

To blindly follow an international sustainable architecture in style is dangerous. We need to look into our own roots and native architecture to find the solutions. Building construction accounts for 25% of the virgin wood and 40% of the raw stone, gravel and sand used worldwide each year. Globally, buildings consume 16% of the water, 40% of the energy used annually, and close to 70% of the sulphur oxides produced by the fuel combustion are produced through the creation of the electricity used to powerhouses and offices. (Dimson, 1996)

 

So far architects and planners seem to ignore climate change. They still work in two dimensions. The third dimension sinking of the land and water rise is not taken into account. The fourth dimension TIME is ignored as well. The world water will look different in 50 years from now.

 

Much of India has a tiny environmental impact per capita compared to the west and their examples of green design.

Photo is from the project "Vishram on the Sea" designed by us.

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Criteria 1

 

Architecture should be reversible.

 

Any technology which uses cement and concrete will be irreversible. Once it is done, if the building is to be dismantled, it produces waste materials. Timber, brick walls with lime or earth mortar, steel structures are reversible.

Photos are from the project "Casa Rojo" designed by us.

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Criteria 2

 

Conservation of Energy and Resources

 

The architecture should use lesser energy materials and renewable materials. Steel, aluminium and cement are very high energy-intensive materials. Generally less energy-intensive techniques and materials such as lime, earth, athangudi tiles, timber, bamboo etc. are more labour intensive. In a country like India, where cheap labour is available, those techniques can be used. This will have the dual advantage of reducing construction-related carbon dioxide emission as well as generating employment.

 

Criteria 3

 

Recycling of Materials

 

Using parts from demolished buildings (demolition shall be the last resort) will be less energy-consuming. Reusing old doors, windows, bricks, roof members, roof tiles etc. can all make the building more sustainable.

Photo is from the project "Anantya Resort" designed by us.

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Photos are from the project "Vishram on the Sea" designed by us.

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Criteria 4

 

Architecture shall be suitable for the climate.


Local and traditional methods that had evolved simple and successful means of achieving climatic comfort were ignored in many of the buildings being built now. Large areas of glass were employed in all climates – whether the climate is hot or cold.

Photo is from the project "Dakshinachitra" designed by us.

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Photos is from the project "Vishram on the Sea" designed by us.

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Criteria 5

 

Architecture shall be suitable for the social and cultural aspects of the people.


Western modernity is a consequence of western social, economic and industrial circumstances and has its own short-comings. It is neither affordable nor indeed relevant to the economic, social and cultural needs of the rest of the world.

Photos are from the project "Chapredi Village" for the earthquake victims in Bhuj designed by us. Click the image to visit the page.

 

Criteria 6

 

Conservation of Crafts and Technology

 

Many traditional techniques are on the verge of extinction. Most of these can be used even today. Athangudi tiles or Chettinad tiles is one of them. It does not need any firing or use of  electricity. Completely handmade. There are many more techniques and materials which are sustainable.

 

Most traditional arts and crafts depended on architecture. Even now there are people who can do these although their number is small.

Photo of the Athangudi tiles are from the project "Vishram on the Sea" designed by us. Click the image to visit the page.

 

Photo of the Athangudi tiles are from the project "Thanikachalam House" designed by us. Click the image to visit the page.

 

Criteria 7

 

Conservation of Old Buildings

 

Reusing an existing building, (instead of demolishing it and replacing it with a new one), is very green and a good way to conserve energy. Conservation uses 40% lesser amount of materials and is usually labour intensive.

 

Rehabilitation of 2-3% of our housing stock means perpetual employment in building trades. Infrastructure investment is reduced and the greenfield is preserved. A Study done by US Energy Information Agency says that buildings constructed before 1920 are more energy-efficient than those put up between 1920 and 2000.

 

A Study done in the UK shows that it takes 35-50 years for an energy-efficient new home to recover the carbon expended in constructing it.

 

No matter how much greener technology is used, still, it makes an impact on the environment. The greenest building is one that already exists. Conserving our historic cities is smart growth and we can have a smart city only then.

Photo is from the project "Conservation of Mangala Heritage" designed by us. Click the image to visit the page.

 

Photo is from the project "Conservation of Paliam Palace" designed by us. Click the image to visit the page.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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