Terrain matters


Building with ecology in mind
| Photo Credit: Sathya Prakash Varanashi

How many of us common people consider climate as a critical factor for survival?

Climate change has been among the major issues globally discussed during the last 25 years, roughly when IPCC or Intergovernmental Panel for Climate Change reports, CoP or the Conference of Parties (conclave of world leaders and experts) and green buildings’ movements began. The most recent CoP held at Egypt also continued with dismal performances and promises. 

the construction industry contributes up to one-third of GHG or green-house gases, which cause global warming, hence the climate change. One bag of cement generates up to 10 bags of waste, causes around 7% of GHG, and together with steel emits up to 15% GHG. These two with 4 more products viz. glass, aluminium, plastics and chemical paints form the 6 construction materials lethal to Mother Nature, yet are widely used.

Many people today are aware of these implications, yet are not aware of actions and solutions in design, architecture and building industry. This essay lists a few ideas that can be implemented.  

1. Regional design approaches

Design typologies around the site would have evolved from the context, hence from nature. Not that there were no problems in historic designs, but they were resolved as ideas progressed and buildings were time-tested for performances and efficiency.  Ignoring the past, and blindly following modernity is a tragedy of our times. 

2. Site-specific plans

Travel around our state or nation, modern buildings are looking alike with no respect for context. How can the same plan be equally effective in Mangaluru and Meghalaya? Ecological buildings have to be local without any exception. Land gradients, orientations, soil types, water matters, wind flow, solar heat and such others have to decide the design, not we people. 

3. Contextual construction materials

Every material is available everywhere today, of course at the cost of nature due to transport, wastage and mismatch with local climate. Traditional buildings with local materials had low embodied energy, least cost, ease of building, climate conformity and available skill-sets.

4. Minimise manufactured materials

Technology has enabled mass production of a few materials, achieving lower costs. Coupled with ease of transport, they are dominating the construction industry. Globalisation introduced branded goods from abroad, further harming the idea of energy efficiency in construction.  Most of these materials have created a new image or the imported new images have demanded such manufactured materials, together making buildings an enemy of nature. Produced goods have to perish one day while natural ones stay on. 

5. Recyclability

Nature lives on regeneration of plants, life cycle of animals, repetition of seasons and essentially speaking returning to earth periodically. Unfortunately, our manufactured construction materials follow none of these rules. Cities are witnessing increasing demolition of buildings, with landfill as the main mode of disposal, though the debris is a valuable reuse material. However, building with construction waste is easier said than done mainly because the present approach does not consider it as a possibility at all.   

6. Varied plan typologies

Among the major myths about eco-friendly buildings is the notion that using natural wall materials achieves it all. Yes, it helps a lot, but in totality eco-designs have to start with the plan itself. Our elders mostly drew square or rectangular plans, sub-divided them into smaller rectangles calling each one as a room. Be it a house or a school similar approach was adopted, with corridors or courtyards inserted as needed, yet most such plans were functional. But nowadays, too many rigid plans are being drawn up, making the building a box, which cannot necessarily be ecological.  

Ecological architecture as a theme is picking up in a few cities, but far and few. Presently more visible in residential, recreational and a few institutional architectures, it surely is a path towards safer and sustainable future. 

(The author is an architect working on eco-friendly designs and can be contacted at

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