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Make room for ecological architecture

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How many of us are aware of some critical data, pointing at the possibility of human race going extinct? 

Post industrial revolution, our only home, the Earth, has become warmer by over 1 degree centigrade; PPM or carbon particles per million has crossed 400; erratic winds, rains, heat and snow have come to stay. Seasons have lost their temporal senses, with depletion of natural resources continuing unabated. 

Human actions are causing all these disastrous phenomena, which can be mitigated only by human actions. Construction is among the major human activity at the root of climate change. We may not individually be able to stop the crisis, but can collectively follow a few climate considerations and design policies to reduce the energy consumed in building construction. 

Designing for climate: It’s a paradox to listen to people appreciating our traditional houses that are cool, strong and long-lasting. Of course, we know the reasons — they were climate friendly, being contextually located to the immediate parameters of light, air, heat, glare, water, humidity, rain, sound, dust and such others. Every one of these impact how we live with nature, with health, happiness and content. There is a myth that designing with climate cannot create attractive, grand or magnificent architecture. It is time to de-mystify the myth.

Efficient construction systems: Despite many advances in technology, popularity of stagnant and conventional construction options is one area where architecture lags behind. Thousands of vernacular and rural typologies have been erased, which were eco-friendly by default. Exciting new ideas have been invented, but the majority builds with mainstream RCC pillars, cement blocks, plastering, chemical painting and the standard concrete roof. Simple changes in the present approach can create miracles.

Minimising embodied energy: The sum total of earth resources and energies consumed in the site preparation, material attributes, construction, maintenance and disposal of a building is calculated as the embodied energy of a building. It’s a term comparable to carbon footprint. Needless to say, lower this figure, more eco-friendly is the construction. To that end, calculations may be needed, but even intuitions can help design better. 

Life Cycle Analysis (LCA): LCA is closely connected to embodied energy, the difference being more focus on post-construction rather on pre- and during construction phase calculations. Most decisions in architecture rely upon construction budget and capital expenses, rather on maintenance costs and operational expenses. The real impact buildings make on nature gets usually ignored. Using cheap materials and ineffective construction systems do more harm in the long term. 

Minimising air-conditioning: Strange but true, air conditioners are among the villains of nature. A technology invented to refrigerate for material durability, today A.C. has been promoted as a necessity. It saves us from sweating or shivering, but makes mother nature sweat and shiver, called today as climate change. All that an air conditioner does is to throw indoor heat outside, hence our outdoor atmosphere gets warmer. Also count in electricity (produced by non-renewable coal) consumption, technology shifts, machinery obsoleteness and the whole industry revolving around A.C. to realise the terrible impact it does to earth.

Build less: Construction industry contributes more than 30% of total greenhouse gases emitted, with unabated activity in all parts of the world, but for few poorer nations. Developing countries like India are building faster and more than ever in its history, promoted by rapid urbanisation, infrastructure development, surplus income, and social image. The result is avoidable quantum of constructions, while we need to build only what is needed. 

Though environmental concerns have been around for over half-a-century now in the west, its criticality has been realised only during the last two decades or so. Of course, India is hugely lagging behind both in this awareness and remedial action. A larger part of data, analysis, research and solutions towards sustainable architecture and construction continue to be ignored by all — owners, engineers, designers and builders. We are no way near constructing without destroying, despite using terminologies like eco-friendly designs, net zero building, sustainable architecture, regenerative designs, among others. 

The clock of extinction is ticking fast, we need to slow it down or even stop it. 

The author is an architect working on eco-friendly designs and can be contacted at varanashi@gmail.com



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