For natural designs

People scoff at buildings with natural materials but realise their value later

To think and feel green is in itself a socially responsible attitude and this sense is what is going to help people get into the eco-build mindset. Ecological, sustainable, green buildings are much discussed in the media today. The factors that make up all this is an impossible gather of ideas, owing to the magnitude of the subject. More so, ‘going green’ is area specific too, making one rule be a misfit elsewhere. Therefore, local wisdom would be a vital factor to be considered in the green principle guide.

Plan-designs or materials, the multiplicity of choices can overwhelm one into hurriedly choosing some wrong ideas. Just what is it that commoners need to know for having a socially conscious, responsible building?

This basic sense is what the new column ‘Green Sense’ in PropertyPlus is trying to attempt, while making one understand simple principles that go a long way in adhering to sustainable practices.

Why do people take all the trouble to design against nature and then struggle to live with all the problems, must be among the top questions of our times. Most builders and designers believe that it is difficult to design with nature or even with natural materials. Of course, it is a myth, like many other myths about eco designs.

Professionals may not agree in public, but it is a fact that designing a house is half-based on common sense. There is a designer within you, I and everyone, for all animals have been endowed with an impulse to create a shelter. Look at those lovely nests of the weaver bird, tall anthills of termites and the little bowl dug into ground by the street dog.

We all manipulate our immediate surroundings to intervene with the harsh climate around us to protect ourselves. However, while protecting the self, no animal damages the context. Only we the human beings know both — how to design and how to damage. The former is necessary and the latter avoidable.

Only a myth

Natural materials often last only for a short period, leading to the myth about their negation in construction. Some minimalist processes can infuse longevity in mud, turn them into burnt clay, with which Harappan structures were built and can be seen even now thousands of years later.

A simple admixture of cement and stone dust stabilizes mud into a strong material. Treated wood can last for ages, as proved by millions of specimens of timber architecture around the world. Durability of stone need not even be mentioned here. Strangely, well-maintained thatch roofs too have lasted many generations. If so, why do people scoff at buildings with natural materials?

“Eco-friendly buildings are for the economically poor” is a statement I heard about a decade ago. Though it was shocking to hear this, it reminded me about how people initially rejected Laurie Baker’s low-cost designs, but when his designs became iconic, sought them “at any cost”!

Air conditioning is not an indicator of affordability, but of lack of effective planning; high life cycle cost may not be a matter of pride, but of continuing financial drain; and we place exhaust fans in toilets because we design such that the foul air refuses to exit. Incidentally, if we can save money by being eco-friendly, why not?

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Posted on May 8, 2010, in designs, fundamentals. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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