Monthly Archives: November 2010

Let the air flow in and out

There were times when a small opening would be provided below the roof of rooms to take out the foul air, but most builders have discontinued that practice

A different take: Taking the window opening up to the roof bottom will work wonders

The statement that a big central window is necessary for better air movement is a big myth. A room with one side window, however big it is, gets least air since there is no provocation for air to enter or exit. When we plan for air with opposite openings, there would be more windows than walls in the room.

While air gets in, heat gets trapped as well. Slowly we realise, our house however well planned, is climatically uncomfortable. Then starts the usual appreciation about how cool the grandma’s house is!

So, what do we do? Typically, Bangaloreans would argue how the city has grown with tree cutting and more vehicles; hence resign to the fate of living in a heated house.

Most rooms have 10′ feet clear height with lintels at 7′, leaving the top one-third area without any openings. There were times when a small opening would be provided here to take out the foul air, but most builders have discontinued that practice. Also, the air just below the topmost roof gets warmer with no escape, in turn creating a zone of stagnant air.

Air lock zone

The easiest way to prove this air lock zone is to put on the fan – for quite some time the breeze we get is warmer and foul. It takes part of an hour depending on the room volume to ensure complete air change.

So, what do we do? We live in the so-called garden city of India, but crib about the rooms getting stuffy, with inadequate fresh air.

Designing for a cool house is among the simplest of common sense ideas our past generations followed, during the days of no electricity. It also ensured understanding air. The major challenge is to take out the foul air, the air we breathe out, the air affected by our body temperature and the air heated at the roof zone.

A few openings just under the roof achieve this purpose, termed as displacement ventilation. Modern aesthetics do not appreciate these pigeon hole-like voids! For nearly 15 years now in our firm, we have merged this vent with the window, taking the window opening up to the roof bottom. It has worked well.

The second major need is for body-level air movement. Air moves from windward directions, where air pressure is high, to leeward areas where pressure is low. However, in a city with compactly placed houses, predicting these air currents is difficult. Hence, we can simply provide multiple but small openings distributed across the external walls. To this end, every room should have at least two sides as external walls. In smaller plots, often, it is not easy to achieve this.

Slightly staggering the setbacks with varying widths, where the house wall projects or recedes, helps in ensuring more external wall positions. We can then have windows to more directions — to north, south, east or west.

Placements matter

Corner windows bring in more light and brighten up living spaces

How often do we think, where do design ideas come from? It’s curious to know that a majority of routine ideas are picked up from what we see everyday around us. Hence, Jayanagar in Bangalore or Kalkaji in Delhi exhibit similar characteristics within their individual neighbourhoods. While plans could differ as per the user needs or external elevations worked out for attraction, elements like openings are placed as per local practice. There was a time when such practices were based on local climate, but for decades now, windows have a default setting!

Windows, being less understood, especially in residential buildings, have been simply repeated by everyone. No wonder, nearly all houses have big rectangular windows in the centre of walls in all rooms. They start at between 2 or 3 ft. called the cill level and go up to 7 ft. called the lintel level. When alternative positions are designed for windows, most often, they are dictated by external looks rather than ecological considerations of light and air.

Rethinking on central windows

In Indian contexts, openings in the centre of the wall bring in tremendous glare, reducing the faces of people sitting in front into dark silhouettes. They also create darker corners, of course by comparison to the amount of light in the centre, making the room look smaller. Most activities like sitting, hanging wall paintings or placing a chest of drawers need these central areas, now blocked by the opening.

Since we get only one window in the centre, we tend to make it larger, sometimes up to 6 feet wide. This would demand more seasoned wood, heavier lintel beam and multiple shutters that collide against each other.

By enlarging the windows, only cost doubles, without tangible benefits.

Let us look at windows in the wall corners. If a 6 ft. wide window is split into two parts with each located at wall ends, they create multiple opportunities for air current within, viewing outside and sourcing light. They throw light on side wall and ceiling, enhancing the reflected light component. So, for the same area of window, we get more light. When the room corners are brighter, we tend to perceive it as a larger space. It is only psychological, contributed by better daylight factor. If a wardrobe is required in the corner, the opening gets shifted, however keeping the window in the wall corner. The corners are anyway used for small stools, telephone stand and such others, which do not get affected by the opening.

If potted plants could be placed in these lit-up corners, not only they grow well, the indoor air quality also gets enhanced.

Windows to new ideas

Having the right design for windows and placing them at the right location impacts the internal ambience

An essay on windows could be written to mean many things: being a metaphor or a philosophy; as a new vista and an idea; or simply as a building component with glass shutter. How this word has graduated beyond its physical presence can be a story by itself!

Incidentally, there is a whole new world within the idea of windows to be discovered, a world of living with nature and being eco-friendly. All that hype about big glass boxes arising in our cities and the new talk about green architecture are also centred around windows.

In a tropical country like ours, designing and locating the opening has critical impacts on both the internal environment and ambience.

Most people complain about day heat, foul air or lack of privacy in their buildings. Once built, we tend to retain the building with all its deficiencies, adopting ourselves to it and of course complaining as well!

For their information, a few minor changes in window types or positions could have mitigated the problems noticeably. To that end, it is important that even before starting the construction, we give a considered thought to all the openings in the building.

Lack of thought

Most windows, across all building types, are being located by some routine practice, evolved over the decades for reasons we do not fully know or question.

Offices have large openings in the centre of the space, schools have small windows spread at equal distance from each other and houses have openings measuring 3’x4’6” in all rooms irrespective of it being a living room, dining room, bedroom or study room! There will be more windows to the road side and less to the back.

And in small plots with houses packed next to one another, as my architect friend Bindumadhav would quip, we can open our windows and close the neighbours!

Simple Living: Let the light flow in and create a wonderful mood

Over the years, material options for windows have trebled with UPVC, composite frames, ferro-cement and such others adding to the list of wood, aluminium and steel. Each claim merits over the others, with near universal applicability.

Windows cost many times more than the masonry wall, yet the cost escalation possible by changing the material gets mixed up with the overall, hence ignored.

Unfortunately, no manufacturer provides clear guidance about where not to use a specific window type. Even the type of glass offers options for greater efficiency, which are mostly ignored.

Cost, climate, comfort and culture, as the four critical parameters of design, influence the ideal window.

There could be no single solution to it unlike say lintel beams, but better understanding about what a window should be, can lead to greener buildings.

How many RCC lofts do we need?

A ground or lower-level shelf can do the same function at a lower cost

Being practical: Go for smart storage spaces

There are few things we accept in a new house construction without blinking our eyes. The RCC lofts seen at 7′ level, also called the lintel level, is surely one among them.

It all started following the introduction of RCC during the last century. Lofts are projected from a beam in the wall, which also double up as the lintel beam above the window. Commonly, this lintel is run all along the wall, forming a continuous lintel. The idea became popular, for one could have a loft slab anywhere since the lintel beam is all around. So, the triad of RCC at 7′ level formed by flat chajja, lintel and loft came to stay, irrespective of how much of this RCC is critically necessary, apart from the time lost during the casting.

Earlier, all that we could provide was an occasional wood plank projected from the wall with two angular wooden brackets supporting it. As such, the RCC lofts have become so popular that no room goes without one or two of them.

Friend or burden?

Knowing our tendencies towards piling up junk, it is no surprise that lofts have become our dear friends. Yet, occasionally, we better question how many lofts we need. How often do we store heavy items which need a RCC slab? If we continue to collect over the decades, how many more lofts we may need? Even if we can cast them all today, how many of us can lift such weights up to the 7′ height?

Would a ground or lower-level shelf perform better than these high lofts? What about the dust collected and cockroaches housed? Between eliminating junk and eliminating RCC lofts, which option should we choose?

RCC lofts are a rigid addition within the walls, which force kitchen cabinets or wardrobes to fit into their levels. With a variety of options available for such interiors, often the lofts become an obstacle.

Storing without costing

It is curious to realise that even without a RCC slab atop, the top level of any wardrobe can be used for storage, hence act as a loft!

The cost of slab can be saved, that could partly pay for the wardrobe cost! The kitchen lofts are less accessible while standing in front of the kitchen platform; as such, lower-level cabinets are more comfortable any day.

Separate store rooms are possible if space and budget permit. If exclusive RCC slabs are desirable, the best location would be above toilets or passages, simply supported on side walls, with a minimum clear height of two ft.

Going green starts with minimising and eliminating unwanted consumption of construction materials. All of RCC that goes waste at lintel level could be a testing place to check out this principle.