Back to the past, for a stable future

The vernacular architecture of yesterday is the net zero carbon building of today.

It is now nearly proven that to relook at our past, pick sustainable ideas of every region and apply them appropriately during construction makes more green sense than many other material and technology driven solutions. The vernacular architecture of yesterday is the net zero carbon building of today. If so, returning to the past could be the ultimate solution towards a sustainable future. Of course, we all know, this sounds too simplistic for our times have drastically changed, the quantum of construction has grown manifold beyond the reach of traditional methods and in many areas the local materials or expertise could be in short supply.

However, if we observe our reactions to the past, we realise that not many fingers are pointed to the past saying traditional ideas are invalid, indirectly suggesting that the problem could be lying in applying and operationalising them. At the deepest level, however, we need to understand that the root cause lies in nobody patronising the spirit of the past today.

Overhead tank

A simple example could be to narrate the story of the overhead water tank. Traditionally, they were built with bricks, plastered and painted. Of course, there were issues such as leakage if they were not properly constructed. When the PVC tanks appeared in the market, the brick tanks were relegated to the backseat quoting examples of leakage or construction time, which actually need not be the core issues. Incidentally, the PVC tanks cannot be fully cleaned, water gets hot during summers when actually we desire it cold, create a problem if the pipe joints leak and are not necessarily cheaper. Yet, today we see PVC tanks everywhere!

During the complete cycle of the product, numerous people are involved starting from the raw material suppliers and manufacturers, carrying and forwarding agents, stockists and wholesalers, sales agencies and retailers, and finally, builders and installation team. Everyone needs a share in the profit chain; hence each one aggressively promotes the product through printed brochures, sales personnel, trade discounts, websites, promotional gifts, event sponsorships, newspaper advertisements and every other means available. What counts here is the sales figure and not carbon emission or embodied energy counts.

It is the same story with lime coat vs. chemical paint coat, mud block vs. cement block, oxide floor vs. vitrified floor or digging an open well vs. drilling borewells. While we know all about brick tanks, lime, mud, oxides or open well, with no one talking about them, it’s but natural that they get relegated.

No dearth of ideas

There is no dearth of eco-friendly ideas and construction options that could be discovered from our local tradition which can compliment the recent research findings, modern design ideas and new superior materials. No one argues for doing only what our ancestors did, and the need to blend the past and present has been widely accepted. To that end, traditional concepts also need to be popularised and local materials also need to be promoted.


Posted on January 14, 2012, in designs and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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