Given the magnitude of the construction sector in India, we should have explored much more and reduced the habit of blind repetitions and thoughtless manipulation of mainstream design ideas.
Research and development – R & D – is such a commonly used term today, it can be found in every form of media in some context or the other. From cookware to cars, from sewing to seeds, we attribute the improved condition to the R & D that would have backed up the related efforts. As such the issue of research on sustainable buildings is an expected question, but unfortunately without a convincing answer. It is not that we have had no research; many institutions in the past and even now are engaged in measuring and monitoring data on buildings, giving new insights. It is a feeling that for the magnitude of the construction sector in India, we should have explored much more and reduced the habit of blind repetitions and thoughtless manipulations of the mainstream ideas.
Among the pioneers in this field in post-Independence India was the Central Building Research Institute (CBRI) at Lucknow. With fairly good funding, CBRI actually built demonstration units, and explored varied hypotheses about light, air and costs. A group of visionary civil engineers at the Indian Institute of Engineers, Bangalore, initiated ASTRA, abbreviation for Application of Science and Technology for Rural Areas. This simple motto led to pioneering research on mud walls, arch roofs, vaults and domes, besides relooking at vernacular designs for modern applications with their work still continuing under the name Gram Vidya.
The unique settlement at Auroville, though started with the spiritual blessings of The Mother, turned out be a world laboratory on alternative designs and constructions. A heaven for students and learners, people keen on exploring cost-effective, eco-friendly and energy-efficient models even today flock to Auroville. The Energy and Resource Institute or TERI has commissioned, collated and contributed a wealth of information towards sustainable buildings. Among the recent entrants has been the Indian Green Building Council or IGBC which certifies buildings under varied LEED (Leadership in Energy Efficient Designs) ratings, based on the overall efficiency the building achieves. Internationally there are many centres that collate specific data and reach it out through the Internet. INBAR, which works for bamboo buildings, is a case in point.
Many government agencies have been spearheading the challenge of ensuring eco-friendly buildings, the leaders among them being Bureau of Energy Efficiency or BEE; Centre for Science and Environment or CSE; HUDCO; Building Centres or Nirmithi Kendras; Departments for Renewable Energy and such others. Also we find many private initiatives like COSTFORD, Laurie Baker Building Centre, and Hunnarshala Foundation taking up the cause of cost-effective ideas.
Architecture and engineering being a consultancy-based profession, most of the expertise is acquired by actually doing a building. As such, we have a wealth of information spread over thousands of individual professionals, not fully documented and disseminated. Together with the institutionalised centres of knowledge, we have enough data to change the way we build. Most of this new knowledge is available to us for reference. Now, our new role is to apply them.