Sourcing information about how to build has always been in the forefront of cultural and constructional challenges.
Majority of us look around within our village or town to pick up ideas, take some advice and adopt them to our needs. Historically, this has been the most common practice, which led to a body of knowledge today we call as the local vernacular tradition. Mostly owner built, limited to regional materials, suited to the family lifestyle and comforting during the harsh seasons, architecture evolved as a derivative of cost, culture and climate. Incidentally, these three principles need to continue even today as the basis of green buildings.
The last few hundred years have seen the evolution of skilled people such as carpenters and masons. Also, during the recent decades trained designers called architects have also emerged, to assist the owner in the act of building. Till recently, these two were additional sources of knowledge other than the local wisdom. Nowadays, we can also get ideas through books, journals, websites, research institutes and plethora of other sources. The challenge is no more about getting information, but it is all about being sure how eco-friendly they are.
Here lies the contradiction – much of what is being doled out as green and eco-friendly are really not so good with nature, judicious for the purse or safe for humans. They are market-savvy ideas, guised under visual attractions, speed of execution, easy maintenance or international image, often with good profit margins for the manufacturers. We as consumers can get all information about the materials through designer brochures, updated websites and efficient marketing executives, but virtually no information about what quantity of earth resources the specific material consumed, what could be the waste generated during the process, how this waste gets treated, what happens to the leftover production stock, what could be carbon footprint and finally what is the embodied energy of the material.
The above contradiction is not entirely due to the profit seeking construction industry. All of us are swimming today with the flood of information, but cannot glean what we really need from around us. There are is no unanimous agreement about sustainable approaches nor do we have proven data on what are harmful and what are not. Given this context, adopting nature friendly measures in our buildings becomes a challenge despite our good intentions to that end. As such, it is imperative of our times to evolve yardsticks of judgment and choose where to source meaningful ideas from.