Monthly Archives: June 2014

A vicious cycle

Can we all live with the least cost and least waste? 

IN02_THGAK_COMPOSTI_155514gTwo words that suggest the essence of sustainability could as well be ‘costs’ and ‘wastes’. Cost of living as we all understand it, to that end the need to earn money, pressure on companies to make perpetual profits so they can pay well, producing more goods to sell more – all this has become a vicious cycle.

Accordingly, despite flooding of data about what harm we are doing to nature, companies continue to advertise for people who can increase the market presence of their products, drive business growth, multiply rate of expansion, ensure stock prices soar, gather new partnerships and accelerate the company’s foothold across regions.

All of this would need increased production, packaging and consumption, resulting in increased wastages.

Both the costs and wastes are not absolute figures, but comparative by-products of our society and lifestyle. Now that both have acquired a dangerous level during our generation than at any time in history, many individuals tend to react to them as if we have no control on them. The fact is that we have created them, hence only we can control them.

Can we all live with the least cost and least waste? This slogan may appear attractive, but most of us can not possibly live with the least cost and least waste. However, let us realise there are millions of our Indian siblings who live so, though mostly out of compulsion. It’s because they live with least energy consumption, the high energy lifestyle of many of us gets compensated for in the calculation of the overall carbon emission figures for India.

However, if we resolve in our minds, we can gradually reduce our costs and wastes everyday. This individual action can compliment national or international efforts in reducing carbon emissions, promoting local productions, implementing policy decisions, extending global fuel deposits and any other idea that global experts suggest. The global and the individual can work together to save our race.

Our individual energy consumption or carbon footprint cannot be an absolute figure based on a national data or an idealised figure.

A company executive will consume more energy than a village farmer, but that cannot be a reason to shoot down the executive or to idolise the farmer. Both have their roles in the society we have built today, so the challenge is to contain the consumption within a societal role.

Exposing the wall

Among the recurring themes of Green Sense essays, one aspect that many readers get puzzled by is the periodic emphasis on leaving the walls un-plastered.

21HAB-greensens_21_1960291eIt may not be possible to leave the walls un-plastered all the time, but exposing the masonry whenever possible reaps many benefits.

This wisdom comes from observing how the rural buildings in many parts of India have lasted for decades and centuries, with stone or brick exposed. The material does not deteriorate by itself, unless faced with heavy rain, sun and wind, which were in those days protected by deep overhangs and verandahs. Water, the commonly suspected culprit in letting a building decay, does not seep through the masonry itself, but primarily through the joints. Traditional structures built with thick walls minimised this possibility, the thickness itself being a deterrent to the movement of water. Also, the more commonly used lime mortar would get stronger against water permeability over age, ensuring buildings lasted long without much maintenance.

Today, with thinner walls, we need to solve these challenges differently. In case of heavy rainfall areas, the mortar used to build the wall could be completely mixed with water-proof admixtures, such that the joint beds resist water penetration throughout their depth.

Even if the wall is only 8” thick, such an integrated water-proof mortar does the magic. Alternatively, the mortar could be the normal one, with the mixed mortar batch used only for finishing the joints.

Water-proof powder

A rich mix of 1:2 mortar with the water-proof powder mixed as specified by the manufacturer, is pressed into the joint with a special narrow ‘karni’ with good pressure from the hands to form an impervious high density surface on the face of the joint. This procedure is termed as pointing, done primarily to water proof the joint and also of course to make the joints appear neat.

Accordingly, pointing could be done with few optional finish – finish only the groove; touch upon the broken edges of the masonry; surface finish the face of the masonry along with the joints and such others.

Groove pointing suits exposed walls the best; however the expert team may decide the type of pointing based on case by case.

All kinds of pointing for the joints demand skilled workmanship, as such cannot be left to some team at site casually. In heavy rainfall areas, water-proof coating like shylax or other chemicals have been applied, to protect the wall and joints together. Such full wall application should be minimised, for they tend to show off by creating different kinds of surface shine.

There have been long standing sentiments against exposed walls, mainly rooted around the dampness seen in such walls.

The solution to the said problems are simple. It is only a matter of following the proper code of practice, the workers being sincere to their job and not compromising on the material quality.

Look up and bring more aesthetics

Majority of designers and engineers tend to rule out alternative ideas once they start calculating with the mainstream solutions. 

14HAB-greensens_14_1949132eBuilding with nature undoubtedly sounds like an attractive proposition and a visit to Mahatma Gandhi’s Bapukuti at Sevagram would heighten the spirits of every Indian. However the very logistics of releasing millions of square feet of built spaces in urban areas tends to shift our vote in favour of modern technology and manufactured materials. Technology and earthiness need not be such mutually exclusive paths, but can cross each other producing beautiful merger of the high tech with eco-friendly alternative.

Imagine a large span roof required at the top floor of a building. Reinforced concrete, truss with sheets made of galvanized iron, aluminium-coated panels, asbestos cement etc. or Mangalore tiled roof if span is manageable are the immediate options that get considered. For large widths, flat RCC roofs can be expensive; Mangalore tile at inaccessible heights is a maintenance challenge and sheet roofs come with their inherent disadvantages of heat and sound. In such cases, can we attempt to merge the technology and materials judiciously?

Consider the choices

Considering the wide span, steel truss is among the better choices, with curved form reducing the steel quantity. The final roof being vaulted also gives the whole building a greater look – a gain for the elevation without spending extra money on that count. Instead of the traditional triangular truss with its heavy industrial appearance, a built-up lattice truss along the curvature of the roof can be considered. This design ensures a spacious column-free hall and a high volume in centre, befitting the scale of the space.

The real challenge here is not about choice of the truss, but the choice of the roofing material. Thinking alternative options, one may consider compressed hollow clay tiles! Though the clay hourdi tiles will let in lesser heat than sheet roofing, the large encompassed volume inside will store it up, finally blowing it all on floor areas when we put on the fans. As such, proper ventilation is an imperative. The roof being the last one, turbo ventilators are a good choice to ventilate the highest parts of the roof.


For maintenance, workers may have to go up to the edge of the roof. Providing a few hooks along the curves will help the workers tie a safety rope around them. If carefully designed, the roof will cost within a reasonable range. Unfortunately, clay hourdi tiles are not available everywhere; if so, any other locally appropriate idea may have to be explored.

Fabricated steel and burnt mud as the combination may not appear commonplace, but if they both are among the appropriate ideas for the given context, they surely are the best fit. Majority of designers and engineers tend to rule out the alternative ideas, once they start calculating with the mainstream solutions. Before we start to draw boarder lines between the mainstream and the alternative, it is worth to run a quick exploration if the two could be merged.

Global to local

An increasing number of organisations are thinking about green and sustainable building options.

07bgh-green_G0C_07_1937609eCaught in the frenzy of globalisation, how many of us are aware of a counter-movement for localisation? Not many would have heard of it, but there have been regular conferences by critical thinkers, reports by serious media and apprehensions expressed by intellectuals about the possible negative impacts of globalisation. Especially, this trend needs to be studied from its long-term perspectives, rather from its apparent immediate benefits. Leading opponents of globalisation such as Helena Hodge and many other thinkers are connecting economics of happiness with localisation.

During the earlier part of the 20th century, universal design ideas originating around Europe started to travel across regions, fuelling the movement for modern architecture. Soon, technology necessary to enable modern buildings started to get transferred from the developed nations to the rest of world. Cement, steel, glass and aluminium found production houses in every major nation. Now during recent times, every other building material is being moved across the globe, with fewer centres of production and a large marketing network across the world.

Do all people believe that this kind of cross-country exports in ideas, technology and materials resulting in paradigm shifts in design and architecture are the beginning of a great new age? No; on the contrary, there are many people who are apprehensive of buildings unfit for local climate, vanishing vernacular designs and dilution in cultural identities. The global economy has silently pushed in higher life cycle costs, easier mechanised buildings, technological obsoleteness and such other larger trends. Of course, this is not to ignore the benefits of universal trends and best practices, which have enriched our ideas and perfected our actions, thanks to the exactness and discipline of western influences. There is much to learn from western processes, but that does not mean we should use multinational products.

Owners, engineers and designers believing in the local approaches are silently working on many small and large projects across India, trying to demonstrate the alternative path. However, their voice is not heard in the market-driven mainstream of architecture. Government is among the largest builders in the country who can actually support the local initiatives, while the builders can do their bit to encourage local skills and regional materials. Incidentally, global trade ensures that an imported construction material is cheaper than the local, making the option of local material a difficult choice.

Thanks to the recent developments supporting eco-friendly designs and green buildings, increasing numbers of organisations are thinking about the green and the sustainable. To that end, the international brand, printed price, the material finish and such others should not be the prime reasons for purchase, but place of manufacture, carbon footprint, embodied energy, life expectancy of material and such issues should also be the criteria.

A global company can easily dominate the local, but we should realize that without the local there is no global. Architecture is among the fields that can prove this theory.