LOOKS, LIKES AND THE LIFE CYCLE
It is strange to realise that a major reason for this state of affairs does not lie in architecture or engineering, but in human psychology! We all tend to be impulsively judgmental bypassing a studied reaction and pass shallow comments, without thinking deep enough on the issues facing us. Sustainable architecture with alternative ideas tends to seriously suffer from this tendency. Unless we learn to recognise the true value and significance of designing with nature, our present habit of building structures unmindful of its design implications on ecology will continue. Of course, this note of caution also applies to the way global lifestyle is evolving; climate is changing and threatening the very survival of human beings.
Another equally important trait is our dependence on the looks, even while we write and give public lecture on how looks can be deceiving! So, if one rejects an ecologically meaningful material, it may not be the problem of the material itself, but of the building owner who dislikes it because of the looks. Quite often, we come across people appreciating others’ houses with alternative ideas, but for them, build a conventional structure. Why?
Appreciating the other is a standard human act, the way our society is constructed, but building for ourselves is a projection of an idea – the image of the architecture, social prestige of living in a type of a house, apprehensions in treading different paths, fear of what others would say, the courage to do what the others are not doing and such others. Somewhere in this hybrid context, the eco ideas get lost.
Also, there certainly are people who find it difficult to accept the alternatives solely on the argument of green or sustainable or whatsoever.
There are complex relationships between materials, construction, energy and environment in every kind of design option and expression, so it will be unfair to summarily rule out any approach without studying it.
A house may sport a clean, classy and costly look, but if designing with nature has presided over all other criteria, focusing on principles of natural light, ventilation, space and materials, it can be credited with eco-friendliness. In contrast, an apparently rustic looking building may be disastrous in embodied energy, life cycle costs, wastes generated or recyclability. The challenge is to look beneath the skin, a litmus test that can be applied to many of our air conditioned glass and aluminium buildings claiming to be green.
There are many debates about the ideal sustainable approach, which need to be clarified as we go along. It may not be just one path, but many to choose from. All that we need at this crossroad dilemma is not to be dogmatic about anything unless we verify the facts, and accept the fact that harmony with nature is more important than hurting nature, even if it comes at some discomfort for us.