Monthly Archives: June 2015
Majority of buildings today are being built by habit where we take the ideas for granted.
A frequent question one encounters today is why green and eco-friendly ideas are not frequently seen, despite their critical need, ease of implementation and financial viability. While there can be no definite answers to such socio-psychology-based questions, this query can lead us to wonder whether we really design knowing well what the design is and what impact it would have once it is built.
Let us look at these familiar cases. We appreciate a hand-crafted wooden paper holder in a friend’s office, bring it home as a gift, but get disappointed by the same piece on our table. Nothing wrong in the craft, but what was a fitting piece on a wooden table, becomes a total misfit on a glass and chromium table, making all the difference. Down the road we observe a porch projecting from a curved wall, insist with our architect to keep one in our house front too, but feel unhappy when it is actually built so. The difference could be because the original curve might have got balanced by other complimentary curves and in our house it could be out of place due to house design. Likewise, if the owner randomly changes a wall or a window, it may affect either the structures or the elevation, simply because the design implication was not considered while changing the design.
Majority of buildings today are being built by habit where we take the ideas for granted. Unfortunately, many design and construction experts also tend to ignore fresh thinking, mindlessly repeating the routine practice. The claim of hundreds of houses in the bio-data, without ever doing any performance assessment or realising lost opportunities therein, makes contractors and builders too oblivious to the implications of their constructions.
Everyone can visualise design but everyone cannot visualise the implications of designs. The implications are more critical than the design itself. Majority of us who claim to design are actually recollecting our own memories and experiences, repeating what our elders did in varied ways. We also could be simply copying a popular idea, not realising how a great building needs original thinking.
Why are we shunning eco-specialisation in architecture? The most common cause is the fees payable as an avoidable waste of money, which of course is a myth. More effective solutions, even if they come at a cost, are worth it. There are innumerable non-monetary, invisible and non-quantifiable benefits like day light, fresh air, flexible space, efficient designs, alternative aesthetics, lower maintenance costs, lesser power bills and such others. A discernible house owner may wish to get every aspect of the building to be reviewed and revised, to get maximum benefits for the time, money and energy spent.
To that end, we should think about not only the design but also about the design implications. If design implications are the criteria, eco-friendly ideas have a greater chance of getting executed.
Correa’s buildings evolved from the local climate and context, the way any sustainable architecture should evolve.
For a passer-by driving down the roads of our expanding cities, modern architecture in India today is replete with international styles, never seen forms, complicated structures, imported materials, glass boxes and such others. Those who have travelled abroad would feel proud how India is catching up with the west, not realising what we are doing is mostly a poor imitation of the western ideas, some already discarded there. The fact that many such ideas are inappropriate in our cultural and climatic context gets largely ignored.
However, modern architecture did not start this way, aping the developed nations, in post-independence India; instead it explored many paths to find what should be the essential ‘Indian Architecture’. Among those who led this from the front was the well-known architect Charles Correa.
Just as the un-ecological, energy guzzling mall culture started sweeping across, Charles showed the sustainable way in his designs for the City Center at Kolkata, which is an exemplary case of synthesising Bengali habits, city patterns, local climate, life cycle costs, day lighting and low resource building technologies. We have many architects who create wonderful forms which then demand power and resources to keep them going, but he could design world famous buildings like Bharath Bhavan, Bhopal, which lives largely within its open spaces providing natural light and ventilation. Cultural appropriateness and climatic conformity go hand in hand. Correa expresses it best with his modern interpretation for our design culture, in his Jawahar Kala Kendra, Jaipur.
Today, it is the age of iconic buildings and advanced construction systems. They come with great slogans, compulsive attraction and many claimed advantages, but are disastrous for sustainability.
It is curious to see even during his peak fame, Correa did not experiment with innovative structures or international styles, which possibly helped him perfect his ideas across varied building locations and types.
This meant his buildings evolved from the local climate and contexts, the way any sustainable architecture should evolve.
Climate and context friendly architecture can never appear the same across sites and projects. Most architects fail to realise this and design “same signature” architecture everywhere.
With Correa, variety was the essence. To someone who does know of Correa, Bay Island resort in Andaman, Cidade De Goa, Gandhi Smarak Sangrahalaya, Ahmedabad, Kanchanganga Apartments in Mumbai and LIC Tower, Bangalore, would surely appear as designed by different architects, but they all are the creations of Correa – functionally, aesthetically and contextually.
Correa was not dogmatic either about tradition or modernity, attempting a fusion of both. Hence his buildings have vernacular elements like courts and verandahs; yet exhibit clean lines and materiality of modern architecture.
It is needless to emphasize that his projects added a new dimension to the history of modern architecture in India. Instead, what we need to emphasize is that we need the Correa approach, to balance the diverse demands of modern development and traditional sustainability.
If regions such as Assam can live on bamboo staircases, Bengaluru too can live on them. They combine beauty with functionality.
Would we believe in the statement ‘some of the newest ideas are based on the oldest practices’? On the face of it we may not, but if we look at the way bamboo is making a grand return, most of us may agree. As we are searching for new ideas of design and solutions for ecofriendly living, we realize the past holds as many inspirations as the future can tempt us with.
The long lengths, jointed body, light weight, easy workability and such others made it an excellent material for high walls and roofs. With a surface skin that can be easily peeled, bamboo provided varied products like woven baskets and floor matts. With a tensile strength beyond that of steel, it found popularity as supports for buildings and pavilions. At the other extreme end, bamboo shoots provided unparalleled options in food too!
People have climbed on a bamboo ladder ever since they lived in settled societies, especially in areas where bamboo grows. In the basic form, one would cut off the small branches leaving only a small part of it, such that they work as steps at staggered levels. This way, people could climb on a single bamboo pole, if it stays stable against a support and carry it around with ease. Then came the design with two poles interconnected with the steps, so one could get better hand grips and stability for the ladder itself.
Didn’t go further
However, bamboo did not go beyond this stage in a big way, where wooden and later concrete staircases dominated. But let us imagine a bamboo stairs just the way steel framed stair works – we get two inclined members on both the sides, they support the horizontal base, bamboo board is fitted to the base and the sides secured. There could be a riser member or we may drop it to get an open riser design. If a sturdier tread is desirable, the bamboo board can be placed on a thicker ply base. The railing can rise from the inclined side supports.
The major disadvantage of doing a bamboo staircase lies in handling the material, demanding both practice and skill. While nails can be used, they tend to go loose after some time; hence nuts and bolts perform better. To that end, proper holes have to be drilled and nuts properly tightened. However, traditionally no metals were used; instead poles were secured into each other through cuts and ropes made from bamboo itself. Considering that Bamboo comes in varying sizes, this method appears to be more effective.
If regions like Assam can live on bamboo staircases, Bangalore too can live on them. They combine beauty with functionality; cost efficiency with longevity and provide visual tactile feel of a very different kind. Doing a complete building in Bamboo may be difficult in non-bamboo regions, but integrating it within the parts and elements of the structure is definitely doable.