Monthly Archives: November 2015

PRECAST LINTELS

It has been attempted in the past and the recent endeavour by an architect in Mysuru has further improved the earlier ideas.

28bgp-greensens_26_2637392eWe are now living in an age of innovation where the old order is continuously being replaced by the new. Should this sound like a great time, let us remind ourselves the fact that such an age will also be a time of both gains and losses. Large number of time-tested ideas like courtyards and hot air ventilation are rarely found today, despite them being valid even now. However, there is hope in many other items of works, which are still popular, despite being practised in an improvised version.

In many ways, improvisation is also a part of innovation, yet by retaining the original at a conceptual mode, we see our past flowing into the present. The change is more gradual when we effect better finished and more efficiently managed products and services. Many such improvisations happen during construction at site mostly thought out by the project team; as such do not get documented for wider dissemination. Lack of professional efforts to collate the best practices within us compounds this lacuna, hence the potential to upgrade our methods and skill sets gets largely lost.

Lintels can be a good case to illustrate. In the past, the support above any opening like a door, called as lintel, was achieved by stone, wood, door frame itself or totally avoided by having an arch. With RCC lintels being the order of the day even in small villages now, it is time to relook at it.

Options

One option is to revive the past with stone lintels and another could be to avoid them except where needed absolutely, choosing to do cut lintels. In many cases due to site conditions or earthquake considerations, we may need them to run all around the walls at 7 ft. height.

roviding the necessary shuttering, casting, curing and de-shuttering means slowing down the project; letting cement water flow down defacing the wall below and face tricky situations in some cases on the external side of the wall. If the lintel could be precast on ground to be placed on wall top, the task gets much easier.

Each piece has to be cast to the exact wall length needed; junctions between two pieces has be resolved to provide continuity; placement of all the pieces needs to be secure and aligned.

What if we can go one step further in improvising the idea? Let us pre-cast the U-shaped lintel channels on ground, cut them to fit wall lengths, lift and place them on wall tops securely with rich mortar base.

The channel itself acts like the lintel; hence reinforcement rods can be considered only where required. Once the channels are filled with the required mortar mix and cured, further wall work can resume without much delay.

Pre-casting the lintel has been attempted in the past and the recent attempts by architect Rajesh Jain in Mysuru has improved the earlier ideas. There will be further scope too, as long as we wish to better a product.

TYPECASTING ECO-IDEAS

Important public buildings ignore the time-tested lessons of sustainability found in local architecture.

21bgp-greensens_21_2628723gJust like we human beings have individual habits, society as a collective phenomenon also has its own share of habits. One among the notable habit is the way we segregate, classify and term our actions under different headings. Eco-friendly and cost- effective architecture appears to suffer from this habit of type casting. Too many people tend to believe that nature-friendly green buildings with local materials and regional character are good for houses or select institutional buildings only.

Important public buildings, hospitals, spaces for multi-national companies (MNC) and such others ignore the time-tested lessons of sustainability found in local architecture, adopting contemporary styles instead. Some buildings employ a few of the criteria of IGBC or TERI for green buildings, aspiring to get respective ratings. Considering the wide range of criteria to score points from, these green-rated buildings may score poorly on local ideas, but score more on products used, management matters, energy saved and such others.

Also, many of them do not consider critical issues like life cycle costs, embodied energy or operational costs (OPEX) in relation to capital costs (CAPEX). As such, there is no guarantee to say a green rated building is a design evolved from local considerations.

Can we imagine a software office with a central courtyard and wall built with un-plastered natural material? Such a non-air-conditioned day-lit space may provide a healthier ambience to work at, possibly better than an enclosed, artificially-lit AC hall. Besides the savings in electricity, a roof finished with exposed clay filler block would need no more maintenance cost lifelong. If we can add a traditional verandah at the entrance, the employees get a space to relax, wait for colleagues or welcome guests. The natural materials all around may provide a soothing feeling, replacing the provocative artificial interiors.

Can we imagine an auditorium with hollow core construction, so the wall becomes a sound barrier? Can it have a tiled roof, which negates the need for false ceiling? Can there be a hospital where patients in waiting lounge in an indoor garden with day light and natural air? All these and many more are possible, if our mindset against designing with nature changes.

The eco-friendly alternatives are not a style by themselves, but an application of green ideas which are possible on any structure. We already have cases where architects have designed hospitals, kalyan mantaps, software offices, schools, industries, MNC seed companies and such others, successfully incorporating cost-effective, culturally appropriate and climatically conforming design ideas and construction techniques. They may not be large in number yet, but are becoming increasingly visible during a drive around in an urban context.

The problem does not lie with the ideas, but with our mindset that considers alternative architecture fit or unfit for a given context. With the consumption pattern and climate crisis deepening, today eco-ideas are valid everywhere.

MODERNITY OR MADNESS?

We need not change buildings, but WE need to change.

IMG-20151012-WA0001Some of us might have read the most recent news about climate change and greenhouse gases – concentration of GHG is now the highest in a million years; 2015 has been the hottest year in our recorded history; in addition to worrying about global warming to 2 degree Celsius over pre-industrial revolution levels, we are now calculating the effects of 4 degree rise; land inhabited by up to 600 million people worldwide may get submerged due to rising seas from global warming; climate-altering carbon levels have broken their own past records, to reach a new high. This list can go on.

The last 19th Conference of Parties, where world leaders come together, held at Lima, Peru recorded the highest carbon footprint amongst all held till then. During the first week of December, more than 100 leaders from nations across the world are assembling in Paris to discuss how to mitigate climate change. The fact that meetings to discuss climate change themselves recording increasing carbon footprints may be an indicator of our hypocrisy, our failure or our helplessness. Equally possible, it may indicate the human ego, which at any cost, intends to dominate nature, ruining the world.

Until the industrial revolution, humans could not control nature, though in many smaller ways, people of the past learnt how to modify their immediate surroundings towards better conveniences and comforts. The early technology had also taught them how to sail, build tall temples or how to fight wars. However, none of the human actions were of the magnitude to affect Mother Earth irresponsibly and irreversibly.

When industrialisation joined hands with civilisation, the equations started to change for those who could afford. In construction, needs like shelter turned into greed for luxury; provision for conveniences led to passion for possession; confined happiness got replaced by unconfined discontentment over everything we do and services stretched to quench the insatiable visions of a few. As such, architecture evolved to catch up with new technology and new designs enabled contemporary constructions, even while aspirations raced further ahead, enacting the carrot and stick story. No wonder, today the construction industry is in the forefront of manufacturing materials; marketing worldwide; creating comforts; influencing lifestyles and altering our times by redefining how we live and work.

It is no more a matter of modernity, but of madness. Traditional buildings with supposed shortcomings did support society; ancestral homes with less comforts were also lived in; contextual architecture had many implicit advantages; local designs did not harm the locality; and we were energy efficient not by supply of energy, but by the sense of sufficiency.

The young are no more living the way their parents lived and the parents too possibly, are not living the way their parents lived.

We write and discuss Green Sense hoping to change our buildings. May be its time we realise that we need not change the buildings, but WE need to change.

Power from Wind and Sun

Human activities are rapidly depleting non-renewable energy sources; therefore hybrid energy has emerged as a viable alternative.

06bgp-greensens_07_2612341gThere is nothing new in seeking power from wind and sun. All plants and animals on this earth have lived on them, just as human beings too. However, such sourcing of power has happened biologically, thanks to the inbuilt systems in our bodies. During the pre-industrial era, ships were moved by wind and fruits were dried by sun, but today human activities are so complex, we need advanced methods to harness powers from nature.

Among the many words that evolved during the recent years, hybrid energy has gained much importance. Simply put, it is generating power from multiple sources, like wind and sun, instead of relying only upon the supply by the state grid. Majority of state grids in our country are not able to ensure full day electric supply and human activities are rapidly depleting non-renewable energy sources; as such hybrid energy has emerged as a viable alternative.

The simplest way to power a building is to compliment grid supply with both wind turbines and solar panels. Turbines produce AC current while solar panels produce DC current and the grid has AC current.

Finally we need AC energy; as such respective sources go through energy meters for necessary conversions, reaching the inverter which has a control mechanism to switch between the inputs. Power from the electricity grid is drawn after the other sources are drained out, thereby saving on our bills.

Solar power is becoming more common today, but wind turbines continue to be ignored. The quantity of power output possible from wind and solar has to be calculated specifically for each location, using technical meters by subject experts, besides the needs and budget of the owners.

To illustrate, a house with 3 KVa need, can get 1 KVa from wind and 2 KVa from solar, if site conditions permit. All expertise and equipment are available in India today. We also have experts further researching into these, reducing technical hurdles like torque, cogging etc. like Rajat from Mysore who has installed the hybrid system at Nippani Eye Hospital at Gokak successfully.

Turbines are now available that make very low sound, work with slow wind and are much cheaper compared to the earlier models. Of course, inverters continue to be vulnerable against lightning and electric surges, hence installing surge protection devices (SPD), electronic line control breaker (ELCB) and such others is advised.

Despite many advantages, why is alternative energy still not popular? It is strange but true – our governments supply power at such low, subsidised tariffs, every other power source appears costly and hinders its advancement. As such, the decision to shift to hybrid power has to come from the awareness of energy crisis, to have a feel-good factor and of course to get uninterrupted supply.

Accordingly, investing in hybrid power may be more beneficial in apartments and commercial complexes.

It is time we dream of houses which live on their own, with no dependency on city supplies. To that end, installing hybrid energy is the first step.