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