Single material, multiple benefits
Rhythmic repetition of a material in construction creates a harmony that cannot be achieved by using a dozen materials together.
We are living today in an era of millions of options and multiple materials – thousands of choices, hundreds of colours, dozens of technologies and no two buildings or interiors looking alike. If this is a commendable achievement of our generation, imagine how dull and boring the past could have been?
Our forefathers must have been dissatisfied with their food, clothes, travel and homes. They must have been inefficient and unhappy with their limited design choices, few building materials and very basic construction technologies. Lack of innovative ideas must have forced them to lead a life with imperfections and adjustments.
Or, are we wrong in assuming so? Is it possible that lack of choices might have led them to perfect their known materials and technology? Could centuries of stylistic development have led to millions of regional aesthetics that we cannot even comprehend today, leave alone recreate such richness? Can we grudgingly admit to self-introspection to see what is better – innovations of today with all the imperfectness they have come with or perfections of yesteryear achieved through time, tested, studied and repeated across centuries?
Evidently, the answer does not lie in either but in a case-by-case evaluation for blending and applying traditional wisdom with modern thoughts. Unfortunately architectural education and civil engineering degree course prepares us mainly for ever changing modern ideas. Naturally, the theory of design and history of our architecture are irreversibly relegated to the backseat. Of course, then we justify our choice of modern thoughts by quoting global trends, market demands and client needs.
Let us look at the idea of single material as an illustration. Temples of Bhubaneshwar, bungalows of Bengaluru, monasteries of Ladakh or building types of Tamil Nadu temple towns lacked varieties in material or style. Most often they used just a few materials and their visual attraction can be attributed to the rhythmic repetition of same material, creating a harmony that cannot be achieved by using a dozen materials together. In total contrast, mixing many materials to create a hybrid and cluttered appearance has come to stay as a trend today.
Single-material approach makes tremendous ecological sense. Every region can claim only a few local materials to be the best fit for its climatic context, suggesting that other materials should be avoided. Being variation of the same, be it stone, bricks, mud, bamboo or any other, there will be least wastage, for the material left out after one kind of usage can be employed for another purpose. Probably, passive cooling, lowered life cycle costs and maintenance matters are better addressed by these few choices. Can there be better green buildings than these?
Even today, conscious architects are applying single or very few materials’ concept as an approach to ecologically sensitive architecture. This can counter the image conscious, photogenic, visually loaded and stylistically hybrid architecture, which gains popularity merely being provocative to the senses.