Monthly Archives: November 2016

Nature-sensitive designs

We need to revisit history to discover many construction details, unfortunately forgotten now.

12bgp-greensens_gn_3077738eThe history of architecture is the single largest repository of concepts, ideas and elements, which no printed source book on buildings can provide. The fact that this history is also a major part of our civilisational history makes it a worthy reading for everyone concerned.

However, we need to revisit history today to discover many small construction details and design nuances, unfortunately forgotten with the advent of modern times. The idea of revisiting is not to faithfully repeat the ideas from the past. There could be replicable ideas, but we need to seek applicable ideas which can be appropriately developed for our needs today.

A good case in example can be the usage of curves, where there is a major difference between the past and present. During the early civilisation, it was not easy to create curved features except in marking a round hut. All the natural materials like stone or tree branches came in straight lines. After attempting larger span for openings, people discovered arches and for interior spaces, vaults and domes.

 Even though the early curved features were derivatives of structural phenomena, they soon became one amongst the principal criteria for aesthetic attraction.

The variety of arches and vaults evolved across the world is bewildering, with no exchange of knowledge as it happens today, which proves that these ideas originated in the minds of people.

Nearly all of these were region specific, dependent on local materials and were made ‘buildable’ by the users. As such, replicating such ideas makes great degree of green sense.

Following natural topography

Curved walls were not unknown to people, as it is found in many fortifications, where the wall follows natural topography. In regions with undulating terrain where the buildings were to edge features like rock boulders, we notice vernacular house forms also having curved profiles. However, large scale conceptualisation of curved walls is of recent origin, as an outcome of professional design developments and technical possibilities. Buildings with curves tend to appear more organic and blending with nature better, hence have been in vogue for over a century or two now. Certain building types like resorts, art galleries, exhibition spaces, roadside cafés and such others, by default, employed curved forms in plan, walls and roofs to make them more appropriate for the intended purpose. But their usage need not be restricted to such cases only.

Arched sunshade

Arched opening is historical, but an arched door top was introduced later. Atop this, an arched sunshade or chajja is a modern idea.

Thought one starts with a curved element from the past, it ends up with an innovative contemporary element, hence becomes meaningful.

Together, they appear attractive, besides representing an eco-friendly approach to design.

Yet, it is a fact that the varied advantages of flowing, dynamic or simple curved forms are not yet fully exploited by us. If we start giving them a due consideration like our past generations did, we would rediscover their potential to be nature sensitive.

Thinking nature is not new

About 150 years ago itself, pioneers like John Muir expressed environmental concerns which were carried forward by Gifford Pinchot, Aldo Leopold and others. The idea of this history.

05bgp-greensens_gk_3069462eEvery idea has a history, so to know the idea truly, one also needs to know the history of the idea. This fact is important considering the misconception among many readers that the need for green sense has emerged very recently.

About 150 years ago itself, pioneers like John Muir expressed environmental concerns which was carried forward by Gifford Pinchot, Aldo Leopold and others. However, the modern age concern started around 1962 with the publication of “Silent Spring” authored by Rachel Carlson. She warned us against the unintended negative consequences of technologies, originally intended to better our lives.

She successfully demystified the myth of ‘controlling nature’, with references to chemical pesticides like DDT which made deep impact. 1966 saw Barbara Ward’s influential book “Spaceship Earth”, followed by Marshall McLuhan’s concept of “Global Village”, as western technologies reached out to all parts of the world.

 Gross National Product

Continuing the reservations John Kenneth Galbraith had on the concept of Gross National Product (GNP), in 1967 Edward Mishan wrote “The Cost of Economic Growth”, highlighting the negative impacts of growth on human welfare and environmental matters. All these new insights led to the first Earth Day observed in 1970.

Next to Silent Spring, it was the 1972 book “The Limits to Growth” by a group of MIT scientist authors funded by the Club of Rome which made headlines everywhere. They predicted that in next 100 years, the world would face serious food shortage and non-renewable resource crisis, if the present trends of population growth and energy demand continued.

Next year, “Small is beautiful” by Fritz Schumacher appeared, attempting to provide solutions to some of the problems then faced.

Within two years after this book came “Steady State Economics” by Herman Daly, who contended that every economic activity creates pollution and waste, hence more the activity more the wastes. The world cannot absorb all the wastes we generate, hence there has to be a limit to the scale of economics.

U.N. Conference

A noteworthy event of the decade was the U.N. Conference on Human Environment held in 1972 at Stockholm on the theme ‘Only One Earth”.

For the first time, environmental issues were accepted on the global agenda, indirectly leading to commissioning the United Nation Environment Program (UNEP), with head office at Nairobi. The 70s also saw one of the well stated descriptions of sustainable society, by the World Council of Churches which advocated equitable distribution, food supply more than demand, pollutants below absorption limits and human activities not adversely influenced by variations in global climate.

These and other emerging thoughts of the time led to the book “The Sustainable Society” by Dennis Pirages in 1977.

Since the 70s the environmental concerns have gone deeper, so there is more to follow up while studying how the present degree of eco-awareness has emerged and how institutions, experts and media have worked to create this awareness. Our job now should be to act upon this awareness.