Chitrangada Bisht
Architects play a key role in determining the sustainability of a project. They must, therefore, utilise technology to enhance their designs instead of letting technologies govern their designs. A right combination of passive and active design strategies will minimise resource use.
The architecture of India has evolved through centuries. It is shaped by its rich heritage and influenced by cultures from across the world. The Indus valley civilisation and the Vedic period are the most remarkable examples of the ancient wisdom of building science in the country. The excavation of Mohenjo-Daro and Harappa sites of the Indus valley civilisation have revealed advanced town planning principles and engineering expertise which was much ahead of its time.
Vastu Shastra, which translates the ‘science of architecture’ are ancient building guidelines in India, believed to have been developed between 6000 and 3000 BC, that describe principles for layout and spatial geometry for buildings and cities. Presented in the form of a metaphysical plan called Vastu Purusha Mandala, the system emphasises that the built structure is a physical being which must be in harmony with nature.
Building construction is not a modern concept but is as old as the construction of shelters by humans for comfort, safety and protection from extreme weather. This led to the evolution of regional styles of construction all over the world that are now governed by usage pattern, social behaviour and climate of a particular region. This type of indigenous construction was done predominantly using locally available materials and, hence, is inherently sustainable.
Although architecture is an ancient profession, formal architectural education is a relatively recent phenomenon. The ever-increasing demand of infrastructure for the growing population also needs a large pool of trained professionals for shaping the built environment. Formal architectural training equips the students with necessary tools such as basic understanding of space in relation to its function, aesthetics of built environment, building materials, construction technologies and project management in order to design and execute projects.
Unlike ancient times, the modern-day student has access to the works of international architects and global best practices. Such a student aspires to design modern-looking buildings, in line with international trends.
However, most of the modern buildings provide a much lower degree of thermal comfort and many of these are not usable without mechanical cooling and heating. This is in contrast with the traditional buildings that create comfortable living environment without any mechanical cooling or heating and have low environmental impact.
Moreover, globalisation has given access to international technology and, in the present era of mass production, traditional building construction practices have slowly dwindled to give way to concrete, brick and glass construction. This adoption has not been without reasons. These modern materials offer ease of execution, faster construction times, high durability, low maintenance, in addition to thinner walls that help offset rising land costs.
The way these modern materials are used often replicates foreign design vocabulary without any consideration to the climate and environment. Unfortunately, sustainability is seen as an add-on feature to these replicable designs. Students have a ready list of design features that can be incorporated to make a building green. For example,jaali walls, courtyards, green roofs etc. In fact, in today’s context, green building and sustainable design is also often seen as a technology driven product.
When a young architect is asked about the green features in the design, he/she will start talking about the state-of-the-art mechanical cooling system or the capacity of the renewable energy plant proposed in the building. This piecemeal approach does not lead to an efficient design.