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The many roads to sustainable construction

It is 2019 and the world is rightly obsessed with sustainability. Every industry is rethinking its environmental impact and moving towards a more sustainable future. In parallel, green buildings are trending in the world of architecture. Over the last two months, I decided to explore this topic further and walked down three distinct pathways that lead to partially achieving this goal.



Buildings out of nature


Out of deep frustration with the emergence of concrete jungles in tropical climates, I attended the Earth and Bamboo construction training program in March at Auroville, an experimental community nestled in the south of India. Over the course of the program, my colleagues and I deep-dived into the art of creating buildings with traditional materials such as mud and bamboo.


Once a popular method of construction, these naturally bioclimatic materials tremendously reduce the carbon footprint of a building. However, their popularity has steadily declined over the last few decades and they are often viewed as inferior to cement and concrete. In places with suitable types of soil, the construction process can be made more green if the mud from the site is used to build (rather than imported material). However, only a handful of architects today take the initiative to train their staff to build with natural materials. And as a young architect looking towards the future, I am doubtful of the feasibility of this approach.




Reusing materials that have served their purpose


 A few months ago, I began working with a team near Mysore that has shunned the idea of working exclusively with natural materials. Instead, they focus their efforts on creating houses out of shipping containers! These containers are both weather-resistant and structurally strong. On the flipside, their metal surfaces tend to accumulate a large amount of heat but the team aims to counteract this effect with the right kind of shading and ventilation.


Critics may argue that transporting the containers to the site is an energy-extensive process. However, compared to traditional construction styles, this method reduces the overall amount of labour, transportation, time and impact on the environmental. It also has the added benefits of being easy on the wallet and easy to implement.



Industry guidelines and green building certifications


 To reduce the learning curve for people interested in sustainable architecture, there are numerous rating-systems set up by organisations such as LEED, BREAM, and GRIHA. The guidelines set by these bodies are based on the climatic and cultural aspects of locations. A few weeks ago, I attended a workshop about the GRIHA rating system developed by the Indian Government and TERI. From the workshop, I learnt that GRIHA’s focus lies not only on design parameters and construction but also on human factors (i.e. how future occupants will use the building). Often, achieving the ratings is an expensive process aimed at corporates. But from the point of view of an architect, a lot can be learnt from them about various design parameters such as lighting, ventilation and orientation.




In retrospect, all three approaches offer insights into potential solutions for solving our global climate crisis. Using natural materials, reusing man-made materials, and paying heed to green building rating systems offer different yet equally important lessons about climate responsiveness and environmental impact. From exploring all of them, I think the world will need a combination of the three to build responsibly.


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originally published as an article on Linkedin by Amrutha Kishor, 17 May 2019.

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