Society for the Promotion of Art and Culture

How Sustainable is Your Architecture

Himanshu Burte

Sustainability is the buzzword. Every manner of building makes a claim to “greenness” today. While there are various ways of judging how green a building is, we often assume its look also offers a clue.

This seems reasonable. If a building is made largely of a material that consumes less energy and produces fewer emissions, the building is likely to be greener than others. Buildings that expose stone, brick or a wood skeleton consume less cement because they are not plastered. Also, if this material is local, little energy is consumed in transportation. So can there actually be a green look for a building?

That depends on how the question is phrased. We may ask, “Can we judge how sustainable a building is from its looks?” Or “Are there some aesthetic values that lead to more sustainable architecture?”

Let’s take the first question first. From the late eco-architect Laurie Baker’s buildings in Kerala, we may conclude that using natural materials and showing them off will lead to a greener building. Such strategies reduce the use of energy-guzzling materials such as cement, steel, aluminium and glass. Yet as Surya Kakani, an Ahmedabad-based architect who has built several eco-sensitive institutional and industrial facilities, says, “A building in mud may not be truly green in its impact if the mud is transported from a faraway location, using up a lot of fuel.”

Waste material locally available may be the best. Some years ago, Kakani used earthquake rubble to build load-bearing walls for a school in Rajkot, which he then plastered and painted—a conventional look with deep green veins. At a recently completed garment factory in Ahmedabad (which is day-lit and naturally ventilated), he exposed the mix of fly-ash bricks (75%) and burnt bricks (25%) in a distinctive look that flaunts environment-friendly underpinnings.

Size matters too. An air-conditioned, 5,000 sq. ft bachelor’s pad, even if built with local mud, would not be the best illustration of sustainable architecture. In this case, size alone would negate the low-energy consumption of the building material, even before power-guzzling appliances come into play. The natural look of mud construction can hide a very unnatural attitude to consumption.

Perhaps there is no green look then. Or maybe looks have nothing to do with sustainability.

A less sustainable look?

Consider the other side of the coin—is there an aesthetic that is inherently non-green?


posted by S A J Shirazi @ 8:08 AM,


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