Integrated approach: Green energy for a sustainable future

For architecture to be truly sustainable there is a need to unequivocally address core issues of water, energy and building material. Maitri Dore, Architect, Biome, Bangalore writes about the importance of an integrated approach in construction, where the structure is derived from the earth, and its inhabitants are sustained by natural resources.

As high rises wantonly choke up the horizon and steel, glass and concrete clog our fields of vision, the concept of sustainability is becoming more urgent than ever. It is important, however, that the word, neither be left to collect dust in the theoretical, academic realm, nor get reduced to a fashionable buzzword, bandied about with nonchalance.

For architecture to be truly sustainable, we need to unequivocally address core issues of water, energy and building material. The built environment must transcend feel-good ratings, and instead be working, practical models of development.

This kind of development is best looked at as an integrated approach, where the structure is derived from the earth, and its inhabitants are sustained by natural resources. In the case of housing, this module ensures that each unit is self sustaining and that if disassembled, readily returns to its original state.

One of the core principles of this method of construction is the excavation of a basement. The earth, thus obtained is rich raw material for building the upper storeys and locally available in the truest sense of the word. Mud blocks, rammed earth, cob and wattle and daub are some of the employed techniques and should the need arise, when razed to the ground, these materials, having been scooped from the earth, swiftly blend back into it, leaving no dent in the builder’s ecological footprint.

Equally pressing is the issue of water and sanitation. The Bangalore bye-law stipulates that every 1 sq m of roof area demands a storage/recharge capacity of 30 litres, and every 1 sq m of paved area, 10 litres of the same. This rule is a valuable step towards a future in which people need merely tap into the rain falling on the very roof above their heads, instead of depending on tankers that bring water from afar, and that are both uneconomical and unreliable. Rainwater must only be filtered using a simple piece of cloth for it to be rendered fit for consumption and it is imperative that every household have a constant supply of rainwater for its drinking and cooking needs, unsullied by contaminants that perforce seep into ground water, eventually ascending up ill-advised bore wells and into domestic supply systems.

Not only is it important to tackle the issue of water supply, but also of its discharge. As per general norms, a single person is responsible for bathing in 20 litres of water and using 25 for the washing of clothes. Post-use, this volume of waste water is neither heavy in solid matter, nor in organic content and can legitimately be put to use in activities that do not require water to be of pristine quality. At a household level, grey water is effectively treated when put through a system of reeds, that being hardy, intercept physical and chemical impurities and render it fit for re-use. Flushing the toilet, cleaning one’s car and gardening are a few such activities and removing these off the grid of fresh water supply ensures judicious use of our dwindling water resources.

The dry toilet if installed in every household will go a long way is further reducing water use. This type of sanitation system is designed so that urine and faecal matter are separated at source. Each resource when individually collected after a few weeks of expulsion, yields rich fertilizer that is a welcome addition to any garden patch. Vegetables and fruits abound in one’s home grown orchard, exemplifying the closing of the loop between what we eat and what we excrete.

Electricity powered by the light of the sun goes a long way in shaving digits of otherwise astronomical electricity bills and allowing the house-owner to go about his routine without being subject to the vagaries of state-enforced power cuts. Solar energy captured during the day and stored in batteries suffices for the night. Similarly, the heat of the sun when exploited in warming water saves power and cost.

Furthermore, savings are possible through efficient planning of spaces. Through well thought-out placement of windows, natural wind direction can be capitalised on, rendering energy-intensive cooling systems redundant. Skylights are a combination of transparency so that light filters through even on cloudy days, and mesh-work that ensures constant circulation of air from the lower parts of the room upwards and outwards.

Green practices for future security are not lofty ideals or regressive methods. They are deeply practical approaches that must coalesce into a single built form that necessitates the renunciation of high-energy vertical development. They do not hamper the user’s lifestyle, but inspire it to be more holistic, self-reliant and most importantly responsible, not for a sustainable future, but for any future at all.

(The author is an Architect with Biome Environmental Solutions, Bangalore.)

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