Planning and development of low impact construction

Benazir Kachchhi writes about Low Impact Construction, a practice that involves putting in place policies and process management techniques which helps improve the sustainability performance of a building, and the criterion that a building must satisfy in order to be called as a low impact construction.
Low impact construction involves a novel approach towards selection of building materials to be used and the construction technique involved during its construction as opposed to the mainstream traditional construction practice which involves putting in place policies and process management techniques which helps improve the sustainability performance. Although low impact construction is a marginal area in practice, it is gradually gaining momentum.
Understanding the context of how buildings could be conceived and developed is very important when considering low impact building construction.
There is a criterion that a building must satisfy in order to be called as a low impact construction.

The criterion acts as a checklist for assessing the impact of any proposal:

Management plan
When designing a low impact building, it is important to know your site well in terms of the benefits the occupiers will receive.
Access to the land
The building to be constructed should have affordable access to land and should cater to the housing needs of the people.
Temporary access
The project designed should also provide temporary access such as open days and educational visits by students and those interested. This is very beneficial in terms of spreading awareness regarding low impact construction.
Focus on its integration
It is important to focus on the integration of the project with the surrounding areas. It should demonstrate how the project would efficiently integrate into the local economy and community.
Undue nuisance to the neighbours
The neighbours or the public should not be disturbed by the activities carried out on the site.
Encouragement for public transport
The project should encourage the use of public transport and focus on minimizing the use of motor vehicles.
Pedestrianization and cycling
The project should encourage pedestrianization and cycling activity. This is relevant when the project to be designed is a large scale residential development project or in urban design layouts.
Consideration to the site features
It is important to consider the surrounding features of the site such as the local landscape, natural resources and the settlement patterns. The project should very well integrate with the neighbouring development pattern and the local landscape.
The building constructed should be proportionate to the site and not be visually intrusive.
Materials selection
The materials selected for construction should qualify as the materials with low embodied energy materials. Preference is to be given to the locally sourced materials unless it has any proven environmental implications. Reclaimed materials could also be a good choice.
Reusing existing buildings
Focus is to be given on the reuse of the existing buildings. Instead of demolishing and reconstructing the buildings, attention is to be paid to the possibilities of modifying the existing buildings to incorporate the new uses.
Brownfield development
Site selected for the construction of the building should preferably be a brownfield field site. We can at least strive towards minimising the use of greenfield sites wherever possible.
Minimizing waste
The project should aim at creating a strategy to help minimize the wastes generated and to reuse and recycle as much as possible on site.
Minimizing energy dependence
It is important to come up with a strategy to minimize the use of non-renewable resources as well as conserve energy.
The project should provide provision of clean water, energy and sewage disposal. The project should be able to demonstrate affordability and sustainability by involving a housing association, cooperative, trust or any other social body. The reason being these bodies will ensure control over subsequent changes of ownership and occupation.
Ecological management of the site
– Soil structure to be kept in check
– Semi-natural habitat to be conserved
– Efficient use and reuse of water
– Maintaining the water table of the site
– Tree plantation and hedges, particularly in areas where the tree coverage is less than 20%
Water Efficiency and Landscaping
Water efficiency has been paid attention to. All the rowhouses will house low flush, ultra low flush or dual flush WCs and aerators. This will help reduce the water consumption to a large extent.
The idea of Xeriscaping has been adopted for the design of landscape. Appropriate plant species have been selected coupled with drip irrigation system. Also recycling of materials has been considered as top priority. Materials such as glass, rubber from tyres are recycled to create landscape products.
Energy Efficiency
The principles of bio-climatic Architecture have been followed in the design of this project. Sustainable design aspects such as orientation, form and size of the buildings, orientation of the opening depending upon the direction and construction of chajjas or shades have been taken into consideration. North lighting has been used for efficient lighting and ventilation of the houses. The windows facing north are large which ensure adequate daylighting at all times in the interior spaces. The use of Solar Photovoltaic panels and solar water heater has been proposed for the developed.
(The author is an Architect and specializes in sustainability. She is the Creative Head at Archeng Designers, India. Archeng Designers is an Architectural Consultancy, Structural Design and Interior Design firm in Hyderabad.)

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