Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Preserving Traditional Approaches to Sustainability

Originally Posted on ASLA's blog The Dirt

In India, indigenous building traditions are still relevant despite the increased availability of modern sustainable building materials and technologies, writes The Hindu. In fact, “vernacular” or native architectural techniques may be just as efficient (and even more cost-effective) than “state-of-the-art” systems. Local sustainable architecture practices in India evolved over time, and so the highly functional approaches to climate and culture can also be easily adapted.

While there was no scientific comparison between traditional and modern sustainable building technologies, The Hindu argues a few traditional approaches to sustainability still work well:


The kaatrupandal, found in the coastal districts of Tamil Nadu, is made up of a “temporary sloping thatch placed on the roofs to suck in cold air from the outside into the house, providing natural ventilation.” One Indian architect created a brick-lined, funnel-shaped one for a farmhouse and said: “It funnels air into the living room and then on to the rest of the house through modulated openings.” The design reduces energy usage: No A.C. (or even ceiling fans) are needed throughout the year.

Self-shading device

Buildings in Jaisalmer and parts of Rajasthan feature stone ledges that jut out from walls to provide shade. Instead of using stone, some architects are applying the same technique with alumnium composite panels painted white. The white ledges help reduce the urban heat island effect in city homes and corporate offices.

Mud blocks

Village homes continue to be made out of mud blocks. One architect built a two-story house with mud bricks strengthened with a little ash and cement. According to one architect, the mud blocks last as long as kiln-fired brick buildings. Also, there are far fewer CO2 emissions — kiln-fired bricks require lots of wood to fire. In addition, the “carbon foot print of the building gets even lower if you can make the mud blocks onsite while digging to lay the foundation.”

Clay filler-slabs

Clay tiles were once heavily used throughout India, but have have been replaced with other materials. Clay still has some advantages though: it absorbs less heat than concrete. To bring back this material, one architect decide to use clay for roof and wall filler slabs. ”These one-and-half inch thick clay tiles fill up spaces inside the concrete grid and cover up to 30 per cent of the roof space and proportionally lower heat gain.”

Read the article

Image credit: Mud house / The Hindu

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