Women Architects Design Eco-Friendly Homes In India

By Surekha Kadapa-Bose,Womens Feature Service

An energy-efficient home is the new buzzword among those who want to reduce their carbon footprint on Planet Earth. The trend, which surprisingly is more popular in small towns, is also likely to impact the real estate industry in big cities like Mumbai, Delhi, Kolkata and Chennai, which are facing a severe shortage of space.

Among those in the forefront of this change are some leading women architects, who are designing and building eco-friendly home that are comfortable, easy to maintain, reduce energy related greenhouse gas emissions, and are more easy on the purse in the long term than conventional homes.

“This trend is slowly changing and is like a silent revolution,” explains Bangalore-based architect Chitra Vishwanath, 47, who alone has been responsible for designing and constructing over 600 eco-friendly houses in and around her city in the last decade. In fact, over 6,000 eco-friendly houses have come up in Bangalore and its vicinity in the last 10 years thanks to many architectural firms that now offer clients eco-friendly, green or energy-efficient buildings.

Eco-friendly structures mean using local materials, local skills and imply low-technological dependency. None of these buildings are more than two or three floors high and so power is not consumed for running lifts, for instance. Most of these buildings are made up of soil stabilised blocks, Balipatnam bricks (solid and hollow), stone masonry, tiled roofs and recycled wood. They also use biogas. Their materials include natural stones and clay tiles for the flooring. They function on solar and wind power to run fans and power the LED bulbs for light. Each one of them has a rainwater-harvesting facility as well as infrastructure to recycle the garbage. And because of good cross-ventilation through large windows and doors, these abodes don’t require air-conditioning during punishing summers.

Says Architect Anupama Kundoo, known for the green homes she has built in cities across India, “Eco-friendly is not defined as a clear measurable standard. It’s more a tendency. It is an effort to reduce the strain on water and energy as compared to conventional building practices. It’s an effort to consider the health and pollution impacts and focus on reducing the waste generated. As such there is a lot of scope to improve the performance of buildings, particularly in densely populated cities. Eco-friendly doesn’t mean only mud buildings today.”

Kundoo, incidentally, divides her time between India and Germany and is currently teaching architecture and Urban Management at the University of Technology in Berlin.

Mumbai-based architect Shimul Javeri Kadri, who has designed several energy efficient buildings in Mumbai, Hyderabad, Chennai and Karur, among other places, puts it this way, “If buildings are constructed giving attention to the direction of natural wind flow and the angle of sunlight, a lot of energy can be saved. Of course, one can’t but consume power for the usage of lifts in multi-storied buildings. But power consumption can be reduced if the rooms are properly ventilated. Even the glass facades that are so popular at present can help reduce power consumption. But this is possible only if the large simple glass windowpanes are replaced by reflective window panes that considerably reduce the solar heat.”

In support of her argument, Kadri cites an example of a building designed by Chicago-based architect Jeanne Gang. Named Aqua, Gang’s 84-storied condo building is literally making waves amongst architects the world over. The building has a protruding concrete facade resembling sea waves on each floor that controls the breeze flow in the apartments and also provides natural shade to the occupants from the scorching sun.

Kadri is presently working on a residential bungalow in Alibaug, near Mumbai, where she has shaped the roof like a peepal tree leaf, with the front of the roof tilting upwards and facing the wind flow. The wind flow is thus used to cool the interiors of the bungalow.

Architects admit that the concept eco-friendly buildings to help fight global warming could become successful only when the entire landscape of the city and lifestyle of its residents undergo a change. And cities need to be planned properly, the way they used to be in earlier times.

“You can’t commute four to five hours in your AC car to and from office and say that you are helping the planet by living in eco-friendly homes. Whatever energy you have saved in your house design goes waste. The ideal eco-friendly constructions are those where the office, schools, colleges, hospitals, and recreation centres are close by,” says Vishwanath.

This is the reason why many big names in the world of construction are offering townships. Far removed from the maddening crowds of the cities, these builders provide everything including recreation facilities, sports space, office space, hospitals and markets, within the cluster of buildings they build. They also provide rain harvesting systems and many of them have set up garbage recycling facilities. In addition, many projects that are now coming up have solar panelling on the rooftops to tap the energy from the sun.

Women architects are very optimistic that within the next couple of decades, the lifestyle of ordinary people will undergo a sea change. The concrete-aluminum-steel buildings that are considered sophisticated today may soon become passe. And the mud houses, which are considered the poor person’s habitat at present, may well become fashionable in the years to come.

Says Kundoo, “Cement stabilised rammed earth walls allow a cleaner monolithic and modular solution with a minimalistic look in tune with modern trends. Five per cent cement added to the mud mix allows one to do away with the large tiled roof overhangs. This gives a rural and rustic look that is slowly becoming popular with urbanites.”

People today are more conscious about environmentally sound solutions, especially young couples who prefer to have a unique house and who want to fight the battle against global warming, indirectly if not directly. They are constantly in search of green architects, who on their part go out of their way to experiment with newer technology to make a house as energy efficient as possible.

Cost-wise, some of these eco-homes may not come cheap. But while many a time they are more expensive to construct, they could prove much cheaper to maintain in the long term. Reveals Sandhya Mahesh, wife of Mahesh Babu, a scientist with Indian Space Research Centre, Bangalore, “Living in this house designed and constructed by Chitra makes us feel one with the nature. We don’t have an AC in our house plus the harvested rain water helps us water our garden.”

With more and more people adopting eco-friendly lifestyles and with architects willing to experiment with building styles and materials, eco-homes are just what India and the world need in these times of climate change and global warming.