Building in harmony with nature

Find innovative ways to introduce natural elements in your buildings, writes VINEETA BADAWE



To say that being environment conscious is today's necessity is stating the obvious.

However sometimes the obvious needs to be said. Being environment conscious is the only way we can ensure that everything that is `good' on our planet is not lost for the future generations.

At the macro level there are scientists and environmentalists working to save the earth. At the micro level we, as individuals, too must contribute, since every bit counts!

We are concerned about how the builders and users of buildings can work together towards minimising the damage to the environment.

It is very difficult to define a `good' building- since it involves a whole socio-cultural functionality and aesthetics. But let us attempt to define a good building from the angle of an environmentalist.

Consider the elements- water, earth and air. And then think of the thousand ways in which we spoil these elements.

Then go one step further and think how we can affect the elements to the minimum. And if you are still not satisfied with the answer then find out innovative ways to improve the quality of these natural elements through your building- and there in a nutshell is a good building!

Wasting water

Take water- ask yourself these simple questions: are my taps leaking? - If the answer is yes, it means I am not frugal in my usage. How many times we have heard the clich? that the future wars will be fought over water.

From the leaking taps to the overflowing tanks everybody is guilty of wasting water. From simple and effective rainwater harvesting to recycling the wastewater, today there are several options available. You can either be a proud owner of a zero discharge property or you can choose to be a callous house owner who does not care about the future- the choice is with you!

Having good plumbing and drainage systems can save water. It is even more important to maintain good systems- since without maintenance even the best of systems fail. Water can be saved by using dual flush toilets, sensor operated taps, waterless urinals and good, well- maintained pumping systems.

The ground water can be recharged by minimising the impervious areas in your property, increasing green cover to the maximum extent possible and collecting all the roof water by pipes and letting it into the wells to avoid loss by evaporation.

It is worthwhile to collect the discharge from bathroom washbasins and kitchen sinks separately- so that water from these areas can be treated and recycled separately.

The paved areas in your property such as parking, pathways should be given adequate slopes and surface drains from these areas should go to the wells (natural or bores) after passing through a simple filtration system.

In western countries the water usage is very carefully calculated. There is a higher charge for usage in the garden compared to domestic usage.

The logic being that garden is a luxury whereas domestic use is a necessity. It is a good idea to have separate water lines for every dwelling in multi-storied apartments, so that separate water meters can be installed.

Common sense says that when one knows exactly how much water one uses the usage reduces.

If bathroom floors are not provided with adequate slopes water tends to stagnate and evaporate. In other words it goes waste.

Violating laws

In India there are many states, which ban construction on hills, on waterways and in forests or reserved parks. These laws are good- and they are meant to protect the cities. And yet- how many times we have seen people violating these guidelines?

So the abuse of this natural element actually starts with land selection. The next culprit is dumping. During construction, care has to be taken that plastics are not buried in foundations and land fills since this will render the soil barren in a very short period.

On sloped sites, designs should be such that cutting equals filling. Build only what is essential- strive to reduce the footprint of your building.

We need not compromise on the space requirement, but we can definitely plan so that circulation spaces are reduced.

Take extra care to save a tree or two. Design adjustments are very often possible with the right attitude!

When you zero down on a property make soil investigation and a contour survey. Both of these will help your architect plan the building in the best way to take advantage of the inherent properties of the plot.

A lot of times soil quality can be improved- but it's possible only if investigation is done.

Plan the landscaping in such a way that no artificial fertilisers are used- instead use natural manure, which is equally effective.

Look for replacement to the traditional building materials such as bricks or sand- since excessive use of these has already led to soil and riverbed erosion. Alternative to bricks can be fly ash bricks or concrete blocks.

Alternative to sand can be the crushed aggregates.

On site housing for workers should have all hygienic facilities so that contamination of water and soil is avoided.

Precious commodity

Clean air to breathe has become a very rare and precious commodity. How do we from building perspective affect the air quality?

Bad air-conditioning pollutes the air. Go for CFC free AC equipment. Similarly poor quality diesel generation sets too pollute the air.

Kitchen exhausts and chimneys should be of good quality- so that the air is purified before it is let out to mix with the outside air. A Neem tree judiciously planted will improve air quality.

Many house owners have a tendency to burn their garden waste.

This too affects the air-quality and harms the atmosphere. This should be avoided - instead the garden waste can be made into manure.



There is no better way to be environment conscious than using `recycled' or `recyclable' materials.

Recycled materials are those, which are made from waste products, for example fly ash bricks, bamboo floorings, MDF and HDF boards for furniture.

`Recyclable' materials are those where reuse is possible. For example glass, aluminium, steel, and natural stones.

While preparing the building specifications care should be taken to specify at least 50 per cent of the materials, which are either `recycled' or `recyclable'.

Using solar and wind energy for our lighting and air-conditioning needs is a wonderful concept.

The only way we can provide a secure and clean environment for our future generations is by going green!

In fact there is no other way.