Technology has enabled resource preservation, and wooden flooring is a fine example, says architect Sathya Praksh Varanashi

Sustainable architecture is being driven today by many streams where local wisdom complements global ideas; where technology contributes to tradition; and where modern touch elevates past practices. As such, modern technology by definition is not disastrous or an undebated enemy of nature. If so, why do we hear technology as an anti-thesis to sustainability? Is it wrong to crucify modernity and should we uphold technology as a solution to the problems we are facing today? Occasional comments about this Green Sense column have been suggesting that the subjects discussed have a visible leaning towards the latter.

While this reaction could be partly true, and climate responsive architecture rooted in the local being more energy efficient by default, there are innumerable cases where technology has enabled more efficient use of materials, energy and resources. Technology bashing happens with many corporate demands, lifestyle needs, comfort matters and consumerist attitudes.

Air conditioning, automobiles, air travel, obsoleteness caused by progress, increasing manufacturing, global cross-border transportation and many such cause resource consumption and waste production. However, on the positive side, technology has also enabled resource preservation, wherein wooden flooring is among the more appropriate examples.

A list of positives…

Wooden flooring is not new to India. Be it in Kulu Valley or Kerala, timber has been among the common construction materials. Its beautiful grains, slow wear and tear, comfort feel for the feet and enviable durability is known to all. Despite a few routine problems, wooden floors have continued to be popular. They do not absorb heat, chilling cold, excessive water or staining dirt. A single sweep of dry or slightly moist cloth cleans the surface. Most wooden surfaces are anti-skid, hence safe for children and the aged. Incidentally, people who have lived on wooden floors for long, find it difficult to adjust to other options.

Traditionally, all structures in many regions of India had solid wood planks as floor boards, which today come at humongous cost. The modes of cutting trees and the planks were based on simple blades, leading to much material wastage. The surfaces were left raw after the cutting, which often failed in good performance.

A difficult job

Plank thickness was varying, making even laying a difficult job. Mostly, the junctions could not be fully sealed and the planks were not held tight, hence the floor was not always finished accurately.

Thanks to modern technology, wooden flooring has evolved as a better choice among the options with natural materials.

On a comparative note, while marble and such options deplete the earth’s resources, timber is a renewable resource, if only we care to leave the majority of the forests alone and have plantation timber grown instead. While the modern wood working and transportation consumes energy, the embodied energy of wooden floors is still lower than any of the completely manufactured materials. They are easily removable and recyclable, hence make a good case for eco-friendly architecture.

(The writer is an architect working for eco-friendly designs and can be contacted at varanashi@gmail.com)

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