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Testing the new

There are many of us who believe in new ideas and in building with the alternatives. We believe our conventional methods are time tested, yet have limits when new challenges are posed. The ecological crisis of today demands that while we continue with proven practices of the past, there are areas which require innovative new concepts consuming less energy and resources.

Despite such a belief and also basic technical knowhow, as a society we appear to be hesitant to attempt blending the past with the present. Subject experts suggest fear of performance, public rejection of the idea, possibility of losing money and vulnerability towards ridicule among the reasons why we safeguard ourselves within the known boundaries. As such, options towards eco-friendly buildings such as soil cement blocks, hollow clay constructions, filler slabs, arched roofs, exposed wall surfaces, semi-open spaces, rammed earth walls, bamboo panels, perforated openings and such others, despite being proved, are relegated to the back seat.

If so, what is the way out? Let us look at science and technology for clues. It is common in the car industry to build up a prototype model, to test it, perfect it and then produce it. Product designers are known to make scaled versions of the idea, often many times, before it is presented to the client. It is mandatory to cast the new machine parts in actual sizes to test them prior the approval.

If prototyping is so common in R & D, why is it not so commonly seen in the construction industry? Most individuals, who are keen, cannot afford to do it. Across India, there are only a handful of centres such as Auroville, CBRI, IISc., Costford, Anangpur Building Centre, Nirmithi Kendra, and Hunnarshala involved in building research. Many of them have reduced their activities due to sufficient ideas already explored or lack of continued funds. Despite their sincere efforts, vast number of ideas have been tested, but not yet implemented in large scale.

Given this background, it is heartening to see young schools of architecture taking up the task of prototyping ideas as a means of teaching alternative architecture. The Vadodara Design Academy runs a field school where scaled-down structures are actually designed and built by the students. Going by the slogan ‘catching them young’, hopefully the participant students may develop a liking to experiment with ideas, continuing to do so even during their professional practice.

A seemingly complex structure like a dome was simplified by a visionary architect called Buckminster Fuller, which can be adapted to many contexts. However, it is not advisable to directly build it without any experience, hence the necessity to build a prototype. Once we know how to dimension it, and calculate the joints and angles in a smaller scale version, building the actual becomes foolproof.

Green buildings cannot be achieved only by reducing power, water and cost consumptions, but by relooking at the very way we are building.

(The writer is an architect working for eco-friendly designs and can be contacted at

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Printable version | Jan 17, 2021 6:58:56 PM |

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