Earth Right Environment

Designs for the future

Every year, April 22 is celebrated as Earth Day all over the world. I suppose it is a day for us to pause and reflect on how we have treated nature, and look forward to how we can minimise the disruption we cause it. The issue is we soon tend to forget until the next Earth Day is upon us. We need to find a way to keep our planet in mind at all times and ensure we leave behind a minimal carbon footprint.

One way is to ensure our buildings are designed to minimise impact on the planet. In cities like Chennai, for example, we have come to a point where air conditioning is unavoidable, and has become a default requirement. Air conditioning uses excessively high electricity and is a significant contributor to global warming today — not only from burning of fossil fuels but also from the release of hot air into the environment.

There are ways to reduce or even avoid the use of mechanical conditioning inside our built spaces. The first step one needs to do is choose building materials that are insulating. These are materials that do not let in much heat from the outdoors.

Secondly, make sure there is adequate shading of these walls from direct heat, and lastly, keep in mind to have adequate cross ventilation within the indoor spaces in hot and humid places like Chennai.

The good news about materials is that we now have access to multiple options. Hollow terracotta blocks, aerated concrete blocks, insulated panels are all good options.

Double brick walls (with an air cavity between them) were very common in traditional South Indian homes. The factor to check for is the ‘U-Value’ of the material. The lower the U-Value, the better the insulating properties. Most materials today have data sheets mentioning this factor. Combining insulating materials with adequate shading by use of sunshades, balconies and verandahs will prevent direct heat from getting indoors.

In hot and humid climates, adequate cross ventilation can provide the thermal comfort we require. Even when we are outside during a hot summer day, if there is adequate wind movement we don’t feel the heat as much.

The key to achieving good cross ventilation within built spaces is to ensure the orientation of the building on site and the location of openings such as doors and windows are done right. Providing openings along the prevailing wind direction and then again in the opposite direction will lead to a draft or wind flow within the space.

Another key feature in traditional South Indian homes was the lining up of the front and back doors. Another important climatic feature that has been forgotten in our modern urban dwellings is the provision of high openings or vents. Openings located at a high level, preferably just below the ceiling will push the lighter, warm air out. Courtyards are another key architectural feature that are not only aesthetic, bring the outdoors in but also allow hot air to exhaust.

These are just a few factors to keep in mind while planning our buildings, which will go a long way in minimising the harmful effects on our planet.

The author is the founder of Green Evolution, a sustainable

architecture firm


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Printable version | Jun 18, 2021 5:31:16 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/sci-tech/energy-and-environment/designs-for-the-future/article34391285.ece

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