Contemplating the future of our cities reminds me of an old man sitting on a cracked, ornamental porch  with paining sour limbs and adversely stuck knees, wondering what when wrong. He is thinking, why his back cracks and squawks on the generous movement of his hands, or how each of his joints refuses to move at the very onset of winters.

Well, cities are no different than us. How they grow depends on how we bring them up, and how well we maintain them determines how well they age. 

Our changing comfort levels and awareness of environmental impact and evident effects of global warming altogether present to us a scenario where we are made to question our developmental choices and utilisation of resources. So, today,  “sustainability” and “green” are familiar words.

There are various green-building evaluation systems developed for qualitative and quantitative assessment to certify buildings on the scale of “greenness”.  Some of these rating system adopted internationally are B.R.E.E.A., Building Research Establishment’s Environmental assessment method, CASBEE; Comprehensive assessment system for building environmental efficiency; L.E.E.D., or the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design.

Keeping in view the Indian context, we have a comprehensive building rating system in place, called the G.R.I.H.A. — Green Rating for Integrated Habitat Assessment. It was developed by the Ministry of New and Renewable Energy and takes into account the provisions of the National Building Code 2005, the Energy Conservation Building Code 2007 announced by BEE and other IS codes, as well as local bye-laws and laws. For real estate firms,, achieving a minimum level of a three-star rating for all new buildings of central government and public sector undertaking has now become mandatory here.

These rating systems have major points which need to be met throughout the  project. The number of milestones achieved determines the rating of the building. Green rating can also be achieved for existing buildings with required modifications and redevelopment from the point of view of energy efficiency and  sustainability.

As architects our approach to green building design is more sensitised towards the environment.

As architects our approach to green building design is more sensitized towards the environment these days. We begin our design process by analysing the functionality of the building. We analyse the movement and circulation of people on site. We also have to plan all services in common core to optimise electrical and water-supply system in the complex.

Our first step for creating an eco-friendly building starts with integration of built-form with the outside environment. We view the building envelope as a membrane between the natural and artificial spaces and our challenge lies in orienting and resonating it in such a way that there is a harmony in the new additions. The solar heat gain inside the building is simultaneously curtailed by innovative shading techniques, passive systems and innovation in fenestration designs. Suzlon One Earth Campus, a five-Star rated building, was able to achieve energy consumption reduction compared to G.R.I.H.A. benchmarks by 56%.

These buildings are further  integrated with renewable energy generation systems to achieve a  “net-zero building”, i.e. a building with zero net energy consumption, where the total amount of energy used by the building on an annual basis is roughly equal to the amount of renewable energy created on the site.

Another frugal and environmentally sensitive structure is the Institute of Rural Research and Development, Gurgaon, making a strong case for cost-effective, creative, simple and sustainable architecture. The design brief was to use as many natural materials as possible and try to reduce dependence on energy. As a solution timber was used instead of aluminium for air conditioner grills, since it is renewable and helps reduce energy consumption. This timber was sourced from managed forest resources. Since the building optimises on natural ventilation the need for air conditioning was considerably reduced and the building required air conditioning only for about 60-70 days in a year. Also, the converted semi shaded courtyard was installed with large photovoltaic (PV) solar roof. The building then generating power from these 35 kW PV solar panels.

Green construction is not just an element of a built environment, but is a process of design and construction. It emphasises the need to augment environmental performance with reduction in  embodied energy, emphasis on recyclability, reduce the carbon footprint and water consumption etc.

On the whole, green design starts with a shift in consciousness. The shift that  allows us to recognise that with every choice we make, we are voting  for or against the kind of world we wish to see and live in.

The writer is a senior architect with Engineers India Limited

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