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Sustainable Architecture and Future Homes

Updated: May 22, 2019

Organic architecture seeks superior sense of use and a finer sense of comfort, expressed in organic simplicity.

Frank Lloyd Wright, American Architect, Interior Designer

In 2004, Subbu Hegde and his family moved into their new home in Bangalore. It was a sprawling 2400 square feet house built for their small family and a dog.

You might ask why I am mentioning this here? What was different about this house?

Let me tell you.

The house completely built with natural products that are locally sourced right from the bricks to the paint. Built from soil that was locally available the house used solid mud blocks to build to structure for effective sustainability. Solid mud block is made by mixing soil and stone dust and it is left to dry naturally in the Sun for about a month. Since the bricks are made locally they need not be transported, which saves on the energy costs and they are naturally heated by the Sun hence saving on energy as well. Solid Mud Block bricks are 70% energy efficient when compared to the burnt bricks that are normally used in buildings.

Plastering of walls can be avoided when one uses solid mud blocks and this, in turn, saves on cement, sand, and water. In this house only about 50% of the walls inside have been plastered and painted.

The roof of the house is made from cement concrete and terracotta sandwich tiles that help to keep the house cool. The air that is trapped between the tiles keeps the bricks cool and reduces heat radiation from accumulating within. With result, the temperature of the house is cooler by three or four degrees. The solid mud block too helps to reduce the heat within the house as it naturally retains moisture and makes the interior cool.

Skylights bring in an abundance of natural light within the house while the solar light panel provides enough energy to light up lamps for more than 8 hours in a day. That apart the waste generated in the house is segregated into dry and wet and then turned into compost to maintain the garden.

The rainwater that falls onto the roof is channeled and collected in 35 feet deep open well and that aids in harvesting 75% of rainwater. Water used in the bathrooms are recycled to water to plants and the organic vegetables that they grow for their kitchen.

In other words, this is sustainable architecture.

And here is what Subbu Hegde had to say about his house, “Green to me means minimizing the use of natural resources, be it water, energy or material. Also, we take care of the garbage we create. And of course, having as much greenery as we can. This gives a sense or serenity to the house and also keeps the air clean.”

Myth of Costly Green Homes

Green homes are naturally considered costly and many find it to be a perfect excuse to shy away from it. Ironically the same people do not shy away from buying multiple air conditioners thus adding more burden on their carbon footprint.

To these non-believers here are a few home truths –

$20 K affordable homes

A part of an initiative called 20K project these home are not only sustainable but are totally affordable. Designed and built by Architecture students of Auburn University these homes were built specifically for the low-income group. Built on elevated piers with corrugated metal and timber these homes are fitted with passive heating and cooling systems that would keep the utility costs low.

This 400 square foot cabin was built at a cost of little over $2000. That’s not all. This little cabin is powered by 580-watt solar panel energy system and a 400-watt wind power system and there is more. The cabin also includes a working rainwater system, solar composting toilet, and a propane-heated shower. A green home that is totally off-the-grid and affordable too if you can shake off the shackles of conservative architecture.

This beautiful hobbit home was built with locally made concrete bricks in Thailand. Built within six weeks, the bedroom dome is fitted with a beautiful grass roof and the bathroom resembles an atrium complete with bamboo faucets and plants! The cost of building this eco-friendly home was around $8000!

If the previous one was not hobbit enough for you, here is something that would be suitable. These prefabricated green magic homes are built with fiber reinforced polymer making extremely flexible, strong, waterproof and most importantly durable. Easy to assemble, you can grow vegetables and fruits on the roof of these homes and live like a true hobbit. The cost of building your own shire is not much – just $35 per square feet!

Sustainable Architecture and Style

While there are many environmentally conscious people building tiny homes and experimenting with sustainable architecture there are also many inspiring building that is being built around that world that has taken sustainability to a new level.

Yet another myth about green buildings is that one needs to sacrifice style at the altar of sustainability. I think that these buildings prove the inherent falsity of this myth –

Environmental Learning Center, Amsterdam

There truly can’t be a more inspiring green building than this Environmental Learning Center in Amsterdam. A sustainable building that is energy neutral, this learning center is completely functional despite the eccentric shape. One is reminded of Steve Job’s famous quote “Design is not what it looks like and feels like. The design is how it works.” A maxim that holds good with this building. This sustainable learning center is designed with a maximum optical orientation of the roof towards the sun so as to power the solar panels and the large concrete slabs heat up the fresh air that enters the building thereby placing less demand on the heating system especially during the winter. The building has a pleasing façade and every single piece of this structure performs a function – much like our own body.

Kathleen Grimm School for Leadership and Sustainability, Staten Island, New York

Obviously, a school that teaches sustainability should be a zero energy structure in the first place! This is the first net-zero-energy school in New York that harvests solar energy through its large solar-paneled canopy roof that effectively reduces the energy consumption by 50% of what a school of this size would consume. That’s not all. They have also successfully incorporated many other sustainability features such as – ultra-tight high-performance building envelope, daylit offset corridors, energy-efficient lighting fixtures, low-energy kitchen equipment, a greenhouse and vegetable garden, a geo-exchange system, energy recovery ventilators and demand-control ventilation, and a solar thermal system for hot water.

Oasia Downtown Hotel, Singapore

Now here is a hotel with some difference. High-rise buildings act as sponges of heat in tropical weather that results in air conditioning the place increasing energy consumption. It is a vicious cycle that can’t be broken unless some architect thinks innovatively like this.

The Oasia Downtown Hotel in Singapore is a trendsetter model for sustainable and tropical construction of high-rise buildings in tropical countries. The hotel is built like a trellis and is covered by plant exoskeleton and a sky garden on the terrace that acts like an insulation cover keeping the structure cool and airy. This is certainly a prototype for tomorrow’s buildings in our region.

Hanover Olympic building, Los Angeles

This is the first solar powered net-zero apartment building in Los Angeles constructed with rooftop photovoltaic panels that provide energy for tenants in the building. That’s not all. The building also has an additional array of 220 panels that feeds excess solar energy into the grid! Now that’s not only sustainable but also extremely useful for the community!

Nanjing Green Lighthouse Nanjing, China

This beautiful green lighthouse is a zero carbon office that serves as an exemplary sustainable design in China. This spiral structure has a light-filled atrium that incorporates copious amounts of natural light and ventilation to all the floors of the structure. The façade of the building was carefully designed with operable openings and daylight horizontal reflectors to minimize the heat in the interiors and to maximize the structure’s access to soft natural light. The renewable energy that is generated by this structure amply compensates the energy that is consumed thus making it a sustainable green design that works!

The way forward

We are living in a toxic world. Everything is contaminated by toxic chemicals in an effort to either make it taste good or look good. Food, vegetables, fruits, milk, water and even the paint that we use for our houses are contaminated with toxic synthetic chemicals. The only way forward that I can see is to go back to basics. Only by applying common sense to our design and by using sustainable energy and architecture can we live in a world where energy is free, clean and renewable every day.

What do you think?