Let’s get water-wise with sustainable architecture

Concrete is synonymous with development but is an environment killer…

After water , concrete is the most widely used substance on earth. Concrete slabs provide us a modern environment , protect us by from natural disasters by providing a roof over our heads and is the foundation for our infrastructure, transport and energy industries.

Concrete sucks up almost a 10th of the world’s industrial water use. India is the third largest consumer of construction materials after China and USA and is expected to emit between 4 to 7 billion tons of carbon dioxide by 2030, compared to 1.2 billion tons today. Our natural blue and green environment is increasingly becoming concrete grey and the dangers of concrete to name a few are choked landfills, urban flooding, overheated cities, toxic dust, freshwater consumption, destroyed beaches and lakes and ‘sand mafias’.

It is high time we look beyond the concrete age and look at sustainable architecture , circular construction based on building materials that increase recycling, reduce waste and save water.

Eco-friendly building projects that celebrate the spirit of water

Here is a look at 3 sustainable architecture projects designed with natural elements balancing concepts of water, environment and ecological conservation.

1. Sangath, Ahmedabad

The first Indian architect to ever win the International Pritzker Architecture prize was architect Balkrishna Doshi in 2018. Doshi has been a practitioner of architecture for over 70 years with his guru being Le Corbusier(master architect of Chandigarh). Doshi’s studio ‘Sangath’ in Ahmedabad is considered one of his masterpieces that takes advantage of natural energy flow, water bodies reducing greenhouse gases with special materials used to promote low cost building costing.

Sangath , Ahmedabad ( Pic courtesy : https://www.sangath.org/projects/)

2. Transformation of Delhi’s Nullahs (water streams)

In the 14th Century , the Tughlak dynasty in Delhi constructed drainage channels to divert monsoon rainwater called as ‘Nullahs’ . The Nullahs were a dense, connected system of water streams spanning 350 kilometers  with 20,000 branches, across 1750 acres of land and ultimately all tributaries connected to the Yamuna River.

Currently, the nullahs are unhygienic drains, in a shabby state – they smell, breed disease and pollute the Yamuna River.

The Morphogenesis project proposes that prior to sewage entering the nullahs , wastewater is treated and also any rainwater collected is filtered to form a sustainable network of nullahs. Apart from water treatment, an alternative transportation infrastructure can be built on either side of the nullahs by providing pedestrian and cycling routes connecting neighborhoods and business districts. 

This ambitious project aims to interlink many of the city’s famous archaeological sites that are situated along the nullah network and opening broad areas of tourism to sports, creating a cultural web within the Delhi metropolis.

Delhi Nullahs transformation project

3. Oceanix City Concept for Floating cities:

International Architecture firm BIG has designed a concept for a floating city that could help populations threatened by extreme weather events and rising sea levels.

Famous Danish architect Bjarke Ingels, known for visualizing and designing sustainable architecture concepts such as Oceanix city  presented to the United Nations an idea of ‘floating islands ’ . One floating island would have multiple homes built on it and groups of ‘floating islands ’ form villages. Villages are grouped to form an archipelago of a sustainable city.

Home to around 10,000 citizens these floating cities would be entirely self-reliant, subsiding off water collected, desalinized, and stored on-site, with food grown through hydroponics and vertical farming.  Oceanix City would produce zero waste and rely almost entirely on renewable energy.

Oceanix City Concept ( Pic credit : BIG Architecture firm)

What is LEED and why is it good for buildings to be LEED certified ?

LEED stands for Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design and is a widely used and recognized green building rating system around the world for both commercial and residential buildings. When a building is LEED certified, what it means is that the building’s design and construction is very energy efficient , water usage, air quality and the choice of building materials are healthy, highly sustainable and are cost-saving green buildings.

LEED certification ensures that wastewater management is highly effective, and wastewater is re-used either by treatment , water harvesting or recycled.

Infosys, one of India’s largest software services provider has most of its 50 offices LEED certified and watch this video of their Chandigarh office setting an example of these green buildings being better for the environment , healthier for employees and saves money long term.

Something unique …look at nature’s architecture that stands for a thousand years ….

These amazing tree bridges are found in the Cherrapunji region of state of Meghalya. The living tree root bridges called ‘ jing kieng jri ‘ made by the local people are handmade by guiding the roots across a river or stream and allowed to grow and strengthen over a period. The roots are tied and twisted together and encouraged to combine with each other and form strong roots on either side of the riverbanks.

Though impractical for cities , it does show how mother nature can help people commute without worrying about environmental damages due to modern day construction.

In conclusion, sustainable architecture that incorporates rainwater collection, wastewater treatment , solar design, recycled and sustainable materials , and other ecological methods not only protects our environment but also provides a better quality of life .

Promoting ‘smart growth’ of our cities and towns by adopting sound design and construction principles increases housing opportunities for all and makes our environment more resilient, prosperous, healthier and water-wise. We should demand sustainable architecture, governments and architects should invest in it and housing regulations should mandate it for these solutions to be successful.

Published by Meena Iyer

Sustainability champion and naturally committed to support the cause of healing our planet impacted due to climate change.

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