Peer through smoke­screen

Green­ness of a ma­te­rial de­pends on where you are build­ing, what you are build­ing and why you are build­ing

Down to Earth - - LIFESTYLE -

YOU ARE gear­ing up to build your dream house, of­fice, or any build­ing for that mat­ter. Then you re­mem­ber the term “green build­ing” men­tioned to you by a friend. You start won­der­ing: is it too ex­pen­sive? Or, is it just an­other hy­per­bole in a world full of ex­ag­ger­a­tions. You de­cide to ex­plore the con­cept. The es­sen­tial de­sign con­cept is surely wel­come, but it is the ma­te­ri­als that re­quire "buy­ing power". How should one do the walling, the roofing, win­dows, doors, floor­ing and the rest of the fin­ish­ing?

Many of the brochures of such ma­te­ri­als have a green back­ground, nicely il­lus­trat­ing a pro­tec­tive hand hold­ing up the Earth and draw­ings of myr­iad species of trees to em­pha­sise their green­ness. But you feel the need to go deeper. Your “green”-en­abled friend in­forms that green ma­te­ri­als are those which are lo­cally avail­able. But even the stat­uette of god­dess Laxmi which you bought from the “lo­cal”shop re­cently was made in China!

The truth of the mat­ter is green ma­te­ri­als, for what­ever their green quo­tient, are man­u­fac­tured, trans­ported and utilised as build­ing com­po­nents in a range of places. And that changes their colour. Say, a mar­ble stone floor­ing pro­cured from Ra­jasthan might be all the rage in Delhi, but would it make sense in the North­east, where in­stal­la­tion, trans­porta­tion and main­te­nance would be at a pre­mium and would be an en­ergy-in­ten­sive af­fair. The cri­te­ria help­ing iden­tify a green ma­te­rial need to change based on the lo­ca­tion of the build­ing, the re­gion's to­pog­ra­phy, raw ma­te­ri­als avail­able, the pro­cess­ing of raw ma­te­ri­als and the pro­cess­ing skill, both hu­man and me­chan­i­cal. But there are other pa­ram­e­ters of green­ness that might be quite uni­ver­sal and in­de­pen­dent of the con­text. For ex­am­ple, pol­lu­tion due to ef­flu­ents from the prod­uct’s man­u­fac­ture, pro­cess­ing and in­stal­la­tion.

Surely, our an­ces­tors knew how to de­sign a good, com­fort­able buil- ding with their lim­ited ma­te­rial pal­ettes. In mod­ern build­ings, some of the fun­da­men­tal changes being pro­posed in­clude ad­di­tion of sheeted in­su­la­tion ma­te­ri­als to cut the ther­mal ra­di­a­tion. But can we not ex­am­ine the pos­si­bil­i­ties that lie in in­tel­li­gent con­fig­ur­ing of the ma­te­rial in sim­i­larly large-scale sim­pler build­ings, say cre­at­ing wall cav­i­ties that cut out the so­lar heat. So, are the ma­te­ri­als which have been used in our tra­di­tional build­ings up to the mark? Mostly, yes, since this was the age when pro­cess­ing tech­nol­ogy was prim­i­tive and ba­sic hand pro­cess­ing al­lowed only lim­ited en­ergy ex­ploita­tion, though the level of so­cial and eco­nomic ex­ploita­tion of the crafts­men might be worth ex­plor­ing.

An im­por­tant ex­am­ple of tra­di­tional ma­te­rial is wood. For long, we have been say­ing, es­pe­cially for govern­ment build­ing projects, that "wood can’t be good". But a range of so­cial forestry pro­grammes and sus­tain­able forest­ing com­pa­nies are try­ing to bring a ma­te­rial with its own spe­cial feel, a vast lo­cal knowl­edge in its us­age, zero-em­bod­ied en­ergy back into the main­stream. This, of course, needs to be done care­fully while si­mul­ta­ne­ously en­cour­ag­ing the “wood sub­sti­tutes” which of­fer healthy com­pe­ti­tion. Then, there are re­cy­cled green ma­te­ri­als, or ma­te­ri­als made from waste prod­ucts. One such highly utilised ma­te­rial is fly ash. But there have been con­cerns about the strength, ra­di­a­tion emis­sions and wa­ter ab­sorp­tion of fly ash build­ing blocks or bricks. But si­mul­ta­ne­ously, var­i­ous or­gan­i­sa­tions have stan­dard­ised spec­i­fi­ca­tions and of­fered up­grades like the fly ash lime gyp­sum block ( fal-g). These in­clude govern­ment bod­ies like the Bu­reau of In­dian Stan­dards and the Cen­tral Pub­lic Works Depart­ment. In­creas­ing us­age and com­pe­ti­tion are bring­ing down the pre­mium on green ma­te­rial cost. And there is no need for the hy­per­bole. The fi­nal choice lies on the old cri­te­ria: sim­plic­ity of use, ther­mal com­fort, dura­bil­ity and all those which can de­liver us some­thing that is truly sus­tain­able.

Green ma­te­ri­als are man­u­fac­tured, trans­ported and utilised as build­ing com­po­nents in a range of places, and that changes their colour

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