Pursuit of `national comfort'
This is regarding Sunita Narain's editorial "Too cold for comfort!" (1-15 July, 2018) and a related video in which she asked the legitimate question on "segregation". The socalled "adaptive" theory of comfort doesn't contradict the "functional" theory; it only complements it. It is not possible to define a "national comfort" in terms of temperature due to several factors. She mentioned some of them, but left out the single-most important parameter for free-running (or bioclimatic/ passive) buildings: the occupants' freedom to act on their environment, like operating the windows and the fans, modifying posture and clothing, and choosing where they sit and work. The difference between the temperature at which people feel comfortable and the temperature outside the building is always less when people are free to modify their environment. Hence, the mechanised or bioclimatic effort to achieve such a temperature is less, and free-running buildings can be made to work.
But, this also means that a "passive" building—where there are automatic windows and ventilation and a strict dress code—would render occupants as finicky as those of air-conditioned buildings. When you don't have a choice, you become extremely intolerant—a fact at the frontier of the psychological (irritation) and the physical (sweating). Hence, any attempt to define a "national comfort" would amount to legitimising the use of air conditioners (AC).
This is even worse than having AC as a status symbol, as it mostly is today. If AC becomes a legal requirement, it is much, much worse than a few people trying to "show off" by refrigerating their guests! 28ÊC is just not achievable by passive means when it is 40ÊC outside, except in rare cases (like, inside a step well or in a basement ventilated via an underground water tank which are extremely expensive, need lots of water and also don't work in humid places like West Bengal). By imposing this temperature, we render most eco-friendly buildings illegal, which would be stupid and—fortunately— unfeasible! The very notion of "passive" is wrong: we want to actively enjoy temperature differences. We all have great memories like sitting on a swing under the mango trees, feeling the faint breeze evaporate our sweat at 45ÊC! But nobody will ever remember having a great time in an air-conditioned shopping mall. At stake here is the notion that a comfortable building should have a defined "comfort temperature" which is a developer's dream, but is
only achievable via AC or mechanical cooling.
The ancient palaces had winter and summer rooms, verandas and rooftop sleeping. The same is true with vernacular houses. Palaces had "status" while ordinary houses had—seemingly—no "status". But, all were working in the same manner. The real luxury is gradually becoming not dependent on AC—by having a house in its own garden where a micro-climate can be created or to live in a vernacular neighbourhood like Delhi's Chandni Chowk or in the informal, unplanned settlement where I live. They have a number of trees, cars can't enter the 6-feet wide lanes, houses are only 5 feet apart, and the temperature outside is 2ÊC less than the "planned" settlements. The author is asking for the National Building Code (NBC) to be rewritten but I feel it is either impossible or counterproductive. Hopefully, your passionate interventions will trigger a debate, which is extremely necessary.