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By relying on natural light and outdoor fresh air, the San Francisco Federal Building saved $11 million in mechanical cooling

Breaking Myths To Build The Future

We dispel some common misconceptions about green buildings and tell you why you should consider going green.

Most of India is still unbuilt – over 70% of the building stock is yet to be constructed – so unlike the rest of the already developed world, India can build in a new, efficient and sustainable manner.

Today, there is some progress being made in this field. In India, green buildings account for 3% of the total buildings as of today. This is set to go up to 10% by 2022 according to Chandrashekar Hariharan,vice-chairman of the Indian Green Building Council (IGBC) and will reach one lakh by 2025. According to a recent release by the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC), India ranks third among the top 10 countries for LEED (Leadership in Energy & Environmental Design) certified buildings.

However despite the vast potential, green buildings have still not caught on in India. There are several reasons for this, but the most obvious is the myth that constructing a green building will cost more. Most builders perceive the cost of constructing a green building higher than establishing a conventional one. At most, the additional cost is about 5% of the base price, and the same is recovered within three to five years of the operation of the building.

In fact recent reports by the US General Services Administration show that green buildings cost 25% less to operate. For example, by relying more on natural light and outdoor fresh air, the San Francisco Federal Building saved $11 million in mechanical cooling with a total construction cost of 13.5 % below the market average.

One Indiabulls Centre in central Mumbai is a green building constructed using recycled metal and water and energy efficient technology
One Indiabulls Centre in central Mumbai is a green building constructed using recycled metal and water and energy efficient technology

One Indiabulls Centre, situated in central Mumbai is a green building constructed using recycled metal and water and energy efficient technology. The project has substantial cost savings in energy and operational costs. It has also generated carbon credits for Indiabulls Real Estate, which in turn can be traded, becoming a potential revenue source for the company.

There is also a tendency to look at sustainability as being the same as environmentalism, and thus it is often misunderstood as curtailing use and stifling developmental activity. While the long term environmental benefits are definitely there, the basis of sustainable building is that it integrates the ‘triple bottom line’ of social, economic and environmental value – people, profit and planet.
The DART tool, developed by RTKL Architects helps guide designers towards achieving ‘Performance Driven Design’.

Another misconception is that green construction is more time consuming due to  additional research, analysis and search for alternative products. But taking the path of integrated design, i.e. involving the project’s key stakeholders, designers, consultants and contractors early to get consensus on goals, actually can save time by ensuring more thorough coordination and avoiding costly changes later. Sustainable design can lead to a better product faster.

Traditional buildings in India use high walls, sloping roofs and jaalis to control the temperature of the building
Traditional buildings in India use high walls, sloping roofs and jaalis to control the temperature of the building

Another major deterrent is the belief that sustainable design requires huge investments into technology. Sustainability is thus associated with smart energy solutions such as solar panels and wind turbines. Often, smarter techniques merely make us better at making things worse. This is an especially problematic misconception in India as technology tends to intimidate a large number of our populace. When one thinks about it, we have always practised sustainable design in our architecture, right from ancient times.  Many traditional buildings in India use structural elements such as high walls, sloping roofs, jaalis, step wells, etc. to control the temperature of the building. Another easy, low cost way to be sustainable is to incorporate basic rain water harvesting systems in pre-existing buildings.

When thinking on sustainability, many architects feel that they have very little to contribute to this aspect of the construction as it has very little to do with design.  However some would argue that the opposite is true. Basic decisions about a design’s shape have a significant impact on both the resources needed and the people who use it. It’s been estimated that 80-90% of the impact of a building or product is determined in the earliest stages of development.

Designers and architects prefer to focus on the aesthetic aspects of building and conceptions of environmental construction generally classify it as something noble, yet dull. However one only needs to take a look at traditional Indian buildings to see how sustainability can be combined with aesthetics and practical, human considerations.

Text by Alyssa  Lobo

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