Growing up in Delhi in the 1960s, I remember that summer was a season we looked forward to. Cycling home from school at noon, you enter an enclosure with a low rectangular bungalow with thick walls, its deep veranda shaded by a jaffrey of climbing plants. The interior was cooled by rushes of khus-scented air and darkened by reed chicks pulled up against the harsh sunlight. At night, the roof was sprayed with water before the beds were arranged in a line and surrounded by mosquito nets. Motia flowers have been thrown on pillows to remind you that it’s summer, so enjoy.
With recent temperatures in northern India reaching 48 degrees Celsius, fun of any kind is far from people’s minds. Instead, new records of the worst kind are set every summer season – daily deaths from heat waves, shrinking rivers and depleting groundwater levels, and a myriad of other health-related issues. heat in cities such as dehydration and heatstroke, incredibly high. air conditioning and energy needs, load shedding and significant power outages.
The city in summer becomes a heat sink – where the prevailing atmospheric temperature is grossly amplified by modern building materials and buildings. The old bungalow and other traditional Indian building designs – such as northern havelis or southern Chettinad houses – dispersed heat through clay tile walls, mud-insulated roofs and a series of ventilation and shading devices such as courtyards and verandas. On the other hand, the expensive and inappropriate materials of modern architecture have a negative impact on the house, further loading it with heavy electrical loads for air conditioning. Today, 40% of all energy costs in the country come from buildings – the production of materials, their transport and their construction, as well as maintenance, cooling, heating, etc. the age of climate change?
Barring a miracle, the rescue of India’s overheated cities hinges on three essential factors: first and foremost, the establishment of an entirely new type of house that includes efficient planning, new materials and new construction methods. With 1.2 crore of urban houses to be built under the Pradhan Mantri Awas Yojana, architects are grappling with the need to use natural materials in more efficient designs, using passive ventilation systems. The increasing frequency of intense heat waves must necessitate the mandatory integration of cooling techniques and diverse architecture around courtyards, vegetation, water and landscape.
Second, there’s the larger aspect of placing the home in an environmentally sustainable neighborhood, where water, electricity, parks, playgrounds, and other amenities are all part of a shared plan. Along endless stretches of East Delhi, along new metro-connected roads in Jaipur and miles of new neighborhoods in Pune, the absence of trees, water, shade or sidewalks makes from the city a vacant lot without the possibility of outdoor living. It is therefore crucial to develop more liberal ecocentric regulations that focus on civic and community models rather than simply setting limits on private construction. Some environmental planners have even suggested an experimental biological model of urban designs – a radical idea that calls for the administrative division of cities into smarter ecological wholes including building, open space, green cover, water catchment and waste management. Sharing utilities and services in the power grids, these self-sustaining city islands would be defined by their biomass – green coverage proportional to the number of people housed there.
The third and most crucial is the inclusion of two key ingredients – risk and imagination. Building houses according to immutable standard formulas has so far only produced lifeless and unresponsive buildings. Architecture can be a much more innovative act when it encourages new forms of life, backed by advanced technologies and mixtures. Of course, some things change slowly. Architects grow grass on the sides of their buildings, fields of wheat on the roof. Some are studying underground houses, others are experimenting with thermal cooling through wind tunnels and cavity walls. As far-fetched as it may seem now, the potential for such apps in a hopelessly hot and unlivable future cannot be discounted. When cities are already overbuilt with the wrong kind of buildings, new architecture should be used as an enlightened corrective to making bold green claims that not only eradicate the impact of the heat wave, but improve urban living.
Sometimes, at the end of the day, I take the long way back to take another look at the old bungalow. The house is still there but the life it supports now is quite different. The veranda is enclosed in an all-glass hall, its creepers replaced by an ornamental palm tree. The garden has been paved for parking, windows sealed and air conditioning units packed. A massive generator hums along the side wall. The house is a machine to be recharged daily. In barely half a century, its architecture has gone from living with the earth to dying without it.
The opinions expressed above are those of the author.
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