City homes get a touch of indigenous architecture to save on energy, costs
Architects and builders are replacing brick with stone, timber with bamboo.
Clay partitions in place of walls, sloping roofing in the balconies and cupboards made of discarded pinewood — indigenous architecture is making its way into urban homes. Traditionally, the term is used to describe traditional methods and locally available material for building a home. Today, it generally indicates that these methods are being merged or adapted to suit modern house design and improve it.
“You do not need to go a whole hog and build your house from mud to make it sustainable. We are now seeing people use simple techniques such as using bamboo partitions, flooring made of waste stone and earthen bricks to reduce the use of energy in the house and get better green ratings,” says Akash Deep, programme manager at GRIHA (Green Rating for Integrated Habitat Assessment). “Indigenous architecture is usually the simplest way to address human needs in a particular geographic or cultural context.”
In a time of overcrowded cities, global warming, climate change and scarcity of essential resources such as water and power, going back to the basics — where possible — can also significantly shrink the carbon footprint of a home.
“Traditional architecture is used to reduce energy consumption while giving your interiors an edge,” says Varun Manian, chairman and managing director of Radiance Realty that has green residential projects in Chennai. “Some new buildings in the suburbs, for instance, are using simple floor plans with fewer walls in the interiors (this helps house get more natural light and look spacious), hiring local masons and using locally available earth.”
Old for new
So how does indigenous architecture work, in cities that have universally tended towards chrome and glass? A good way to start is by designing the structure or the interiors in direct response to local climate, geography and traditions.
“We do our bit by sourcing sand and wooden doors and windows locally,” says Rohit Poddar, managing director of Poddar Housing. “We also use more stone in construction. Stone is low-maintenance, durable material. We can use it in facades, floorings and partitions. Stone structures are also aesthetic, and they are better insulation in our tropical climate than concrete.”
Much of today’s architecture is neither eco-friendly nor sustainable. “Everything does not have to be steel and concrete,” says architect Eugene Pandala. “We have, for instance, used the cob technique adopted from traditional homes in Assam to make walls in several homes we construct. Cob is a mixture of sandy soil, clay and straw. It is long-lasting, inexpensive, entirely recyclable and pollution-free.”
In city homes, you can build an accent cob wall inside the house as a partition wall. “Even exposed clay brick walls can give character to the house, and are more eco-friendly than regular brick, which strips topsoil and has to be baked in polluting kilns says Pankaj Poddar, co-founder of Hipcouch, an interior décor brand that offers customisation with upcycled wood and bamboo. “Terracotta tiles help regulate the heat in the house while also giving it an old-world feel.”
Do it yourself
You can start small, in an existing house. “One feature of indigenous architecture in most cultures is minimalism,” says Pandala. “Have fewer rooms and fewer coffee tables.” Essentially, fewer frills, and fewer things.
Kamala Parekh, 30, a businesswoman from Sandhurst Road, can vouch for the effectiveness of design inspired by indigenous architecture. “All the shelves, slabs and furniture in my bathroom and kitchen are made of stone and the rest of my furniture is made of bamboo,” she says. “I used clay to make a partition wall and terracotta to make floor murals instead of using polluting tiles. The materials used were inexpensive and the house now has a timeless charm.”