In with sustainable living | India Today Insight

The pandemic is forcing many to rethink their high-end decor and over-the-top lifestyle

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A hotel by architect Sanjay Puri in Nasik, Maharashtra.

There was a time when being eco-friendly meant settling for expensive designs low on aesthetic value. But now that couldn’t be further from the truth. In a post-Covid world, with people looking at doing more and living in harmony with nature, the talk around sustainability has once again gained momentum. But what are the trends and how has going green adapted to the new normal? We asked some experts.

Retrofit Eco-friendly Products

“More and more clients are asking for sustainable designs these days and there is a shift from luxury living to a more sustainable lifestyle,” says architect Nilanjan Bhowal, principal architect, Design Consortium. But what does that mean? “Sustainability is using whatever resources you have, keeping in mind that future generations should be able to use these resources too, as well as the ethical and social impact of your choices. This is in contrast with conventional luxury, which is personal and excessive and has a very limited period of time usage,” he says. The key points to remember are reduce, recycle and regenerate. “Reduced consumption, water and carbon footprint, recycling whatever you can, and employing techniques like water harvesting and getting electricity through solar panels as regenerative tools,” he adds. In fact, harnessing solar power is something that can be retrofitted into any home. “For instance, in Delhi you can run your home on less energy through clever design. During most of the year you can harness the solar power for electricity. Delhi also has a grid system where you can sell the extra electricity generated,” says Bhowal. He has found that several clients love displaying their eco-home as proud, ethical citizens. Besides solar panels, one can also install low-flow fixtures in the bathroom and kitchen to conserve water, LED lights to lower energy consumption, external double-glazing on the east and west glass surfaces and overhangs on windows. “An epoxy coat on the entire terrace, when painted white, not only makes it waterproof, but also insulates and reflects heat,” he adds.

Back to the Original Plan

The crux of sustainability lies in using resources in a sustainable way. “For years I have been telling people to ditch that Italian marble and to introduce ventilation, bring in natural light into their homes. Everything else is just décor. Post the pandemic everyone is talking about air and light as compared to asking for more space coverage,” says Sonali Rastogi, founding partner, Morphogenesis. “Initially when we used to design offices, the norm was to have desks 1.8 metres away from each other. Slowly this distance started reducing with offices wanting to pack more people in. Today, they have been forced to go back to the original plan,” she adds. Sustainability is becoming a way of life—locally sourced material, right thermal value, waterproofing the ceiling and passive architectural thinking are all ways forward. “Learning sustainability from this pandemic and socio-cultural suitability, however, is the need of the hour,” says the architect.

Using Common Sense

“There has been increased awareness of sustainability, but to make an impact we need more people and architects to make it mainstream,” says Sanjay Puri, principal, Sanjay Puri Architects. “In India everybody knows that as one moves south of Delhi, it is mostly sunny throughout the year, yet people do not orient their homes in the north-south direction.” This simple reorientation will lead to 27 per cent heat reduction and 20-30 per cent energy saving (in terms of your AC), besides letting in natural light. “Think about it this way—if a room faces east, the sunlight is too harsh and you end up drawing the curtains and switching on the lights throughout the day,” says Puri. Use of local materials is also important, so while black stone works for Nasik and Lonavala, sandstone is suited to Rajasthan and granite for Bengaluru. Compare this to the procurement of marble, which is imported from Europe, is cut in another place and then sent to a third. “Besides local materials, it is also important to use local labour, something many architects have already started doing. The third level of sustainability is understanding if the process to create an end product is sustainable,” says Puri. Ask the architect what sustainability is and he says ‘it's common sense’, giving an example of a hotel in Nasik he designed. Here more than 50 per cent of the hotel is naturally ventilated, reducing AC costs by 50 per cent; 50 per cent of the energy requirement is met via solar panels; there is rain water harvesting being done on the property; and 50 per cent of the walls use local stones. No wonder then that it was the finalist for the most sustainable hotel in the Hospitality Design Awards New York 2020.

Think Local

Architect Vivek P.P., co-founder De Earth, believes that we need to focus on fundamentals over consuming. “We need to be much more contextual right now. Build less and be with nature,” he says. There is a move to be as sensitive to materials and to the earth. “If we are sensitive to the entire process, sustainability starts there. Don’t look at it in isolation. Think about how to nurture positive spaces around our homes, especially things locally available, like materials,” he says. This means ditching procurement (which is already not possible thanks to travel restrictions) for local materials. But remember what is local for the Malabar region may not be for Tamil Nadu. “We need to learn to co-live with nature, its elements and fellow beings.

It’s all About Context

“The current trend is truthful design as compared to earlier when it was all about impressing others,” says architect Jabeen Zacharias, president, IIID. Green design is all about bringing a positive change to the design and the environment. “But it can vary from creating a mud wall to a glazed glass wall, both of which reduce carbon footprint,” she says. To give an example of the importance of context, Zacharias gives an example of a home she was building where the square footage was scarce. So while she loves mud and stone, she could not use them as building materials for the walls of the home. So she used thin curtain walls, which are dry walls and good for insulation. “You have to find a way to cross-ventilate and avoid air conditioning. Energy is at a real premium,” she says, proving that clever techniques and practicality are the key elements for a sustainable design.

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