Friday, 8 June 2012

India again: developing regionally appropriate comfort standards

Torrent Research R&D Centre, Ahmedabad, India
In my last post, I was unkind about a new building in India that claimed world leadership in sustainability, as measured by the LEED rating system. My beef with LEED is not only that it is unreliable, but that it is virtually meaningless when applied to buildings in a place like India.

The same thoughts are highlighted in an opinion piece by UTS academic Leena Thomas. She is part of a collaborative effort to develop appropriate comfort standards for India, hopefully for incorporation in a regionally sensitive rating scheme. Read the full post here.

My comment on her article highlights that it's a race between two unequally matched phenomena. There is the staggering speed with which buildings are going up, emulating what their developers and occupants think are normal in 'advanced economies'. Slick, air conditioned buildings are therefore highly desirable, not just for their actual utility, but for their symbolic value confirming India's rise as an economic power.

And then, there is the deep seated feeling that not everything is right with this trend, that there may be a better, more 'Indian' way of doing things, tapping into pride in the longevity, ingenuity and resilience of the culture.

You would think that the latter would provide fertile ground for the sort of localised climate sensitive standards and building practices that Thomas' article describes. But in fact, the exemplar projects mentioned are far too few, done by far too few committed professionals, for far too few enlightened clients, over far too many years. The original Torrent Research Centre outside Ahmedabad demonstrated fifteen years ago that passive design could not only overcome the climate extremes of that location, but that you could do so for the stringent requirements of a pharmaceutical laboratory. Yet Torrent's own extensions since then are fully air conditioned buildings.

India will end up in serious trouble if it doesn’t curb the momentum of its energy hungry development. The only way it can do that is by decisive and appropriate government regulations. But government can only act on good advice, and in India, the people will only comply with regulations that make sense. The importance and urgency of the project described in Thomas' article can’t be overstated.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

The issue regarding the neglection or the disinclination for the building industry to adopt passive design is very prominent in the rapidly advancing economies around the world. I agree that passive design has either been not communicated between designers and clienteles or has been abandoned to meet the increasingly higher demand for buildings that maintain and adapt to desirable temperatures, where the easy solution has always been the installation of air conditioning systems.

With time running as a variable that cannot be accelerated or decelerated alongside an exponentially increasing demand for 'slick' buildings the environmentally friendly design have been foregone and overlooked. We don't have to look far as many developing countries in the past and present have gone through an industrialisation period where factories and quick and easy buildings were built to accommodate the expansion of the economy. For example China as a developing country were bombarded with demand for their extremely cheap products to the point where every product u see has a made in china label on it. Therefore the rapid demand for new and existing businesses in the manufacturing industry meant no thought was considered in building sustainability rather everything was focused on cost and rapid construction. A most recent example is of the 30 storey hotel in china that was erected in just 15 days. It sounds impossible to developed countries but these fast economies are increasingly showing their strength and power as a growing force and most of the times to demonstrate power, longevity and cultural practices have been forgone. However Every country's standards of passive design vary but already the 'Broad Group' in China that constructed the 30 storey building promotes renewable energy use, focusing on natural gas and waste heat for central air conditioning non-electric absorption chillers within buildings.

I would hope to foresee that the future will allow the importance for passive design to be recognised and become essential in a 'great' building. Hopefully as developing countries such as India begin to settle more, thought will be given to adapt sustainable design.