A Call for Permeable Paving

with permeable paving, stormwater doesn't all become surface runoff

With permeable paving, all stormwater doesn’t become surface runoff
Image Source: Flickr

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: urban dwellers have an obsession with paving every possible open space.

Housing society compound?
Pave it — we need to park our cars!

Open area where social interactions take place?
Pave it — our clothes get muddy!

Barely-used internal road?
Pave it — we get stuck in the monsoon and it’s hell on the tyres!

If we Must Pave, Let it be Permeable

Some of this paving may well be justified but, because it is done indiscriminately, it leads to a boatload of problems related to the water table, the health of the city’s trees and even the heat we’re subjected to. I’ve written all this in greater detail elsewhere on this site but this particular post is about a type of product that could help in such situations.

In late 2015, there was a buzz in the construction world as Lafarge UK showcased a super-porous asphalt that could guzzle an incredible 4000 litres of water in about a minute. Media started calling it “thirsty concrete” and truly, if you watch the video below, it does look like the water is vanishing into desert sands.

Permeable Concrete Video

I have never been a great fan of the wasteful use of concrete but, when it is required, the least we can do as architects is to try and use it correctly.  Unfortunately, at least as far as I can tell, this product and others like it are not readily available in India. In fact the only case I know of permeable concrete being used, is for a parking lot at Jaipur railway station.

Unless architects and engineers specify such products and create a market for them, there is no way that companies will manufacture them here. I do hope some of my brethren in the industry take up the call.

Indian Green Building Ratings

Magic Tricks & Green Ratings

Green Ratings and the Art of Illusion

I’ve been critical of Indian green building ratings, their basic limitations and the fact that they can and will be manipulated. Of course this is not restricted to India alone… the problem is worldwide.

Now, a study by the New Delhi-based research organisation, Centre for Science and Environment, CSE, shows that a number of buildings that had been awarded platinum status–the highest achievable rating of the Indian Green Building Council or IGBC–were in fact barely worthy of any rating at all based on the amount of energy and water they consumed. Interestingly, the study was based on building performance data on IGBC’s website itself. A defensive IGBC is now nit-picking about CSE’s method of analysis but whichever way you look at it, the fact remains that the ratings methodology looks severely flawed.

How is it possible for the difference between the theoretical consumption–on the basis of which the rating is given–and the actual consumption, to be so vast? To my mind, it strikes at the very root of the problem when the system rewards you for your stated intent (genuine or otherwise) instead of rewarding you for your actions. It is all very well to brag that your building has a fantastic green rating but this has to be borne out by actual performance.

The worrying aspect is, the gulf between ratings and reality has ramifications far beyond mere bragging rights.

Many state governments give tax-breaks and extra floor-space for green buildings so the incentive to obtain a certification can be huge.  It is, unfortunately, all too easy to claim one thing at the time of rating and then shift the goal-posts at a later date.

Now that this latest can of worms has been opened, let us hope for a positive change in the way ratings are given and retained. With so many big names and businesses involved, however, there is always a chance that they will collectively try to sweep it under the carpet; and use the old system of discrediting the whistle-blower.

Acknowledgement: image from Pixbay

TERI and USGBC to join forces

TERI & USGBC to join forcesNow that was unexpected!

New Delhi, June 7: The Energy and Resources Institute (TERI) and the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC) today announced a strategic collaboration to accelerate the development of high performance buildings in India and Southeast Asia.

Essentially, apart from lavishing praise on each other in their press-releases, they’re talking about making it easier for projects to have dual certification by “offering seamless pathways” to do so. However, what we still don’t know–and what they haven’t spelt out–is how they plan to reconcile their fundamentally different approaches to sustainable construction.

One wonders what compulsions made these two reach out to each other. Let’s not fool ourselves that it was an altruistic move for the betterment of all mankind. This was a hard business decision and there must be some powerful financial reasons behind it.

What will it mean for the future of GRIHA? Are they running scared because LEED certification has greater aspirational status and because India is already the third largest market for them outside of the USA? On the other hand, GRIHA is officially backed by the Indian government so, is LEED trying to stick a foot in that door now?

Time will tell of course but I can’t help feeling that TERI has made a blunder.

Press releases from TERI & USGBC

Edit: On request from TERI, the image in this post (which originally contained their logo) has been changed. Was I cutting too close to the bone?

New BEE Ratings for Air Conditioning

From the beginning of 2104—and in line with past practice—the Bureau of Energy Efficiency (BEE) has updated their rating system for all appliances including lights, fans and air-conditioners. I’m only going to talk about air conditioners here because they are, by far, the biggest guzzlers of electricity.

Energy efficiency is calculated as a ratio of output Watts v/s input Watts. So, if a 3,500W (1 Tonne) air conditioner needs 1,200W to run, then the EER is 2.92.  Up to the end of 2011, that would have made it a 4-star machine. In 2012 and 2013, it would have been considered a 3-star machine. Today, that same machine will be considered a 2-starrer. So yes, as technology improves, the ratings are revised and made a little more stringent—which is how it should be. Have a look at the table below to get an idea of the changes.

BEE Rating History

BEE Ratings over the last few years

While this is good, it may not be good enough.  As this article shows, the entry level for a single star is on par with many other countries but the higher ratings are somewhat below world averages.  Also, manufacturers of inverter air conditioners have long been saying that their machines cannot be rated because they are “better than 5-star”.  Checking the specifications for the ones available in India shows that many of them have an average EER greater than 3.5 but none cross 4.0 even for minimum cooling–whereas the same companies manufacture models for other countries with a higher EER.

This could be because of two factors:

  1. There is not enough incentive to go beyond the maximum available rating since the average person (and even most architects) won’t easily be able to compare two models for energy efficiency.
  2. Models with a a higher EER are more expensive to manufacture and the Indian market is notoriously price-sensitive.

While there’s not much anyone can do about the second factor, the first can certainly be tackled by raising the bar for ratings. As more and more people resort to artificially cooling their indoor environment instead of availing passive cooling (thanks to current architectural trends) our energy situation is getting more and more precarious.

I must be an idiot

crackpot environmentalist architect

The Crackpot Environmentalist Architect

Just received a call from a gentleman who wanted to develop 9 acres of land at Nasrapur village in Karjat, very close to some of the bungalows I’ve done and am doing there. That sounded interesting, naturally.

Unfortunately he wanted to make houses entirely and exclusively out of prefab steel. Never mind that they would not be environmentally sustainable and, therefore, contrary of the kind of work I do; never mind, even, that they might look like factory sheds! Someone had obviously convinced him that this was the way to go.

I said that I could not take up a project if I felt it was ecologically damaging and urged him to at least consider other options. He was closed to such crackpot ideas but very understanding about my foolishness. His words were, “Yes, of course, everyone has their… their own…” and then his voice trailed off.

Sometimes, it’s better to lose a project before you even have it in hand.

Visit to ACE tech 2013

ACE tech 2013

Went to ACE tech 2013 at the Bombay Exhibition Centre today. To say that it was suffocatingly crowded would be an understatement. There was a time when they allowed only architects, designers and related professionals on the first two mornings and threw it open to the public in the evenings and on the weekend. That way, we could have a meaningful interaction with manufacturers and service providers and actually learn about what they were offering.

Now, with everybody allowed in all of the time, the interaction has been reduced to a bare minimum.  Also, in response to this trend, the stalls — as well as the brochures they hand out — have become glossier and mostly lacking in substance. Worse, it’s hard to get hold of someone who has any technical knowledge about the product… all you get is a marketing person who knows diddly-squat.

The Changing Face of Lighting

LEDs are changing the face of lighting

LEDs are changing the face of lighting

My first encounter with LEDs was for a school project where I wanted to use one as a little red indicator. In those days, they were simply Light-Emitting Diodes, nothing more. The though that they would, one day, be used as a source of light didn’t even remotely cross my mind.

In the last few years, however, LED technology has taken giant strides and the early problems like inaccurate colour rendition and a limited light-cone have been, to a great extent, sorted out. Added to that, the costs–which used to be very high–have come down to relatively affordable levels. While they are not, still, competitive with fluorescent lights, the day is probably not far when LEDs will replace them.  Even at today’s prices, they are already more economical in the long term.

With their small size and favourable physical properties—they run cool, have a long life and are able to vary their colour—LEDs have made it possible for lighting designers to come up with some very original creations.

Image derived from | https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:On-state_off-state_white_LEDs.jpg

Micro Houses

A photo feature on unconventional tiny houses got me thinking about why we never hear of architects designing them in India.  Is it because a very small house is much too readily associated with poverty that we, as a country, are trying to leave behind? Or do we insist on big weekend houses on the off-chance that extended family and friends will come visiting and need to be accommodated?

tiny footprint

Micro houses have a tiny footprint

Whatever the reason, the concept of micro-houses is rarely considered seriously here–although it should be–because because they costs a lot less to build or maintain and, more importantly, they reduce our carbon footprint in a very big way.

We have a long tradition of frugal construction and it’s about time we rediscovered it. Maybe one day, hopefully in the near future, someone will ask me to design one. Or a bunch of them.

The Bottle Light

bottle light refractionSometimes, a simple idea can be immensely powerful. Maybe the bottle light is not something that makes a huge difference to your life or mine but, for those who live in shanties with little or no electricity, this is a godsend.

screencap from a BBC featureEssentially, one fills a used, transparent, plastic bottle with water and a little bleach (to prevent algae) and sticks it into a hole in the roof.  That’s it. Oh, and don’t forget to seal the edges of the hole.

The light that it produces is equivalent to a 50 or 60W bulb. Of course it won’t work at night but when you think of the dark homes that some of our less fortunate citizens live in, this can—at the very least—brighten up their day.

BBC News Magazine
A Liter of Light