Comparing LED & CFL Fittings

For the MChi interior site in Bombay (Mumbai), I found some really nice LED light fittings but they are more than three times the cost of identical CFL fittings. Now we all know that LEDs consume very little electricity  and they have an extremely long life but I wanted hard numbers to convince my clients – after all, they are the ones paying for everything.

It didn’t take long… At the light shop, it was pretty obvious that the 18W LED fitting threw as much light as an identical one housing 36W of CFLs.  Frankly I was a little surprised by the 1:2 power consumption ratio because I always assumed it was more like 2:3. However, LED technology is making such rapid strides that yesterday’s facts are already redundant. Putting all the costs into a spreadsheet immediately produced a very compelling argument in favour of the former.

An Example of Total Cost of Ownership – LED v/s CFL

While the life of an LED bulb is in the region of 50,000 hours, the calculation over such a long period (while in favour of LEDs) is rather unfair because even at 5 hours per day, that means 27 years.  Instead, I’m working with 30,000 hours which represents a more realistic 16 years.

Even accounting for the fact that the LED driver (an electronic device that regulates the power that LEDs receive) doesn’t have a 50,000 hour life, the calculation still showed a huge saving.

The calculations here are not likely to remain valid for long because the cost of power is sure to rise even further and that of LEDs can only go downwards.


When starting to design any architectural project – especially one that is located outside city limits – it is essential that the architect study the ecology of the site and ensure that the impact on the land is minimised. Like the materials used, the design of and methods utilised to build a structure can have far reaching effects on not just the inhabitants but on nature as well.

Site Ecology & Building Footprint

A building’s footprint is not merely the land area that it covers – it includes the impact on the surrounding land and on the earth’s resources as a whole. When designing, say a house outside the city, the architect must carefully study the site to see if the natural flow of water can be maintained, if the natural vegetation and top-soil can be preserved and find ways to minimise pressure on the surrounding ecology by working within the limits of sustainability.
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Trees, Landscaping & Microclimate

Trees can lower the ambient temperature at a site by something like 4°-5° C and regulate humidity in the bargain. They also act as sun and wind barriers in harsh climates, bind the soil to prevent erosion, help rain water to recharge underground aquifers and create oxygen so that we can all breathe. To reach their full potential, trees take a long time to grow but, despite this, people often don’t think twice before chopping them down.
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Learning from Local Tradition

When travelling around the country – especially to smaller towns and, particularly, villages – one can’t help but notice the different styles and materials that are used by the local people. Except in cases where outside influence has destroyed the local vernacular, one sees a definite pattern.
[under construction]

Reducing Construction Waste & Pollution

Construction is, usually, an extremely energy-intensive activity. Whereas our predecessors worked relatively quietly with hand tools, today’s construction site is a noisy, dirty place.
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Why Asbestos is Poison

Asbestos reinforced cement sheets make for a cheap and effective roofing system that minimises the amount of steel used to erect it. Asbestos itself is a naturally occurring mineral found in many places and the fibre is known to cause Lung Cancer and Asbestosis – a disease that is painfully debilitating and often leads to death.

Because the material has been used so extensively and for so long, the asbestos cement sheet industry has become rich, powerful and entrenched. Apologists for these companies blow smoke in your eyes and have (so far) prevented the material from being banned here – unlike in some other nations.

The companies, at least in India, have two standard arguments:

  1. The fibres used here are not blue asbestos (crocidolite), but white asbestos (chrysotile) which is “safer”. That’s like saying they’ll kill you with regular dynamite instead of blowing you to bits with semtex – and even this argument is probably flawed.Until the 1950s, scientists – while admitting the health hazards of asbestos – made no distinction between the types or their ability to cause diseases. When in 1960, it was found by one Dr. J.C. Wagner in South Africa that blue asbestos caused malignant mesothelioma (cancer of the linings of the lungs, chest and abdomen), it caused a furore in the industry there.Interestingly, since it was chrysotile that was the major asbestos of commerce and used in the U.K. and U.S., industry seized blue asbestos as the culprit, declaring that white asbestos has not been similarly implicated and so it is safe. Full story
  2. Manufacturers will also tell you that once the asbestos fibre is locked into a sheet, it’s perfectly safe. That may well be true, but when a sheet is cut or drilled on site – and it almost always is – some fibres are bound to be released. Even if we discount the risk to the end-user and grant that the exposure may not be sufficient to cause any health problems, what about the poor labourer who mines the material? It gets into his lungs every day of his working life and a large part is carried home on his person and his clothing, thereby exposing his family to the very same risks. I’m sorry, but that is just not acceptable. And if anyone tries to say that there are safety standards, I’d ask them which world they’re living in. Safety standards in this country are conspicuous by their absence.Although more than 40 countries – most with far better safety standards – have already banned all kinds of asbestos, our politicians still try to question the rationale. After all, life is cheap in a country of 1 billion people and lobbying by large companies always works. I’m sorry if I sound cynical but there are just too many many horror stories to read about.

So what are the Alternatives?

So far, the only non-asbestos corrugated sheets I’ve come across are “Hi-Tech” (that’s the cheesy brand name) made by Everest Industries. They use polypropylene fibres instead to bind the cement and are available as plain grey sheets or in three or four pre-coated colours.

Everest Hi-Tech is an ideal roofing and cladding material for factories and warehouses in a variety of industries viz. Food, Pharmaceuticals, Textile, Engineering, Chemical, Automobiles, Metallurgical etc. It is particularly suitable where the factory/ warehouse need to conform to globally accepted and export compliant construction norms.

Everest also makes asbestos products by the way so it may be a deterrent for some but I’d rather encourage the alternative material because unless enough demand is created, the manufacturers will never give up on asbestos. So far, they don’t sell the sheets retail but do so only on a project basis from their factory at Coimbatore; if your quantity is small, it’ll work out slightly expensive. I’ve yet to come across other companies making similar products but hope they do in the near future.


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The Misuse of RCC

Challenging a Mindset

I have often found that builders, architects and indeed, clients, want to make even the smallest structures using reinforced concrete cement – or RCC. This is a mixture of cement, sand and aggregate (stone chips of gravel) that is cast around a framework of reinforcing steel rods. Once the skeletal framework of concrete beams and columns is in place, the gaps are filled in with bricks for the walls. But bricks are perfectly capable of taking the load of low-rise structures by themselves so, why have the RCC at all?

Unfortunately, many people have become obsessed with using RCC because it holds the promise of a more stable construction – a notion that is not often true. To be sure, if you’re talking about a multi-storey building, RCC is the cheapest way to go. But if you’re making just a one or two storey house, load-bearing bricks will do just fine. To illustrate, at the time of writing this, I’m living in a four storey load-bearing building that was constructed in c.1900. It’s obviously seen earthquakes, storms and floods and doesn’t seem the worse for the wear. In contrast, other buildings in my neighbourhood – those built using RCC – seem to need extensive repairs every 7-10 years.

Slipshod Work

Even discounting the cement-shortage years of the 1970s, concrete structures in our country are, by and large, badly made. In our climate, the steel often starts to rust even
before the casting begins and, the concrete cover is not enough to protect it from further corrosion in humid areas. Worst of all, the columns and beams are, more often than not, found to be honeycombed once the formwork is removed (this is quickly patched up but the structure remains inherently weak).

Finally, there is a widespread consensus among both, literate contractors and illiterate workers that chiselling away some concrete to embed, say, electrical conduits is perfectly allright as long as nothing collapses in the next twenty four hours. Others who consider themselves very safety concious will make sure they don’t actually cut the steel in their endeavours. This would be very funny if it wasn’t so dangerous.

Unfriendly to Nature

Apart from all this, by its very composition, RCC is a wasteful material. It uses large amounts of cement which, in turn, require huge amounts of fossil fuel to produce. The structure becomes heavy and, a fair portion of its cross-section goes in supporting its own weight. Finally, once the life of the building is over, it is almost impossible to extract the steel (also an energy-intensive material) for any meaningful purpose.

Reducing the Ecological Impact

There are many ways in which RCC can be made less wasteful — using filler slabs, for instance. But doing that requires a little extra effort and there is a general apathy that prevents even this simple method from being used. I once had the opportunity to climb onto a 100-year old lime-concrete vaulted roof that was undergoing repair. I was amazed to see how the builders had used ordinary terracotta pots to lighten the structure.

Another alternative which can be used for select elements is ferrocement or ferrocrete. This uses thinner sections with minimal steel – often just chicken mesh – but relies on the element’s geometry to provide structural stability. For example a roof slab can be folded like a paper fan or, a staircase which is an ideal candidate for ferrocement will use less than 25% of the material compared to a traditional concrete one. Not many contractors know how to do it correctly though, which leads them to avoid taking up such work. That, in turn, makes it a rare thing which makes everybody very hesitant. It’s a vicious cycle.

And of course, the easiest way to avoid concrete is in low-rise structures which usually don’t require it in the first place.

Local Materials

One of the first principles of sustainable and environmentally friendly architecture is to reduce the embodied energy of the materials used in construction.  Embodied energy is the sum of all energy inputs–for manufacturing, all transportation, human resources etc–that are needed to make a product.  Transportation plays a major role here so, if a material can be sourced locally, it can reduce the embodied energy (and carbon footprint) quite substantially.

50 km radius

With services like Google Maps available to us, it has become very easy to get data like distance from source to site

Mahatma Gandhi–an instinctive environmentalist if ever there was one–exhorted people to build with materials that were available within a 50km radius. His reasoning may have had little to do with a scientific knowledge of embodied energy and more to do with his lifelong devotion to the concept of localisation and decentralisation. Regardless, if we keep the 50km limit in mind for most materials, we can prevent the burning of a lot of fossil fuel.

An additional advantage is that, as transportation costs are minimal for local materials, they are also usually more affordable than something that comes from a great distance. Besides, if you’re planning on using local labour then, their familiarity with it leads to a sturdier and better finished project.

However, we must always weigh our options with an open mind. As an example, for corrugated roofing, I refuse to use asbestos sheets on principle. For a project outside Mumbai, I considered getting a non-asbestos alternative from Coimbatore. However, we eventually settled on a flat sheet made from bagasse by a Pune company even though it needed a heavier steel framework to support.  Why was that?

The corrugated roofing system would have had less embodied energy even after transportation but, the sheets themselves could only be bought in bulk from the manufacturer so, if the project ever needed just a single extra sheet at any stage, we’d have to call for an entire truck — even if it was almost empty.  That, in the end, tipped the scales in favour of the more readily available Ecoboard.

flyash brick walls

Flyash bricks can be made to look like traditional bricks if you add a little red-oxide in the mix. This is useful if you want to keep the wall un-plastered like we did for the RaBV Bungalow.

Another time, for the [RaBV] bungalow, the clients were willing to pay the extra transportation cost to bring in flyash bricks, from Wada in Thane district, to Karjat — a distance of approximately 100km. Apart from the fact that manufacture of clay bricks leads to the loss of precious topsoil, the overall embodied energy is substantially lower despite the fuel burnt for carrying them over the distance. Here is the basic calculation:

the embodied energy of bricksSo, as you can see, there are no hard and fast rules when it comes to distance. Each case has to be looked at individually and assessed on merit.  We also don’t always have ideal situations but we must, at the very least, aim to minimise the embodied energy of our structures.


Renewable Materials

Apart from materials derived from waste or those that are recycled, we also have the option to use materials that are naturally renewed. Examples of this are plantation timbers (which do come with their own set of problems).

Plantation Woods

It is almost impossible to be sure that the wood we get in India comes from sustainable plantations. Most vendors haven’t a clue and the smart ones will see your interest and have not the slightest hesitation in assuring you that the wood you’re looking at has never been in a natural forest in its life. Our Sal [Shorea robusta] comes from South East Asia and our Teak [Tectona grandis] comes from Western Africa but that’s as far as our information goes.

We do get pine, cedar and hemlock from sustainable forests in Canada etc. but these are soft woods that our local carpenters are unfamiliar with and, when they mess up, they quickly blame the wood.

Recently, I came across a supplier of wood who says his products are all certified by the Forestry Stewardship Council and I’d like to see more local suppliers do the same – after all, if it’s been certified outside the country, then the material too has been transported a very long way from its source!


This is a prime example of a renewable resource – seeing as it is the fastest growing plant in the world. It is also versatile and can be converted into all sorts of panel products like plywood, flooring and even fabric. It isn’t always easy, but it may be prudent to determine the source of the raw material to make sure it’s from a sustainable plantation and not from a forest. Bamboo is considered by many to be our only hope for the future.

There are innumerable resources for Bamboo on the internet.

Oriented Strand Board [OSB]

Unlike plywood that needs large logs to produce, OSB can make do with even thin ones from fast-growing plantation trees. It isn’t available in India but, hopefully, will be here in a few years…

I’ve been given to understand that some dealers get hold of waste chipboard from packaging in shipping containers, which they then sell as OSB. It’s fantastic that they’re recycling the chipboard; I’m just making you aware that it’s not the same as OSB.

To understand what OSB is, try the wikipedia article or go to the OSB Guide


If you are the manufacturer/dealer of any product that you feel is appropriate for this page, please fill this form stating clearly what exactly makes your product green/sustainable.

Please note that Greenwashing will not get you anywhere and inclusion of the product is not guaranteed and is entirely at our discretion.

Recycled Waste Materials

There are numerous by-products, of some process or industry, that are considered waste and and it only takes a little imagination to recycle them to be of use for building and construction.


As a fine residue from coal-fired thermal power plants, flyash is a serious health hazard if released into the atmosphere. These days, it is filtered out before the flue gasses are released and then dumped in “ponds”. But what’s to be done with all this flyash? For one thing, we can make good use of it!

Flyash is a pozzolan — it has cementatious properties. While it can’t be used as an alternative to cement, it can act as a good filler for concrete which turns out stronger – and uses less water – than that made with cement alone.

In India, it is usually used to manufacture bricks that are stronger than the traditional terracotta ones; they use less mortar to lay, absorb less water and don’t require to be fired in a kiln, thereby not adding to the pollution in the atmosphere.

For the [RaBV] Bungalow in Karjat, we used flyash bricks and adding red iron-oxide to the mix. The resultant colour was a pale terracotta that is quite pleasant. Next time, I’ll try getting yellow bricks with yellow oxide. The manufacturer’s factory is near Virar, North Bombay (Mumbai), but the quality of the last batch of bricks we received deters me from recommending him.


This is the waste from sugar cane once the sugar is extracted. It can be used to make particle boards or other fibre-boards. Unlike wood-based products, it isn’t affected by borers. One company, that I know of, which uses agricultural waste products like cotton stalks or bagasse is Ecoboard Industries based in Pune.

Rubber Wood

Rubber wood is a by-product of rubber plantations that are found over a large part of Southern India. Left to itself, the wood rapidly deteriorates and discolours but, if treated properly, can be used for a variety of purposes – especially in furniture. It has a pale golden yellow colour when given a natural polish. One drawback that needs to be taken into account is the extent of its response to moisture. Since the wood is kiln dried, the moisture content is low when you receive the material but it can react quite alarmingly during the monsoon.

Rubber wood can be got from any of the producers listed here

Coconut Plyboard

This is a product that, I have to admit, I haven’t used. ! I’ve seen the samples however and what’s so appealing about it – apart from the fact that it’s made from waste coconut husk – is the wonderful dark natural colour.

The company that manufacturers it, Natura Fibretech Pvt. Ltd, is in Bangalore, so getting a small quantity to Bombay works out much too expensive.

Construction Debris

This is not something that can be used on a regular basis or in large quantities but, when one is doing a plinth backfill, it makes sense to use debris from some other construction. Every little bit helps. The tragedy of places like Bombay is that this debris is being systematically dumped by unscrupulous builders into our vanishing mangroves.


If you are the manufacturer/dealer of any product that you feel is appropriate for this page, please fill this form stating clearly what exactly makes your product green/sustainable.

Please note that Greenwashing will not get you anywhere and inclusion of the product is not guaranteed and is entirely at our discretion.


The choice of materials is an important factor for determining a construction’s cost effectiveness and level of environmental friendliness, or sustainability.

Recycling from Waste

There are lots of materials like flyash and coconut husk that are considered waste but there’s no reason why they should be.
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Using Renewable Materials

Apart from materials derived from waste or those that are recycled, we also have the option to use materials that are renewed by nature on a regular basis.
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Local Materials

It may sound old-fashioned and Gandhian, but if building materials can be sourced from the local area rather than from halfway across the country, you are not just saving on fossil fuel used in transportation but, most likely choosing something that is appropriate for the local climatic conditions.
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Misusing RCC

As wasteful as one can get for low-rise structures, RCC is often used because people are led to believe that there’s no alternative.
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It is cheap. It’s efficient. Oh, and it kills people.
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What is Sustainability?

“Nature has enough for everybody’s need; not for everybody’s greed.”
– Mahatma Gandhi

Quoting Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi may no longer be fashionable but these words are more relevant today than they’ve ever been.

Every material used in construction comes, eventually, from the earth. For any architect who cares about nature, that is a predicament to be faced every day. I know it is unrealistic to halt the production or extraction of such materials but we should, at the very least, try and minimise their usage.

A simple example: small structures in India are often built with reinforced cement concrete frames when ordinary load-bearing brickwork (which is about 25% cheaper by the way) would be more than satisfactory.

Nature-friendly Architecture & Design

Nature has an enormous ability to repair herself but when we exceed her capacity to do so, this cycle of restoration and renewal is broken.

Sustainable architecture and design takes into consideration all aspects of construction that affect the environment.

There are many factors that go into making a building nature-friendly:

Using Materials Sustainably

A large chunk of a construction’s carbon footprint is determined by the materials used. For small structures, reinforced concrete (RCC) framing is environmentally expensive and thoroughly unnecessary to boot! I’ve found that load-bearing work usually does a better job.
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Better Design & Construction Methods

Better design is not just about aesthetics. It holistically considers architectural design, landscape & plantation, sustainable systems & climatic conditions,. A well designed construction has minimal negative impact on the site and its surroundings.
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Saving Energy

During its life cycle, a building needs an enormous amount of energy for lighting, heating & cooling. A design that makes good use of naturally occurring sunlight & prevailing breezes goes a long way in saving associated costs.
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Saving Water

Economists have pointed out that future wars will be over water which makes this the most important factor in my estimation. Saving, harvesting and recycling water is far easier than it is made out to be and you often don’t need an expert to get it working.
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Waste Disposal

Disposal of solid waste might not be an architect’s area of expertise but we can play a proactive role by designing for composting pits etc.
[under construction]


If you compare apples to oranges, you will invariably draw the wrong conclusion.

The biggest deterrent to making clients accept sustainable solutions is, usually, perceived cost. That’s because they almost always compare apples with oranges. For example, if a solar heating system is installed for a project, it will naturally raise the initial cost but, if you calculate how much it saves in the medium to long term, you will find that it doesn’t make sense not to fit it. Essentially, green buildings cost less in the long term.

Even as far as basic construction is concerned, green building costs can be made lower than for typical structures. This was amply demonstrated while building Kaya Kalp where, locally available, low-tech materials and labour were used.


Selected Projects

[CaBa] Playschool

A window in the school

A window in the school

When the founder of this popular playschool moved to Bombay, she found the school semester had already begun and she couldn’t get her daughter a place anywhere. So she started her one in her own home.

Over the years it has grown organically but quite haphazard; it’s now undergoing a planned overhaul. Work is carried out during the summer and winter vacations..

[HRMa] Residence at Malabar Hill

A view of the bathroomWhen we first started working on this residence, we were only asked to do up the bathrooms. We discovered as we went along, that major structural repairs were required because the old wooden posts had completely rotted away over the years due to seepage of water. As a result a much larger portion of the house was renovated resulting in delays and cost escalation – a classical example of the productivity triangle/tetrahedron at work.

[JaCo] Office in a Heritage Building at Horniman Circle

Detail of a pillarDecades of neglect had made a shambles of this wonderful building from the 1880s. When a survey was conducted, it was found that, the area to be renovated was a long-enclosed verandah. In fact, every single tenant of this heritage building had converted their deep verandahs into cabins.

Initially, the clients were unwilling to do anything that altered the ghastly state of the façade but after a presentation, they were convinced that it would be worth the effort. Unfortunately, the original cast iron railings had disappeared during a previous renovation so any hopes I might have entertained of restoring the building envelope to its former glory were

[Trin] Office for a 3-Man Ad-Film Agency

A view of the officeA dynamic young trio wanted to go it along in the ad-film industry so their impact had to be much bigger than their budget.

The space was originally designed for a shop and there was a loft towards the rear which got utilised for storage. For lighting, we chose industrial-looking shades that were painted purple and the flooring was simply ochre cement cast in-situ. The most expensive things in the whole place are probably the laptops on which they make presentations.

[JaGV] Residence in the Western Suburbs

View of  the daughter's bedroomI’d earlier designed the entire apartment many years ago but the children had now grown up so both of them – one a young lady and the other a young man – wanted a complete remodel of their living spaces.

For the former, it was all about a feminine room but without the typical pinks associated with little girls whereas for the latter, it was about dark colours and rock music!