Environment and Climate

Green bldgs: Fuel savers or fashion statements?

There’s a new mantra among builders and they’re chanting it with the fervour of cheerleaders: green architecture. The flag bearer of

green construction is the Indian Council of Green Building (ICGB). An organisation formed by the Confederation of Indian Industry and the Sohrabji Godrej Green Business Centre, the ICGB is calling eco-friendly architecture a movement.

At the recently held Green Building Congress 2008, speakers from various industries tried urgently to tap into the zeitgeist of environmental concern, arguing that green construction is the only way to build without polluting. All manner of purportedly energy-efficient devices from power-saving bulbs to eco-friendly carpets were advertised. However while green construction appeals to builders and many architects, critics think it’s little more than a fashion statement.


The ICGB has been actively promoting the concept of green architecture for three years and offers builders Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) certificates. Developed by the US Green Building Council, LEED is a rating system that lays down a set of standards for sustainable architecture. The ICGB holds its own office in Hyderabad as an exemplar of green construction. It has courtyards that allow cross-ventilation thereby reducing the building’s dependence on air-conditioning and skylights that let in enough natural light, precluding the need for artificial light.

S Raghupathy, a senior director at ICGB says the building uses about 30 per cent less energy than an ordinary building of similar proportions. Completed in 2003, it is India’s first LEED-certified building. Five years later, 320 buildings that have been registered for LEED awards. Raghupathy predicts that by 2010, there will 1000 LEED-certified buildings in the country.

In Mumbai, builders have zealously embraced green construction. Hiranandani and K Raheja have pledged to construct sustainable buildings. The city’s first green residential apartment block is Palais Royale, a 320-metre tower that’s being constructed by Shree Ram Urban Infrastructure Limited at Worli. SRUIL’s Vikas Kasliwal says that the building will have its own waste and water management systems and will be constructed using concrete that contains of fly ash, a material regarded by many as eco-friendly.

He adds that Palais Royale is “the first step to getting carbon credits’’ that will generate revenue for the building society, subsidising its maintenance costs. The apartment block will also have about 50 storeys, flats with areas between 8700 and 14000 sq ft, a cinema hall and several swimming pools.

Palais Royale’s host of eco-friendly features would not impress those who believe that green architecture is a fashionable label that allows builders to justify features that consume vast amounts of energy. After all, can a building with swimming pools and imported materials whose transportation involves gallons of fuel really be considered green?

One such sceptic is architect P K Das, who says that Indian architects have historically designed structures keeping the environment in mind. “For example, verandahs or deep overhangs create deep shadows and cut down heavy heat load,’’ he points out. They went wrong when they began designing buildings modelled on western designs that consume large quantities of energy.

He cites the example of glass, a material that requires considerable energy to produce and one that has become ubiquitous in urban Indian architecture. “You don’t need glass all around buildings,’’ he says. “Europe needed sun to get in even in summer to cut down on cooling. We started putting glass to put in heat. Because the market makes this available, we’re quickly finding use for it.’’ Das doesn’t see much value in the LEED award as its standards are not relevant to Indian conditions.

“We need to evolve our own green standards,’’ he says. Das is also critical of the controversial practice of carbon trading, which many builders view as an attractive means to earn revenue. It’s like “taking compensation for a crime you’ve committed’’, he fumes.

For others, the trend is a step in the right direction. Architect Sheetal Rakheja was one of the speakers at the Green Congress. While she believes that builders could do more to cut down their ecological footprints, green architecture is the only way to stave a global environmental crisis. The office she designed for Patni computers in NOIDA has special insulation on the roof to prevent heat from entering, glass on the north face which receives less sunlight than other parts of the building and daylight sensors that allow lights to come on only once it gets dark and so on.

As a result, the building consumes an average of 0.65 watts per sq ft as opposed the 1 watt per sq ft it would have consumed without its energy-saving features. “If we don’t do it this way, I don’t know where we’re going to head,’’ she says.

Original article here