Green architecture is inevitable if we are to fight climate change while urbanising


The Bullitt Centre in Seattle, Washington, the most sustainable building in the world, took pro-climate construction one step further. With the objective of proving its commitment to the environment, the Bullitt Foundation included 17 unique and innovative features such as the greywater system – which collects wastewater and purifies it by pumping the water through an artificial wetland before sending it back into the groundwater table, a 14,000 square foot canopy of solar panels to help achieve net zero energy and composting toilets, all of which acquired it a “living building” certification. It even hosts a building management system that automatically opens windows for cooling or kickstarts the intricate underground heating/cooling apparatus that runs on minimal electricity. Furthermore, to promote a healthy lifestyle for their employees, the centre encourages them to cycle to work, made easier by its location which is conveniently accessible by public transport, walk, and bicycles. The Bullitt Centre, with its meticulously planned futuristic design minimises environmental damage in every way possible.

Green architecture in India

India isn’t far behind in this respect and in fact, can be considered ahead of most nations in more ways than one. The country’s “green building footprint” has risen to 3.86 billion sqft making it the second largest in the world. The ITC Green Centre in Gurgaon, certified platinum (the highest rating) by Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED), is the first corporate complex in the country to be awarded so and holds the title as one of the greenest buildings in the world.

Despite a severe water shortage in the city, the 1,70,000-sqft IT park maintains self-sufficiency in water through rainwater harvesting and water recycling. Besides utilising clean energy sources such as solar and wind power, the centre is fitted with double glazed windows that protect the offices from the harsh glare and heat from the sun yet provide sufficient lighting. Combined with its walls, which are made out of bricks of fly ash (a by-product of burning coal in power plants that is stronger than regular cement and reduces carbon emissions as well as resists cold and hot weather), the buildings’ energy requirements for air-conditioning, heating, etc., is remarkably low, putting it high on the efficiency scale. However, the centre’s green ventures don’t end with its physical boundaries. It is also involved in several social outreach programmes in rural areas like watershed development, afforestation, women empowerment, and the famous e-Choupal system that brings digitised market information to farmers.

Considering the proactive approach being taken by several states today, a sense of urgency for environment-friendly development has taken hold in the country. The government of Nagpur, for example, recently made it mandatory for all new public buildings as well as renovations to comply with green concepts. In a notice circulated by the Public Works Department (PWD), the significance of green building to “environmental conservation and power efficiency” was emphasised upon, while instructing chief construction engineers to have the buildings audited and certified by the Indian Green Building Council (IGBC) or LEED. According to this report by the Times of India, the government is even considering providing incentives to any organisation or independent party that follows green building designs.

Limitations

But the path to large scale construction of Bosco Verticales and ITC Green Centres in the country will be tough to say the least. Despite its position on the list of top 10 nations with the highest green building area, only five percent of the Indian real estate market is actually occupied by such projects. A majority of the existing green buildings are those built by organisations or individuals who are prepared to expend substantial sums of money. While the construction cost is only marginally higher (two to three percent) than conventional buildings, convincing people involved in both supply as well as the demand side of real estate to invest the extra capital for long-term ecological and economic benefits is a challenge.