Why learning to build like our ancestors is essential for the survival of the planet? Ar. Ankit Bansal, Ankit Bansal Design Studio
The world as we know of it today has long history dating from the Palaeolithic Era (“Early Stone Age”) followed by Neolithic Era (“New Stone Age”) where humanity evolved and started agricultural revolution and farming which was the corollary of settled lifestyle from a nomadic way of living.
The change in lifestyle and reliability on source of portable water gave world it’s first known civilizations Mesopotamia and Indus valley. These civilizations were the founding stones of the modern day cities and urbanization. The gneisses of modern era in which we all are living and trying to thrive.
But in past few decades with modernization and advancement in technology life has become fast and there has been commercial evolution leading to rapid growth in urbanization which has forced us in utilizing industrial products and forgetting our roots and the ancient ancestral techniques and principles of a unified approach to art and science. Our dependency on indirect energy sources and way of living is depleting the natural resources and degrading the environmental conditions at a very rapid pace. The planet needs to be revived from this depleting state of affairs and a new way and approach needs to be taken up. We need to look back at the foundation itself where sustainability and ecology are very important part of design and planning. Ecology which comes from Greek origin and has been formed by two expressions ‘oikios’ meaning house and ‘logos’ which means study or science which means study or science of local habitat.
In ancient history the word ecology had a deeper meaning and was not limited to the study of surroundings but it was the study of homes and spaces which included both the context in which they are found and also the procedure observed in building and occupying them. Cities and buildings have always served a dual purpose. One is to do with the function they serve ‘The use’ and the other one being the statement it makes ‘The identity’. Both these aspects are result and effect of climate, terrain, the play of light and building materials which are used wisely.
All the ancient cities were based on few principles, the principles that made them ecologically sustainable. Ancient cities have always responded to the functional requirement concerning the climatic needs and the needs of the community. Thought for the local setting and the urban fabric, use of local materials that respected the natural environment and are most suitable for the region played a vital role in the initial planning. Elements of design such as courtyards, varied roof design, street design, orientation and the overall layout and master plan were few of the key points which took into account sun, wind and natural ventilation and other natural phenomena’s.
With industrialization and innovation we have started to neglect these basic principals of design and ‘The context’. New materials have given way to design and build any structure without any concern to the natural environment and habitat. Modern cities are mere glass and steel towers used without thought or planning. These cities have lead to the increase in total carbon foot print of the plant. Each material being used in this so called modern era consumes lot of energy in their production and more energy is required to install the same. Creating small parcels of heat islands and eating up the greens which are the lungs of the city has lead to climatic changes on global levels.
The aim that any design approach has is to improve the quality of life not only in terms of economy but holistically in terms of health and living conditions. The ancient art of Indian Vaastu Shastra and Chinese system of Feng Shui are few of the ways to provide a good quality of life. The principles of these two systems at the end of the day if understood deeply which take into account all the natural conditions and phenomena’s can be adapted to the modern way of thinking and designing and can be abided into our concepts of space, form, function, climate, wind direction and orientation.
In today’s time, we are looking at different alternatives to reduce the use of energy in construction. And one of the most popular way of doing so is building Green buildings. Green buildings is defined as “a building created with proposes and building development which considerably decrease or eradicate unenthusiastic force of buildings on the atmosphere and residents.” But is green building the real solution to the problem? In the name of providing Green buildings we have only catered to few problems and take into account use of less energy, use of recycled materials, utilization of solar energy and water management and conservation. And even after doing so we end up making glass boxes with air conditioned buildings.
We need to look at the ancient methods of tackling some of the problems that we are facing today. Step well, a pond dug into the soil or surrounded by walls in above position so that the air is chilled by evaporating water in an ancient technology to cool the surrounding with help of shaded verandas and courtyards which complimented the circulation of air by natural air draft, In costal areas of India, houses were finished with mud and thatched roofs to keep the interiors cooler in the extreme warm and humid conditions. Each element of design which was used in ancient times had a purpose not just aesthetical but functional too. Like the dome structure which is are symbol of power and center but its hollow upper half entraps air and provides insulation from the heat outside. Another example from daily life is the intoxicated water out of a pottery jar. Anyone who drank water from it knows how cold it is, generally during the summers in the daybreak. Hot and dry region make use of jaalis to keep away from glare and heat, while make possible aeration and having apt illumination and acoustic relationship with the outer surface. There are various other systems and techniques that are ancestors have developed to take care of the problems being faced today.
To conclude, even despite the fact that innovative technologies are being developed to overcome the problems and challenges being faced, the ancient methods needs to be persistently be developed and amalgamated with modern design technologies to produce more environment friendly construction techniques and materials. The major intend of the learning from our ancestors is to not only to create and make the earth more sustainable, but it really does go deeper than that. The thought of sustainability and ecological design has always been present throughout history, but in today’s time in particular it is a fact that these thoughts need to be put into practice. Solution like water conservation, wise use of local and eco friendly materials, temperature control by taking advantage of cross ventilation and the use of large openings with shade flooding the inside with defused light are few things that one can learn and adaptively incorporate in once design. Even the smallest changes and adaptive use of knowledge from our past history will facilitate to encourage an improved planet earth and an enhanced place for us all to live with the natural habitat intact.