‘Why learning to build like our ancestors is essential for survival of the planet’, Ar. Milind Pai, Milind Pai, Architects & Interior Designers
Space is a growing concern among people in the construction business, especially in the urban areas. High rise buildings and towers adorn the skies in the city, each of them having their unique style. Although these glimmering towers are pretty to look at night, they are an indication that the dearth of space is forcing architects to go higher where they can’t go wider. Today, it is all about bigger, fancy houses and spending a lifetime trying to build one. Property and real-estate are thriving businesses in our time. People don’t move on but rather let spaces remain empty for days because it is an investment for them.
Architecture is not a new concept; it is an essential aspect in any civilization. Humans began settling in well-defined spaces near the river basins due to agriculture and availability of food. Caves are unpredictable natural structures, and just a shift in the earth’s surface may cause it to collapse. Finding a cave that would stay structurally intact and not crush them to death was something the cave man mastered. Prehistoric architecture from the Paleolithic and Neolithic ages marks the end of wandering for humans. The ancient houses were designed according to the environment around them. Also, the ancient man could merely disassemble their houses when it was time for them to move on. Their homes were made using products from nature which would blend right back into it. The modern man is continuously invading natural spaces and unknowingly hurting themselves in the process. The ancient home builder was clear about its objectives behind building a home, i.e. to protect themselves and have a safe place to hide out from animals and furies of nature.
With the decrease in space and increase in nuclear families looking for independent houses; builders are looking at innovative ways to maximize the use of space available to them. This change in mindset is not limited to the companies but also customers who are looking at cost-effective living spaces that are no less luxurious than any expensive bungalow. Builders are focusing on making smaller spaces look big with the use of larger windows and customers are looking at transforming designs that help in making multi-purpose elements within the house.
So addressing this space issue is an on-going discussion and area of improvement from the builders and designer’s point of view. These days’ builders are concentrating on smaller spaces and transformational designs, which are creating a major impact on the lives of many. But simply making small spaces look big is not enough. Adapting sustainable living is another aspect that people need to consider. Using locally available materials to build aspects of your house can bring a huge difference in the impact your dream home will have on nature. It will also help in avoiding natural calamities if we take notes from the tent-like American Indian & Native American structures like the Tipi and Lavvu which could withstand high-winds. Modern versions of these can replace the wooden poles with metal ones, and lighter fabrics can be used instead of more massive textiles or reindeer hides.
The primary, traditional Navajo shelter, Hogan is an ultimate example of sustainable, efficient homes. It is also considered to be one of the first energy efficient homes with its conical, square or round shape and the flexibility of using any material available. Although these homes are not strong and long-lasting, they can be made in a way with the use of modern technology or incorporating traditions like those from the Clocháns which used interlocked stones and compression forces. A form of dry-stone masonry this eliminates the use of mortar to bind bricks. Another example of larger sustainable houses built by our ancestors is the Pueblos. Built by the Pueblo Indians in the Southwest, they are multi-story houses made of baked clay and straw bricks or large stones cemented together with a mixture of clay and straw. These could house an entire clan in different “rooms” or sections. They lasted for dozens of generations in the warm and dry climate.
From small spaces to large, our ancestors teach us how to be one with nature while building our homes. While they are not practical to a modern human, the pressing issue of climate change shouldn’t be ignored by our builders or consumers. Some ways to make small spaces look big is to place mirrors and use brighter colors in rooms which would give an illusion of a bigger place. A way to save space can be to use areas like staircases as bookshelves or using a foldable dining table. One can also look at beds that can be folded into a sofa, to make space in the room. Using sustainable means of living by using locally available materials for construction would reduce transportation costs and can also relieve stress on the environment.
Hence, it is need of the hour that we take lessons from our ancestors and use our modern-day intelligence and technology to make housing nature-friendly.