Strategies for Achieving Sustainable Built Environment


23 Mar 2015 15 Dec 2017

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Energy constraint and global warming are becoming the key challenges encountered by the world today. Major amount of energy is being used by the building sector for achieving comfortable thermal conditions. Fifty per cent of energy consumption is due to buildings. (Melet, n.d., p.06). Demand for Energy is increasing rapidly. The U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) in its (IEO, 2011) International Energy Outlook 2011: states that world energy consumption grows by 53% from 2008 to 2035. "The U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) is the statistical and analytical agency within the U.S. Department of Energy. It studies and broadcasts energy information to make proper decisions regarding energy efficiency, public understanding of energy usage and proper policymaking". (EIA, September 19, 2011). Sustainable and climate responsive architecture offers feasible solutions to these challenges.

Since the pre-industrial era Global warming is one of components which led to Environmental Degradation. Global warming which has risen by 0.7°C since the last 300 years is likely to be increased by up to 8°C by 2050 according to the (IPCC, 2007). IPCC i.e. intergovernmental panel on climate change is a leading organisation for the assessment of climate change. It also states that almost 90% of the warming in the decent decades is caused by energy related human activities, mainly because of CO2 emissions due to the burning of fossil fuels. (IPCC Fourth Assessment Report, 2007).Thus there is a need for urgent action to design buildings to protect us from the effects of climate change and global warming.

"We have to know from where we are coming to know where we are going"- Charles Correa.

There is a need to transform the past knowledge to act as a catalyst for the future. Tradition and Modernity are two sides of the same coin and must be dealt with simultaneously. Some of the Architects who have used this into practicality are given. Hassan Fathy did not use any hi-techniques of air-conditioning, instead according to him it is very important to study and understand natural physical properties of heat, wind and water which are the natural environment controls. It is very important to know how native materials can be improved and developed via new techniques, to meet the present day needs. Francisco Bobby Mañosa feels that prejudices against older materials can be overcome and exciting new possibly can be created. Charles Correa via his design philosophy of transfer and transformation re-integrates many older fundamental ideas, into his modern designs, which recognises the problems of today, yet show a deep respect for India's culture and tradition. (Pearson, 1994, p.122-124).

The new Architecture has its roots deep in Vernacular tradition, which is rich in messages that are becoming more and more relevant to our time- messages that help us remember humility and a belonging to the Earth (Pearson, 1994, p.08). For 100 of years common builders have managed to build using small amount of available energy resources without affecting the surrounding environment, thus using it in a sustainable manner. These practices should be used in the conventional architectural practice of today, which are accountable for Environmental crisis.

In the midst of great technological, environmental and political change over the past decades, the vernacular has become highly relevant over the past decades either as a technological example, or as a politically strategic element. Given that architecture is inevitably connected to technological developments, environmental issues and political change, vernacular architecture has thus become a central concept in Architectural theory and Practice. (Arboleda, n.d.).


The assessment of energy and comfort conditions is the most important factor in determining the architectural process. Energy efficiency and renewable energy are the most important aspect of sustainable design. Even climate and environmental conditions play a major role in a building design. The main purpose of designing a building is to create suitable condition for human comfort. Traditional builders used limited and naturally available materials to achieve comfort and climate was the major contributing factor in traditional building techniques. Due to the ever growing global concern, use of energy and limitation of resources it is the responsibility of an architect to design buildings which are sustainable.

For creating sustainable building it is very essential to ascertain the basics from where this science originated. There therefore arises a need to look back in the past as how our ancestors built their own homes taking care of function, religion, social and spiritual values and above all adapting to the climate for making a comfortable living. So it is very important to study from the past traditional structures built by our ancestors without the use of modern technology and to make use of it in the present scenario for making sustainable built environment.

The study of history of vernacular buildings has demonstrated throughout that the buildings have prominent sustainability, whilst fanciful architectural forms do not; they are pleasant and are to preserve the cultural messages they convey. (Ryan, 2011, p.51).

According to (Arboleda, n.d.), over the last decade Vernacular studies have become established in the mainstream architectural discourse due to the following 3 reasons:

Global Communication technologies: Since the 1960's there has been a great awareness among architects because of the easy and extensive access to the knowledge of traditional communities

Global Environmental Crisis: Contemporary interest in this subject has arisen due to resource depletion, global warming and energy crisis.

Global Politics: Vernacular Architecture is a valuable tool in the ethno politics. It is a key in ethnically sensitive projects, thus maintaining the cultural identity. Due to these ethno sensitive programs traditional elements are used in the making of new structures but by modernizing or re-engineering it, thus making it modern Vernacular or neo-Vernacular.

The Meaning of Vernacular Architecture:

"The term vernacular originates from the Latin word vernaculus which means local, natural or original developed from Verna, meaning "native slave" or "home-born slave".

The numbers of factors which define a vernacular building are based upon time immemorial building techniques, use of naturally available materials, also location of the buildings and its usage. It is passed on by the word of mouth, and materials which are readily available. In addition it is a system invented by the local craftsmen and occupier. Vernacular Architecture can also be called as a structure created by an amateur without any education in this type of designing method. Thus it is a traditional method of building which is passed on from generation to generation. The method of constructing is based upon traditional practices and techniques. It is usually built with the help of family, clan or builders in the tribe and reveals a high level for craftsmanship and quality. The function of the building is the most governing factor followed by aesthetic consideration and use of local materials.

Geographic environment is a very important factor seen in a typical Vernacular building; a sloping roof surface is made to bear the rainfall, a circular house form to oppose cyclonic winds, a thick flat mud roof for cooler interior space and to take out the heat of the sun, an inner courtyard for open space. In hot and dry climates, for example, buildings were shaded to avoid unbearable summer sun by tall vegetation, rock overhangs, or, in flat deserts, the courtyard building form. They were placed such that they could also receive the pleasant warmth of the winter sun. (Pearson, 1994, p.95). This shows that vernacular methods are the most traditional method of building structures which are responsive to climate.

Factors leading to development of Vernacular form:

Vernacular buildings are human constructs which are results of the interrelation between ecological, economical, material, political and social factors. (Asquith, L and Vellinga, M (Ed.),2006, p.110)

Baker's remarkable work is seen from the way he uses environment, traditional methods, comfort, culture and technology in his works. (Bhatia, 1991 ,p.3)

"There is an overlapping of traditional techniques of climatic conditions and vernacular styles. Historically, practical devices were slowly embellished and generalised through repetition to become a part of an architectural vocabulary, a process Charles Correa describes one of the generating 'forces' of architecture". Charles Correa tries to incorporate cultural values and traditional techniques in his process of designing considering the lifestyles of Indian people. (Hagan, 2011, p.116)

Tadao Ando's works shows compositions, which consists of mainly use of simple forms and visible use of concrete material. In most of his works the use of nature, space, character, climate, weather, and cultural background can be clearly seen. He believed that when greenery, water and light is abstracted through nature the form becomes sacred. (Nute, 2004, p.86,87,88)

Vernacular architecture is influenced a lot by human behaviour and environment, leading to different building forms for every different context. Thus from the above references it is clear that there are various factors which lead to the origin of Vernacular form:


Materials and technology

Site features



Socio-cultural considerations

The factors which directly regulate the form are:


Socio-cultural considerations


The factors which indirectly relate show that they restrict the evolution of form but do not essentially regulate the form:

Materials and technology

Site features


Materials and technology: It does not necessarily define the form of a house. Even if same material and technology is used in a particular society yet the forms would vary depending upon the function and culture as well.

Site Consideration: Site features may restrict the house form but it does not decide the form. On similar site different house forms can be seen whereas on different sites similar house can be seen.

Economics: The economy may affect the size of the house or type of materials and techniques used but does not affect the form. A society with same economic conditions may have different house forms due to socio-cultural values. Due to different views and thoughts people with similar economy may choose different house forms.

Religion: Religion cannot totally determine the form alone but plays a direct influence in its evaluation. Religion can have a strong influence on the form, plan, spatial arrangements and orientation of the house. Many houses are built according to religious influence of the society.

Socio-Cultural Factors: Socio-cultural or traditional methods of using a place can have direct effect on deciding the form of house. Both physical and socio-cultural aspects affect the form. The physical setting may provide several possibilities but actual choice gets restricted due to cultural factors.

Climate: It is the most important factor in determining the form. Due to different climate in different countries the form is found to be similar. The poor thermal performance of the building in spite of using technologically advanced environment systems suggests that one needs to consider the physical environment while generating a building form.

Aim: To analyse Vernacular architecture in achieving Sustainable Built Environment for Contemporary structures.


To study the origin of traditional houses and examine its sustainability.

To study traditional building material, their sustainability and the contrast with modern architecture.

To study thermal performance of Vernacular building materials.

To study the role of Building regulation in the sustainability of traditional building construction.

Research Question:

How can traditional methods of architecture be incorporated in modern buildings?

How can the revival of the vernacular in the present contemporary architecture help it to become more sustainable inheriting cultural roots?


Although Vernacular Architecture is emerging as a very developing area of study, still much needs to be done theoretically, metholdologically and through recording and documentation, before applying it to twenty-first century. (Asquith, L and Vellinga, M (Ed.),2006, p.03)

Following are the methodologies used for the research.

Literature Review: To read and analyse in depth about Vernacular Architecture using some of sources which includes digital media, web sources, books, published journals in related disciplines, scholarly articles and published papers.

Qualitative Survey Using Live Case Studies: Conducting the Case study using "Collecting the Evidence" method is used here. (Yin, 2003, p.83) Sources of Evidences which will be used here are as follows.

Historical Documentation- This type of documentation can be done by using data collected through local libraries or other reference centres. The documents could be proposals, progress reports, internal records, newspaper clippings and other articles appearing in mass media or in newsletters.

Interviews- It is the most important part of the case study. 'Structured Questions' will be used as a type of interview along the lines of a formal survey. Such survey can be designed as a part of case study and produce qualitative data as a part of the case study. (Yin, 2003, p.91). Here interviews with building industry professionals will take place (if the project is complete) or interview of workers or managers (if the site is an on-going project). Post occupancy questionnaire will be prepared for the present occupiers of the site to know their perception of the site. Post occupancy evaluations provide an indication of major successes and failures in a building's performance. They can be used to improve and explain the performance of a building and are useful not only to the occupants and owners but also to the designers, who can learn about both their mistakes and successes and can apply these findings to future projects.

Direct Observation- It includes field visits to know some relevant behaviour or environmental conditions. Observational evidence is often useful in providing information about the site.

Physical Artefact- Here it could comprise of material being used on the site or any other physical evidence to find out the sustainability of the structure.

Analysing Case study Evidence- While analysing the interviews and the questionnaire some common topics will be listed and a checklist will be prepared and the selected case studies will be evaluated against the topics in a checklist.

Reporting Case Studies: A standard approach called 'Linear analytical Structure' will be used here. It consists of findings from the data collected and conclusions and implications from these findings.

Work Plan:




Literature review: Understanding the background of the topic reading various books, journal articles etc.


Historical Documentation: Collecting data from various sources on vernacular Architecture.


Case study: It includes both interviews and field work which could be done simultaneously.


Compilation of data: Review all the collected data, edit and compile it and re-phrasing it in the form of a detailed dissertation report.

Possible Outcome:

The main aim of the research is to manifest and prove that Vernacular architecture is a solution for todays Sustainable Design principles. The vernacular architectural studies will provide useful insights for designing contemporary structures by taking evidences form the Vernacular structures of the past.It also aims to look into strategies which could be cost effective in construction and specification.The final outcome will be in a form of conclusion report from the case studies which will help in designing contemporary structure using climate responsive design concepts.


Arboleda, Gabriel.(n.d.). Traditional, vernacular and ethnic architectures from

Asquith,L., Vellinga,M.(Ed.). (2006). Verncaular Architecture in the twenty-first century: theory, education and practice. Abingdon, Oxon., USA and Canada: Taylor and Francis.

Bhatia, Gautam.(1991). Laurie Baker: life, work, writtings. New Delhi, India.,London, UK.,USA, Victoria, Australia., Ontario,Canada.,Aukland,Newzealand: Penguin books.

Eia Independent statics and Analysis: U.S. energy information administration. (september 19, 2011) from

Mellet, Ed. (n.d.). Sustainable Architecture: Towards a diverse built environment: NAI Publishers.

Nute,K.(2004). Place, time and being in Japanese architecture. New Felter lane, London., USA and Canada: Routhedge.

Pearson, David. (1994). Earth to spirit: in search of natural architecture. London, U.K.: Gaia Books limited.

Parry, M.L., Canziani, O.F., Palutikof, J.P., Vander, Linden., Hanson, C.E. (Ed.). Climate Change 2007: Impacts, adaptation and vulnerability. Cambridge university press from

Ryan, Carol. (2011). Traditional construction for Sustainable Future. Abingdon, Oxon., USA and Canada: Spon Press.

Susannah, Hagan. (2001). Taking shape: A new contract between Architecture and Nature.Jordan, Oxford: Architectural Press.

Yin, R.K.(2003). Case study Research: Design and methods. Thousand Oaks, California., London, UK., New Delhi, London: Sage Publication Inc.


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