Eco-friendly concepts in modern architecture

Traditional building techniques have stood the test of time, adapting to local climates, cultures, and resource availability. Integrating eco-friendly concepts into building design, construction, and operation is crucial to promoting sustainability. This article delves into how these methods promote sustainability and emphasises their integration into modern architecture. Furthermore, it showcases notable vernacular architects and explores a significant project that exemplifies sustainability in contemporary construction.

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A Diagram of eco-friendly villas _©LauraMark/architectsjournal
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View of the Asian Games Village, Delhi  _© [2020] Raj Rewal Associates

Traditional Building Practices and Sustainability

Traditional building practices have sustainability embedded within them, incorporating crucial elements such as vernacular architecture, climate-responsive design, and cultural preservation. The vernacular design prioritises using locally available and renewable materials, reducing the carbon footprint associated with transportation. Natural materials with low embodied energy, such as wood, bamboo, stone, adobe, and thatch, are widely used. In addition, passive design techniques are incorporated into vernacular architecture to improve natural ventilation, daylighting, and thermal comfort, including features like high ceilings and thermal mass to regulate temperature and take advantage of prevailing winds. Furthermore, by valuing and preserving time-honoured practices, the vernacular design promotes cultural heritage and traditional knowledge, fostering community involvement and preserving local identities, ultimately encouraging social sustainability.

Innovative approaches to reducing waste and emissions in construction

In modern construction, architects and designers can incorporate sustainable elements influenced by regional design and adapt traditional building practices to promote sustainability. The adverse effects of long-distance transportation and excessive resource use can be minimised by choosing locally produced and environmentally friendly materials. Using recycled or recovered materials also improves sustainability. Passive design strategies like maximising natural ventilation, including shading equipment, and utilising thermal mass for energy efficiency can be incorporated into modern structures. Cutting-edge modelling and simulation tools can assist in designing buildings that respond effectively to their particular climatic conditions.

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Diagram showing attention to detail enables us to deliver warm, well-ventilated buildings, flooded with natural light and incredibly efficient to run; in short, delightful spaces to be in._©

Traditional craftsmanship methods can support sustainable building practices while fostering a sense of cultural identity. Involving local artisans and craftsmen can encourage knowledge transfer and skill sharing, preserve traditional methods, and foster social sustainability.

Lastly, modern construction can incorporate energy-efficient technologies such as solar panels, energy-efficient lighting, water harvesting systems, and greywater recycling to promote sustainable water and energy use. These actions lessen reliance on outside resources and promote sustainability in modern construction. By implementing these effective strategies, modern construction can promote sustainability while incorporating traditional methods and fostering cultural identity.

Leading Architects in Sustainable and Vernacular Design

Many architects have championed sustainability and vernacular design, such as Balkrishna Doshi, a renowned Indian architect and urban planner who won the Pritzker Architecture Prize in 2018. Doshi’s focus has been on creating eco-friendly structures that are deeply rooted in Indian customs, utilising passive design principles and locally sourced materials. His work is a prime example of how contemporary architecture can incorporate vernacular design while respecting cultural contexts. Additionally, Simón Vélez, a well-known architect from Colombia, has gained recognition for his innovative use of bamboo in modern architecture. Vélez incorporates traditional craftsmanship and regional methods to construct stunning, long-lasting structures around the globe, showcasing how locally available materials and techniques can influence sustainable architecture.

The Edge in Amsterdam, Netherlands, is a prime contemporary and sustainable architecture model. PLP Architecture designed it, holding the record for the highest BREEAM sustainability rating ever recorded. In 2016, it was declared the world’s most sustainable structure. The building embodies a variety of eco-friendly features that are grounded on traditional design principles. It optimises the use of natural light and ventilation, and it also employs solar panels to generate renewable energy.

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PLP Architecture designed The Edge, Deloitte’s new offices in Zuidas, Amsterdam’s business center _© plparchitecture

A Sustainable Marvel: Raj Rewal’s Asian Games Village

Raj Rewal, a well-known Indian architect, is celebrated for his innovative designs that merge modernist concepts with traditional Indian architecture. One of his remarkable projects is the Asian Games Village in New Delhi, India, which prioritises sustainability and incorporates vernacular design principles. 

Built for the 1982 Asian Games, the Asian Games Village was designed by Raj Rewal and his team to create a sustainable and culturally sensitive housing complex for the participating athletes. It comprises residences, public areas, and recreational facilities that blend traditional Indian architectural elements with contemporary features. 

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A sense of enclosure and continuity is maintained throughout the complex  _© [2020] Raj Rewal Associates
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Axonometric view of the Asian Games Village, Delhi _© [2020] Raj Rewal Associates
The Asian Games Village is a prime example of sustainable design principles. Firstly, it employs climate-responsive design techniques to endure Delhi’s hot and dry climate. Passive cooling methods like natural ventilation, shading structures, and courtyards are integrated to enhance thermal comfort, promote a healthy indoor environment, and reduce energy consumption. Secondly, the project uses locally available materials, such as brick and stone, with low embodied energy and transportation-related carbon emissions. This not only reduces environmental impact but also reflects Indian cultural identity. 

Thirdly, the village has a pedestrian-friendly layout with connected walkways and open spaces that encourage walking, reduce dependence on cars, promote active living, and enhance community interaction. Fourthly, water-saving practices like efficient wastewater management systems and rainwater harvesting are implemented to conserve water resources and promote sustainable water use. 

In summary, Raj Rewal’s Asian Games Village is an excellent example of a sustainable and culturally sensitive design that integrates traditional Indian architecture with contemporary features.

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Apartments of two- to four-storied buildings with each unit type are given according to areas_© [2020] Raj Rewal Associates
Indian traditional elements are seamlessly incorporated into Raj Rewal’s design for the Asian Games Village, imbuing the built environment with a distinctive regional cultural heritage. The inclusion of courtyards, a distinguishing feature of conventional Indian architecture, honours the past while also offering residents plenty of natural light, ventilation, and communal areas. The intricate craftsmanship of jali screens, made of stone or brick and offering both privacy and a touch of traditional aesthetics while allowing the free flow of air and light, is also incorporated into the design. The village has fascinating stepped water features that act as cooling elements, improving the microclimate and fostering a peaceful atmosphere. Ancient Indian step wells inspired these features.

To encourage sustainability and protect cultural heritage, Raj Rewal’s Asian Games Village is an excellent example of how vernacular design principles can be used in a contemporary building project. The project demonstrates the potential for sustainable architecture to blend in with its surroundings and improve the quality of life for residents by incorporating climate-responsive strategies, using locally sourced materials, and incorporating traditional elements. The Asian Games Village is a shining example of sustainable urban development thanks to its focus on passive cooling methods, use of local materials, pedestrian-friendly design, and incorporation of vernacular elements. 

While vernacular architecture has inherent sustainability features, it’s crucial to remember that not all vernacular structures automatically meet sustainability standards. To create a harmonious fusion of tradition and innovation, architects and designers can adapt and incorporate sustainable principles into modern vernacular designs by studying and understanding traditional techniques.

  1. Das, D. (2021) Is Modern Architecture Sustainable?, Corbusian. Available at: (Accessed: 26 May 2023). 
  2. Piesik, S. (2017) Habitat: Vernacular architecture for a changing planet. New York: Abrams. 
  3. publisher, Y.Pattanashettyf. (2021) Ar. Raj Rewal – Case Study – Asian games village, Issuu. Available at: (Accessed: 26 May 2023). 
  4. Randhawa, T.S. (2022) Vernacular Architecture of India: Traditional residential styles and spaces. New Delhi: Tejinder S. Randhawa. 
  5. Asian Games Village – 1980-1982 (no date) Raj Rewal Associates. Available at: (Accessed: 26 May 2023). 
  6. Asian Games Village, New Delhi, 1980-82 (2023) RIBAJ. Available at: (Accessed: 26 May 2023). 
  7. (No date) Sustainable Design, casa architects. Available at: (Accessed: 26 May 2023). 
  8. The Edgeamsterdam, the Netherlands (no date) PLP Architecture. Available at: (Accessed: 26 May 2023). 

Shreya is a Mumbai-based architect currently pursuing her Masters in Architectural History and Conservation at Oxford. A book lover and Potterhead, coming to Oxford was like a dream come true. With a passion for movies with stunning cinematography, like Woody Allen's Manhattan, listening to music, and capturing the beauty of charming facades, she brings a unique perspective to architecture. Keep an eye out for her fascinating explorations of architecture and the captivating stories that she uncovers.