In present times, when the human population is increasing at an alarming rate and resources are getting exhausted, using renewable resources is the mantra of the hour. When resources are talked about, fossil fuel is the thing that is generally taken into consideration. One limited resource that is overlooked is the land. The land is a prerequisite for every architectural project (excluding underwater and space structures) and is very limited. That, too, is decreasing due to many reasons, such as global warming, wars, etc. In such a scenario, renewable architecture is the practice that has been thought of. It can help to deal with the issue of land scarcity as renewable buildings would not degrade the land and can remove their footprints very easily once abandoned. If we keep on constructing concrete jungles, we will waste that land, and more land will be required to compensate for that and to provide lungs to the city. We should make each structure so that it can cancel its carbon footprint

Renewable architecture focuses on an eco-friendly shelter that does not impose any harm on nature. The techniques might be expensive at the initial stage but prove to be cost-effective in the long run. The maintenance of the structures becomes self-sustaining, requiring minimum or no support from outside.

The Baubotanik Technique

Trees, Dr. Ferdinand Ludwig, Living root bridges

The Baubotanik technique takes renewable architecture to the next level. In this, living trees are infused with other structural materials, such as steel, to make a structure. Trees are planted carefully at the decided locations to take the load. Initially, the support is provided to the building structure. But as the trees grow, these supports are removed, and the structure solely relies on the trees. With the growth of the trees, their joints become stronger, and they fuse to make a single unit. Alterations can be done to 30 per cent of the trees used in the structure.

Trees already tend to merge with the nearby tree when in close proximity with it. Dr. Ferdinand Ludwig came up with the thought that why cannot this fusing property of trees be used to construct buildings? Landscaping has been an important part of architecture, but using it as a structural element is a new concept.

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Trees as columns, providing support to the bridge_©thispaper.com
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Steel horizontal member fused with the tree_©archdail.com

This technique is nothing new to India; the living root bridges in Meghalaya are beautiful examples of this technique. They are in the UNESCO World Heritage Site tentative list. No cement or concrete is used, or a tree is cut to make these bridges. Instead, the roots of the living bridges are tied together, which eventually fuse with one another and come up with a strong structure. 

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Roots and branches of tress making the bridge_©insider.com

Hari and Asha’s house

Mudhouse, biogas plant, solar panel grid, earthen refrigerator

The Kerala-based couple lives in a house of mud and clay completely amidst a 34-acre forest (grown by themselves). The couple consulted architects to build their home and created a 960-square-foot house with a cost of less than 4 lakh rupees. To create their house, the earth was excavated from the site, and bricks were made from that soil. Trees grown in their forest and locally made terracotta tiles provide for the wood and the flooring respectively. To provide for the house’s services, the couple does not depend on external sources but has set up their own biogas plant and solar panel grid. Even they grow their food on the farm, which requires no pesticides. They do not even need any fans as the house is breathable and naturally cools itself. An interesting feature of the house is the earthen refrigerator, an earthen pot buried in the earth with sand around it. Water is poured on the sand. The pot takes moisture from the sand and the soil and keeps the stuff fresh. The couple lives in a simple house with all the modern facilities such as a computer, a T.V. set, modern equipment used in the kitchen, etc.

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Hari and Asha’s house_©downtoearth.org.in
The earthen refrigerator_©keralakaumudi.com

Renewable architecture is not a technique but what I expected from architecture. It can be done in many ways. Reclaimed materials can be used to build a structure, which can be dismantled so that the materials can be reused. The main concern is that the structure does not become a burden on the earth, and one can give back to the earth in whatever form and amount possible. If people like Hari and Asha can understand the importance of renewable architecture, then why can’t the architects, who have given years of their lives towards this concern, don’t?

The buildings that have been abandoned and are lying vacant can come into visibility, and some settlement of those can be done. They can be demolished to get the materials and the land. Instead of speedily constructing new buildings, the stakeholders can look for such existing buildings. Required modifications can be done to suit their purpose.

References:

ArchDaily. (2015). Baubotanik: The Botanically Inspired Design System that Creates Living Buildings. [online] Available at: https://www.archdaily.com/775884/baubotanik-the-botanically-inspired-design-system-that-creates-living-buildings

Staff, T.N.M. (2020). Watch: This Kerala couple has been living in a sustainable mud home for 9 years. [online] The News Minute. Available at: https://www.thenewsminute.com/kerala/watch-kerala-couple-has-been-living-sustainable-mud-home-9-years-118989 [Accessed 5 Nov. 2023]

Author

Vani is a young Agra based architect, graduated from Dayalbagh Educational Institute in 2023. She has a keen interest in traveling, mythology and animated movies. She loves simple architecture with minimum ornamentation and is always fascinated to see how culture, society and beliefs shape the architecture of a place.