A building’s fundamental purpose is to provide a comfortable living environment, protected from the extremes of climate, as well as respond to the site, setting, and context.
The building construction material used today is more synthetic, not sustainable and hard to reuse such as concrete and steel. The building industry consumes immense energy and contributes majorly to the world’s greenhouse gas emissions while buildings during vernacular architecture were built on sustainable principles using local materials and technology through the amalgamation of the physical and natural environment with cultural, social and mystical values offering rational solutions to the harsh climate and human needs. The indigenous designs of this vernacular architecture are still very much alive and play an active role in present society and its architecture. Indigenous sustainable architecture cannot be separated from the culture it was developed in and it also resulted in its own regional and economical aesthetic. The houses are built according to their regional possibilities, needs, availability of materials, topography, and climate. The material needed for these indigenous designs was not imported from outside and no material was processed or manufactured, thus the buildings were in deep harmonization with site surrounding and had a minimal environmental impact as the most commonly used building material were mud and earth, which improved the building’s thermal and acoustic performance and enhanced the sustainability aspects.
These traditional societies sustained balance with the lifecycle around and ensured their survival. These indigenous designs by traditional societies can be called the real pioneers of sustainable development from the perspective of the natural and built environment.
In southern Taiwan, the alleyways harness the cooling power of the prevailing winds of the island by building the settlements on an east-west axis ,In Tonga, protection against storms and cyclones was done through curved roofs which offered aerodynamic protection and In the Uros islands of Lake Titicaca, reeds were used due to their insulating properties of their hollow stems. Mostly all traditional settlement used sustainable practices such as the living root bridges of Mawlynnong village, India, the floating city of Ganvie in Benin, the Mahagiri rice terraces of Bali, Indonesia along with other examples of indigenous design practices in places like Peru, the Philippines, Tanzania, and Kenya.
Tulou, a rural dwelling in China, unique for its social background, local culture, and history. The indigenous design expresses the Chinese ancient philosophy of harmony between nature and man. Giant houses built in Fujian from the 12th – 19th century with the main purpose of prevention against the plunder and attack of the outside forces. The circular or square-shaped houses with a courtyard in the center were constructed using local resources with mixing stone, bamboo, wood, beam to create 2 m thick walls without windows. these walls provided good earthquake resistance, good ventilation, and enough light. Despite building by local materials with the simple technique, Tulou is as strong as a fortress and can protect people from the outside dangers. The technology used was adaptable and conserved significant energy.
The traditional house of Rajasthan and Kutch, called bhunga had unique desert architecture in which the size orientation and location were planned for very good structural and functional results. Locally available construction material like clay, bamboo, straw, timber, etc was used to create a circular structure with a cone-shaped roof along with materials like mud for walls and thatch for the roof to ensures minimum exposure to the hot and dry desert. The thick walls provide thermal comfort while wooden frames provide cross ventilation. The thick walls kept the interior cool in summers and warm when the temperature drops below 5 degrees in winter. The culture was revealed through the exterior walls were decorated from painting and glass was used in the interior walls. The bhungas were resistant to natural calamities like the earthquake and caused few injuries to the occupants. These indigenous designs were time tested, sustainable and sensitive to the climatic condition.
The Zawlbuk House in the northeastern region of India region is constructed over varying topography consisting of plains, mountains, and frequent flood-affected areas. The primary load distributing element in these structures is bamboo. As bamboo is found in great abundance in the North Eastern region of India which allows availability and suitability for the material requirement with strength and lightness combined with extraordinary hardness and range in sizes. They use wood and bamboo to build their houses on the sloping land. The walls of the house are prepared by mud, bamboo, and cow-dung as materials for construction, the partitions are made of bamboo screens the flooring and roofing are also done from bamboo.
The indigenous designs promoted sustainability and generated green building designs. Energy efficiency and sustainability are very well blended in these designs. It’s an ecosystem, where both man and ecosystem are interdependent on each other.