Designing ‘well buildings’

The Hindu, 3 Mar 2017 – Mandatory compliance with energy-efficiency norms in construction, and water harvesting and recycling are a must to save our cities from colossal environmental damage, feel building experts. By M.A. Siraj

A niche market for ‘energy-efficient’ (or green) buildings can be envisioned only if regulations are in place seeking mandatory compliance by developers and buyers. The auto industry started manufacturing fuel-efficient cars only when the government brought in regulations. Window air-conditioners of the 1990s were energy guzzlers. The industry now produces air-conditioners that consume energy three-and-a-half times less than they did in 1998. Manufacturers and consumers opt for energy-efficient appliances and practices only when they are asked to cough up price that includes the cost of damage they do to the environment.

A normal middle class household in Bengaluru consumes 300 to 400 units of power a month. If the tariff is raised to say Rs. 25 a unit, the same consumer would inevitably look for sustainable options like solar power panels. Similarly, a common citizen pays Rs. 3 for 1,000 litres of treated Cauvery water. If the BWSSB could raise the tariff to say Rs. 30 for 1,000 litres of water, the BWSSB would be able to go for sustainable supply of water with efficient distribution mechanism.

‘Respect resources’

Harsh and anti-people though they may seem, these ideas come from Chandrashekhar Hariharan, a green builder and environmentalist. Hariharan says people start respecting resources and using them sustainably only when they know what it costs to supply them. He says reckless exploitation of groundwater by tanker suppliers has led to mining of ‘heritage water’ (water collected deep into the rocky layers of the earth over thousands of years, normally beyond the reach of borewells). We are depleting resources beyond Nature’s capacity to replenish them. “This is a crime we are doing against Mother Earth which sustains us”, he remarks.

Hariharan suggests reversing planning targets. “We should not plan water supply for 2030, but should rather bring it down to the level of year 2000 in order to take back the water supply figures to what the city used to get in the year 2000”, he recommends. “If people are to respect water, the BWSSB should lay down new rules mandating rainwater harvesting, reduction of flush tank size from current 12 litres to 1.5 litres and replacement of old taps with new ones, disallowing wastage”, he suggests.

For sustainable supplies

He knows the sneering distaste his recommendations might evoke in the corridors of power that believe in mega power projects and bringing water from the Western Ghats. “This brutality of public expenditure has to stop”, he says wryly. “We need to plan sustainable supplies of water and power,” which are currently subsidised either completely or for sections of people. Things cannot go on at this rate. We are running out of resources for the future, he warns.

Hariharan, Chairman of Zed Homes (Ref. ‘Homes with a Conscience’, The Hindu, April 29, 2016) opines that the authorities are still not serious about wastewater treatment and it being supplied to homes for non-drinking and non-cooking purposes.

“They could as well install ‘Water ATMs’ at every street end in order that people could buy their needed supplies and get wiser by minimising them. Only then can we expect concepts like green buildings to find a niche market.”

The green building concept has now begun to even take the wellness of the occupants as well as the sustainability of space into account. This has led to emergence of ‘Well Building’ standards formulated by the International Well Building Institute. Deepa Sathiaram, Executive Director, EN3 Sustainability Solutions, which has to its credit 175 million sq. ft of green buildings in India, the United States and the Middle East, says the concept focuses not merely on absence of disease or infirmity but on the complete physical, social and mental well-being of the occupants.

Deepa says though modern IT complexes may have provided gyms, the Well Building concept integrates physical fitness and productive environment by looking into the quality of air, water and food, comfort, lighting etc. It would prompt people to use stairs more often and walk some distances within the premises for coffee or snacks.

“The idea is to entwine work with some physical activity for a more alert and agile profile by optimising the cognitive and emotional health through design and technology of internal spaces, as most people pass 90% of their time indoors. Well Building standards even recommend select paints, sealants, adhesives, flooring insulation, furniture and other material that contain no or low volatile organic compounds in order to improve indoor air quality. The New York headquarters building of the Well Institute even provides membership in NY CitiBike to its employees.”

According to Deepa, EN3 Sustainability Solutions has completed several green interior projects for companies such as J. P. Morgan, Societe Generale (both LEED Gold rating), Hewlett Packard, VM Ware, Dell, and IBM (all LEED Platinum rating) in Bengaluru. Residential projects such as Shapoorji’s Park West, Karle Residential Developments and Tata Housing are pursuing the green homes concept. EN3 has begun implementing Well Building ratings in its projects in the city recently.

Less operational cost

On another level, Syed Beary, who chairs the Bengaluru chapter of the IGBC, feels the green concept is catching up as far as commercial and industrial structures are concerned. He says it takes some time for people to understand the concept and also myths to be debunked.

“A green building may cost 3 to 5% more than the conventional building while being constructed, but the extra cost is more than offset in the first 3 to 5 years itself as operation cost are considerably less”, he explains.

Bearys Group commissioned its 1.4 million sq. ft. Bearys Global Research Triangle (BGRT) complex in Whitefield in 2012 which is the first Platinum-rated building in India by the Indian Green Buildings Council (IGBC).

Syed Beary calls it a ‘Breathing Building’ with a totally sustainable plan, making full use of sunshine and wind and recycling the wastewater besides harvesting rainwater.

According to him, the IGBC has set a target of 10 billion sq. ft. of commercial and industrial space by 2022. Currently India with four billion sq. ft. of green certified buildings, occupies the second place in the world after the United States, he says. Beary calls for streamlining the specification for green buildings to ensure uniform standards.

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