• Pranamee Nath

Can our house co-exist with nature? What is in our hand?

Updated: Jun 22, 2020

During this pandemic, the new popular hashtag is; #stayhome #staysafe Suddenly, home has become the safest place on earth. Strange but it’s the new normal~ to stay home. We have got pretty used to it now. Obviously, home is a place that everyone in the world can identify with. This is perhaps the most important need of human that have ever existed. It protects us, makes us feel comfortable, makes us feel safe. But have we ever thought of giving it something in return? Have we taken our home for granted? Is there anything we can do?

I have always felt that a house resembles a tree. A tree protects us from the scorching sun, heavy rain, thunderstorm. A tree is rooted deep to the ground just like the foundations of a building. In the early age, men used primarily tree logs to build house, thatch for roof, mud as binding material, to say a few. Maybe, man was inspired by a tree, to build a house.

But a tree has other qualities that cannot be seen in a house. A tree survives on natural sources of energy. It breathes. Living beings would not have survived if trees wouldn’t have performed photosynthesis. Trees are an integral part of the eco system. And after it dies, it does no harm to nature, instead becomes nutrients for the next tree. A tree co-exists with us, humans. If men were inspired by a tree to make a house, can we include the other properties of a tree, mentioned above, while building a home? Can we make our home co-exist with nature? But, at present, construction industry is responsible for 40% of greenhouse gas emissions. That means our home is contributing, as well, in global warming.

So, let’s see what is in our hand? What can we do to save our mother earth via our home? Even a small gesture, if done by a majority, will make a huge difference towards saving mother earth. But first we need to know the 'how'.

I have broadly divided it into three parts to simplify it.

1. Construction:

This is obvious. This includes selection of materials, construction techniques, efficient design of the house and many similar things. If we are mindful when we select the materials of which the house will be made, if we use construction techniques that doesn’t harm the environment, if we are thoughtful when we design the house to enable maximum natural air, cross ventilation of air, natural light, in site selection, in orientation of the building and the openings, apply shading of the house according to the climate and seasonal changes, choose effective insulation of the building mass, we can, to some extent, make our home, a part of the nature. There are many factors that can be used; e.g. if we can harvest the rain water and use it for our domestic use instead of the limited ground water; if we use solar panels instead of electricity.

If we place the openings in the correct side to get the maximum good sunlight into our house. If we do not place the openings in the wrong orientation to prevent harmful sunlight into the house. If we bring in greenery inside the house without disturbing the harmony and funcionality of the house. If we implement correct measures to improve the indoor air quality. All these measures, to a great extent, can help our home to co-exist with nature and reduce the harm it causes to the environment.

2. Co-dependence of architecture and human:

There is a psychological co-dependence of humans and architecture.

- Architecture has impact on human behavior.

- Occupant behaviors impact the performance of the building.

Architecture affects our thinking, our cognitive abilities, our mental and physical well-being, and our emotions. The space, lighting, colors, acoustics, aesthetics indeed play a big role on the psychology of the individual.Individual differences exist but still proper architectural implementation can help a lot to meet the psychological desires of people, e.g. an old age home should be soothing and calm where senior citizens could feel like at home, therefore, the architect works on the design scheme by introducing soft colors with some cooling effect, soft materials and patient- friendly features, a healing garden, a space for them to gather, private rooms, taking in the consideration of temperature for their healthy wellbeing.

Architecture affects, to a large extent, all aspects of our being; how we think, feel, act, and even our health. Good design motivates you in ways you do not even realize. While a bad design sets a weirdness, irritation in your subconscious mind.

Occupant behavior

On the other hand, occupant behavior has significant impact on the performance of the building and human comfort. The term ‘occupant behavior’ means how the occupants of a building use the features of the building; e.g. leaving the A.C on, the whole day with the windows open will hike the energy bills. Or, trying to borrow cool air by opening the internal doors of every room in the house from only one A.C that has the capacity to suffice the requirement of one average sized bedroom. These are examples of inefficient occupant behavior. The people in architectural research sector are aware of the recurring mismatch between predicted and in-use energy consumption. The energy performance gap is not only due to inappropriate design assumption, it is also due to operation problems.

The term ‘occupant behavior’ is used mainly in building performance evaluation. In my MSc course, there was a module called, ‘post occupancy evaluation’. When we design a building, we predict and make some assumptions regarding the energy consumption of the occupants in the house. But after a few years of occupancy, if we compare the before and after energy consumption, it does not match. This is what was mainly studied in this module. This performance gap is not only due to inappropriate design assumption, it is also due to operation problems. But ‘occupant behavior’ impacts in other imple aspects of the building performance. e.g. If the windows are placed face to face for cross ventilation but the occupants never open the windows, then the indoors get stuffy, and uncomfortable, which makes the indoor air quality poor. Studies have shown that energy consumption in households vary largely based on user behavior. This is a universal phenomenon that is not bound to geography and economy.

Hence, architecture and human nehaviour are co-dependent. A little change, here and there, can make a big difference.

3. Love

As Einstein said, ‘love is the answer’. This works for your home too. Homes that are loved and appreciated , radiate that love back. Even if you are there for a short time, be sure you put your love into the rooms. Bless your home with love. Put love in every corner and your home will lovingly respond warmth and comfort. It will last longer than assumed. Of course, the other factors matter, but ‘the secret ingredient is always love’.

“Just remember , when you love, give your whole heart away, don’t be worried about hurt or heart break. Just know, the universe has your back. And everything you give, will find its way to you, in the most unexpected way. So just keep loving. Love to the moon and back, that’s the only way”

Give it a try today. Start with your room. Look around , where you are. Its your place of comfort. It is protecting you from a pandemic. It is the safest place on earth now. You are safe here. Now look again, and ask yourself, how much love have you given back to this place? Its never too late to start.

P.S: A heart to heart is always the best way forward.

So, yes our home, to a large extent, just like a tree, can co-exist with us. All that is required is our intent to do our bit. After all, when there is a will, there is a way!

In the following blogs, I will try to share some ways that includes all the three categories mentioned above. I will try to use no technical term or simplify the technical things so that anyone who intends to do their bit, can easily understand. Stay tuned!

Let us together, discuss and share ways, to achieve this goal.

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