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Appropriate architecture

The fall-out due to the life styles and development strategies of the last 100 years in terms of inequity, growing pollution and depletion of natural resources, has made us all aware within the global community that the basic needs of the growing population will not be met through the conventional developmental methods, materials and technologies.
As the need for land, food and housing increases rapidly, we are faced with the pressure of supply. The concept of development then needs to be re-examined to be able to meet the demand. We need to create and promote new approaches for a more accountable and sustainable future, where "solutions grow from place". Where there is 'ecological accounting' and 'equity in resource accessibility'.

Taking these criteria into account we need to examine how to evaluate and arrive at appropriate solutions for development in terms of shelter. The following write-up is an attempt towards that.

Terminology

Analysing the two words 'appropriate' and 'technology' could define appropriate technology.
Appropriate: - 'suitable' and/or 'right' solution which is in context or is applicable to a particular situation.
Technology: - 'systematic application of knowledge put to some practical use'.
Appropriate technology is a term that can thus have multiple interpretations depending on the context, the end user and the generator.

Guidelines for the generation of appropriate technologies

 

1. Satisfaction of basic needs

The technology should contribute, directly or indirectly, immediately or in the near future, to the satisfaction of 'basic needs', such as food, clothing, shelter, health, education, etc.
It should produce goods and/or services accessible particularly to those "whose basic needs have been least satisfied".

2. Resource development

It should make optimum use of local factors (manpower, capital, natural resources, etc.) by:
* Sustaining/generating employment with low capital/labour ratio
* Saving/generating capital (low capital/output ratio)
* Saving/generating raw materials, including energy
* Developing skills plus R&D and engineering capabilities

It should increase the capacity to produce on a 'sustained and cumulative basis'.

3. Social development

It should reduce debilitating dependence and promote 'self-reliance' based on mass participation at the local/national/regional levels, enabling the society to follow its own path of development.
It should reduce inequalities between occupational, ethnic, sex and age groups, between rural and urban communities and between groups of countries.

4. Cultural development

It should make use of, or build on, the indigenous technical traditions.
It should blend and enhance valuable elements and patterns in the local/national/regional culture.

5. Human development

It should create mass involvement by being accessible, comprehensible and flexible.
It should liberate human beings from boring, degrading, excessively heavy, dangerous or unsanitary work.

6. Environmental development

It should minimise depletion and pollution by using renewable resources, through built-in waste minimisation, recycling, and/or re-use and blending with existing eco-cycles.
It should improve the natural and man-made environment by providing for a higher level of complexity and diversity of the eco-systems, thereby reducing their vulnerability.

 

Criteria for identification

Criteria used to identify the most appropriate building materials and technology:

  • Building material : availability and accessibility

  • Technology: processing and assembly

  • Human resources: skill and equity

  • Climate and comfort

  • Environmental impact

  • Cost effectiveness

Buidling materials - accessibility and availability

Auroville is in rural Tamil Nadu, India, which means:

  • Often poor transportation links

  • Lack of sufficient energy supply

  • Lack of building machinery such as shuttering, mixers, cranes, power tools

  • Conventional building materials are of poor quality and of unreliable supply

Given these constraints, the most obvious materials are ferrocement and earth. The domestic architecture of the poor was/is earth, which makes the acceptability an import aspect of consideration.
The strategies adopted were to build demonstration buildings within Auroville to prove the suitability of the said materials and technologies.

Due to the geographical location and absence of sufficient capital, the technology:

  • had to have low economic input, eliminating materials and technologies which need heavy machinery or infrastructure

  • had to be accessible for use, which means people had to be able to learn and apply with minimum of training

  • the maintenance aspect of the finished structure had to be minimal as the earning level of the people was insufficient to replace or repair on a regular basis.

Human resources and skill

The Auroville area being a seasonal agriculture zone, craftsmanship was not developed in this area as there is no agricultural surplus.

  • Constructional work force is semi- or unskilled, so the training required should be minimal and easy

  • Education level being insufficient, the building industry should lend itself to the use of the unorganised sector.

Climate and comfort

Auroville is in the hot-humid zone with extreme temperatures in the summer, which implies:

  • Comfort with maximum ventilation, which means larger openings

  • Humidity and erosion control

  • Time-lag in the building materials has to be low as the difference between the day and night temperatures is not much: lower building mass, high material to strength ratio.

Environmental impact

More accountable and sustainable practices of development are called for in view of the Indian crisis of high population growth and natural resource crunch:

  • Solutions must grow from the place itself, which requires information on the local conditions and people

  • Ecological accounting

  • Renewable energy usage

  • Recycling of waste

  • Integrated site developmental approach.

Cost effectiveness

Economics are dependent on very diverse factors, some of which are not within local control. But certain factors can be controlled by the local area for the enhancement of the local economy.

  • Less outflow of money and other resources by the adoption of certain technologies and materials

  • Creation of employment by up-gradation of local skills

  • Innovative use of the available building materials

  • Direct market and supply connection - elimination of the middleman

  • Labour intensive approaches

suhasini@auroville.org.in

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