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Is Traditional Architecture Sustainable?

Traditional Architecture and Sustainability:


“Major ingredients of sustainability are already built into traditional architectural designs. The true sense of modernization takes place by adopting the good and discarding the bad while moving forward.”

Cover Image: Kedarnath Temple, India (Source – Mirsg.Ru)

Classical Architecture Kedarnath Temple
Kedarnath Temple standing before and after the 2013 Uttarakhand Floods in India (Image Source: Down to Earth)

The above pictures are showing The Kedarnath Temple standing before and after the 2013 Uttarakhand Flash Floods, India’s worst natural disaster since Tsunami 2004. The town suffered extreme damage. But the thousands of years old temple stood unscathed to a great extent, leaving architects, structural engineers and thinkers baffled.

Modernization of human civilization takes place by adopting the good and discarding the bad while moving forward.

The above line is true in accordance with architecture as well.  In the haste of developing technology and using artificial methods, we forgot to adopt the good while moving ahead. After many years of using artificial ways in building industry, we stand at a point of time where we have to look back and ask ourselves – Is traditional architecture sustainable?

In ancient times, humans did not have artificial cooling or heating provisions, nor were they able to monitor natural calamities. Thus, they built the spaces accordingly. The incredible cooling system of Hawa Mahal (The Palace of Breeze), Rajasthan is well known. It worked two-hundred years ago, it works today.

The building consisting of 953 windows is akin to a beehive honeycomb. The windows have intricate lattice work which provides natural air-conditioned interiors in the extreme hot temperature due to the Venturi effect. Also, the materials that these traditional buildings used were mostly local.

Classical Architecture Hawa Mahal Jaipur
Hawa Mahal in Jaipur, Rajasthan, India (Image Source: TransIndiaTravels)

The local materials have the power of amalgamating with the surrounding and making the building further sustainable. Thus, we understand from traditional buildings that they were equipped with calculated design systems that adapted to the biological surrounding.

The 2001 Bhuj earthquake in Gujarat, India destroyed approximately 4,00,000 homes including the supposedly, earthquake resistant buildings. But the vernacular buildings like the nineteenth century British-style Juna Saljimandi (The Main Vegetable Market), the Swaminarayan Temple were amazingly unharmed.

Classical Architecture Swaminarayan Temple Bhuj Gujarat
Shri Swaminarayan Temple in Bhuj, Gujarat, India (Source: HelloTravel)

The above examples are just a few of the many traditional buildings only in India, which prove that they had well planned sustainable features which should have been developed upon and implemented rather being discarded.  The whole world is full of numerous similar and better examples. It is understandable that there is no point to start human habitat and human dwelling system from scratch.

The traditional buildings started to be viewed by the world as non-sustainable because of different factors including materials, cost and our need of accommodating more people within a limited geographical area. However, with development, experience and knowledge of modern generation, our understanding of sustainability is radically and necessarily changed over past generations. Some major ingredients of sustainability are already built into these traditional architectural designs. Our work is to strengthen these designs in light of our modern scientific knowledge. In fact, we need to review and challenge our understanding of Urbanisation itself.

The true sense of modernization takes place by adopting the good and discarding the bad while moving forward. We are looking back to the times when we consumed less energy, thus, we have to look back to those times architecturally as well.


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