Text: Ar. Shahid Sayeed Khan
The author is the CEO of Indus Earth an NGO which is in continuous experimentation of mud housing and has revitalized thousands of lives and reinstated the sustainable aspects of mud architecture. Apart from other forays Shahid Sayeed Khan is also a part-time faculty at Indus Valley School of Art and Architecture and has presented papers on many platforms both on the local and international scene.
I have just come back from seeing one of the wonders of the world; the Alhambra in Spain. It emulates the philosophical thoughts of a culture most admirably. Before arriving at the front door, the visitor is taken on a journey through gardens and a landscape that can only be described as sublime. The building is simple from the outside, in true Islamic tradition, however, the internal architecture is awe-inspiring. Its control of different spaces, which flow one into another effortlessly, its change of temperature by the use of water, shade and open-air spaces surpasses all expectations.
The climate is controlled as it is in Fatehpur Sikri and many other buildings throughout the world, built at a time when it was taken for granted that indoor temperature should be close to 10 degrees less than outside.
We must rediscover this.
Today in Pakistan we have an energy crisis. This shortfall will continue, no matter what the politicians tell us. Hence the question “can we continue designing buildings as if there is no change?” The world recognizes that it cannot be so. It seems necessary for architects to now take the bold step and design with a purpose of allowing the user to use as less ‘energy’ as possible.
Natural ventilation and shade, used properly can be extremely effective; if low energy consumption measures were taken in the past, very successfully, so why not now? Is history so unrecognizable? There are army barracks built some 80 years ago with roof ventilation systems that keep the indoor temperatures to acceptable levels. Are we incapable of looking at good practices or are we only interested in being “original” and to hell with the consequences that are slowly eroding our home planet?
Today there is evidence for all to see, that as the climate changes so do our lives. Floods, droughts, lack of rainfall or massive downpours, affects our food production, wipes out entire villages and cause huge disruptions to the urban fabric. Sustainability- that much misused and misunderstood word- HAS to be top of the agenda for every designer. We must now, more than ever, look at what we can sustain so that our future generations can also enjoy the fruits of this beautiful planet.
There is another aspect. As the planet forces us to change direction, hopefully in a sustainable way, we will start to look at alternatives that do not rely so heavily on technology to resolve our environmental problems.
Through this process of using more natural methodologies we will, I believe, start to find an architectural language that fits our needs more comfortably. This will, in turn, provide the basis of “our identity”. The identity of this land did not start in 1947 but from the great Indus Civilizations that surpassed all around them. We have a massive, rich heritage which we continue to ignore. Some of the mentors of today’s architectural “thought” are slowly changing direction. Listen to them. They are proposing a world where we do not continue to exploit but provide an alternative that is in harmony with our world.
Architectural Institutions must look at the reality of what is happening to our planet. The dream world of doing what you want must relate to something. We do not have the luxury of spending a student’s time in learning, without understanding the parameters of that outreach.
So a message to those that teach and those that learn. Look at your history. Indigenous building systems have survived centuries, indeed when built properly, even after the floods and rains. Look at what the world is now saying, that sustainable building systems are not only being proposed but being built using natural materials.
Very exciting!! A new language is emerging, the vocabulary is being altered. The direction, in making this planet give us its full potential, has started. Do not get left behind. This is our home, cherish it. Understand the problems and where they emanate. Production of cement is one of the greatest polluters, use it with thought. Think of ways to build where water is used sparingly. The list is long and continues.
The direction of teaching architecture must change (and it has in some institutions), that is of course if we want to continue with some modicum of a life that is worthwhile.
To be continued…