Sustainable Design Ideas & Understanding

We have a very strong interest in sustainable design at SDM Architects, and believe in design solutions that produce actual, measurable results rather than green certificates for a building.

We believe in intelligent design based on scientific reasoning, and not airy-fairy architectural ideas.  Our goals in design are as follows:
To reduce the energy consumption of the building
To make the building comfortable for humans without the use of large air-conditioning or heating systems that consume massive energy.  Remember that because you switch on your air-conditioner, somewhere, a coal power station is spewing out tons of emissions into the air!
To ensure that building materials are not sourced from a mine in Australia or a factory in Helsinki, but rather, to use materials that are naturally found in the region of the building

How we do it

We do this in a number of ways.

Fundamental to everything is a scientific understanding of the energy balance of the building.  If a building is considered to be an isolated system, then

           Energy state of the building = energy entering the system - energy leaving the system

So to get an idea of the energy balance of a building, one has to identify all the ways energy enters the system, add them up, and then weigh that against the total energy loss of the building.  Note that transfer of energy happens in many different ways - for most buildings, in over 25 different ways!

The next is a strong understanding of thermodynamics.  Thermodynamics is the study of how heat flows.  This is central to controlling human comfort in a building.

With a detailed analysis using thermodynamics, one can design a building envelope, which is a fancy architect's name for a building facade, that performs in the best way.  By this we mean an envelope that does not allow heat to enter the building (in a hot climate), and the reverse in a cold climate.  Of course, things get tricky in a climate such as New Delhi, which is cold in winter, and hot in summer.

We must make clear that modern buildings made of concrete and masonry perform terribly in hot conditions.  This is because concrete has a very high specific heat capacity, meaning that it absorbs heat like a sponge, and retains it.  One may say that modern Indian buildings built with concrete, brick and plaster are designed to absorb heat rather than reject it!  So the energy balance of these buildings is skewed.

Case Studies

Roof System that reduces heat gain by 70%

SDM Architects designed a roof system for a 16,000 square foot home near Mumbai that reduced heat gain through the roof by 70%.  This had the effect of:
Reducing the number of days of the year the AC systems are run (it is difficult to altogether eliminate AC systems in hot-humid areas) by about 50%
Reducing the capacity (size) of the AC systems installed there, which reduces capital costs
Dramatically reducing the energy used by the AC systems, which reduces running costs
This had further "spin-off" effects, such as reducing the size of the transformer and the backup power systems for the entire project

Building made of ultra-local low-energy materials

SDM Architects designed and built an experimental classroom and toilet for a school run by an NGO at Igatpuri, Maharashtra.  The buildings were made of earth from the building site, using a technique called compressed stabilized rammed earth construction,  This technique has been pioneered and developed by the Auroville Earth Institute, among others, and we believe it holds great potential for India's future.  The roof was made with a hybrid of bamboo and steel structural members, another first-time innovation from our stable.

Building with chameleon-like skin

For a building containing studio apartments in New Delhi, we designed a building with a transformable roof.  The building has a full-height atrium topped by a glass roof.  This roof becomes transparent in winter, and stays opaque during the summer.  This allows the building to pick up valuable heat in the winter while remaining cool in summer.  The building also has a centralized evaporative cooling system for the atrium and  common spaces.

The transformation from transparent to opaque happens without the use of complicated motors, gears, and actuators.  It happens by hand - twelve people are required.  Thus the system cannot break down, and needs no maintenance apart from cleaning!

Industrial buildings that remain cool

For industrial buildings at Skoda Auto and Can Pack India, both at Aurangabad, Maharashtra, we introduced a building-wide ducted adiabatic cooling system that cools the entire factory floor to as much as 9 degrees below the external dry bulb temperature.  This system greatly reduces dust in the production areas. It has the added benefit of allowing large industrial doors to be kept open without loss of heat or entry of dust!


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