Formation of Sustainable Culture Connections
A view in the Indian context
नूनं जना: सूर्येन प्रसूत: ।
nUnam janAha sUryena prasUtaha
(all living beings originate from the (power of the) Sun)
1361 – The magic number; meaningless standing alone; yet magical when suffixed with the units ‘watts per square meter’. A quantified expression of the sun’s love extended forth to us in the form of electro-magnetic radiation: the invisible band – ultra violet for vitamin D production, melanin secretion, and skin tonality; and infrared for warmth and visible light for all of the endless stories about nights and days, darkness and light, and heroes and villains and spies and messengers.
Yet it isn’t one number when it hits the surface of the earth. It manifests in thousands of different ways, varying with the slightest change in the rotation of the earth as well as what humans now refer to as “Latitude”. So the 1361 would be highest at the equator and the least at the poles.
What hits the earth on its numerous surface-types (land, sea, rivers, mountains, snow, forest, etc.) is partly absorbed (over the deep seas), partly reflected (over snow and ice), and partly both, over the lush, deep greenery of equatorial rain forests. The delicate balance in the earth’s temperature and humidity is created by an equally delicate balance of snow, sea and land, with white, black, green & brown cover respectively. These factors combined with altitude, distance from the oceans and rivers, give rise to rainfall patterns and lo! out of a combination of all of the above is born ‘soil’.
Pedogenesis or the science of evolution of soil is oft represented in the formula.
Soil = f(C, PM, R, O, V,) x time (where C = climate, PM = parent material, R = relief/topology, O = fauna, V = flora).
This single formula captures all that goes into the slow process of soil evolution, taking anywhere from 100 to 1000 years to give us what we see as humus – the rich, delicate (its only a few inches thick), fertile layer that supports plant and organic life across the mother ship. What this formula shouldn’t do, is to deceive you with its simplicity. Climate in itself encompasses all that we discussed in the paragraphs before. Similarly, parent material could be any of the millions of rock types in the sub-strata.
So in a given climate zone, what we pee, poop and throw (organic waste), and the dead matter of animals and plants, mingles with each other to become the rich humus – something that in the process of modern building we so readily destroy in huge chunks, largely out of ignorance.
THE TANDOORI CHICKEN CALLED EARTH
Being Punjabi, the simplest analogy for explaining the distribution of biodiversity on our planet, is that of a tandoori chicken and the open fire that it gets cooked over. The slow turning of the chicken allows for the fattest, roundest part to get cooked the maximum (which happens to be closest to the flame), but the ends don’t get cooked as well (if the cook doesn’t twirl the skewer just right and evenly).
RELOOKING AT CULTURAL EVOLUTION
“Culture! Westerners often use this word to mean a taste for the fine arts, music and other aesthetic matters. But it has a much broader meaning, namely, the shared values, language and traditions that define a particular group of people, be they Australian Aborigines, black American, or the ancient Greeks.” (Clarke)
FIRST - THE WORD
BHESH – 'TIS CLOTHES THAT MAKETH…
Let’s see if you can cover all these in one breath: Amru, Arhi Bharat, Batik, Banarasi, Bandhini, Chamba Rumal, Chanderi, Chaunsa Khaddar, Chikankari, Do Rukha, Himru, Ikkat, Jamdani, Jamewar, Kalamkari, Kanbi Bharat, Kantha, Kasaba, Kashida, Khaddar, Maheshwari, Mochi Bharat, Murri, Paithani, Pashmina, Phanda, Phulkari, Pipli, Pitamber, Patola, Rabari, Refoogari, Taipachi, etc. etc.
BHAWAN – BUILDINGS AS OUR "THIRD SKIN"…
You only have to look at the exquisitely crafted Himachal village dwellings of timber bracing and stone (image enclosed), to appreciate their understanding of seismic engineering. Or the beautiful Ladakhi homes with their tiny windows and very thick adobe and trombe walls to appreciate their understanding of thermal mass and passive temperature control. The splendid Naga Bamboo dwellings on stilts that use the material that is most abundant around them in a manner that is responsive to the climate, terrain and has spawned a plethora of cane and bamboo related craft. Or then the Rajasthani havelis…(The list is endless and to our mind awe inspiring). These highly evolved responses make our “globalized” attempts at sustainability seem like baby steps and apologies to true sustainability that celebrates the environment and local social and cultural mores.
WITH THE BASICS IN PLACE – LET’S CELEBRATE
LOOKING BACK TO LOOK AHEAD – BUILDING BRIDGES
We are a unique nation. Over here, the 1361 spread itself over 3.287956 million square kilometers. The 1361 fueled the creation of the world’s largest cultural melting pot and political democracy. It gave us 1,652 languages and over 16,000 dialects; weaves that number in the hundreds based on the banks of the river they were woven next to, and the soil found there. It gave us a thousand different (as in, totally unlike each other) architectural solutions, crafts, arts and styles, spread across the entire 3.28 millions square kilometers. Then why battle the 1361?
And climate change is upon us as a fact of “modern” science.
A POSSIBLE APPROACH TO DESIGN…
Going forward, solutions need possibly come through localized interventions that are holistic. This means looking inwards – both towards traditional and historic responses that include not-only architecture, but all that contributes to it (food, clothes, etc.). And at the changing modern scenarios especially in terms of changing user needs and aspirations. It is imperative therefore that as an Architect and Planner one begins to look at a matrix of localization as a foundation of the design process.
THE END AS THE BEGINNING