Natural Architecture and Natural Building

-Ar. Ram Mohan Shastry

What is Natural Architecture?

Before that, lets try and understand,

What is a Natural Building?

  • Is it a space designed and built using what can be categorized as naturally available materials?
  • Is it a space designed and built using the techniques developed which are determined to be from a particular time period?
  • Is it supposed to consist of certain elements of design which invokes habit patterns in the user which are derived from established cultures of the land where it is built and from particular traditions of the people for whom it is built?
  • Does it mean that Natural Building by definition falls under the purview of what could be typically known as Vernacular Building? Or
  • Is there something more to the term natural building that can be distinctively pursued and promoted for what it can offer to the society?

These initial questions form the basis for a student of architecture to pursue and understand the subject matter of what is natural architecture. Let’s look at the questions at hand and seek the answers that follow.

Yes, Natural Buildings do fall under the category of vernacular buildings in general terms. That is a good place to start.

Well, what is a Vernacular building?

To understand Vernacular architecture and what constitutes vernacular buildings, go through these articles at Archdaily and Wikipedia.

Natural Building follows all that is defined as vernacular with a few more stringent rules, that is:

  1. Use of locally and naturally available materials only,
  2. Use of materials and products created using pre-industrial era tools and technologies,
  3. Use of tools and technologies, which promote employment to unskilled labor of the unorganized sector.
  4. Use of tools and technologies, which promote business opportunities to small scale industries and local artisans.
  5. Use of bare minimum logistics to be involved in procurement and transport of materials, tools, technologies and labor. (05 km radius).

Before continuing this list, let there be clarity as to what can be considered as stringent rules for a vernacular building to be categorized as a natural building. For this to be understood, let’s take up an instance in a context. For example, let’s consider a tier one city like chennai, bengaluru, hyderabad, delhi, mumbai. Etc. At present most of the city is built using industrial materials and methods. If any new construction needs to happen, access to quality industrial materials is far easier than the availability of quality natural materials. Demolition waste of these industrial materials is available, which may be utilized by reuse via repurpose. If principles of vernacular are to be applied within a tier one city more so at the city center where land as a resource is available for vertical expansion and growth than compared to the city outskirts where land may still be available for horizontal development and expansion, the pretext and principles for a natural building to be built there does not make complete sense. It will still be possible, although it will be challenging and a difficult pursuit. Some rules pertaining to material procurement and logistics will have to be compromised. In other words, bend the rules to accommodate and promote natural buildings in cities. Well it is true, for any city which is almost a century old into being considered industrialized and modernized, the definition of what is vernacular for that specific region where the city exists may be differently perceived.

Keeping this in mind, let’s continue with the list of rules for a natural building.

  1. The process of design, construction and upon completion, the maintenance of the building is intuitive in its nature, that is to say that the users do not have to apply logic and conscious thought, but are to follow an instinctive and spontaneous approach as part of user experience.
  2. The attempt must be to not just achieve carbon neutrality but also to go beyond and achieve carbon negativity using principles of carbon sequestration and regenerative design.
  3. Natural building shall take root and be developed on the principles and theories of climate responsive, contextual, community integrated, indigenous, organic and complementary architecture.

Upon closer inspection one may argue that many of the above mentioned particulars for the successful execution of a natural building may also be found in the attempt of successfully executing any other vernacular building or an alternate building or even a contemporary building. Well, yes that’s true. Also true is that, if and only if all eight rules mentioned above are followed, we may have produced a natural building built under the principles of natural architecture. Otherwise it may be just another building built with natural materials placed under the general category of vernacular architecture or alternate architecture and there lies the subtle difference of what Natural Architecture is.

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