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SUSTAINABILITY THROUGH BIOCLIMATIC BUILDING

DESIGN IN NORTH-EAST INDIA


M a n o j K u m a r S i n g h 1 , S a d h a n M a h a p a t r a 2 , S . K . A t r e ya 1
1
Instrument Design and Development Centre
Indian Institute of Technology Delhi, New Delhi 110016, India
2
Department of Energy, Tezpur University, Tezpur 784028, Assam, India
1
E-mail: mksinghtu@gmail.com

ABSTRACT
Building construction and operation have an enormous direct and indirect impact on the
environment. The issues of sustainable building design are multi-facets and highly
lateral in nature. However building sustainability largely focus on the operation of the
building and construction process. Bioclimatism is a critical parameter for achieving
sustainability of modern architecture. This concept takes into account the solar passive
techniques and micro-climatic conditions in building design; which improves the
building artificial energy efficiency and thermal comfort conditions in the built
environment. Vernacular architecture based on bioclimatism concepts were developed
and used through the centuries by many civilizations across the world. A questionnaire
based survey has carried out at seventy five functional vernacular architecture of north
eastern region of India. Temperature, humidity and day lighting data both inside and
outside of the buildings are collected at all these houses. We came across some
interesting findings related to bioclimatism, socio-economic status, cultural setup and
sustainability in this vernacular architecture. We found that social and cultural values
are closely associated with building design style and function. So these parameters
needs due importance towards comfort and sustainability analysis of buildings. We also
found different solar passive features available in most of these houses related to
temperature control and promotion of natural ventilation. These houses are constructed
using locally available building materials. Since these materials have low embodied
energy and are from the same climatic zone, they fit into the local environment perfectly
and represent a unique example towards achieving sustainability.

INTRODUCTION
Sustainability and quest for ‘sustainable development’ is not a new idea. Throughout
the human history it has always remained an important issue. Many cultures have
recognized the need of harmony between natural environment, society and the economy
for all round development [Tweed & Sutherland 2007]. In present time building sector
sustainability focuses on secondary and complex issues such as life cycle analysis,
carbon emission, waste management, recyclability etc. But building construction,
structure and operation are governed by the local and regional parameters; which are
direct response to the local climate. Buildings based on these features provide
uniqueness, sense of belonging, social and cultural identity [Kua & Lee 2002, Singh et
al. 2008].

World energy consumption pattern shows that 25 percent of the world’s population
(living in cities of developed countries and large cities of developing countries)
M.K. Singh, S. Mahapatra, S. K. Atreya

consumes about 83 percent of the global energy; leaving only 17 percent of the energy
for remaining 75 percent of the world’s population [Alnaser & Flanagan 2007]. US
energy information administration illustrates that buildings are responsible for almost
48% of total energy consumption and responsible for substantial amount of green house
gas emissions [US, EIA 2008]. The annual embodied energy of building materials and
the energy used to construct building is estimated 1.146MBtu/square-feet for new
construction and half of this for renovation [US, EIA 2008]. The total energy
consumption in the building sector in Asia increased by more than 260% during the
period from 1971-2004 and expected to increase by 130% from 2004 to 2030
[International Energy Annual 2004]. Its share in worlds total energy consumption
increased from 3.7% in 1971 to 7.3% in 2004 and is expected to increase to 11.2% in
2030 [Asia/World Energy Outlook 2006]. In modern times building materials like
cement, steel and bricks are highly energy intensive. Study shows that the embodied
energy cost as well as running cost can be significantly reduced in climate-responsive
building design [Gallo 1998]. Energy efficient building has potential to reduce carbon
emissions by 60% or more, which translates to 1.35 billion tonnes of carbon
[Tzikopoulos et al. 2005]. Now it becomes necessity rather than an option for energy
conservation and carbon emission reduction to design built environment considering the
local environment and socio-cultural setup and to make the system more sustainable
[Sayigh & Marafia 1998, Tiwari 2001].

This paper discusses the role of vernacular architecture of North-East India with
bioclimatism, socio-cultural setup and sustainability. We also attempt to find out how
the social and cultural values are associated with building design style. This study tries
to assess the vernacular buildings of the region based on thermal performance, materials
used and socio-cultural issues. We have also given a look into as how this vernacular
architecture is contributing towards comfort and finally develop a holistic approach to
achieve sustainability through bioclimatic building design for the region.

BIO-CLIMATISM AND VERNACULAR ARCHITECTURE OF NORTH-EAST


INDIA
Bioclimatism is a concept that integrates the micro-climate and architecture to human
thermal comfort conditions [Sayigh & Marafia 1998]. It is revealed from different
studies on vernacular architecture that bioclimatism is a critical parameter for achieving
sustainability of modern architecture [Gallo 1994, Tzikopoulos et al. 2005]. North-east
region is classified into three major bioclimatic zones namely: warm and humid, cool
and humid and cold and cloudy [Singh et al. 2007]. Vernacular architecture of north-
east India across the three bioclimatic zones has remained widely varied in its built
forms. Study carried out on vernacular architecture of northeast India found the
influence of different features of bioclimatism such as climatic conditions, common
building plans, socio-cultural set up, materials used and solar passive features in the
vernacular buildings of different bioclimatic zones of the region.

Vernacular architecture of warm and humid zone of north-east India are quite different
from the modern times rural or urban houses. In rural areas the houses are scattered
settlements and built to meet the day to day requirements of residents but in contrast the
urban houses are collective. Courtyard is common and the most characteristic forms of

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vernacular architecture in warm and humid climatic zone. Courtyard provides the much
needed space and satisfies the social and cultural need. These courtyards also play an
important role in natural ventilation and enhanced air circulation. The buildings in
warm and humid bioclimatic zone shows a numbers of solar passive features that
promote natural ventilation, enhances air circulation, reduce heat gain and effective
shading mechanism etc. It is also observed that this kind of architecture uses locally
available materials such as mud, bamboo, cane, wood etc. for construction and
contributing towards sustainable building design by minimizing the use of energy
intensive materials [Singh et al. 2008].

The houses of cool and humid zone are made of locally available material i.e. processed
mud, wood and bamboo. Bamboo is sandwiched between two layers of processed mud
for making walls. Orientation of the house in rural area plays a major role. Most of the
houses are east-west oriented and south facing to receive maximum solar radiation.
Transition spaces in terms of veranda, corridor etc. has got very limited use in the
architecture of this climatic zone [Singh et al. 2008].

Vernacular architecture of cold and cloudy climate zone is greatly influenced by the
prevailing climatic conditions. Minimizing heat loss features are dominant in this zone
building plans. Houses are compact and constructed on south slops of the mountain and
oriented in east-west direction to receive maximum solar radiation. The ceiling height is
very low inside the house. These houses have minimum surface to volume ratio which
maximizes the heat gain inside the rooms during daytime and minimizes the heat loss
during nighttime. In most of the buildings locally available materials like stone, wood,
bamboo, cane, cane leaves etc. are used. Different solar passive features available in
most of the houses related to temperature control. Roofs of the houses are steeply
inclined to overcome the excessive rainfall [Singh et al. 2008].

METHODOLOGY OF THE STUDY

The entire northeast region has more than fifty ethnic groups with distinct social and
cultural setup and consequently needs are also different. These facts are well reflected
in the building design and its functionality. Sometimes buildings are used to represent
different cultures and traditions as a symbol of particular ethnic group. A questionnaire
based survey has been carried out at seventy five (twenty five houses in each climatic
zone) functional vernacular architecture of north eastern region of India. Main focus of
this study is to find the influence of features such as bioclimatism, socio-cultural, local
building material availability, thermal comfort and adaptation of all these features in
these vernacular building. We came across some interesting findings related to
bioclimatism, socio-cultural setup and sustainability in this vernacular architecture.

SUSTAINABLE BUILDING DESIGN


Sustainability term is often used in association with development. Sustainable
development has been defined by the Brundtland Commission (1987) as ‘development
that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future
generation to meet their own needs’. Basic idea behind this definition is the harmony or
the interconnection between economic development, environmental protection and

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social inclusion. Any development will have some environmental impact. Sustainable
development can be thought of as a development with low environmental impact, while
maximizing the environmental, economic and social gains.

Sustainability in context of building and habitat design has multi-dimensional effects. A


sustainable building/habitat is one that is economically viable, environmentally benign
and socially acceptable [John et al. 2005]. Building those are designed and used today
consumed a substantial amount of energy and other natural resources, with a consequent
negative environmental impact. Most building that are presently being designed and
used are far from eco-friendly or sustainable. In earlier days, buildings in India were
traditionally designed to provide shelter from the extreme climate conditions. These all
buildings based on the understanding of the natural environment and adoption of
building design and materials so as to provide maximum comfort to the occupants. So
built environment plays a critical role in sustainable development and present time
demands some serious study particularly on the sustainability of these built
environments. The basic principles of sustainable building design are namely (i)
maximize the use of renewable and natural resources in the building environment, (ii)
climate-responsive building design, (iii) minimizing the artificial energy and water use
and (iv) good building system functions and proper operation and maintenance.

Materials uses
Vernacular houses in warm and humid climate zone are made up of bamboo, cane, mud,
lime and bricks in different proportions. These buildings have wooden framed structure.
In pukka buildings surkhi (mixture of lime, brick powder, sand and jaggery etc) is used
to fix the bricks. In cool and humid zone houses are constructed by using locally
available materials i.e. processed mud, wood and bamboo. Mud is processed by adding
cow dung, lime and beaten straw or chopped jute. Processing of mud enhances the
binding properties and adds porosity to the mud. This intern increases the resistance to
temperature change and helps in retaining comfort condition. Bamboo is sandwiched
between two layers of processed mud and used for making walls and inter-room
partition walls of the houses. In case of urban houses backed bricks are used to
construct walls. Galvanized tin sheet is used in present days for roofing, but in older
houses still thatched roofs are there. Traditional houses of cold and cloudy climate are
made up of wood, bamboo, cane, cane leaves, stone chips, rock slabs, surkhi etc. These
building materials are locally available and used judiciously to minimize the
construction cost. Since these materials have low embodied energy and are from the
same climatic zone, they fit into the local environment perfectly and represent a unique
example towards achieving sustainability.

Temperature profile
Temperature profile study on the vernacular houses is necessary to assess the thermal
performance of the vernacular architecture in different climatic zone. We have used the
adaptive approach based on statistical analysis of large number of thermal comfort field
study proposed by Humphreys and Auliciems. Adaptive model is based on strong
positive correlation between the observed comfort temperature and the mean
temperature prevailing both indoors and outdoors during the field studies. We have used
data loggers (HOBO, USA) to measure the outdoor and indoor temperature and also

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secondary data are collected from Regional Meteorological Centre, Guwahati, India.
Data recorded at an interval of 30 minutes and for 25 days in the month of January and
April 2008 respectively. Humphries model is based on more than thirty comfort surveys
from around the world and is written as

TCO = 0.53 × Tm + 11.9 (r = 0.97) [1]

The comfort temperature (Tco) can be estimated from mean monthly outdoor
temperature (Tm) in °C. This prediction has fair accuracy with standard error of 1°C for
free running buildings and applicable for temperature range of 10°C < Tm < 34°C
[Brager & Dear 1998].

Auliciems model is given by;

TCO = 0.48 × Ti + 0.14 × Tm + 9.22 (r = 0.95) [2]

The presence of thermal comfort is predicted in terms of mean indoor (Ti) and outdoor
temperature (Tm) [Bouden & Ghrab 2005]. Equation 1 and 2 are used to evaluate the
thermal performance of vernacular architecture and in predicting comfort temperatures.
The predicted comfort temperatures using both the models for three bioclimatic zones
are presented in Table 1.
Tab.1: Comfort Temperature of different places
Station Month Mean Mean Mean Outdoor Comfort Comfort
Temperature Indoor Temperature Temperature Temperature
(°C)α Temperature (°C) β (°C) (°C)
β
(°C) (Humphreys) γ (Auliciems) δ
January 17.1 17.2 16.3 24.7 20.9
Tezpur
April 24.8 25.7 25.3 24.7 25.0
January 13.6 13.6 14.5 23.1 18.9
Imphal
April 21.2 24.9 24.2 23.1 24.1
January 11.6 15.0 13.7 21.3 18.7
Cherrapunjee
April 18.6 25.1 24.2 21.3 23.7
α
Based on Regional Metrological Centre, Guwahati ; β Measured at the selected house ; γ Calculated by using
equation 1 ; δ Calculated by using equation 2

Socio-cultural issues
Vernacular structure evolves over time to reflect the environmental, cultural and
historical context in which they exists. Vernacular building design and its functionality
represent the combination of local climate conditions, available materials, design
techniques, living style, traditions and socio-economic conditions of the region. Social
structure, economic and energy consumption are the major influential parameters that
laid down the constraints for residential building design. We have shorted out the
indicators based on the questionnaire survey that influence the construction of these
vernacular houses are socio-cultural issues, climate, family members (numbers),
building materials and modern life style support and the expectation of the resident’s
from the houses are socio-cultural issues, comfort, safety, family members and life style
support. Statistical analyses are done by developing weights to each factor of the

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collected data. Figure 1 and Figure 2 represents the response of the residents (in
percentage) for each climatic zone.
40.00

35.00 Warm and humid climate


Cool and humid climate
30.00 Cold and cloudy climate

25.00
(%)

20.00

15.00

10.00

5.00

0.00
Socio-cultural Climate Family members Resources Life style support
Issues

Fig. 1 Factors influences the house construction

30.00
Warm and humid climate

Cool and humid climate


25.00
Cold and cloudy climate

20.00
(%)

15.00

10.00

5.00

0.00
Socio-cultural Comfort Safety Life style support Family members
Issues

Fig. 2 Expectation of residents from the house

DISCUSSIONS
From the temperature profile of vernacular architecture of warm and humid climate we
found that most of the vernacular house shows a swing of 10°C in the inside
temperature, which is quite acceptable for free running buildings. For the month of
January no comfort prevails but for the month of April Humphrey and Auliciem’s
model estimates 5% and 15% comfort respectively. The average time lag varies from 5
to 6 hours. In cool and humid climate, the profile of inside houses temperature
represents a swing of 15°C. This is quite high value. This temperature is due to poor

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insulation, light weight walls and seldom use of false ceiling. The time lag is also found
to be only 2 to 3 hours. For the month of January Auliciem’s model predicts 5% of
comfort time but for the month of April it is about 40% of the time. By providing false
ceiling only comfort time can be increased up to 55% of the time. Temperature profile
of vernacular architecture of cold and cloudy climate shows the internal temperature
swing of 10°C for the month of January and April. By using both comfort models for
the month of January and April we found that no comfort is there in January but 70% of
time comfort prevails in the month of April. Time lag is found to be 5 – 6 hours. From
Table 1 we noticed that Humphrey comfort temperature is same for both January and
April months. This trend is same for all the three bioclimatic zones. But in case of
Auliciem’s comfort model, temperatures are different for different time of the year. The
comfort temperature is low for cold and cloudy climate and high for warm and humid
climate. This trend can be justified by the definition of thermal comfort, which states
that “Thermal comfort is a state of mind which expresses satisfaction with the thermal
environment” (ASHRAE 55–2004). So the comfort temperature values given by
Auliciem’s model are much close to present trend.

North-east India has large number of ethnic groups and each having distinct social and
cultural setup. We have formulated three functional diagrams of buildings plans for
three climatic zones by studying the vernacular architecture of the region [Singh et al.
2008]. The houses constructed based on these functional diagrams will provide the
needful space for social and cultural requirement and will also support day-to-day
activity. The indicator comfort mentioned in Figure 2 is the combination of thermal,
visual, indoor air quality and hygiene level. During the survey the respondents were
asked to express their views freely on these and then again asked to vote for comfort as
a whole. The respondents were also share their views about safety concerns, life style
support (changing life style) and space for accommodation of family members and rate
them as per their priority. We found that socio-cultural issues and comfort dominate in
the expectation level and followed by safety, life style support and family members.
Figure 1 represents the factors that influence the construction of vernacular houses.
From the figure it is evident that socio-cultural issues and climate are in first and second
priority in all the climatic zones. We also observed that the concern for climate
increases as we move from warm to cold climate (the gap between points scored by two
factors decreases). Regarding expectations from the house (Figure 2), we noticed that
socio-cultural issues, comfort and safety acquire first, second and third position
respectively. We found that social and cultural values are closely associated with
building design style and function. So these parameters needs due importance towards
comfort and sustainability analysis of buildings.

During the study of vernacular Architecture we came across number of solar passive
features related to temperature control, ventilation, enhanced air circulation, shading
etc. Table 2 represents the summary of prominent features of vernacular architecture
relating climatic design. Architecture of warm and humid climate shows advanced solar
passive features such as air gap in ceiling, double layered false ceiling, movable blinds
for effective shading and chimney arrangement for enhanced air circulation. For proper
ventilation large number of windows and doors are provided. In cool and humid
climate, we found that in rural areas house orientation plays a major role. Most of the
houses are east – west oriented and south facing to receive maximum solar radiation.

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Traditional houses in cold and cloudy climate are constructed on south slopes of the
hills to receive maximum solar radiation. The houses are compact to reduce the surface
to volume ratio. This helps in maximizing heat gain in the day time and minimizing heat
loss at night. Rural houses are found to be on lower side in the context of visual comfort
because in most of the rural houses we found illumination level in the range of 15 to 22
lux, which is low in comparison to standard value.

Tab. 2: Features relating to climatic design of vernacular architecture

Bio-climatic zone Warm and humid Cool and humid Cold and cloudy
2
Built up area (m ) 75 60 45
Wall (material Brick, Cement and sand Processed mud and Rock slab, cement and
and thickness) (0.127 m) bamboo ( 0.076 m) sand ( 0.20 m to 0.25 m)
Asbestos sheet/ cane/
Asbestos sheet / wood. Rare. Galvanized tin
False ceiling and bamboo mat/wood.
Galvanized tin sheet and sheet and tilted on
roof type Galvanized tin sheet and
tilted on two sides. three sides
tilted on four sides
Ventilation High ventilation Medium Ventilation Low Ventilation
Open layout with Courtyard in rural
No courtyard. On south
Layout and courtyard. No specific housing only. East-
slope and East-west
orientation orientation west orientation and
orientation.
south facing
Air gap in ceiling,
More compact, minimum
shading, extended roof Houses are compact,
Prominent passive surface to volume ratio,
used as overhang, proper care for
features south sloping to receive
chimney arrangement for ventilation
maximum sun
effective ventilation

Fig. 3 Sustainable bioclimatic building design model

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Sustainability in building sector largely focuses on the building construction process


and its operation. Study shows that building running cost much high then its
construction cost [Tiwari 2001]. This happens because the buildings are constructed
without properly studying the resident’s requirements that governs its functionality and
the local climate. However, we have tried to develop a sustainable bioclimatic building
design model based on the present study results. The sustainable bioclimatic building
design model is presented in Figure 3. This model provides the holistic approach by
incorporating the various factors that governs the building design much ahead of the
construction process. This model need to be considered at the planning stage of the
building to reduce a considerable amount of energy-intensive building material and also
the operational energy cost of the building.

CONCLUSIONS
This study is carried out by keeping in mind the sustainability issue regarding
bioclimatic building design. Sustainability in building sector can be achievable through
proper planning. From this study it can be concluded that vernacular houses of the
region shows quite acceptable thermal performance. These buildings mainly use the
locally available building materials. Thus economizing the building construction cost
and reducing the environmental degradation. We found that the main factors that
influence the building design are socio-cultural issue and climate. We also found
different solar passive features available in most of these houses related to temperature
control and promotion of natural ventilation. So for sustainable building design these
parameters needs due importance towards comfort and sustainability analysis of
buildings. This study also opens up new area to explore the possibilities and factors that
influence the sustainable building design in other parts of world. This study has got
limitation as it is based on the survey conducted on seventy five households. Though we
have tried to generate some quantitative data but most of the aspects reported here are
qualitative. More detailed study to include quantitative assessments is necessary to
generate more specific information for sustainable bioclimatic building design for the
region.

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Brief Biography of Presenter


Mr. Manoj Kumar Singh did M.Tech in Energy Technology from Tezpur University,
India. Presently he is doing PhD at Indian Institute of Technology, Delhi, India. His
area of PhD work is Bioclimatic building design. Apart from this; his areas of interest
are solar passive design, CFD study of buildings. He has published nine papers in
international journals and conferences. He was the recipient of MNRE fellowship
(Ministry of New and Renewable Energy, Govt. of India) during his M.Tech degree.

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