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Last Updated: Wednesday, 8 September, 2004, 16:29 GMT 17:29 UK
Architects urged to copy India
Charles Correa
Correa is famed for his eco-friendly buildings
Renowned Indian architect Charles Correa has said housing designs from his home country offer the key to eco-friendly buildings of the future.

Correa, who is famed for design principles based on low-density, low cost architecture at a reduced environmental cost, wants architects to examine low-rise, high-density urban areas such as Rajasthan as a way of best using natural and local resources.

"The basic principle of housing in a country like India is that you have very limited resources," Correa told BBC World Service's Masterpiece programme.

"Therefore you have to use great ingenuity. That's when you really learn to respect what traditionally is done.

"If you look at a village in Kerala, everything is re-used and recycled. Leaves which fall from palm trees are used again for the roofs.

"There's nothing like poverty to be the mother of invention. As an architect, looking at those solutions, I was absolutely stunned by it."

Rubbish dumps

The explosion of the Indian economy in recent years has triggered massive expansion in the heart of India's major cities.

Correa, who said that Indians use space "extremely intelligently", explained that in India, tower blocks - "going high" - do not attract many people, and therefore better use of space in low-rise buildings has to be achieved.

Swiss Re tower
The Swiss Re tower uses half the energy of normal tower blocks
Correa has played a part in designing some of the large number of developments which have begun springing up.

He said that this had been a chance to put his principles into practice - not only environmentally-sound buildings, but ones that fit with their surroundings too.

"In New Bombay, this new centre, what we've done is try to use some very simple, direct housing which uses open-to-sky space, which is very important in the tradition," he said.

"A courtyard, a terrace, is actually another room."

As environmental concerns become ever more prevalent, some architects are moving away from the glass, steel and concrete model of modern city building.

One example has been the rebuilding of houses in Afghanistan using waste polystyrene.

A similar scheme has now been tried in south London, where polystyrene from local rubbish dumps is mixed with cement to form lightweight yet durable building blocks.

But Correa stressed that the knowledge of how to work with the environment, climate and materials had long been available - but modern architects had "forgotten and forsaken" it.

He cited the Alhambra Palace as a "machine for dealing with the hot desert climate of southern Spain".

"The walls and water fountains are not just decorative elements, they are a way of trapping the dry air and humidifying it.

"Today that is done by mechanical engineers... the architects make any arbitrary shape they want, and then the engineers step in and make the thing liveable.

"We must understand that's the big difference in the process. We have abdicated something very important to architecture, and that is the well-spring of imagination that comes from a response to some basic elements."

Traditional solutions

However, Correa conceded that in the West, sustainable architecture is not cheap.

He said that one environmentally-friendly element on one building could pay for electricity for a Kerala village for a year.

Yazd's "windcatcher buildings" were highly praised by Correa
"It is very cold and so you have to use brick and steel in order to build," he said.

"While you're doing that, people go in for high-rise buildings."

Some new buildings are taking this into account - the new Swiss Re tower in London has been designed to maximise daylight and natural ventilation so that it uses half the energy typically required by an office block

Meanwhile Correa said that his best example of environmental sustainability was not a building, but the city of Yazd in Iran.

The main feature of the city is its "windcatcher" houses and towers, which take the dry desert air down into the basement, where it is humidified by water and then circulated through the houses.

"The whole thing is a masterpiece of connected spaces," Correa said.

"What I've learned, living here in India, is that the most wonderful traditional solutions exist which exemplify all the concerns of the environmentalist today.

"We don't have to invent these things again."

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