A chat with Prof. Laul: Why Green is Red

Interviews with Thought Leaders Dated:  Jan. 10, 2015
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Prof. Anil Laul

Prof. Anil Laul is the principal architect of Anangpur Building Centre and Academy for Sustainable Habitat Research & Action (ASHRA). Recycling comes naturally to Laul as most of his projects use bits and pieces of waste to make aesthetically appealing structures that are not just eco-friendly, but also are rooted to the community and tradition. An urban planner and the master architect of Low Cost Housing and Earthquake Engineering' in the country, he also has many hi-tech structures like the Cube-on-vertex, Geodesic domes, Space frames, A-frames to his credit. In a candid chat with ZingyHomes, Laul talks about his pet project at Anangpur village, his book and his views on green architecture.  

Two decades ago you started a private entrepreneur Building Centre at Anangpur village in Haryana. What was the aim and vision to start this project?
The Anangpur Building was started to cater to the needs of the common man as well as to promote the use of cost-effective technology in the higher income sector. This was based on the realisation that the pace of development is set by the rich and that the aspirations of the poor match the standards as laid down by the rich.
Structural systems such as Geodesics, Octageodules, Space frames and A-Frames that were the prerogative of the advanced countries are being designed and fabricated at this center. The geodesic domes which were originally invented by Buckminister Fuller had extremely complex jointing systems. The simplification of the jointing system to accommodate the varying angles, has made it possible to build these at a minimal cost using a variety of cladding options. Fact has it that this center has built more domes than the man who invented the system.

How can one choose building material without resulting in environmental abuse?
Building materials should be used for their inherent qualities, rather than those one would like to bestow upon them. Most materials show best result in compression and must be used so. By using them in tension we end up with more problems than we can resolve. Similarly, few materials, like sedimentary stone, are best used in tension and compression owing to their laminated formation. This is exactly how huge structures of yesteryear were built without R.C.C.
Also, we often make a mistake of standardising the use of materials instead of rationalising them. For instance brick, the universal building element should not be standardised since its size must be in response to the nature of the locally available clay. Clay of separate regions is different and therefore the brick size must be different. Brick must be examined from the point of view of non-erodability rather than strength. In fact, the strength of any walling material must be based on the soil bearing capacity of the local region.

You have also authored a book "Green is Red". Tell us something about it. Does it primarily talk about green architecture and what propelled you to write this book?
I have named the book "Green is Red" on purpose and that's not because I am making some kind of attempt to boast about green buildings or adopting green technologies. Whenever I think about the way green architecture is portrayed here in our country, I see blood and that is why the book cover has "green" printed in "red" as it denotes anger.
For many of us, green architecture is some sort of status symbol or a way to make a fashion statement and that is why I felt the need to pen down this book as it talks about everything related to green architecture - right from the climate change to simple things directly or indirectly related to this domain. For instance, the toothpaste that we use has a percentage of fluoride. Now one might think it has nothing to do with architecture but yet it has a lot to do with architecture.

But you have really gone in-depth while cracking the mysteries on green architecture...
Certainly, it’s a well-researched book. Much like there are the three witches or weird sisters in William Shakespeare's play Macbeth, similarly, I have pointed harmful elements in this book which are listed under witches' column. Fluoride which is one of the ingredients in your toothpaste carries "do not swallow" warning. But your drinking water too contains fluoride. How do you avoid that? Although you have water purification systems, still water undergoes processes of fluoridation, chlorination and oxidation. In most countries they have a guideline saying: fluorine if swallowed, consult your physician. Now, just because it helps in teeth whitening, we cannot ignore the harmful effects of fluorine.

To crack this mystery, we need to go deeper to find out how was fluoride originated? Basically, fluoride, a byproduct of Aluminium, came around during the time of world war. Aluminium is used vastly in the aircraft industry, building industry, and as long as you use aluminium you will produce fluoride. And just because fluoride is produced it has to be consumed because there's no way that we can destroy it. So, Adolf Hitler's advisors suggested the best way to use fluoride was for teeth whitening as the Aryans used to love white teeth. Therefore, they devised a way and added that in the toothpaste. Later, they realised that by adding certain quantity in water it also kills bacteria. So since then, leaving Europe where it is banned, the whole world is using fluoride. What I mean is you cannot talk of green architecture unless you know the source from which the material is extracted.

And to the contrary kalai (zinc) which is harmless and has value additions, for instance in our medicines, is banned in the National Capital Region (NCR). Why is kalai banned by the government? Why the world did not know how to extract zinc for four thousand years, all this and more has been extensively covered in the book.

What is your view on green ratings?
Personally, I am not in the favour of green ratings and I don't even feel the need to have green ratings as all my works have been acknowledged and have got recognitions from foreign lands. What I have realised is that our country does not acknowledge anything on time. Engineers do listen and adopt my techniques, but for architects, I don't know why they are reluctant in practicing and adopting these tactics which are useful for their domain. Though all my works are documented, there are films too based on them, still for the coming generations, I feel the need to record them as books.

Academy for Sustainable Habitat Research & Action (ASHRA) is envisaged to train students of architecture. Primarily, would you want to work with students?
No, I just want to make future professionals be well aware of these practices in the areas of appropriate building technologies and sustainable planning strategies, etc. Basically, our attempt is to share with them the basic fundamentals and our view point. And once they return to their colleges/institutes, it’s for them to decide if they would want to adapt and go beyond what they have learnt or ignore those theories and knowledge.

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