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Habitat Observatory

    Rural Housing in Transition: Lessons for sustainable future- learning from the past
  A study conducted by Monto Mani and B.V. Venkatarama Reddy of the Indian Institute of Science and reported in the Journal of the Indian Institute of Science, A Multidisciplinary Reviews Journal reveals interesting facts on the impacts of changing materials and technology on the carbon foot-print of rural buildings and also on local social and ecological closed loop systems of rural construction.

Banskuti village in Medinapur district of West Bengal traditionally always had earthen dwelling structures made of mud and bamboo. These structures had evolved over generations reflecting ingenuity of the local tribal community in adapting to their area’s geo-climatic conditions and available material resources. The carbon footprint of the houses was extremely low as the building materials used were locally available and produced by the community itself. The eco - friendly houses maintained an ambient temperature in both summer and winter thereby providing adequate comfort to the occupants without additional mechanical cooling or heating systems. Figure 1 illustrates the resource efficiency and sustainability of the construction materials, designs and processes used in making the traditional dwellings.

The past decade has witnessed rising income levels of the rural community in Banskuti village resulting in several changes in the dwelling structures primarily in the construction materials and technologies being used. Traditional thatched roofs have been replaced by corrugated asbestos /cement (AC) or tin sheet roofs. Burnt clay brick walls using mud mortar or cement mortar have replaced earthen walls. While the shifts are a reflection of the need of the community to move to more permanent and lower maintenance housing, as Figure 2 shows the shift from locally available building materials to more resource intensive materials has altered the closed loop, environment friendly resource cycle in this village.

Local population is facing considerable discomfort in both summer and winter as revealed by the study as these modern transitions have made the dwellings less responsive to regulate climatic extremes. The study found that time spent by families out of doors under the shade of trees during extreme summer months has increased as the dwellings do not provide the adequate thermal comfort.

Moreover, with construction materials like bricks now being brought from nearby towns, the role of external markets has become quite pronounced which has disrupted the earlier close-looped resource cycle and disturbed practices that fostered community integrity and social processes in production and construction of buildings.

This case study emphasizes the need for a relook at sustainability parameters as rural settlements at a large scale demonstrate a material and technological transition. This aspect of rural housing and construction sector has not received adequate attention so far. Given the scale of new construction and transition in both rural and urban areas the need of the hour is to achieve sustainability by understanding and applying sustainability principles from practical examples of traditional construction.

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