Q&A: Building materials in India
LEED Fellow, Deepa Sathiaram, has worked on over 450 LEED projects in India and over 50 LEED projects globally.
Hear what she has to say about how she got to where she is in her career and what she thinks about the development of healthy building materials in India.
Q. How has your background led you to your current work?
A. My first job after I graduated was as an electrical designer. I got a chance to move to Los Angeles to work for the International Code Council as an accreditation officer. My husband was at UCLA pursuing a degree. So, I started working on building materials very early on — material evaluation, testing and such. When I moved back to India, I worked with energy efficiency quite a lot. I thought this would be an extension of energy efficiency. Being associated with building materials and testing for ten years has been huge.
Q. What is the current conversation around building materials in India like?
A. For many years, we always talked about energy efficiency when it came to buildings. A lot of discussions about systems and equipment but not so much about structural materials and such. We imagined that within a ten year period we would begin looking at materials in a completely different way. It’s funny, because if you look back at Indian architecture 30 or 50 years ago, everything we did was green: we only used local materials. But what has happened is that we have aspired to have some of the best access to material and technologies from all over the world. It’s now slowly dawning on us that this is important but we need to look at options at home. It became fashionable to say: “My building was made from imported materials. Higher-quality materials.” The reputation has been that local materials are old.
Q. What needs to be done to restore sheen back to local materials?
A. A lot has to be done in terms of developing materials locally. Take flooring. We rarely use carpets in India. We use hard flooring. Natural stone. Local stone. Now we have these modern materials so it’s a question of no one wanting to use the local materials because your building will not look differently than the materials from the past. This is where the innovation comes in. A manufacturer recently approached us with material that looked like wood for floors. But it was made from rice husks! These husks are usually thrown away. It’s a wonderful idea. So why do we then need to import laminated wood from China when we can come up with products locally? Unfortunately, it was a small-scale manufacturer and he does not have a steady system of funding.
Q. Beyond materials, how important is indoor air quality in India?
A. Interest in indoor air quality has always been low when compared with energy savings. But what happened is that the first set of LEED buildings went up and while everyone felt it was great they were saving on water and energy many would say, “There’s something nice about this building that we have never felt before about our previous buildings.” They started talking about the healthier feeling, or the natural lighting. It was a game changer.