Taking sustainable architectural designs democratically forward

The term sustainability has different meanings for each individually, and as the time goes by, more eco-warriors have come up with sustainable solutions across industries. Modern innovations such as air conditioners have made our lives within the four walls more comfortable, but they are raising global temperatures. 

IBT spoke with Monish Siripurapu, Founder and Chief Architect, Cool Ant, on establishing sustainable infrastructure and reducing our dependency on power-hungry technologies. The young entrepreneur says that India’s architectural history has a lot to offer to the society to cut our carbon emission. 

cool ant sustainable infrastructure

Photo Source: CoolAnt Studios

IBT:  There are different forms of sustainability. What does sustainability as a term stands for you?

Monish Siripurapu: In the past few weeks, we’ve seen how vulnerable we are even if there is a slight deviation with climate change. I think we saw that with the average that the rains have caused. It was completely unprecedented. We saw almost all cities getting flooded and people displaced with lots of loss to life, and property. So, to me, sustainability is a simple balance between nature and man-made creations.  The balance in nature changes the way we function, it creates a major impact on the complete species itself. I think that’s the way I see sustainability.

IBT: How did you come to chose path of creating sustainable infrastructure?

Monish Siripurapu: I’m working in the area of passive cooling in public infrastructure. But let me just tell you that this is something that is being done for 1,000s of years in the habitat. Generations have lived using systems and technologies that have been fully passive or low energy. It’s only in the last 100 years that we have seen a humungous dependency on energy-hungry technologies. We’ve started using more and more resources when it comes to air conditioning, which is very energy intensive.

For me, creating sustainable infrastructure is not something new, it is something where we are going backwards, by trying to combine what was otherwise traditional with technology. This is something critical in our work – to see if we can improvise upon the systems that have worked very well for many centuries, and whether we can rewrap them in a modern way, in a modern architectural sensor in the construction industry. This is our main focus of work.

IBT: When did you set up the company and how has the journey been as an entrepreneur so far?

Monish Siripurapu: Ant Studio was set up almost 10 years back and the inspiration came while I was working in my previous firm, where they do a lot of creative stuff in an architectural setup. But hat I really felt was that along with the architecture and design aesthetics, it can be a place where a lot of experimentation and research can come together in developing new things. Traditional structures, modern technology and new products which could reach the masses – that was the main idea behind setting up Ant Studios.

Architecture or construction industry is very niche. In a country like India, we have tons and tons of problems, rapid population growth, and difficulty in even ensuring basic availability of food, clothing and housing for the masses. So the whole idea with the Studio or the work that we  do, is to take architectural designs in a democratic manner that that can reach out to many people. That’s where the whole idea of trying to scale the design comes in. How can we bifurcate it in such a manner that the design can actually benefit a lot more people than just a few individuals who can actually afford that. We started off as a research wing where we experimented with a lot of new ideas. But luckily, one of the installations that we did garnered a tremendous amount of recognition. We won the support of the United Nations Environment Program, and also excelled in other competitions in India.

We are investing heavily on passive cooling building envelopes. Because if you look at any traditional architecture in states like Rajasthan, Gujarat, Tamil Nadu and Kerala, they have their own specific designs in line with the specific climatic conditions. The climate is what has driven the aesthetic quality. But today, unfortunately, if you go to Hyderabad, Mumbai or Bangalore, you will see similar building setups. And that’s a pity. We are overlooking tremendous wisdom or knowledge gained through our ancestors, when it comes to building envelopes and how we should respond to the climate.

CoolAnt is an effort to see if we can make building envelopes more scientific, and not just beautiful, so that anyone can adapt to this. In return, that can help in reducing thermal loads on the building and creating a cooling effect inside with the help of passive cooling.

IBT: What kind of projects have you undertaken in these past 10 years? Have you collaborated with MNCs in creating sustainable buildings?

Monish Siripurapu: When we started Ant Studios ten years back, we were working on very specific architectural needs. CoolAnt  product started in 2018. But then, Covid-19 came in and disrupted our operations. In the last one or two years, especially with respect to CoolAnt, we are working on institutional projects, NGOs, schools, as well as offices and residences, . And we have also started the journey with creating a cooling outdoor space in a factory. So, these are the different kinds of projects that we are doing under CoolAnt, which are very different from the architecture project that we initially started off with.

IBT: As we move to the cities, the infrastructure kind of starts looking the same. Is it relatively much more challenging to establish environmentally sustainable infrastructure?

Monish Siripurapu: No, I think the biggest problem that we as a society are facing is we don’t have the time to think. We are in a very fast moving lifestyle. If you look at different social media platforms, we don’t have the time to absorb information that lasts more than 10 to 15 seconds. And that is a very unfortunate scenario, because if you tell people that this is how traditional system works, and you need to put more effort into it, and you’ll save a lot of money, I am sure they will appreciate the benefits.

The beauty about traditional systems is that they are like valuable information that has been passed on to us for generations. One has to take a little bit more effort than just just plug and play the air conditioner. So, this is the problem that we are facing right now. It’s not about the availability of raw materials, as everything is available. People do not want to invest their time into something innovative like this. They just want to order something online, get it and be done with it.

IBT: One of your innovative products is the facade, to lower the dependence on cooling. How much electricity can this innovation conserve in comparison to coolers or air conditioner?

Monish Siripurapu: We have done two kinds of analysis. One for commercial buildings and offices and another for residences. In residences, a household can spend long hours on cooling. But with the help of solution that we are proposing, we can increase the average cooling hours up to 75%. Which means that there is more than double the performance when you’re using teracotta facades. One could still depend on air conditioning as a supplement for only 20% to 25% times in a year. Rest of the time, you can entirely depend on natural façade cooling solutions.

That’s for residences. But the same benefits apply when you do it for commercial projects like offices, where the spaces are primarily controlled by air conditioning. So there the analysis suggests that we can reduce dependency on air conditioning load by up to 30%. That means a 30% reduction in energy that you’re consuming in a building. With the work that we are doing, I think we can even increase the performance by up to 40-50% energy reduction.

IBT: What about the lifespan of these infrastructures as compared to the currently available options?

Monish Siripurapu: This solution can last really long – up to 15/20 years. That’s the reason why we’re using terracotta in our designs We have seen earthen pots from archaeological evidences saying that it lasted for  of thousands of years. So, when it comes to the material properties, these structure can least easily up to 20/25 years unless there is a calamity or some disaster. I don’t think life is an issue.

Monish Siripurapu is the Founder and Chief Architect at Ant Studio. The young entrepreneur is skilled in AutoCAD, Python, Rhinoceros, Installation Design, and Architectural Design. He completed his Bachelor in Architecture from School of Planning and Architecture, New Delhi and later earned OTF focused in Robotic fabrication from Institute for Advanced Architecture of Catalonia.

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