People around the world want the kinds of houses seen in Europe and North America, rather than those they grew up with, but, traditional homes can be more sustainable, says an Indian-origin engineer.
Industrial building materials are often scarce and expensive and alternative, locally sourced, sustainable materials are often a better choice, said Khanjan Mehta, assistant professor of engineering design at the Pennsylvania State University.
‘People see western stuff as better, more modern and therefore they think it is good, on the contrary, traditional homes can be just as cool and maybe more sustainable than the modern ones.’
"People want to build a good house, everyone wants to have a good house. But what makes a good house? Is it wood, steel, concrete or bamboo? It all depends on the context," Mehta said.
"In some places steel and concrete are perfect, while straw bales and bamboo are optimal in other places. We should be evaluating what is economically, socially and environmentally sustainable at the necessary scale in a given location," he said.
Cutting down forests to plant bamboo as building material is not the answer, according to Mehta. Individuals can use locally available but scarce materials to build their individual homes, but that strategy will not build all the houses in a city or village because it cannot be scaled up to meet the demand.
"Can we grow mushrooms and process them into a strong packaging material or fibreboard for construction?" said Mehta. "We need cross pollination from different areas to come up with acceptable choices to meet these challenges," Mehta noted.
"People see western stuff as better, more modern and therefore they think it is good," said Mehta. "Traditional homes can be just as cool, and maybe more sustainable," he said. Mehta shared his thoughts at the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science in Washington DC.