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ALTERNATIVE MATERIALITY - Circular Concrete Innovations

“Being Future Proof today rests on the use of materials that are HEALTHY for the environment and humankind, materials which ADAPT to their surroundings, materials that CLOSE THE LOOP and become valuable resources at the end of their lifecycle, as well as materials that are RESILIENT, recovering quickly from challenges” – Material Driven UK

At BFT, 'reusing and recycling' has always been a top priority! As a company that manufactures handmade tiles, we are attuned to nature and natural materials. As you all know, BFT has been dealing with a one-of-a-kind material – cement and has been manufacturing handcrafted tiles since 1922. Cement tiles at BFT are made by hand, one at a time, using mineral pigments. Cement is a fine material that has a diversity of capacities; it can support the function of a space, but also change the way spaces relate to or communicate with us; it can even evoke certain emotions in us.

As an environmentally conscious company, we always look at how we can reduce our footprint on nature and create awareness about the same. Therefore, we recently took it upon us to encourage sustainable design amongst those who hold the reins to the future of design in India! BFT is happy to have collaborated with one of Mumbai’s most esteemed school of design and innovation-ISDI to host a workshop on developing 'Alternative Materiality', where we invited students and faculties from design schools and colleges like IES College of Architecture, National Institute of Design, SIES, Rachana Sansad, IDC IITB, to explore different re-cycled materials along with cement to create their own cement tiles. Design interns and designers who were working on sustainability models also participated. It was a power-packed fun 3-day workshop on exploring how different materials used along with cement binding form beautiful tiles. Due to a great, the response of the workshop NMRC and ISDI screened the materials the students created at the workshop. Students were first given a brief introduction about the eco-friendly and sustainable materials by Shreyas More and Meenal Sutaria Co-founders of New Material Research Center at ISDI, then groups were formed where the students did a broad-spectrum analysis of what materials they were going to be using so that on the 3rd day while they were developing their cement tiles, they had clarity on the products. The students got to explore, learn and work on several topics in those 3 days:
-  Best practises in Circular Economy.

- Best practises in understanding material performance and development.

- Hands-on experience in developing frontier materials

- Ability to work at local scales to impact global changes.

- Knowledge from speakers and faculty interaction.

- Knowledge and industry exposure with Bharat Flooring

- Workflows and methodology for addressing complex design and business problems.

The goal of this workshop was to shift from a “take, make and dispose of" economic model to a more circular approach which involves a regenerative use of materials, where material waste as resources, flow in a continuous loop from one life to another, and there is no waste. The circular economy offers significant opportunities to boost economic growth, job creation, and innovation while providing a framework to design sustainable materials and systems around them.

The students received insightful details about eco-friendly materials and sustainability from our keynote speakers Susmith CS founder of Malai Biomaterials; Madhav Raman Anagram Architects; Parshva Shah founder of Artemis Green Crete and, a remote session with Purva Chawala and Adele Orcajada founders of Material Driven.

“One thing very important while creating a sustainable product in the vicinity of the material.” – Parshva Shah

Demand for authentic and sustainable products is increasing. The renewed enthusiasm for this ‘green’ product is partly that it is environmentally friendly and sustainable, just as it was many centuries ago. The idea of the Alternative Materiality workshop was to try different materials and see what works the best and how we can take it ahead to the next level. The technique uses a mould to make designs in many colours and a press to harden the tiles without requiring heat. Cement tiles are therefore considered to be a ‘green’ or ecological product. “You have to be able to design a space that will last a long time with minimum and exotic materials” – Madhav Raman, Anagram. Cement can achieve this objective in more ways than one!

Cement is an incredibly durable material. The cement tiles at Bharat floorings have lasted up to 60 to 70 years if used and maintained properly. Vibrant colours and mesmerizing patterns are hallmarks for today's tiling designs. We love what one simple material such as ‘cement’ can create! Cement tiles are 100% handcrafted, and really incorporate the concept of Wabi-Sabi in them. Cement is reminiscent of times gone by, full of beauty and less taxing on our environment than other industrial produced materials.

Ever thought of what makes a product sustainable? How can we design a sustainable product? Will the audience/consumer buy sustainable products? Sustainable products are those that provide communal, commercial and environmental benefits by providing public health and the environment – from the traction of raw materials until their final deposit.

Sustainable development is the development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs. Many of the challenges facing humankind such as climate change, water scarcity, inequality and hunger can only be solved at a global level and by promoting sustainable development a commitment to social progress, environmental balance and economic growth.

While making sustainable products, use materials that are locally and freely available otherwise the products created are not ‘sustainable’. – Susmith CS founder of Malai Biomaterials

We are in a period of transition to a circular economy, increasingly focused on renewable supplies and products with less social and environmental impacts. We used environmentally friendly materials for the workshop (also known as green building materials) i.e. sawdust, rice husk, grain husk, papercrete. Here are a few alternative materials that have a lower impact on the environment:

- Sawdust:
Sawdust is a waste from the wood and timber industry. As it possesses a firing capacity, it is normally used as a fuel source in thermal processes (biomass). It is also used as insulating material. Sawdust is the residue generated by saw teeth when the wood is cut into lumber. In the past, it has had some limited use by the pulp and paper industry. It gives a pulp with short fibres that is suitable as part of the furnish for tissue and writing papers.

-     Rice husk:

Rice husk is organic waste and is produced in large quantities. It is a major by-product of the rice milling and agro-based biomass industry. Rice husks are the waste materials after the rice grains have been removed and are predominantly composed of silica. They can be used as an energy source, but the high ash content, relative to other biomass materials, makes their use problematic during co-firing.

- Hay: 
Hay straws can be grown and harvested on any farm that grows wheat to produce flour for cereal, bread, pasta, or other staple food items. This material is fully biodegradable & compostable - and they provide a sustainable outlet for reducing waste.

-  Strawbale:
Straw is an agronomic by-product; the dry stalks of cereal plants, after the grain and chaff have been removed. Straw makes up about half of the yield of cereal crops such as barley, oats, rice, rye and wheat. It has many uses, including fuel, livestock bedding and fodder, thatching and basket-making. It is usually gathered and stored in a straw bale, which is a bundle of straw tightly bound with twine or wire. Bales may be cube, quadrilateral, or round, depending on the type of baler used. Properly built, straw bale structures are fire-resistant, waterproof and pest free, with super-insulated walls, very high level of insulation for a hot or cold climate this is an expensive material but is a rapidly renewable material.

-  Rammed Earth:
From an environmentally friendly impact and sustainability point of view rammed earth can have many benefits over other current building practices. When appropriately designed and assembled, a building made of rammed earth should have an efficient lifetime greatly exceeding that of most contemporary structures. Modern rammed earth buildings can be made safer by the use of rebar or bamboo, and mechanical tampers reduce the amount of labour required to create sturdy walls.

-  Bamboo:
This fast-expanding grass growing in recent times has made its mark as an eco-crop. From construction to homeware to fabrics, bamboo is having its moment in the limelight. Bamboo is so flexible—it can be the star, the defining feature of a space, the wow—and it can also feel invisible, natural, like a nest or cocoon around you as if it wasn’t ‘designed’ or ‘built’ at all. This is a material that has been used thousands of years, and it will still look like new and will never be eaten by insects.

In the process of designing such circular biomaterials, this alternative materiality research presents the following four challenges to consider and overcome in the upcoming phase: material extraction, increased performance, adaptability for digital fabrication and overall effectiveness. It aims to take the research further into live size testing and mass manufacturing to measure impact on a building prototype scale.

The world economic forum forecasts that the fourth industrial revolution for the earth will significantly be focused on solving the world’s most pressing environmental challenges of resource scarcity, climate change and waste generation. The green charcoal demonstrates a framework of thoughts and approach for materiality in architecture to provide solutions to address these challenges. For damage done to the earth in the last 5 decades, net-zero is not enough. The approach to both the building materiality and building systems must be a performative, circular and net positive, thus representing a radical departure from architecture’s role of preservation and entering architecture’s need for transformation.

To make sustainable products you need sustainable materials and one good source of sustainable materials are biomaterials because they come from nature and they can always go back. “Usually people have this thought if there is a conflict between sustainability and luxury, but I think there’s a conflict between suitability and frugality not with luxury.” – Madhav Raman, principal and co-founder of Anagram Architects. The idea is can you make luxury frugal. Philosophically you can because luxury is invested in trying to create things that are precious and things that are precious are usually not wasteful, they quantifiably less in number, so it’s key to understand sustainable luxury from the idea of trying to take consumption of resources out of the context of luxury, focus more on creating experiences that are not so permanent or are impermanent or are transient where the sense of luxury can be something about being in the moment rather than by creating products that need to be kept aside and preserved for a long time.

It’s amazing what mankind can come up with when you harness the beauty of nature and all the natural products available to us!

For more details visit us at –
Mumbai – Showroom
Bharat Floorings & Tiles (Mumbai) Pvt. Ltd
32, Mumbai Samachar Marg, Ground Floor, Next to Stock Exchange, Fort, Mumbai - 400 023Tel: 91 (22) 4057 4400/23/44

Follow us on our Instagram account - @bharatfloorings and Facebook page -@Bharatflooringsandtiles for more updates!


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