Emerging Global Face of Indian Architecture
Sonali&ManitRastogi are the Founding Partners of Morphogenesis, one of India’s leading award-winning Architecture and Urban Design practices that consistently pushes boundaries of sustainable design and ensures that projects remain economically viable and globally pertinent.
Amongst many issues plaguing Indian Architecture and Urbanism today, there is the larger issue of Identity – what really is Contemporary Indian Architecture? What is ‘Brand India’ when it comes to Architecture? Is there a need to develop a discourse, a global discourse, on Indian Architecture? What about Indian Architecture needs to be propagated? In our opinion, Indian Architecture has successfully addressed architecture in a sustainable way whilst creating adaptive, affordable, liveable, socio-culturally responsive and visually enriched architecture often built with limited resources. In a world struggling with environmental degradation, this is a highly valuable skill, and this is where we must focus all our issues related to the profession and education. The real question is how can we take what we were really good at and create a model for the future based on the present; where finance, globalisation and pre-conceived imagery currently take centre stage.
Applying current evaluation criteria, traditional Indian Architecture is consistently green. The obvious reason being that Habitats were always built within a localized context – usually in response to not having access to abundant resources of water and energy. This Indian attitude towards green building has inherently been different from the western model which is equipment centric, responding to a completely different climatic condition. Post the oil boom in the 60’s, with availability of cheap energy, there was an evolution of equipment centric, hermetically sealed glass buildings, disconnected from the environment. Today this problem has been further compounded by green rating systems that address their standards to this type of architecture which by and large tend to have lower environmental standards. Although they aim to provide better environments, the methodology adopted by these systems is generally equipment centric, restricted and highly prescriptive, leading to higher costs of construction. This results in limited application owing to the prescribed narrow definition of human comfort level.
The fusion of ideas would lead to the emergence of a design and urbanism discourse that is invested in bridging two cultures, the local and global. It is this inclusive nature of design that, Morphogenesis believes, will define the new emergent Indian architecture.
Today, developments across India are designed with a layer of sustainability or ‘green’ superimposed. However, I believe that there should be a conscious attempt to step away from this overlay system of green points and instead incorporate passive approaches to design, right from conceptual and planning stages. Unlike other nations, local resources, materials and methods of construction are still easily available to us. The most effective approach is to build in a manner that responds to the climatic needs of the region while remaining economically viable. Additionally, optimization of all services is a pre-requisite to responsible architecture today.
The idea of sustainability should now move on from buildings to our cities as well. An assortment of problems of migration, traffic, pollution, water, electricity, sewage, public health, safety, governance and global warming issues are prevalent in most of our cities. There is a hidden opportunity that lies within our organically evolved cities- one of establishing a green and sustainable network as an alternative source of engagement with the city, for the common man. The aim should be to reclaim the derelict, the forgotten, the recyclable and the toxic by involving all stake holders; thereby collapsing the boundaries of decades of non-systemic thinking which have generated unsustainable urban growth.
Looking at the Delhi Nullahs project, the aim of this initiative was to tap into the latent infrastructural network that city provided. In this case it was the 350km long continuous network of nullahs, built over 700 years ago by the Tughlaqs. The current state of this network system is dilapidated. However, with a relatively small investment these nullahs could be turned into a valuable asset. With a detailed proposal on how to revive this network, Morphogenesis hopes to bring to life an alternate transportation network, an environmental corridor and a cultural web that attempts to hold the whole national capital together. This project seeks to establish a ‘green and sustainable’ network as an alternative and democratic source of engagement within the city of Delhi. In some sense, this exercise has the potential to turn the whole city inside out by deprioritizing the automobile and restoring the nullahs as a major interface of the city.
Morphogenesis views its design practice as an architectural laboratory, looking to expand the boundaries of architecture and environmental design in India. The firm has successfully created exemplars that are net-zero enabled without incurring additional cost.
By collapsing the boundaries between architecture, design, and urbanism, we can realign ourselves towards a new face of architecture with sustainability at its core. All our projects across various levels of diversity are examined through the lens of Passive Design, Resource Optimisation and Contextual Sustainability. As a design practice in an increasingly connected world, cues are taken not only from the immediate context but from the expanded field of networked geographies and interdisciplinary forces. We believe every project is an opportunity to investigate the program from a fresh perspective and to challenge the orthodoxies of architectural design process.This becomes especially relevant to emergent Asian cultures in transformation. As the communication era continues to define the global Indian citizen in inextricably linked technological ways, existing and emergent technologies and systems designs are considered and integrated with the indigenous and emergent construction industry in India.