Response To Sustainable Liveable Habitat
On the occasion of Earth Day on April 22, 2021 Architect B S Bhooshan, , BSB Architects, Architecture & Habitat Studios pens a note for Realty+
How will we make healthy and liveable cities? Do we have any agreement on what a liveable city is?
Human habitat is a conducive eco-system for humanity to survive. More so to multiply happily. The humanity that evolved from isolated subsistence level of living since the last two or three millennium to reach a techno-social and politico-organisational complexity. The ‘human habitat’ can no more be seen as isolated a physical eco-system or a group of settlements alone; be it a large metropolitan region, a city or a small rural town, nor a tribal settlement or agricultural villages or farmstead any kind. We are social beings like ants and bees, but more complex. The technology evolution transforms production and distribution process as prime mover of humanity that drives standards of living and meaning of life. that changed desires and wants to ‘needs’ at least for a segment in most geographic communities in every part of the world. That has created a close-knit manmade survival network, consisting of physical, electronic, conceptual, organisational, material or non-material artefacts, over natural ones. As the pandemic threatened the human survival (ironically due to the networks of contacts, as understood then) even beyond the physical health, the reactions were not just containing it, but to revive the networks as early as possible. Despite cry for social distancing and washing off hands, the importance of the networks and flows through them was evident more clearly. All pointing to a plethora of interdependencies across natural and political boundaries, as the basis of human survival today and what it means to be a liveable human habitat; a networked complex system in different levels.
We often see the reactions to environmental disasters and climate change arguing for a reversal of the urban-ward movement and dislike of the large cities. Emotional reactions apart, the interdependencies makes it impractical to put these arguments to practice. Nothing has made the ‘concrete jungles’ of large cities less desirable to teeming millions searching for the opportunities leaving the ‘grand goodness’ of frugal dearth in villages. Even affinity of Covid to human concentrations has not triggered any reverse exodus except in forced lockdown to be resumed back sooner.
So is the cry for sustainable luxury of zero carbon architecture co existing within the insatiable temples of consumption? Why the green hug-to-mud practices are too remain in the quarantines of bigness?
The basic factor is the networked complexity. The evolving economics of globalising human habitat is propelled by the networking web of productions of goods and services. The existing networks of physical and electronic as well as social and intellectual infrastructure, politico-administrative systems, marketing and finances coalesce to thicken the lines of flows to concentrate at the nodes of networks. The technological evolution also favours an economy of scale and a corporate-management-finance-banking system that suites it. An upward flow of people, ideas, cash, and produces from geographic territories of primary productions to network nodes of processing, control, and marketing strengthens through the ‘networked space’. At the same time, the surveillance and commands originate in these centres and move downwards. A spatial manifestation of power structure gets augmented.
Divisibility of technology to disperse these flows has remained largely in dreams, despite the promise of electronic and software revolution.
Why the software networks follows the physical networks?
So did Covid and the flows of information. Every disruptive innovation of technology only augmented it, inequalities, in terms social groups and gender, exacerbating further.
Is it a problem of technology and innovation or is it a problem stemming out of human weakness for power in nexus with political ambition and social games of coalitions? Why political power too tempts to make everything uniform and concentrate controls in fewer nodes and people?
Take the case of sustainable buildings and construction technology. The much-touted Gandhian principle of use of local materials, for example, was failed by availability of expanding market networks of national / global productions of new (apparently durable and snobbishly better) materials and methods of construction, like cement, aluminium, steel and a uniform standardised professions and systems of management. Every recovery of local traditional artisan made it rare and costly, while every standardisation and production process of handicraft imitated largely in its form and militated against its creative process to make any dent in the totality of habitat. Imitations of artistry and multiplication by scale concentrates productions in nodes. The productions of spaces and activity centres, like airports, educational institutions, bus stands, offices, recreation centres, hospitals etc went on becoming bigger and bigger and more complex. Most major building material are produced in centralising network hubs and marketing cartels. Every builder and realty entity and every consultant is propelled by the ambition of growth and going big. What happened to the idea and promise of appropriate technology? Why small is no more beautiful?
Could the alternative to the continuous growth and accumulation of excessive concentrations at limited nodes of the networked habitat be the stabilising of the system by devising methods to reverse the flows in the network? To regain beauty in everyday life again. In finding goodness in plural trajectories to future of different regions? Can it be dreamt to have freedom from forced acceptance of uniformity?
Of intervention on the networks and the habitat system for a balanced development of liveable habitat of the future.
A large chunk of semi-skilled folks living in second tier and third tier regional centres could still be harbingers of future. At least for a time until they catch up technologically and skilfully to a more competent level to survive. It need be part policy and tactics of skill development and creative revamp of local craft-lead building culture imbibing relevant appropriate innovations in technology. This especially in the architecture of everyday, of repetitive elements of human habitat to begin with.
I dream of an alternative construction building industry organisation made local groups of artisans and labour, along with quasi-professional individuals and creative professionals or organisations in lower tiers of cities and towns. And I see a large role of technology using social media and hand-held devices in this progressively connecting sites to people and things across many locations. Possibly this can develop competence and confidence in regional centres as innovative one and not just depend on downward flows from larger nodes only.