THE URGENCY OF GREEN ARCHITECTURE
This year’s World Environment Day theme is ‘Ecosystem Restoration’ and rightly so. While, we cannot turn back time, we can make our cities greener, plant more trees and stop polluting our rivers. We have architects sharing their views on the paradigm shift in design interaction of the built spaces with nature in the current times.
As mentioned by the UN Secretary General in his call for solidarity, “We are facing a global health crisis unlike any in the 75-year history of the United Nations. We must ensure that lessons are learned and we keep our promises for people and planet.” World over, the recovery planning is taking in account climate change goals and investing in green measures in cities.
From ideating accessible multi-purpose and multi-functional urban spaces, reclaiming of street space for pedestrians and growing dialog around the 15-minute city the crisis has accelerated the shift to more liveable cities. Moreover, the changing context of the traditional workplace has offered an opportunity to reimagine the built environment, transportation and urban landscapes.
In India, the present crisis has amplified the urgency of addressing dual challenges of growing economic inequality and environmental degradation. It is vital that future policies are both green and people centred with fair share of investment in human capital and towards countering environmental degradation.
“I feel it is crucial that we don’t follow blindly in the footsteps of the Western world and instead, learn from their mistakes. There is an urgent need to re-educate and re-train ourselves, based on the understanding of history, traditional principles of design and heritage, and build on that as a way forward,” stated Ar Parul Zaveri.
“The pandemic is a problem that is going to be solved by medicine and not cured by architecture. But a long term vision needs to be developed by the design professionals to make a quantum shift in our ecosystem that defines our human interactions and social behavioural norms as a whole going forward,” Ar Milind Pai concurred.
“As an architect and a social human entity, I truly believe in the most frequently used saying that ‘Necessity is the mother of all inventions!’ The digital stride that the world has resorted to should be continued at optimum levels, thus reducing the over exploitation of trees for paper,” told Ar Anmol Arora.
CAN DESIGN SAVE THE WORLD
As a matter of fact, designers have an essential role in bringing sustainable development. Creative thinking and innovative solutions can answer many of the problems from climate change, pollution and poverty to lack of resources and other difficulties. On their part designers across segments have become more concerned about the community and environment and are creating humancentered and sustainable designs and products.
Sustainable designs that integrate an environmentally friendly approach and design principles such as, using renewable energy, recycling, and durability can effectively reduce the consumption of natural resources, carbon emissions, and waste. Designs for social innovation that address socio-economic issues of the communities from lack of electricity, water and sanitation by designing low cost homes, lighting & water systems can go a long way in building a healthier society.
Indeed, through design we plan and create products, systems and materials that can help counter climate change, poverty and pollution. Design is an essential contributor in both the sustainable development and innovation process.
SUSTAINABLE BUILDING PRACTICES
Topics such as the environmental impact of buildings, the need to adopt renewable energy, interconnectivity with natural systems, all are now more imminent than ever. Renewable energy is becoming increasing important in architectural designs with architects creating buildings that utilize fully or partially solar, hydro, or wind energy. Along with renewable energy, buildings are being designed with energy efficiency in mind.
The conventional building materials with harmful chemicals are being replaced by environment friendly building products, which are being favoured by the building owners and occupants as well. Along with being healthier indoor spaces, these materials also help reduce the structure’s carbon footprint. Another crucial design development has been the wastewater management. Rainwater harvesting, greywater recycling for landscaping and porous pavements to prevent flooding or landscape designs that incorporate filtration and water flow into a basin are now becoming part and parcel of building designs.
As we try to figure out the role of architecture in the post-pandemic era, there is also emerging a new understanding of the ways we inhabit buildings and use open spaces. Design professionals are at crossroads, as they re-imagine building designs and city planning as also their own way of working to bring a holistic solution to the urgent human needs of today’s times.
Architects specifically, have suffered a two-fold effect with the restrictions and regulations due to the Coronavirus outbreak. It has not only changed the way architects work on a day-to-day basis, in the office and with clients, but it has changed the way they design too.
HAS THE PANDEMIC TRANSFORMED OUR PRE-EXISTING NOTIONS OF ARCHITECTURE AND URBANISM?
Ar Parul Zaveri, Principal, Abhikram, “I think the pandemic has brought to the fore, several alarming issues that have been compounding for decades—health concerns, especially relating to illnesses caused by environmental factors; the increasing imbalance between our rural & urban economies & our dependence on cities, leading to millions of workers needing to migrate away from their homes and families to earn a living; and our increasingly strained relationship with nature caused entirely by our own misguided notions of development and progress. In one way or another, many of these things are related to our notions of architecture and urbanism. Modern materials like cement, glass, metal and several others are high-embodied-energy materials as they consume large amounts of energy during their manufacturing and processing process. The architecture taught and practiced today follows, more or less are western impositions. In fact, increasing demand for traditional building techniques and crafts will help the rural economies, approach sustainability as a crucial and integral element of design, and can truly have long lasting positive impacts on many of the above mentioned crises. However, and sadly, I’m not sure if the current pandemic will truly transform these notions in the minds of those that matter. We have become a myopic society, unable to see the interconnectedness of all these aspects of life and look at them holistically.”
Ar Milind Pai, CEO & Founder, Milind Pai – Architects & Interior Designers, “Architects like many other professionals have had to move over to collaboration software in order to allow multiple people to work remotely on a combined project, at the same time. In central business districts, large office buildings and skyscrapers are bearing a deserted look since a lot of work is being done remotely. Many companies are re-evaluating the need for such spacious and expensive spaces. As people are confined within their homes, sometimes at remote locations, automobile usage has been on a stark decline. Some cities have temporarily converted empty streets into walking and cycling-only zones. We will eventually devote more resources to help us congregate and to strengthen our frayed community bonds, be it through parks, plazas, promenades, community centers or streets turned over to pedestrians. The entire planning of future socialising spaces is now under scrutiny. Given the demand, modular construction, the process where buildings are assembled through prefabricated modules, has become increasingly common. The process of using existing structures to serve new purposes has now been discovered to be very effective. The portability and ease of assemblage of lightweight architecture is perfect for disaster and crisis response. From creating make-shift emergency facilities to reorganizing one’s home that’s better suited for working remotely, flexible design has proven to be essential. The same approach could be made in planning office and residential buildings.
Ar Anmol Arora, Principal Partner, Studio Dot, “The Covid19 Pandemic has brought about paradigm shifting changes in every integral aspect of our life. When a catastrophe of this scale marks its effects on the planet, it is sure to transform and imbibe amendments in all fields of study, including Architecture and Urbanism. While planning a simple structure today, we as Architects are trying our best to inculcate sanitary equipment and elements within the design scheme, at every entry or exit point. Previously, such a prerogative was never needed, thus never sought after too.”
“We don’t need to reinvent the wheel! Instead, we need to be humble and learn from the traditional knowledge systems developed over centuries because they already found long lasting solutions that our modern, commercially driven economy has tried to erase.” Ar Parul Zaveri
WILL THE CURRENT HEALTH CRISIS PAVE THE WAY FOR BUILDING AND HOUSING REFORMS?
Ar Milind Pai, “Even as a vaccine for COVID-19 appears to be on the horizon, it does not mean humankind will return to the old definition of normal. A major change will be the enhanced importance to sustainable development. Recycling of water and waste, rain water harvesting, control over carbon emissions, green spaces and solar as also renewable power generation alternatives will be the watch-words through 2021 and forward.
Ar Anmol Arora, “No formidable metamorphosis can be completely brought into action without reforms from the primary governing bodies. Therefore, I definitely believe that the prevailing health crisis should be followed by iron-clad rules and regulations, enforced with ultimate precision. Lest we are ready to face yet another calamity of a similar genre, I genuinely hope we are able to come up with ideas that prevent the outburst of any disease and other grotesque situations.”
THE STEPS REQUIRED FOR RESTORING HARMONY AND BALANCE TO THE FRAGILE ECOSYSTEM?
Ar Parul Zaveri, “There is a need to shift the development discourse from an economic agenda of growth to a social program of welfare. Conservation of resources and traditional knowledge should be primary guidelines while developing new projects. If we look back to the past, we can see that the idea of resilience was integrated in all aspects of our heritage, and here, I’m referring to the legacy of the tangible and intangible attributes inherited from our ancestors; to be maintained at the present moment and bestowed for the benefit of future generations. Human beings’ relationship with the earth and the universe was considered as important as relationships with one’s own family, one’s own village, and one’s own surroundings. The philosophy was eco-centric where humans had a spiritual connection with nature and the universe and this relationship was grounded in a cosmic rhythm.”
“On a larger scale, we have to create cities and establishments that nullify over-crowding and amplify well-designed areas with natural interactions.” Ar Anmol Arora
Ar Milind Pai, “Organizations must enable well-proven remote use cases. For contractors, this may mean scaling up remote collaboration at the production stages using a digital model or urging for minimal manning at site offices. Building materials manufacturers may need to ensure updated BIM, market access through e-commerce, as well as effective, digitally enabled remote sales. Moreover, there is no better time to upskill the entire workforce and require training on new tools and technologies and operating procedures. Suppliers and subcontractors should identify elements and subsystems that can be preassembled in a controlled environment. Longer term, players can look for more significant elements of construction to modularize or build off-site. This could contribute to sustainability goals by reducing materials waste, noise, and air dust as well as enabling circular building systems.
Ar Anmol Arora, “Drawing strict plans to avoid overpopulation, leading to a palpable tension on resources especially during a crisis, should be estimated and avoided in advance. To culminate, I feel there are experts of sustainable living and ecosystems, whose knowledge should be used to our benefit, such that the plans drafted out are apt and relatable to the current statistics.”
HOW WILL BUILDING MATERIALS & PROCESSES CHANGE TO KEEP UP WITH HEIGHTENED HEALTH & SUSTAINABILITY CONCERNS?
Ar Parul Zaveri, “To see how building materials and processes can positively impact our health while also being more sustainable, we only need to look back at our centuries-old architectural practices that have stood the test of time. Traditional design principles used materials for building that evolved out of natural elements, and through consideration of the local ecosystem. Depending upon the climatic zones and availability, the primary materials used were mud, brick, stone, wood, bamboo, and lime. These natural materials were recyclable, biodegradable and by large non-toxic with minor chemical emissions, if any. They could be easily produced with little or no amount of pollution, locally. Most of them were moisture resistant and they helped maintain the healthy indoor air quality. For example, lime is permeable and allows buildings to breathe. It also has ‘self-healing’ quality; water penetration on exterior lime walls can dissolve the ‘free’ lime creating fine cracks. As water evaporates lime is deposited and begins to heal the cracks.”
In recent months, we have arrived at a new juncture of disease and architecture, where fear of contamination again controls what kinds of spaces we want to be in. As tuberculosis shaped modernism, so COVID-19 and our collective experience of staying inside for months on end will influence architecture’s near future. Architect Milind Pai
Ar Milind Pai, “Further investments need to be done in technology or digitization and innovation of building systems. Acceleration toward sustainability, including designs for healthier living. Governments may stimulate the economy by encouraging measures to meet carbon reduction targets—for example, by retrofitting housing stock to improve energy efficiency. Such incentives might come in the shape of a combination of policy changes and direct public investments. We expect to see a parallel shift in demand toward more sustainable buildings and communities that promote healthier lifestyles (such as access to local amenities and outdoor space, higher standards on air quality, and recycled and sustainable materials).”
Ar Anmol Arora, “In the current frame of reference, intricate design changes are redeemed to be only the only constant and quite inevitable. Apart from creating sanitary built spaces, technology might aid us to come up with sterile building materials that further assist in creating a safe haven for its habitants. Smaller modifications including, normalising the presence of a powder room before delving into the main quarters, larger open areas for establishing a synergy with the natural healing forces and usage of ‘greener’ construction materials can and should be implemented by designers ‘tout de suite’, as the French say it.”