Published: 28th August 2019
Professor John Tookey tells us about the challenges in the built environment industry and how engineers can deal with it
Tookey also explains how Auckland University of Technology encourages students to come up with practical solutions
Everywhere you look, there’s something being built. From multi-storey buildings and malls to schools, airports and metro stations, construction is a constant, especially in a country as populous as India. But, what is its impact on the environment, how can it be reduced and why is it important for engineers to learn to see the big picture? Professor John Tookey, Deputy Head of School — External Engagement, Auckland University of Technology, New Zealand tells us more about this. Excerpts...
What are the key challenges in the built environment industry in India?
Every country has a different challenge. India’s challenge is the infrastructural provision for an enormous society. Inevitably, there’s going to be a trade-off between the scale of operations and the environmental impact. You have huge investments in metros across tier 1 and tier 2 cities. Your key problems are the scale and associated problems like consumption of energy and pollution. Is there an answer? Maybe not. There’s always a tradeoff. The other challenges are safety and building quality. Safety is a huge aspect in the construction sector. There is a wider ethical consideration. Ordering people or paying people to go out and risk their lives is a challenge. People have the right to go to work and expect to return home at the end of the day.
Can strategic planning reduce risks?
You can make a plan, in terms of days weeks and months, not months, years and decades. If you do, you might stifle innovation. The way I would think about planning would be - yes plan, but accept change. Achieving agility is what we need to do.
How can risky overbuilding be curbed?
Because of the weight of the materials involved, the reality is that the safety of the public is at stake. The legislative framework that we have needs to come down very hard on people who put public safety at risk. The only reason people do that is to maximise profit. So if you make the risk much higher than the reward, you will affect behaviour. You have to make examples of people to correct behaviour.
Does green building help?
Green buildings are a novel form of design philosophy. The idea is that you use passive means — passive ventilation, passive heating, passive cooling in order to keep the indoor air quality acceptable. You can make a very strong case to say that the principles of Vaastu here in India are an expression of green buildings as it existed hundreds of years ago. The idea is that you create a distributed power generation rather than centralised power generation. That’s good because it takes the load of the grid and the grid can last longer.
Tell us a bit about the AUT. What’s unique about your approach to education?
AUT is a University which prides itself on providing a type of education that is more pragmatic and applied than theory. We have a lot of hands-on industry-focused assessment.
What are the courses offered in the Built Environment space?
We have courses like Structural Engineering and Facade Design. We’re soon launching Architectural Design. The other thing we offer in Built Environment is Construction Management. A lot of Indian students opt for that. AUT also has a really high placement record.