Sustainable architecture: A subject evolving with time? Experts, professors share opinions  

Vigilance around the concept of sustainability and environmentalism has been increasing and optimum utilisation of the space that we live in is a matter of concern
The 1,500-feet, COVID-19 street art that used the idea of the labyrinth or the Chakravyuh from the Mahabharata, emphasising on aesthetics and practicality to maintain social distancing | (Pic: VBridge
The 1,500-feet, COVID-19 street art that used the idea of the labyrinth or the Chakravyuh from the Mahabharata, emphasising on aesthetics and practicality to maintain social distancing | (Pic: VBridge

Phase III of the National Aptitude Test in Architecture (NATA) concluded on July 9, 2023. The point to note is that today's students who will be appearing for the exam are certainly more mindful of the environment. We spoke to architects and academicians in order to gain insight as to how the Indian academia is addressing the concern around sustainability and environmentalism

Architecture is a concept or a system that is not emergent, in the sense that it has existed and evolved along with the change in society, with the origination of newer technologies. In India, vāstu śāstra emerged as an ancient system of architecture and living that lays down principles that encourage the use of space with that of nature. But the recent events of climatic impacts, natural disasters and accidents all around the world showed us the fragility of the term ‘architecture’. But what should future architects know about it in order to create a ripple of change?

Can architecture be sustainable?
Dr Arjun Mukerji, Assistant Professor, Architecture and Regional Planning, Indian Institute of Technology (IIT) Kharagpur, says, “Today, architecture probably has some supposedly ‘contemporary’ goals like sustainable living, but it is not truly something new.” Dr Mukerji says that architecture that originated thousands of years ago fulfilled the basic needs of humans with practices that never meddle with nature. 

“The understanding of a simple term about 'sustainability’ becomes jargonic and complicated,” says Dr Hina Zia, Dean, Faculty of Architecture and Ekistics, Jamia Millia Islamia and adds, “but the essence of it is simple and that is what the global ancient vernacular architecture has taught us; our need and its fulfilment is a simplest yet logical way.”

The Green Business Certification Inc (India) released a report that India’s 146 buildings sprawled over 2.8 million gross area square metres (GSM) of space are LEED certified, LEED or Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design is a green building certification programme used worldwide. The report released ranked India as third in the world on its annual list of the Top 10 countries and regions for LEED in 2021. 

But the question remains — what about the practices that architects have owned with time? Are they fulfilling the wants of humans by overlooking the ecological aspect?

Dr Anant Maringanti, Founder of the Hyderabad Urban Labs, speaks on how although architectural practices evolved from a sustainable point of view he says that, the raw human instinct is to construct, albeit not always while being mindful of their surroundings. They must realise that poor architecture is something that cannot be fixed and over time, if it is rebuilt or re-modelled, it creates more problems for our future as the concept lacks sustainability.

He also states that the ways how buildings are built in nooks and crannies are neither fluid nor modern. Supporting the statement, Dr Zia adds that “,odern” now has turned seemingly homogenous in contrast to it infusing newness to the existing schema. She refers to smaller firms and start-ups that fixate on the ecosystem but the Green Building Method is rarely used by the larger firms for their construction

Peaceful integration: Urban and architecture
“To an architect, the distinction of architecture as urban or rural is somewhat spurious. An architect responds to the particular context, requirements and challenges of each individual project.” For Dr Mukerji, architects make certain decisions based on designs that accommodate the strengths, weaknesses of the space, that would suit the urban and hence, the typological distinction as to what may be classified as the ‘urban'.

But what should an urban consist of? Architect Vivek Puthan Purayil, Co-founder, de Earth, works with philosophy and themes that are earth-based and nature-friendly concepts. He emphasises how architecture is a holistic approach, highlighting the socio-cultural aspect particularly. 

He sees the importance of architecture from a socio-cultural perspective. He says that architecture holistically creates a sense of place and can influence culture as a whole. Architecture cannot be only for the rich, simply upholding the visual aesthetics of the place but it is definitive of how our society functions and buildings with spaces would fuse to give birth to a new form of culture.

For Dr Maringanti, architecture, in order to mingle with the urban, ought to have a visionary approach to it. He looks at architecture in the developing of urban areas as something that lacks a practical approach to it. He says, “Architecture, of course, is a great discipline, but people should be aware of it more, to not only be limited to a theoretical approach.” 

Architecture can be an enjoyable task as one is creating something but creation needs careful consideration, as the process is not only limited to concrete blocks but even a structure can have a greater effect on humans not only physically but also psychologically. 

Architectural knowledge and its praxis 
Students tend to learn about sustainability and environmentalism within architecture but an important question that arises is whether they ever get the opportunity to put their knowledge into practice. “Due to the global climate crisis and the increasing awareness among a larger section of society regarding the negative impacts of anthropogenic activity on the natural environment, environmental sustainability has garnered a renewed focus,” purports Dr Mukherji. He states that this awareness is also prevalent in the corporate world and the students would find ample opportunity to put their knowledge to use. 

But the other experts opine about it differently. For them, there is no connection between the training of students and the work they do. There can be witnessed a loss of practicality as students do not think of solutions that are inclusive of the future. Architecture is market-driven with the motive to increase profitability. The firms and consultancies would devise ideas or plans that would seemingly aim at better profiteering than harnessing the knowledge that is taught in colleges. 

Architecture and beyond
To people, architecture can be delimited within the four walls of a building or be marvelled at upon seeing a 70-storey skyscraper with modern amenities but interestingly, architecture is more contextual, which arises with the need to transform a space. The IIT Kharagpur professor, says, “Any and every intervention which involves design and creation of the built environment qualifies as architecture.” 

VBridge, founded by Soumyodeep Das and Ayan Roy, is an architectural firm based in Kolkata, Mumbai and Kuala Lumpur. The duo was recently mentioned in Forbes 30 Under 30 under the segment, The Ones We Couldn’t Ignore. The duo has intelligibly proved that architecture cannot be bound by just four walls and a roof. 

In an interview with Das, he introduced the company as, “Bridging the gap between the common mass and architecture.” They have undertaken several community art projects such as the 1,500-feet, COVID-19 street art that used the idea of the labyrinth or the Chakravyuh from the Mahabharata, emphasising not only the aesthetics of the design but also practicality which was used to maintain social distancing.

Apart from undertaking sustainable projects to build mobile creche and medical facilities, hospitals and village development, their recent project, the library area of the Manipal Tata Medical College in a small township named Jamshedpur in Jharkhand, had earned them several accolades 

“There are no bricks, concrete columns, plaster or any water used. The whole building is made of steel and fibre cement boards. It was completed within eight months with new LGSF (Light Gauge Steel Frames) technology, whereas, the same building if made with bricks and concrete would have consumed a minimum time of two years.”

He adds that the building was designed in a tapered form so as to minimise the felling of trees. The star feature was the large library space which has a skylight for the roof. No additional lights are needed until the sun sets which is similar in concept to Rabindranath Tagore’s vision of studying amidst nature, he states. This technique not only takes into consideration an efficient way of conserving energy but also prioritises people’s wellness, proving that architecture can indeed be a game-changer in the long run.

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