Architecture can be termed as a philosophy that gets embedded in us unknowingly. Right from birth, we start building a sense of our surroundings and eventually start responding to them. A psyche develops in which we adhere to our whereabouts and come to associate with it as we grow up. But once, some of us enter this profession of architecture and begin observing the world with a different lens, many factors fall into our plate and instigate a deeper conversation amongst our peers as well as within ourselves. As architects, we start realizing the nuances of how life has developed through many layers and thus become sensitive towards a myriad of things and ultimately develop a sense of responsibility towards society and life as much.

The social responsibility of an architect
Image Sources: ©Hawkins\Brown

By life, I mean the culture, the lifestyle, and factors involving history, beliefs, traditions, political backgrounds, religious traces, languages, communities, food, clothing, and much more. A variety of these characteristics do get developed by a direct influence of the climate of that place and its strategic location. All these aspects directly relate to the architectural language and give us a hint of what might have been the thought processes in building a certain kind of structure and in due course, a city. Not to mention the various movements that took place to change the course of history and bringing in new definitions to art, philosophy, and architecture. With many architects, being part of these movements, many breakthroughs happened, philosophies of design changed, planning changed and thus, architecture came to be defined in a very different way.

In history, design and architecture related much to the social fabric that consisted of the underlying societal framework of rulers and the ruled, the worshipped and the worshippers, higher and lower economic classes, the divisional religious and caste-based dwellings and communities, and many such factors which have stemmed from culture and beliefs of people since time unknown. As development set in and globalization started connecting remote places, the exchange of thoughts and philosophies channeled into a new social responsibility for architects and urban planners. With the recent challenges of environmental crisis, urban planning hazards, the unprecedented increase in carbon footprint, and intermingling of the global population, the architect’s role has suddenly attained prime importance and thus, naturally, architecture has turned into a social responsibility rather than a mere building construction process.

Nowadays, architects are being part of a bigger game wherein having a holistic approach towards user-centric design, climate responsive design, and design which adheres to the current social fabric with a view to attempting corrections in what has gone wrong becomes crucial. An approach where we are able to cater to the growing problems of scarcity of resources, a growing danger of calamities, an alarming state of strain on the current infrastructure with a response that sensitively embraces nature, other living species, and organisms equally.

Here, planning at an urban scale and at a city level becomes very important. Also looking at existing land demarcations, segregation of various activities, their proximity to each other, vehicular patterns, roadways and highways, modes of transport and connectivity, green pockets and landscaped areas, enough space for the nature to breathe in, and finally sticking to the most basic part of planning i.e. users. People have been accustomed to seeing and using spaces as they have been provided to them and it becomes the key responsibility of an architect to study those lifestyle patterns, devise ways in which the current pattern is least affected, yet propose a better design that responds to the current global scenario as well as what’s best suited in the existing context. Context and users will always demand a different set of planning concepts and that would be the driving force to make amendments in the current scenario and offer better and healthier spaces for the coming generations.

Coming back to the environmental impact, we as architects can reign in forces and our knowledge to engage in sustainable practices which will not only reduce the carbon footprint but also would serve as a great advantage in having eco-friendly buildings that automatically impart energy to nature. This can be termed as the greatest responsibility an architect can take up. Our job involves around factors such as reduction of traffic, providing lesser commuting distances by locating workplaces in a way that are easily accessible via public transport facilities and walking, cutting down the usage of private vehicles, inserting green spaces, common public recreational spaces, spaces and buildings which can be multifunctional, thus indirectly ensuring a healthy environment for people of varied lifestyles to thrive in.

Also, another big aspect that can be brought to attention is that using local materials, vernacular methods, and artisans for construction would create a massive impact on the reduction of carbon emissions as well as boost the local craft and provide economic support to the people working on site. Being at the apex, we architects are responsible for a lot of peoples’ bread and butter. Their wages and their lives depend upon how consciously we design and ultimately provide them with basic and simple life. Thus, a responsibility towards the society at large includes people who are directly working for us, people who would be living in spaces designed by us, and ultimately, helping the other species to live and thrive harmoniously alongside the humans.

Now, coming to the area that we are experts in! Designing a site has never been an isolated job but an all-encompassing one considering varied factors that range from a global point of view right up to a personal level. Efficiency in terms of designing facades and openings for optimum natural lighting and ventilation conditions, minimum stress on the available network of water supply, electrical, waste disposal networks, negligible disturbance to the existing flora and fauna, user-friendly spaces with well-organized pedestrian and vehicular zones and finally, likes and dislikes of the users who are going to use the spaces. With such a plethora of considerations, an architect becomes solely responsible to direct these services according to her/his planning and get things done on-site with maximum smoothness.

Having knowledge about all these important factors ultimately render her/him with the power to act in the benefit of public interest.

And finally, while working across so many issues, we also have a responsibility towards educating the people around us about the same. Society, as always, has been operating on a level that tries to bind a lot of things and thoughts from various palettes. Understanding how it works on different fronts and weaves our thoughts to adhere to the same yet convince the people around us to embrace a change for a better quality of life is something that can be addressed in these coming years. Thus, making people understand the language of architecture, its role in society, and its responsibility towards the socio-economic fabric becomes another challenge for us, architects, to take up. A responsibility which leads to awareness amongst everyone about the built and unbuilt spaces, architecture that surrounds us and evokes sensitivity towards the spaces we live in and ultimately towards the architectural design that intermingles with people and nature.

Shruti Ramteerthkar
Author

An architect by profession, bookworm, traveller, writer and painter by passion… she is also trying her hand in architectural photography… But, at the core, she is a person who wants to experience the world as it comes and brushes past her in the most dramatic yet in a subtle way!

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