As the world slowly gravitates towards sustainable solutions for all fields of production and consumption, architectural practices have also come to embrace the movement towards sustainability. Architects recognize the imprudence of following in the same noxious footsteps of consumerist construction approaches. The time of out-of-context design projects is now in the background, fading towards extinction. Designers realize the urgency for a revolution in design methodologies beginning from basic building orientation on the site to a sensible choice of building materials.
Organizations such as LEED, IGBC (for India), GRIHA, etc., stipulate a code to be followed and grant certification to buildings based on a point or star system.
With the rising popularity for Green Architecture and the common public being aware of these certifications and their significance, most architectural practices are incentivized to follow and produce sustainable building solutions for the people. So the question is, what exactly entails sustainable design in the architectural field, and why is it so important?
Sustainable design is the construction and maintenance of a building through its life-cycle with minimal negative effects on the environment. A movement that started with the fear of exhausting all resources available to man today and plunging the world into an abyss of unmet needs with the threat of climate change thrust on the populace, the endeavor towards Green Architecture tries to save the world from a dystopian future.
Sustainable Design tries to lessen the negative impacts on the environment as well as elevate the health and comfort of users, thus improving building performance. This is achieved by reducing the usage of non-renewable resources, minimizing waste and creating productive and healthy environments. While we observe the rest of the world scrambling to achieve these new and important design strategies, we ask, is architecture in India turning sustainable too?
With the urban population increasing by the day, the country definitely needs to bring forth some semblance of comity towards the environment and its other inhabitants. Although most of the metropolitan cities of India are struggling to cope with overpopulation and space needs, a lot of architectural firms are moving from commercialized design trends to green architectural solutions. From urban designers to architects, the wave of sustainable design has swept through the entire country.
A glance into the vernacular past of architecture in India shows that many of the sustainable design practices prescribed in present-day trends were an integral part of design back then. The site and its geography played an important part in the conception of architectural techniques. Building orientation was derived from the motion and presence of the natural elements, materials sourced from the vicinity.
The architecture gave back what it took from the environment with no excess toxicity. Somewhere along the climb towards economic success, the country forgot its architectural wisdom, conforming to imported ideas and designs unsuitable for the environment of India. Now, the designers have begun to fuse technology and these traditional construction techniques into modern-day architecture. With Laurie Baker setting an example with his practical teachings of vernacular architecture of South India, the architects of India have joined the slow but steady flow towards sustainability.
Auroville, a town located next to Pondicherry in southern India, founded on the principles of Human Unity, has expanded its goals to include sustainability. Architects wanting to explore and learn green architecture flock to Auroville. The design practices of the city propagate environmental solutions to all urban problems. Many firms and architects like Biome Environmental Solutions, Didi Contractor, Mozaic, DU Studio, Chithra Vishwanath, Benny Kuriakose, etc., are known for their magnitudinous work in sustainable as well as vernacular architecture.
Metropolitan cities are taking environmental health in their strides as they incorporate alternative energy sources to fuel their daily energy requirements. Construction industries have begun the utilization of reusable materials, solar power, hydroelectricity, optimized waste disposal techniques, as well as more inclusive, green and production-friendly urban design principles. The concept of Net-Zero Architecture is now being overtaken by the concept of Net-Positive architecture. Net-Positive Architecture essentially aims to give back more than what is taken from the environment. There is a strict regulation for coastal and forest construction in an attempt to conserve aquatic, and wildlife biodiversity respectively.
The Indian Government is making leaps in trying to conserve the biodiversity of the nation while also reducing the detrimental impacts on environmental health. Currently, India ranks third in the world with regards to LEED-Certified buildings, but a study of the Environmental Performance Index places it at a rank of 169. This means that, even though the people are shifting and learning to produce sustainable designs, the cogs of change are turning too slow.
India is still in its incipient stages of achieving sustainability and the efforts to reach and improve Environmental Health needs to be doubled. The architectural curriculum has incorporated environmental studies and green architecture into university teachings, and hopefully, the young architects of the country will bring forth manifold improvements in the architectural realm, pushing us closer to the dream of environmental sustainability.