Environmental advocacy gained prominence in the latter half of the 20th century, as an aftermath of the realization of the limited resources and the heavy reliance of the human populace on it. Architecture and Urban planning have long been deliberated to be professions causing heavy interference with the natural environment from deep ecologists’ perspective, hence the subsequent emergence of ecological planning and design. Ecological Planning and Design, more than being a separate entity and profession in itself, is a disciplinary realignment, where the building as a basic urban block is replaced by landscape and ecology.
1. It starts with YOU – as an individual.
Architecture has come a long way from being an act for the requirement of protection to expressions of whims and desires. While architecture and space making does have the inherent power in crafting ways of life, it is true the other way around too. Lifestyle is a primary determinant reflected in the spatial realms of urban form and architecture, so when deliberating on the ecological design, it is imperative to keep a check on the individual patterns of consumption. As William Vogt says, “Affluence is not our greatest achievement but our biggest problem.” To what is an alien domain for the most populace, if made a lifestyle and then percolated into the realms of design, would breed positive consequences of our actions.
2. It Is about Architecture and Design!!!
“‘Green’ and sustainability have nothing to do with architecture,” Peter Eisenman.
While many people limit the ecological designs to the consumption of daily life products and the rather mundane work of technical necessities and quantitative analysis, it is about architecture and design. This quantitative analysis-based design solutions that breed phenomenally ugly buildings is the reason the architecture fraternity has not adopted ecological design as a mainstream practice. The profession needs to realign with the idea that our actions contribute to a large share of environmental degradation and subsequent collateral damage, so aesthetics alone cannot define architecture.
3. Cut Back!! Innovate!!
There are two voices in the ecological discourses – apocalyptic environmentalism and techno-optimism. While one paints a picture of doom, and the associated cut back mantra for survival, the other bases itself upon the unlimited possibilities of innovation and technological advancement. The act of building and creation is an act against nature, but it is an undeniable necessity, so ecological design and planning is the only mitigating measure. There is a need for a common ground, where ecology is an active locale in our interventions and discourses.
4. Myth – Green-looking buildings are green!!
How many of us have looked at green buildings – like literally covered with trees-plants and appreciated as being ecological design? Most of us, right. While the act of actively including the plant species into building design should not be negated, the fact that they are not essentially ecologically sound is a matter of fact. Ecological design as green inserts entail many other aspects, from the siting of buildings to its maintenance and post-occupation functioning, reducing its carbon footprint on the environment. Green-looking buildings are not necessarily, green!!
5. Not just about protection.
While environmental planners and landscape urbanists advocate the cause of considering ecological planning and design into mainstream practice, an underlying attitude reflects in policymaking. Ecology should be protected!! On the other side of the spectrum, Man must be protected from hazards of nature!! And what ensues is a situation of absolute chaos and blame-game. Ecological planning is not just about protection and non-implementable policies, but carefully drafted applicable solutions that foster co-existence by considerate prioritization. No!! Ecological planning and design are not just about putting boundaries around natural features and demarcating them protected, although it is of utmost importance.
6. Site Appreciation versus Site Analysis
As designers and practitioners, site analysis is the first step in design initiation, whether for a small residence or an urban scale development. Well, Ecological planning and design demand an attitude and behavioural shift that has been fed by years of architectural learning and practice. Ecological planning and design would Appreciate the Site that is the land wherein will the act of building be done. The site appreciation leads to an attitude that designs concerning ecology, makes nature an inherent part of the design, and fosters a situation of harmony between the extremes.
7. It IS about reimagining the Skeletons of our Cities!!
With the advent of formal modernist planning, transportation and movement has been determinant of urban forms and our cities. Well, very conveniently have we side-lined the patterns and flows of nature and the non-human entities. Ecological planning reimagines our city skeletons and the underlying frameworks, where the blue-green corridors determine our urban form and subsequently our engagement with nature and way of life. Room for the River, transforming landscaped crossings for the non-human entities are just a few examples that show an inclusive approach to design and planning.
8. Existence of the City Biodiversity Index!!
Singapore has been a pioneer in efforts towards ecological conservation by formulating a City Biodiversity Index or the Singapore index (SI). It is an evaluation and self-assessment tool for the cities, wherein monitoring the progress of ecological and biodiversity conservation efforts can be carried out against target individual baselines. Hyderabad was the first city in India to carry this out, followed by Nagpur, Kochi, Delhi, Kolkata.
9. Sponge Cities!!
Sponge city is an ecological planning and design concept that indicates a city creation that is not an impermeable system blocking the flows of water but acts as a sponge absorbing water and reaching and replenishing the urban aquifers. With contiguous open green spaces, constructed wetlands, and interconnected waterways and channels, and a porous system of bioswales and drains, it envisions a green-blue infrastructure integral to the urban environment. The concept has been implemented in various cities in China since 2013.
10. Think Global, Act Local!!
Environmental and ecological considerations are global, and the interconnectedness of the green and blue system makes it a concern of every individual act summing up to the larger whole. Standardization has become a second nature of man, but it is not applicable in the discourses of the diverse nature of ecology. Ecological planning and design are about appropriations at the local scale of the analysed results utilizing regional assessment methodologies, where the appreciation of the green-blue system takes precedence.