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Can India lead on green?


India’s consensual sympathy for the environment has not yet fully infiltrated the architecture sector. But there are signs that progress here will be rapid once the benefits are accurately understood, says Deepali Nandwani.

Last month, a National Geographic survey on the shopping habits and attitudes of consumers in 14 countries rated Indians as the greenest, along with Brazilians and Chinese. The parameters chosen to rate people included sustainable behaviour like efficient energy use and conservation, transportation choices, food sources and attitude towards the environment.

What was not included was India’s performance on sustainable architecture, and while to date this has been an under-used aspect of building design, there are signs the nation could be a world leader on this front in the near future too.

According to LEED certification, the recognised method for measuring building sustainability, India’s use of sustainable architecture is increasing. Till about five years ago, India didn’t rate highly on the sustainable architecture parameter. Now, it has about a dozen projects, both residential and commercial, that have obtained LEED certification.

Consider this fact: by 2012, two Indian cities – Ahmedabad and Jaipur, will be among metropolises like Melbourne (Australia), Palhoca (Brazil), Stockholm (Sweden) and Johannesburg (South Africa) that have a township with over a million people living in a model urban environment, which is sustainable and environment friendly.

These projects will be supported by the American Clinton Climate Initiative (CCI). In India, two projects have been identified by the CCI — Godrej Garden City, Ahmedabad and the Mahindra World City (MWC), Jaipur. The programme supports the development of large-scale urban projects that demonstrate how cities can grow in ways that are climate positive.

Pirojsha Godrej, executive director, Godrej Properties, says that the Godrej Garden City would be a 270-acre township. “We are working with internationally-reputed architects and the designs are in the initial stages.

We would be looking at issues like generation of clean energy, waste management, water management, transportation and outdoor lighting systems,” he says, revealing how serious some Indian architects and real estate developers are about implementing green initiatives.

Interestingly, developers and builders previously known to be more concerned about their bottom line than the environment, are leading the green architecture movement in India.

According to India’s ministry for environment and forests, over 25 commercial and residential projects under construction have applied for green certification in the last one year.

Among these are two mega IT parks in Kolkata and Mumbai— the 6.5 lakh sq ft Olympia in Kolkata and a K Raheja-promoted 1.2 lakh sq ft IT Park in Bandra-Kurla complex, Mumbai. This number is expected to increase tenfold by 2010, to a total of 100 buildings.

GRIHA (Green Rating for Integrated Habitat Development), which certifies green buildings in India, has about a dozen registered projects. Among them is an integrated township built by Bengal Shristi Infrastructure Development in Asansol, West Bengal.

Spread over 96 acres, the project provides affordable housing in a unique mix of plotted development and multi-storied groups. The buildings will include green concepts based on solar passive architecture with sufficient floor-to-floor height to facilitate maximum daylight and good ventilation to minimise energy consumption.

Says architect Vidur Bhardwaj: “A number of real estate companies are exploring sustainable architecture with the aim of saving on scanty resources such as power.

While the cost of putting up green buildings may be higher initially, the eventual savings in costs can go up to 30 or 40%. Moreover, green technologies can save as much as 30% on the normal power usage and over 70% on water costs.

Modern buildings account for 30% of Green House Gas emissions, 65% of waste output and 70% of electrical consumption. Green buildings, on the other hand, are eco-friendly and involve the use of clean and renewable energy, efficient use of water and recyclable material and healthy indoor air quality by regulating the level of carbon dioxide in a room.”

Bhardwaj designed the Wipro Technology headquarters in Delhi, the largest platinum-rated LEED certified building.

Among the best examples of green buildings in India are the ITC headquarters in Mumbai, Wipro Technologies in Delhi, Orchid’s ecotels and City Palace in Udaipur. The vanguards of this movement are the architects who are convincing their clients about the need to go green.

“Sustainable architecture requires an approach that safeguards the environment through the choice of building materials, ideas and practices,” says Ahmedabad-based Yatin Pandya, an advocate of green architecture.

“I believe that, as architects, it is our responsibility to mediate designs that are in the interest of the environment. Ultimately, the buildings we construct and the materials we use have a direct impact on our surroundings. Besides, sustainability is not just about the environment, but also about traditions.”

For instance, the massive earthquake that flattened most concrete buildings in Kutch, Gujarat in 2001, had no effect on the traditional mud homes of the region. “They survived the devastation because they encapsulate indigenous wisdom, sensitive understanding of local resources, materials, and mastery of techniques,” he says.
“Also, mud architecture is sustainable and environment-friendly.”

In several of his projects, Pandya has explored ways and means to use less energy. One of his projects, the Manav Sadhna Activity Centre, is a study in the ‘best out of the waste’ concept.

The centre, which won him the Excellent Design in Service of Humanity award, was constructed using recycled glass, plastic bottles, wooden crates and tin containers as building material, without compromising on the aesthetics.

“I often use basic architectural elements like orienting the building so that it has the least exposure to sun. This helps consume less energy.”

Like Pandya, several architects are looking at green architecture as an alternative to energy-guzzling, waste-producing buildings that are designed today.

As Sanjay Puri says: “As far as green architecture goes, it doesn’t rely just on use of complex technology. In my projects I always ensure that the building is designed in a way that there is use of natural resources like sunlight and wind. Forces of nature can be strong guiding points in architecture.”

Architectural firms like Abhikram are active in the field of conservation and sustainable development. “We believe in solving design problems in a simple, cost-effective and long-lasting manner,” says architect Nimish Patel, a partner in the firm. “We promote materials available locally, such as lime wash, stone, wood and bamboo.”

Termite-resistant Babool wood, sun-dried mud blocks or thatch roofs, all find their way in Abhikram’s work.

But Parul Zaveri, also with Abhikram says that the movement for sustainable
architecture is only at its initial stages right now. “It is extremely difficult to educate our own fraternity—architects, students and executing engineers.”

Architect Nimit Desai, who rarely uses green technology, thinks that the cost involved in constructing green buildings is prohibitive. “The cost of construction increases by almost 20% when you use green technology and materials like wind towers, screen walls, fly ash brick and broken mosaic tiles. Not many clients are ready to pay that kind of money.”

The advocates of sustainable architecture, however, point out that using green technology will not only help the environment, but also save costs in the long run.

As HVAC consultant Surendra Shah says: “A study carried out in the USA showed that the amount of energy consumed by residents of green buildings accounted for just 39.4% of the total energy consumed by people living in regular buildings. At the end of the day, sustainable development will only help save costs.”

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