Five members of our elite Advisory Board, all of whom profess a dedicated approach to green construction and design, discuss what it means to be green in India today and describe their vision to build an eco-friendly future
‘Green’ is becoming more and more fashionable. Is it simply a media-induced fad or is it here to stay?
Ashok Butala: The green movement is much deeper and broader than just promoting environmentally friendly products. The key to a sustainable environment is to be sensitive and responsive to the balance between the human system and the ecological system. I think the media is a strong vehicle to boost and concretise this idea beyond the professionals to the common man. The ‘green concept’ is definitely the way forward and must be enhanced by all.
Conrad Gonsalves: We have landed ourselves in a situation resulting from indiscriminate use of materials with little regard to the impact of their life cycle on the environment. A material is truly sustainable only if it meets required criteria all through its various stages of procurement, manufacturing, distribution, use and post use disposal.
Namita Singh: Designing green buildings has always been a major concern for all sensitive and responsible architects. It should and will stay. However the current fad might be a hype created by the media.
Niranjan Hiranandani: Green is nothing but the approach towards self sustainment. This is no doubt going to stay. As one would agree environment and energy go hand in hand. Hence, non-conventional energy, energy conservation and the eco-friendly movement will be the main drivers in near future. Media of course is giving it due importance, but it is very much required, otherwise if we exhaust all our natural resources and fill earth with greenhouse gases future generations will surely curse us. Hence, it makes sense to go green.
Nitin Killawala: Why is this question of ‘green’ becoming more and more fashionable? The answer lies in the question itself. It is not just fashionable but misunderstood and taken casually. The aesthetics of architecture are secondary considerations when it comes to finally stopping the war with nature.
Green can also be financially beneficial. How does this influence your design decisions?
Ashok Butala: There are definitely long term financial benefits to be had by using the green concept effectively. However there is a slight premium one has to be prepared to invest up front in order to reap the benefits in the future. A good practise must always appoint an Environment Sustainable Design consultant right at the start of the concept phase. This helps to understand the areas where the green concept can be achieved and also facilitates an accurate budget.
Conrad Gonsalves: True green products use renewable resources or draw on less energy during their useful life. This would directly translate into lower running and maintenance costs. Other aspects that indirectly can be translated into financial benefits would be minimized health risks both for the installer and the occupants both present and future.
Namita Singh: Any building which is designed with concern and respect for the environment would automatically conserve natural resources and therefore be financially beneficial. I have always believed in designing naturally green buildings and though I may never have calculated future financial savings deliberately, economy is an obvious by product.
Niranjan Hiranandani: We fully appreciate that green over a period will be financially beneficial in the long run. We have experienced that with a sewage treatment plant we have been operating for the last 15 Years. This has changed the face of the Powai area in Mumbai. The skyline as well as the green areas of Powai have changed significantly. We have been incorporating green features like the reuse of recycled water for gardening, flushing and construction activities, rainwater harvesting, the use of fly ash, and the use of energy efficient electrical appliances automatically by default.
Nitin Killawala: Yes, everyone should be concerned with the consumption of energy. In India cost is governed by the land prices not as much for buildings, therefore financial benefits are non-consequential at this stage. However, green should not be equated only with a rating or evaluation system. Even getting carbon credits is not justified because someone can afford to pay a penalty for their sins.
What are the commonest eco-friendly demands you receive from clients?
Ashok Butala: The common questions from clients are always cost related with regards to the eco-friendly products and their authenticity behind the product marketed.
Conrad Gonsalves: Green as understood by most is the inclusion of a few systems like water recycling or rain water harvesting or solar heating or energy saving devices. The aspects of evaluating the underlying impact of materials on the built environment throughout its life cycle is an aspect that users are not aware of.
Namita Singh: Rather than specifying some particular products clients are now generally more aware of the need for green buildings and are willing to go the extra mile to get a green rating for their buildings.
Niranjan Hiranandani: As mentioned above, we are providing green features to our clients. There are no specific demands from clients but this might come up in future as awareness increases. But I think we are already fulfilling all the green requirements.
Nitin Killawala: By and large clients are not adequately enlightened for eco-friendly products. As such we as consultants do not have enough options to offer.
What green projects have impressed you the most over the last year or two?
Ashok Butala: There are several sustainable projects being constructed all around the world. I think all buildings in India with a functioning green strategy have impressed me as every project demonstrates that sustainable design is becoming a part of the value system in design.
Niranjan Hiranandani: We have constructed Hiranandani BG House which is the first platinum-rated green building in Mumbai awarded by the United States Green Building Centre. Now we are constructing Hiranandani CRISIL House which is being registered with the Indian Green Building Council.
What green developments, trends or products have impressed you the most over the last two years?
Ashok Butala: The India Green Building Council has been actively promoting green architecture amongst professionals and key stake holders. The LEEDS rating provided by the Council is one step forward towards a sustainable built environment.
Conrad Gonsalves: Efficient lighting systems and photovoltaic solar electricity are some. More important are the efforts of architects and designers to evolve solutions that first and foremost use natural methods of illumination, heating of water and cooling of the interior environment.
Namita Singh: Solar resistant glass is one material that has impressed me since it gives the freedom to create transparency in the building without generating a greenhouse effect.
Does designing on a green theme mean having to sacrifice in other areas of your work?
Ashok Butala: Sustainable design is not about sacrifices. It’s about using consciously a common sense approach while looking for the best design solution. Historically, Indian architects have always designed structures which are environment friendly. The use of natural ventilation, natural light, shading techniques and insulation methods and the use of local materials are a few practices which have stood the test of time.
Conrad Gonsalves: A designer has to work within given local conditions. Green design must be the norm. Design skills must incorporate all these aspects into a design. The only features that may need to be kept out of the programme are design elements and materials that do not conform to the green norms and this is no sacrifice.
Namita Singh: No. Designing intrinsically green buildings only enhances the buildings.
Niranjan Hiranandani: Sacrifice per se is very relative term. It is nothing but a mindset that goes in during the planning stage which makes the difference. I am proud that whatever we give to our customers is nothing less than the best. It is our objective to be working ceaselessly in providing all our stakeholders with superior value on a continuous basis.
Nitin Killawala: There is no sacrifice when a space is well utilized for the purpose for which it is designed.
What do you think India’s eco-architectural world will look like in five years time?
Ashok Butala: ‘Think globally, act locally’ must be everyone’s responsibility. The Indian architectural and design world must learn from the mistakes made in the West and use appropriate techniques and methods which are relevant to our climatic conditions to achieve a sustainable built environment. With the India Green Building Council and active participants from professionals the coming five years look positive and promising within the built environment.
Conrad Gonsalves: India has the largest possible resources of energy in the form of wind and the sun. Developing technologies and design innovations that will use these renewable sources will shape the future of design innovation in India. Green is not an option. It has to become the norm. A utopian sort of dream could be that instead of a project announcing its green initiatives, there could be time when it would need – like the health warning on nicotine – to indicate the design, engineering and materials areas which are hazardous to the environment and the occupants.
Namita Singh: Unless a serious rethinking is done by the architectural fraternity, the current trend is heading towards a very superficial approach fuelled by the ‘green building consultants’ and vendors of so-called green but expensive materials and products.
Niranjan Hiranandani: There are some committed players and it will surely change the way the world sees India.
Nitin Killawala: Green architecture is not so much about architecture as it is about survival. Moreover we have the challenge to create structures which are easy to maintain apart from its functionality and affordability.