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Of Responsible Sustainability

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Karan Grover, organiser of Hansgrohe’s Axor Forum, held on March 10, 2010 in Kochi, introduced the speakers and the topic: adding value through design.

I will begin by invoking the divine architect of Indian cosmology – Vishwakarma. The Rig Veda describes the architect of the gods as a being with multi-dimensional vision and supreme strength.

The Mahabharata describes him as: “The Lord of the Arts, executor of a thousand handicrafts, carpenter of the Gods, most eminent of artisans, the fashioner of all ornaments… and a great and immortal God.”

He has four hands, wears a crown, loads of gold jewellery, and holds a water-pot, a book, a noose, and a craftsman’s tools.

The iconography conveys skills of the greatest architects – respect for water, education, technology. And the noose? Well, in the hands of the gods, it usually implies a gentle implement to capture all difficulties, which would also apply to our profession. Symbols are always open to subjective interpretation.

The work of Jean-Marie, Christopher, Aniket, Pinakin and Tony would, no doubt, meet the standards of divine architecture. They demonstrate an ethic and a response that is sacred, that shows their respect for communities and the environment they transform.

While their principles may be similar, each has a distinctive style and gives new meaning to the terms problem-solving, grace and creativity.

They are, in fact, great examples of the expression positive deviants – pioneers and renegades creating much-needed new pathways for our increasingly complex future with the highest intent and integrity.

They are people who want to change the world for the better, in the biggest and smallest multidimensional ways, and embrace life differently. Their attitudes, practices, strategies and behaviour enable them to function more effectively than others who possess the exact same resources and conditions.

Those who try to imitate them will be limited. Those who take the time to emulate their multifaceted approach will reap much greater benefits.

We have the good fortune to hear each of them speak about their views on value-added design and its contribution to responsible sustainability.

Each of them brings a breadth of experience that covers almost every element and every terrain.

They practise the truth that sustainable development is development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the future, that provides comfort, well-being, security and, above all, responsible land use. Each of them has won numerous awards, been featured in leading journals and works on multiple projects across the globe.

This is an incredible opportunity to view multiple interpretations of perennial issues. What is value? Must it be added, or it is the unveiling of an essence?

Sustainability – can this be a feature that is self-perpetuating without high maintenance? In our efforts to meet certain criteria, do we plan for resource renewal?

Design is a very complex process. The term implies the development of plan for products, structures, systems or components with an intention. I look forward to the discovery of the varied mental connections that offer the answers to ‘What were you thinking’ in the best possible sense, as we view and discuss brilliant design features.

All actions are a response to circumstances. And circumstances are delightfully dynamic.
How do we live the change that is happening around us?

We impact our surroundings and are, in turn, changed by them. In our efforts to be responsible and encourage others to be mindful, we attempt to change behaviour, a very difficult process that must constantly be investigated.

Times change and concepts evolve. Technologies significantly affect the ability to control and adapt to natural environments. The human species’ use of technology began with and continues with the conversion of natural resources into tools.

As technology continues to play a major part in the design and building process, we cannot allow ourselves to be consumed by the benefits of this new-found knowledge.

We must remember that many of the current-day green technologies have been derived from, and influenced by buildings that are centuries old. From these buildings we have learned that simplicity is often the answer over complication, and understanding a system that works is far more important than the manipulation of working systems to suit our individual needs.

These working solutions are not hard to understand or even challenging to incorporate into our current designs. The problem lies simply with the emphasis of how we choose to design, the choices we make and the guidelines we choose to follow. All of these decisions play important roles in the conclusions of our overall design.

Building placement is an idea, but it is also an understanding. The understanding lies in wait to be rediscovered and reinvented, but we must choose to do so. This is where the idea takes over from the understood. Modern thinking coupled with historic reference can challenge our understanding of what we think we know, or once thought we understood.

Many of us strive for perfection, to create buildings that make sense, that fit within the environment we are given to build – but very few of us do so with the artistry of Aniket Bhagwat.

Perhaps it is his understanding of landscape that takes charge of his design process. Or his fearless approach to creating what many others would deem impossible. Whichever way you choose to see his work, one thing remains undeniably apparent, and forcefully true.

Aniket Bhagwat is a master of inclusionary design.
His creations seemingly feed off and melt into their environment. He creates a link between the uncontrollable forces of nature, and fuses this with something that only man can make. This fusion can be seen even in his earliest works, like Mudhouse.

From his experimentation with mud, to his unwillingness to impede on the two mango trees growing between the structures themselves, Aniket has given us all a greater understanding of not only nature’s importance in design, but he has also shown us that placement should never encumber our design, but support or enhance it.

In his later work, we see a master deploying his craft with exquisite precision – creating harmony not between two elements, or factors, but rather a complex synchronisation of all systems involved. Understanding that, we should all learn from and attempt to emulate.

There is another important factor that goes hand-in-hand with the importance of how we choose to build. It is not simply about the placement of design, but also the space that is contained within them. That we have allowed ourselves to be cut off from each other and our environment is a gross error of judgment – and one that must be immediately rectified.

Tony Joseph works in the vernacular.
And through careful observation, we can gain a better understanding of not only the materials we choose to use,
but also the manner in which we choose to use them.

Through open interiors built into his designs, Tony is able to bring even the jungles of Kerala, seemingly, into our living area. He creates these masterpieces by understanding the importance of openness, the sheer dimensions of space.

The Kumarakom Lake Resort is one of the top five luxury resorts in India, but it is also one of Tony’s finest design achievements. This backwater resort is at the top of the list because of the experience it offers its patrons.

Whether it is the exquisite use of materials, the gigantic open windows that look out upon the endless horizon, or the moat-like pool that you can literally step into from your room, Tony has figured out a way to dissolve your stress and connect you with absolute peace.

But there are still design elements that we must find a way to get back to and improve upon.
 

Our use of glass is not confined to the aesthetic value it adds, but is also an integral source of light and heat. The manner in which we use glass is as much for the structure, as it is for the people who are confined within it.

Christopher Benninger might be an American by birth, but after dedicating 40 years of his life to this country, I will always consider him to be an Indian as well. His contributions to this profession are only surpassed by his dedication to his students.

However, it is his understanding, and use of natural light that propels me to study his work when I run aground with my own.

Christopher uses this common element to his advantage to create symmetry of form and function. He proves time and time again that it is not the size of the project that matters the most, but the attention we must give to anything we create.

The shrine at TBMSG Hostel in Nagpur makes all these observations self-evident. Through maximising the use of available light, Christopher manages to create something that is not only elemental, but spiritual as well.

All of these underestimated, overlooked design elements are undoubtedly important. From building positioning, to interior layout, to the use and manipulation of natural elements, all of these should and do play significant roles in our creations.

Nevertheless, there is also no doubt that this profession is design-driven. As designers and artists, we must never stop broadening our horizons and attempting things that no one has done before.

Pinakin Patel not only understands, but also breathes the eclectic.
 

His smashing combination of Indian culture and modernism has propelled his ideas to boundaries without bounds. From picture frames to furniture design, interiors to architecture, Pinakin has never held back on anything of interest. As a result, his understanding and options for the future are limitless.

All his projects create a reality that is conceived and driven by the imagination.

Through analysis on Country Retreat, we are instantly propelled into the unimaginable. Pinakin has created bliss that many of us rarely see, and often can only meet up with again in our dreams.

So perhaps the next time we wonder about the impossible, about what that term really means, perhaps we should ponder the impossibility that someone created this work of genius with a degree in Chemistry.

Many of us think of the impossible and ponder the improbable to the point that it could in turn hinder our process of design. We do this because we are still learning on a daily basis.
 

Trying to understand what the future holds, and what it will be possible for us to create tomorrow.

Jean-Marie Massaud is definitely a thinker of the future.

A future where designers are not limited by what they design, but are instead focused on the possibility of creation itself. A future where mankind’s essential understanding is on display and individuals are at the centre of debate.

From Tanabe House, a collaboration with Daniel Pouzet, we get a clear understanding of the magical world that Jean sees for our future. Creating a world where sense and vital feeling are not only at the forefront of modern design, but where modern design becomes influenced by our own future perceptions. Where we create from our own creation.

There is no doubt that the five artists of architecture and design that I have mentioned, have played an important part in this profession… or that they will continue to do so in the future.

The doubt in this profession lies on outside influences that force the public to believe that bigger is better. Forces that change public perception through the use of scare tactics and mass media. People that push for popularity over proper procedure. This must stop; and as practitioners of this profession, the weight of this burden falls on our shoulders.

Perhaps instead of pushing each other to create the unimaginable, we should challenge ourselves to create the undiminishing. To create buildings which don’t take away from the arches and columns that define the heritage of our great cities. That allows us the opportunity and the privilege to build there in the first place.

I find it hard to believe that the pharaohs who created the pyramids ever imagined a city backing up to their final resting place, but that is the situation in Giza. No matter how much we try and trick our minds into believing the post-card picture, the reality is far different. However, Giza is only one of many places where today’s modernity is replacing tomorrow’s history.

That we have allowed ourselves to consume and disrespect our heritage is tragically appalling. No building, whether it is Platinum-rated or a future dynamic design, will ever replace the value and the necessity of our past.

This is not to say that the creation of futuristic buildings, buildings that are being erected throughout every major city, should be put to a halt. This is simply a warning to all architects, designers, and engineers about a situation that is bound to our growing future.

We can, and we must find a way to remain innovative, to create better buildings that do not impede, but preserve the presence of our past. Because mankind owes to every child the best it has to give.

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