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Systemic Thinking

The Soapbox is an opportunity for each of our Advisory Board members to express an opinion on an important industry issue. This month Manit Rastogi, MD at Morphogenesis, argues that eco-consciousness needs to progress beyond a process of last-minute ‘green accessorising’, to one that is systemically adopted and passively applied right at the design and planning stages.

The words ‘green’ and ‘sustainability’, with their extensive use and abuse, sound like profanities today. Everyone and all products from all spheres of life proclaim to be green.

The green industry has turned the ideology from being a way of life to a marketing tool. There is no doubt that buildings contribute to 40% of all carbon emissions in the world, thus they must be green to be sustainable.

To outpace global warming, we need to change the way we think, from the highest levels of government, policy and education to the grassroots levels of the common man. This cannot be achieved as isolated events.

It is time for systemic thinking. Traditional Indian architecture in today’s paradigm has always been green, as interventions have always been built within a localised or regionalised context. Not in order to save the planet, but as a response to not having abundant resources of water and energy.

Almost all our traditional buildings have been a response to the local climate, materials and resources.

The attitude towards green building has inherently been different from the Western model of green building, which is equipmentcentric. Reaping benefits of the oil boom post 1960, with energy being easily and cheaply available, there was an evolution of hermeticallysealed buildings that were equipment-centric and disconnected from the environment.

Today, this problem has been further compounded by non-customised green rating systems such as LEEDS, GreenStar and Green Globe – which, while aiming to provide better environments, also adopt an equipment-centric methodology that proves to be restricted and highly prescriptive.

This results in limited applications owing to the non-recognition of the varying climatic zones and the narrow definition of human comfort levels, stipulating that only a couple of degrees difference from the external environment is preferable.

Today, many developments across India are designed with a layer of sustainability or ‘green’ on top. However, there should be a conscious attempt to step away from this system and incorporate passive approaches to design right from the conceptual and planning stages.

In India, to a large extent, we have always built and designed with limited resources and materials.

With a local, socio-cultural response to design, the results have often been passive solutions which help to reduce energy dependence by increasing the number of comfortable habitable hours without reliance on mechanical means.

Optimisation of all services is a prerequisite to responsible architecture today. Unlike other nations, local resources and methods of construction are still easily available to us.

The most effective approach is to build with local materials in a manner that responds to the climatic needs of the region while remaining economically viable. Today, green building requirements in India are still optional and not compulsory.

Furthermore, India has developed its own green rating system GRIHA (Green Rating for Integrated Habitat Assessment) which is more tailored to the Indian environment. GRIHA is taking steps in this direction and, through numerous incentives, is trying to imbibe green building strategies as codal prerequisites incorporating passive environmental design strategies.

The idea of sustainability should now move on from buildings to our cities as well. An assortment of problems of migration, traffic, pollution, water, electricity, sewage, governance and global warming are prevalent in most of our cities.

There needs to be an endeavour that reveals the hidden opportunity that lies within our organically-evolved cities by establishing a green and sustainable network as an alternative source of engagement with the city for the common man.

At Morphogenesis, we have become architectural activists in an attempt to affect change in our cities. Our belief is that a new urban blueprint needs to be derived from the opportunity that lies within.

The approach has to be systemic. Our initiative aims to reclaim the derelict, the forgotten, the recyclable and the toxic by involving all stake holders, thereby collapsing the boundaries of decades of non-systemic thinking which have generated unsustainable urban growth.

The contiguous, sewage-laden nullahs, the greens, the alleyways and the river are viewed as the arteries of a city that can be linked to create an environmental network which integrates and addresses urban issues of air, water, sewerage, heritage and walkability.

These ecological solutions, potentially derived from the vestigial organs of planning, can be modulated, transformed and spatially strategised to benefit the city in socio-cultural and economic ways that are sustainable.

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June 2020
10 Jun 2020