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We forgot our green heritage


On India’s Green Quotient..
We have always been green in India. Our architecture has always been green, sustainable and eco friendly. We carved Jaisalmer out of stone because stone was available there, we see wooden architecture in many places at Gujarat because wood was readily available there. Kutch features a lot of houses made from mud for the same reason. It’s just that we forgot our heritage in the last eighty odd years when we have been busy trying to blindly ape the West.
Since 2004, I have been busy promoting the idea of looking within for all our answers to this question. With regard to your question I have a very strange comment to make. With all due respect, if one were to attempt to equate all the blue chip companies of India with the construction fraternity, the Tata’s and Birla’s would be at a different level.
Having said that I found it very difficult to explain to them this concept of sustainable development, saving the planet and so on. Hence when I spoke on the same topic to people from the construction industry I changed my tactics to talk about money or rather the saving potential offered by sustainable development. For example, while this hotel has most of its lights on even during the daytime I have designed the Park hotel at Pune which doesn’t needs lights for 88% of the day.
Creating awareness…
It’s all about creating awareness. Former President Clinton had once asked me to speak at the Clinton Summit, which was attended by about 120 world leaders, had 40 speakers. The Summit raised US$8 billion in 2 days. Clinton’s point was that we should speak and then he would make the connection. So Tony (Blair) was paired with the Afghan President Karzai, Richard (Branson) was asked to work with somebody else. I committed to speak to 10,000 architects and students pro bono every year.   
 As an advisor to the government of India, I attended a meeting of some very important people in Delhi. They were discussing the green roadmap of the country and were talking in terms of doing 1 billion sq ft green footprint by 2010. I was simply amazed. I told them about Hafeez Contractor and informed them that he was singularly doing about half a billion sq ft on his own. With about 30,000 architects in the country I told them that the figure should be closer to 10 billion sq ft. Top industry leaders like Hiranandani, Emaar, Hafeez Contractor and DLF could themselves account for approximately half a billion sq ft so a target of just one billion did not make any sense.
Green? Not quite…
The Rahejas are apparently doing some 40 ‘Green buildings’. How green they really are I don’t know. I personally don’t think they are green in the true sense of the word meaning green as I know it. If today they are making a few efforts to reduce costs, they think it’s green. But that’s not really green. Just the way they talk about these 40 buildings, it’s not so easy. I’m yet to see and authenticate how green they really are.
I have done the new building for Orchid Ecotel at Pune. I met their head there and told them they cannot claim to be green by just installing a few bamboos. Recently an interiors magazine did a full feature on green. They chose five architects from India and not one of them has done a green building. The article did not feature a single architect responsible for any of the nineteen Platinum certified buildings in the country today.
Three months ago I was in Sri Lanka for an event. A local architect who had won Platinum was called onstage and asked a question to which he said he had no answer. The third time he said that, I got up and asked him why he didn’t seem to know any of the answers when he had a Platinum certified project to his credit? His incredulous answer was, ‘I didn’t do it. My engineer did it’. Meaning he wasn’t even aware nor did he seem to give a damn.
The Indian connection…
We do have a domestic ratings system. In fact the government has adopted GRIHA, which has been rated by TERI (The Energy and Resource Institute). But what is good about the US Ratings is that inspite of being the biggest polluters, consumers and wasters, they were the first people to be able to quantify the energy saving. This is something that very few of us here in India have been able to do.
When I did a presentation for the government of West Bengal, I proved to them that the building that I was doing for them would save them Rs 55,12093 per annum. We have to give credit to the Americans for coming up with this system. I have stopped going to Europe for the last 20 years because the best examples of cutting edge architecture are now happening in Asia. I must admit here that we do have this mentality that treats Whites as a superior race, but this is now slowly changing. I think people like you and me can make a huge difference.    

The way ahead..
We need to talk to and convince industry leaders like the Emaars, Hiranandani, DLF and Rahejas that building green projects can be a profitable proposition in the long run. When I was in the US I happened to meet this lady who seemed to know everything there is to know about architecture. I was even more flabbergasted when she said she was not from the fraternity nor was she in the construction business. It turned out that she was Senator. She later told me that the US Congress has this practice of inviting experts from different walks of life to speak to their members every Saturday in what is termed as an informal hearing. This in turn resulted in Congress members begin educated, 52 weeks in a year on the most cutting-edge and contemporary issues during this time. In fact she told me that Bill Gates had also delivered them a lecture on how software could be leveraged by their government. It’s a great idea to educate the decision-makers. In our case its people like the Hiranandanis’, KP Singh, Hafeez Contractor and the Rahejas’.

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May 2020
11 May 2020