There is no doubt that living in a safe and sustainable environment has become the need of the hour. Buildings consume about 30-35% of the total energy consumption in India, and as a result of rapid economic and population growth, this consumption is rising at an alarming rate. A huge increase in demand for housing and expansion of commercial office spaces have caused a haphazard growth in Indian cities. While urban authorities are struggling to find solutions to this unraveling crisis, a few private players have made a determined effort to create a sustainable living space.
Nispana Innovative Platforms organized a conference on ‘Sustainability in Design and Construction India’ (SICI-2016) in Bengaluru to discuss the government policies on sustainability in construction and architectural design at the city level, along with hurdles and suggestions to reduce emissions and increase energy efficiency.
Case Studies of Sustainable Architecture in India
Some of the case studies of innovative green construction and sustainable architecture in India showcased at SICI-2016 are presented here:
Muziris Heritage Project
Dr. Benny Kuriakose showcased the Muziris Heritage Project undertaken to restore the historical and cultural significance of the legendary port of Muziris. Situated just outside the modern city of Kochi, this ancient port city was lost in antiquity due to a major flood that happened way back in 1340 AD. The oldest mention about Muziris is found in Sangam literature and chronicles of Greek historians, which stated it to be the most prominent spice trading port for Roman and Greek merchants.
Excavations began in 2006 in the present day town of Kodangallur and the foundations of an ancient port were found. Interestingly the town has India’s first Muslim mosque, one of the oldest Jewish synagogues and a Marthoma Church all in the same vicinity. Soon, a major restoration project was launched through a public-private partnership to renovate the existing heritage buildings. It is the largest heritage conservation project undertaken in India worth INR94 crore, which was funded mainly by the Government of Kerala and the Archaeological Survey of India. Benny Kuriakose stated that these older structures were in a stable condition and in terms of energy efficiency, it is much better to restore an existing building rather than build a new one.
The next speaker Stanley George from GoodEarth asked an interesting question: Do you think technology can solve our environmental problems or can common sense do it? He explained with an example: when we restore a lake, do we use stone and cement to cover the banks or do we allow plants create a green blanket? If we blend traditional building practices with modern technology, we can find innovative solutions to the environmental crisis we face today, opined Stanley George.
Good Earth’s Malhar Footprints project is an ideal example of this blend of traditional building practices and modern technology, which is based on the philosophy of famous architect Laurie Baker,. Way back in 1995, Stanley George and team began by experimenting with alternatives in architecture, exploring concepts of holistic development, sustainable housing, organic farming and found an architectural style most suitable for Indian conditions. GoodEarth Malhar Footprints is an eco-friendly township spread over seven acres of land in Kengeri, Bengaluru. This gated community has houses built with compressed soil stabilized bricks made at the site and houses are extended around a network of landscaped courtyards with restricted vehicular movement.
Green buildings have to undergo a set of audits and get certification to be considered as sustainable architecture in India. Mili Majumdar from Green Business Certification Inc. (GBCI) stated that the overall performance of the building is the most important criteria for certification. Unless this performance is measured in specific units, we cannot gauge the actual gain in energy efficiency. GBCI has instituted a set of certifications to measure various aspects of a green building led by the LEED rating system along with other certificates such as EDGE, PEER, WELL, SITES, GRESB and Parksmart.
When asked about regulations on green buildings in India, Mili Majumdar clearly stated that mandatory regulations do not ensure compliance, rather there would be more violations than earlier. The current system of voluntary certification is a much better system since it not only ensures commitment to the cause, but also provides a chance to market the project in a big way. A LEED-certified building has much higher market value due to rising awareness about living in a better environment, opined Majumdar.
Sustainable Integrated Townships
Vasudevan Suresh, renowned housing expert and Vice Chairman of the National Building Code of India presented the case for building integrated townships in cities. Suresh stated that architects are responsible for not just building a project but tracking its entire lifecycle. Urban mobility, waste management and ensuring water safety are the prime concerns of urban authorities. However, the haphazard growth of Indian cities has created a massive infrastructural crisis where things have become unmanageable.
Suresh feels integrated townships such as Hiranandani Gardens in Mumbai, Mahindra Lifespaces in Chennai, Rajarhat Newtown in Kolkata are ideal solutions for the urban sprawl. If a workplace is built next door to a housing project, then the commute is reduced to walking or cycling. Similarly, if a shopping mall, a hospital, a school, a park and a commercial hub are all clustered together in one integrated township, that will reduce most of the urban infrastructural problems. For example, waste segregation and management will become easy since it will all be collected in one location, while providing WiFi net connectivity and large power backup will become economically feasible.