Over the course of the past few years, leading architects have tried to be conscientious about the effect that their design has on the environment. To a certain extent, these architects are bound by their duty to their client and their aesthetic, but this is where the challenge lies — to please the client’s sensibilities, while following an ecological road by accepting the very responsibility of design. Why so? The reason being that, unlike many other products, architecture affects the user and the environment for generations to come. A house stays on the land it was created for decades, and the effect it has on the environment multiplies during the time. If it is built using sustainable products, architects can take it apart and rebuild it without any additional cost to the environment and if it is built using the resources provided by the land it is going to be inserted in, it is more likely to survive natural anomalies.
Architects like Chitra Vishwanath, the principal architect and managing director of Biome Environmental Solutions, Robert Verrjit, the architect behind Architecture Brio and architect Eugene Pandala, are trying to do this by exercising mindfulness during their design negotiations with the clients so that the effects of their work can be a positive insert into the environment. But the challenges are plenty. “The biggest challenge we face is the challenge of “hedonism”. We try our utmost to convey the benefits of frugality. Frugality in the brief posited by the clients, in the use of materials, in the need for resources while occupying the building,” says Vishwanath, who doesn’t believe in the word ‘sustainable’ when it refers to her design philosophy, and prefers using ecological, as it is a grounded phrase and therefore, a challenge. “Ecological designs are designs that embody logic, ecology, and economy, within. These three and additionally, the team, are the four solid pillars of our design concept. So, the design should be an ecologically positive insert and should be built in a collaborative and cooperative manner where the clients, contractors, and architects work as a team to co-create,” she adds.
In Biome’s designs, the team is also exploring use of waste as a resource and creating the built as a quarry for the future. This means while they embody waste into their designs, their designed buildings (when their use is over) can be repurposed as a space for a different use or can be taken apart and used again elsewhere. For instance, in Bengaluru’s Swastika Dance School, Vishwanath and team used stabilised mud bricks (mud being a sustainable element), and precast concrete elements to give the school a structure that would help it get maximum daylight and ventilation. But one of her best works is Maharashtra’s Govardhan Eco Village, where she used her trademark stabilised mud bricks, timber, bamboo, and Mangalore tiles. Using her vast knowledge of construction and the use of spaces, the team made provisions for rainwater harvesting and built the Eco Village to not require any air conditioning or fans. Verrjit says, “As architects, if we have to look at the future, we need to realise that we need to design responsibly. Whatever we design now has to be extremely sensitive and as self-reliant as possible, because the structure is going to be there for the next 30 to 40 years. Whatever we are making now will determine how we are going to live through this period that is ahead of us, in the time of climate change,” he says.
“Sustainable design is an attitude about how you design your life and the spaces around you,” he adds. Verrjit believes that there is no formula for sustainable design because every climate is different, be arid, or windy. He talks about a school in Malaysia which was close to a harbour where the river used to flood every few years. The Architecture Brio team was supposed to build the school on stilts but instead, they used spare shipping containers, and built the school on top of them. The team at Architecture Brio also worked on The Tala Treesort located in Maharashtra. Verrjit and team conceived the Villa as a celebration of Tala’s forested tropical setting, a stone’s throw away from the Kuda caves. Consisting of one main large space, the villa is protected by a thatched roof. To ensure maximum airiness granted by the natural surroundings, the team wrapped the villa in a layer of operable glass. He also talks about his experiences in Uttarakhand where the team tries to excavate the rock from the site, and build the house on that rock. In Alibaug, a place that floods a lot, the team built a prefabricated studio that can be disassembled and built in another space with no extra cost or damage.
Pandala agrees with his colleagues and believes that sustainability is the need of the hour if we want to move forward. “Architecture is also a huge contributor to climate change. Thirty to 40 per cent of the energy we use for making building components go to waste. We don’t consider biodiversity when we move to a property and place ourselves there. This is a huge concern in our industry,” he says. And for Pandala, the understanding has to first come from the client. “Mud is the most basic material you can get. Traditionally we had mud houses all over the world. I am not stuck with mud, but I always try to use the local materials to build houses. In the US, they have begun to use human waste to extract metal. Not only does using waste and mud reduce the carbon footprint but by using mud, you can make aesthetic designs with curves because it is malleable unlike concrete. You can shape mud to any form you want. You feel so comfortable inside a mud structure – it looks and feels organic.”
Pandala, like Vishwanath, is a huge advocate of mud. Ashtamudy’s The Raviz hotel has been built in a way that would ensure the project has restorative measures to save the natural environment around it. For example, an old boat building yard on the water edge of the property, was restored to nearly its original state, using laterite boulders. This incorporates a number of hideouts for natural breeding of fish, crabs, and other supporting living organisms. The plants used at the water edge include species of mangrove to recover the depleting biodiversity.