Humanity has witnessed, what seems to be, a generational shift in the last few years. We have started to realise that with the increasing population, the rate of consumption is far outstripping the rate of replenishment and regeneration. The spaces that we live, work or recreate in, need to be designed with the realization that we cannot offer our future generations a healthy living environment unless we reduce consumption and redirect all our efforts towards taking less and giving back more.
A common misconception amongst people when it comes to sustainability in the built environment is that, “Green buildings are expensive.” However, Indian architects can help society understand that economic development and environmental sustainability are two sides of the same coin. The sum total of resources we have at our disposal on this planet is a zero-sum game. It is crucial to realise that the resources are finite- the land is limited, and we only have a limited supply of potable water available to us, amongst other non-renewable resources- a fact developers are increasingly realising. Here are a few resulting architectural changes being witnessed by the construction industry-
1. The Rise of Sustainable Homes
Most of the buildings around the world are residential buildings. The growing consciousness towards the environment, especially amongst the younger generation of home-buyers, is optimistic. In the wake of these difficult times, responsible living is no longer just an ‘ethical choice’, but a critical need. Developers are now actively integrating green features such as renewable energy resources for power generation, rainwater harvesting, recycling of greywater, and intelligent systems for efficient usage and monitoring of water and electricity, among others, into residential design. In addition, there is a greater emphasis on eco-friendly construction materials, including recycled and low-energy materials, and active and passive design features that reduce carbon emissions and improve building performance.
2. A holistic approach towards master planning
There is an active effort among developers and Indian architectural firms to reimagine holistic growth in our cities, especially in master planning on sites across project typologies. By incorporating breathable open spaces into the built landscape, the air quality and liveability of a space increases. These design strategies are favourable to biodiversity and reduce the heat-island effect, thereby reducing heat gain. A lot of the newer developments are introducing green scapes, such as urban gardens and farms, which can be an excellent way to compensate for the resulting loss of ecological habitat. Provisions for green roofs, rooftop farming, sky gardens, and solar walls for electricity generation are among some other prevalent strategies being adopted by developers.
3. A Shift Towards Walkable Neighbourhoods
So far, the current generations have not been very successful in reversing the previous millennia’s obsession with motorised vehicles. Sadly, our cities are most often designed for cars rather than people. Walkable neighbourhoods decrease the requirement for motorised vehicles, thereby creating a more equitable city. This leads to tremendous health, environmental and socio-economic benefits for the urban dweller. Thankfully, this is being increasingly recognised by our lawmakers and policy-makers. We are beginning to see a paradigm shift in the approach towards city planning. The recent pedestrianisation of a 1.5 km long stretch in Karol Bagh and the redevelopment of Chandni Chowk for improved walkability in Delhi are good examples of this changing viewpoint. Many new and upcoming residential, commercial and retail developments are starting to implement the idea of walkability by restricting vehicular traffic to the peripheries, making the internal zones either completely pedestrianised or allowing pedestrian-safe EVs for internal movement.
4. Embedding Disaster Resilience into Infrastructure
The future of a city’s design must be such that it can adapt and cope with natural and man-made disasters. In light of the unpredictable and vast repercussions of climate change, the building industry now seeks conscious solutions to equip people with disaster-resilient built volumes . Although devising resilient infrastructure is complex and requires a well-researched and thoroughly integrated approach, the lesson to learn here is fairly elemental- inventing sustainable and resilient buildings suggests the only one way through. The formation of India-led Global Coalition for Disaster-Resilient Infrastructure in 2019, with the objective to ‘promote the resilience of new and existing infrastructure systems to climate and disaster risks’, is a commendable step taken in that direction.
5. Designing Infrastructure for Adaptability
Disaster-resilient buildings need to go hand-in-hand with adaptability. The future-makers of India, including Indian architects are on the path of exploring and implementing risk-informed infrastructure. The city planners are starting to interpret the prevalent societal changes while creating and designing for adaptability as a mitigation strategy, especially in risk-prone regions. Creating temporary-use scenarios, such as a review of public and private spaces to make them adaptable and flexible for gradual use, can be amongst some of the possible efforts to equip contemporary cities to cope better with future disasters. Furthermore, environmental impact can be reduced by rehabilitating and reinvigorating abandoned buildings for public use or affordable housing.
Today, going green is becoming a matter of pride for some conscientious developers and governments have taken it upon themselves to consciously ask for the publicly funded buildings to be designed sustainably. Eco-friendly designs are no more alien to the built environment. In fact, many architects and developers are starting to see sustainability and green building features as integral to the design process to achieve optimal living conditions while minimising the negative impact on the environment.