How green is contemporary Indian architecture? Reasonably so, if we were to google Didi Contractor’s mud houses in Himachal Pradesh. Chitra Vishwanath’s green roofed homes. Sanjay Prakash’s energy conscious work, Professor AR Jaisim’s love for light and earthy materials, Ramu Katakam’s persistently contextual structures and the list of architects who are redrawing Indian cityscapes. And no matter how hopelessly clumsy the urban sprawl in Indian cities appears to be today, rooted, ‘green’ architecture has always existed.
As Sharad Kembhavi of Kembhavi Architecture Foundation (KAF) puts it, “Indian architecture by default is greener than its counterpart in the West. Economic circumstances and scarcity of resources ensure conscious consumption of electricity, water etc. Traditional methods of construction (prevalent even today) are essentially green. Our traditional buildings, be they in Hampi, in Bijapur or Fatehpur Sikri all epitomise sensitive architecture. However conscious attempts at going green, architecturally speaking, are happening today.’’
Sharad adds cautiously though, “There is unfortunately, a short-sighted view that green buildings are expensive. Every civilisation leaves behind monuments representative of its lifestyle, challenges and technologies. Today the challenge before us is to conserve the earth and its life systems. Every architect and client must ensure that they go green and conserve, preserve and nurture — it’s the only way to ensure the survival and sustenance of life.’’
For architect Chitra Vishwanath, a building is a living system connected to water, air, sunlight and earth. She says, “Questions like how water is harvested, treated and reused, what is done with air and light, how construction materials are sourced and how solar energy is tapped into, interest me. Green architecture is about four realms; ecology, food, energy and water.’’
She adds, “India is more ecologically sensitive than the West because our climate does not demand much from us. Unfortunately for us though, many architects and developers treat Western design as an aspirational yardstick and copy only that without acknowledging how eco-sensitive designs are developed abroad. Take the trend of glass fronted, energy gobbling (both during construction and usage wise) buildings which have a huge carbon imprint. If we stop being wasteful and build with common sense and stop imitating the West, we will do fine.’’
“India has very good architects, who have done or are doing remarkable work like Didi Contractor, Sanjay Prakash in Delhi, Surya Kakani in Ahmedabad, Prof KT Ravindran in Delhi and others like Balakrishna Doshi, Charles Correa, Laurie Baker, Raj Rewal and more whose works showcase modern Indian architecture in a relevant/contextual manner. We don’t have to look beyond our immediate past for inspiration,’’ she says.
She disagrees however with the notion that architecture with nostalgic value is necessarily better than what can be built today. She says, “If a sensitively landscaped layout of 30-40 aesthetic flats replaces an old crumbling bungalow, it is not something one can look down upon. Lifestyle in the cities is consumerist and everything is short-lived, including the ideas which build our architecture.’’
Young architect Kavya Prasanna Thimmaiah agrees that most of the residential architecture today is designed more by greed than by need, “A smaller country like Sri Lanka is far more aware of ecology than we are in India. Here the upper middle class builds homes to flaunt wealth. Clients want homes built end-to-end on big plots without a green set-back. They have no interest in mud bricks or oxide flooring because these are not expensive. India has such rich resources of crafts but not too many people use them and blindly use glass and chrome which are not ideal for our climate.’’
Rajyutsva award winning architect H C Thimmaiah rues the advent of mirror cities and asks, “Where are we headed? Think of how much energy is required to keep the air-conditioning going in glass architecture. Look back and see how well lit and beautifully weather adaptive our temples and old buildings are. Excess consumption of resources is also wastage.’’
What we build today will either embrace this planet or abuse it and if the trickle of green we are witnessing today becomes a wave and then a sweeping movement, the earth will embrace us back and will become a safer sanctuary for the generations yet to come.
(Reema Moudgil is the author of Perfect Eight, editor of unboxedwriters.com and an RJ)