Sameer Divekar: Sustainability and India

Text by: Sameer Divekar

Climate change and global warming are the buzzwords of today’s times, words that we hear, speak and read about ever so often these days. The earth’s future is at stake, and the world has finally started to take tangible steps towards addressing these important issues that affect us globally. In recent times, various countries have adopted different approaches to tackle these concerns. While on one hand, developed countries are focusing on research to find effective ways to reduce, reuse and recycle natural resources, on the other hand, developing countries are trying to learn from the mistakes of their developed peers, to ensure that they have a lower impact on environment in future developments. This is where the concepts of Sustainability, Green Buildings, Net Zero Buildings, Environment Conscious, etc. are being increasingly leaned upon.

India has also started making significant contributions in the matter. Recently, our country hosted the COP14, which was attended by the heads of the UN, international organisations, leaders of States and ministers from many countries. Along with other countries, India has promised timebound contributions to the movement. Clean energy program, environment clearance to check the impact of buildings on environment, Green Ratings to promote environment-friendly designs, are some of the positive steps that have been taken by India in this regard.

It is not that India has only now become environmentally conscious. Historically too, we have been living in harmony with nature for centuries. Our food, clothing, rituals and way of life were cautious towards impact on environment. Vastu Shastra, the ancient wisdom on building design and construction, meritoriously combined the knowledge of astrology, universal energies, human energies and many subtle aspects of life in easy-to-use principles. Vastu Shastra also had a unique way of ensuring its implementation, wherein the rules were subtly integrated in spiritual practices and daily rituals.

These days, everyone is claiming to have found techniques to reduce demand and innovative products to generate clean energy. Many declare themselves as the most environment- friendly country, product or company. There are hardly any advertisements that do not claim to be non-environment friendly or non-innovative in some way. However, most of these claims are far from true, and most offer very expensive solutions that are not sustainable for developing countries.

It is an irony that the solutions that need to be contextual are bought from completely non- contextual countries or companies. Rather than looking for answers from our history—which has a proven record with our climate, our available resources and our way of life—we are looking for answers from countries or companies that are completely different in all of these aspects. This trend demonstrates non- belief in our own historic knowledge and lack of confidence in our own capabilities to develop that knowledge to current needs. It is not wise to ignore available knowledge and blindly follow what is being sold to us.

There is no denying the fact that learning from our historic knowledge has some limitations. The scale, function, night use, comfort parameters, construction materials, etc. used today are very different from those used historically, but it still offers relevant fundamental principles. Orientation specific to location, wall thickness and openings related to direction, allocation of functions according to wind direction, shading systems related to sun movement, building proportion linked to construction material, food habits and clothing related to outdoor temperature… all such specifics developed historically can still provide relevant starting points for modern designs. The need of the hour is to wisely use the applicable historic principles, overlap them with latest technologies and develop a well- balanced solution.

CPKA has a rich history of conceptualising climate-responsive designs. Our founder, architect CP Kukreja, laid a strong foundation demonstrating how to utilise historic principles in building design. The book, Tropical Architecture, written by him has been acknowledged by not only Indian architects, but also used as a reference text in prestigious institutes such as MIT and Harvard. Moving ahead, we at CPKA are determined to effectively build upon this foundation, and develop it further to make it productive in today’s new age architecture.

For the first time in Indian architectural history, our firm has established an ‘Innovation Studio’ to carry out research and development in the field of sustainability. We have a dedicated team, equipped with latest tools and technologies, which ensures that each building designed at CPKA goes through a rigorous process of brainstorming, development, implementation and validation of sustainable principles. We are confident that in the years to come, we will be able to significantly contribute in shaping a sustainable and nature-friendly environment for India and for the planet.

Sameer Divekar is a practising architect and Executive Vice President at Sustainability & Principal Innovation Studio.