Whats with Gurgaon!

The first image that flashes in the mind, when I think of Gurgaon is the flashy glass buildings and congested roads. The town which as has been a part of essentially Hindu heritage, Gurgaon, which as per the legend of Mahabharata was the ancestral village of Guru Dronacharya, the teacher of the Pandavas and Kauravas. The village was gifted by the Pandavas and Kauravas to Dronacharya the son of Rishi Bhardwaj, and was therefore known as guru-gram.

But today there is no such trace of its rich cultural heritage, rather contradicting to all it has become a subsidiary ordinate of Delhi. It cannot exist on its own, thus for me it doesn’t qualify to be a city/town or even a village. Be it any of their needs, in order to fulfil them, the residents of Gurgaon have to keep visiting Delhi. It lacks the pride of being called a city/town/village, which is a fundament right of any local resident.

Now the question arises is it the city’s duty to fulfil the locals contentment, if ‘yes’ up to what extent? In essence as per my opinion it should justify with the major needs and pleasures of its natives, if not there is something wrong with the city. And that’s the reason why I strongly support the fact that there is something wrong with the region, ‘Gurgaon’. This something comprises of facts such as lack of definite region, a boundary, and absence of direct connectivity with other cities of the country. Its railway station is absolutely a disgrace to the city. The transport is in a very bad shape with in the city. Due to the presence of walled communities, and only hefty walled communities in the city, it lacks an interaction which a city should offer to its citizens. It’s so called modern flashy glass malls seem like a humiliation to the entire movement of sustainability.

My question is, where exactly is Gurgaon heading, in concrete terms, is it just meant to serve for the needs of the Indian capital.

Will tomorrow it still be called ‘Gurgaon city’ or a ‘Gurgaon nagar’ known as a local community of Delhi??

P.S. – This was a part of a submission made in my Third year in college (2009-2010)

The Economics of Ecosystem and Biodiversity

“It’s not about the fish, it’s not about the pollution, and it’s not about the climate change. It’s about us and our greed and our need for growth and our inability to imagine world that is different from the selfish world we live in today.” –Jeremy Jackson (Jackson, 2010)

Ecological infrastructure is the naturally existing operational ecosystem which delivers treasured amenities to society, such as fresh water, climate regulation, soil formation, glaciers and disaster risk declination. It is the nature-based corresponding of built infrastructure and is imperative for providing services and sustaining socio-economic development. (Grasslands, 2013)

Since ecological infrastructure is essentially unrestricted, it’s worth is infrequently apprehended in market transactions and thus it mostly remains under-invested. It is the exhaust of nearly 7 billion humans that is leading us towards catastrophic conditions which might result into global disasters. We as a race are doing more than hogging the interest, we are actually using up Nature’s resource taking about what is needed to support species most diverse and what is needed to allow evolution to play at its fascinating potential with the health of building blocks it has created.

Owing to the massive population there has been a demand of massive free land, which further led to massive deforestation. Deforestation exposes the soil directly to sun’s heat which leads to drying up of moisture, evaporation of nutrients and symbiotic bacteria.  In due course, rain washes down the soil surfaces which results in top-soil erosion, and siltation of rivers and valleys. This enormous impact on Land conditions lead to systems reorganization which changes the climatic patterns and change is landscapes. As a fact, humans have moved more land than all natural processes put together. (Santa-Barbara Family Foundation, 2011)

Consistent land abuse has resulted in a reduction in loss of productivity of land continuously, which is leading towards an inability to grow enough food which is leading to hunger and famines.

“Only if we care will we help. Only if we help shall they be saved.” Dr. Jane Goodall

Forests arrests and stores Carbon. In the absence of appropriate cover of forests, we had to create a new mechanism to reinstate the functions which they were performing themselves with full efficiency, which has resulted in massive investments. Also, it could be noted that bees contribute significantly towards pollination and production of important compounds. Their population has been wedged ominously over the last few years. It’s just they as a species haven’t raised a bill for their services which would amount to billions of dollars. This suffering in their community will amount to much more than that; it will impact in a modus which will be a threat to our habitation. (Hickman, 2011) “We currently consume 50% more natural resources than the Earth’s ecosystems can replenish.” World Wildlife Fund 

It is the due time when we need to economise all natural systems. As a race, economics is the only branch which we all seem to understand alike. We face the imminent loss of coral reefs due to climate change, which has thwarted growth of ocean ecosystem. (Jackson, 2010)  This is an ecosystem that is near to the onset of irreversibility, an inclining point beyond which it’d cease to function as a system. The total population dependent on them for food resources ranges from 500 million to over one billion. 30 million of the world’s poorest and most vulnerable population is entirely dependent on reef-based resources for food production and means of livelihood. (Pavan Sukhdev, 2009)

These contribute to variation in system adapted by watersheds, this change is further augmented by deforestation in the area and constriction of floodplains which is directly impacting the natural storm water drainage system and leads to flood uncalled for. This also results in poor water management and amplifies water wastage. These important resources go waste, unharvested, unutilised and results in water-stress.  “By 2025, two-thirds of people will be living in water-stressed countries.” United Nations

It is straightforwardly recognized that natural capital must be directly taken into accounts. This will help us in accounting natural process, grasping the ecological framework and this will significantly influence our policy-makers’ decision making. At present ecosystems are poorly recorded in national economic accounts. All the free amenities and services supplied by thriving eco-systems are neglected, which leads to their destruction. These accounting procedures will help in making corporates apprehend their impact on the environment around and take accountability for that. Often these firms while setting up disrupt a large ecological infrastructure which goes blatantly unnoticed. This natural capital is an important resource for the communities around, not only a resource but the singular reason for their existence.

Direct conservation via threatened areas and sustainable use constraints and restraints is a mean of maintaining our ecological institution healthy and prolific.  A very systemic cost-analysis need to be accounted for and new eco-certification measures need to be regularised which provide detailed analysis of the benefits and causes. This should be explicitly linked with the natural hazard risks, these systematic assessments of natural capital will pave the way for combining environment risk reduction with economically efficient investment. (Pavan Sukhdev, 2009)

“If we were running a business with the biosphere as our major asset, we would not allow it to depreciate. We would ensure that all necessary repairs and maintenance were carried out on a regular basis.” Prof. Alan Malcolm, Chief Scientific Advisor, IUPAC

Bibliography

Department of Economic and Social Affairs, UN. (2010, May 1). Population Facts. Retrieved December 11, 2013, from United Nations: http://www.un.org/en/development/desa/population/publications/pdf/popfacts/popfacts_2010-5.pdf

Ecotrust. (n.d.). Ecological Infrastructure. Retrieved December 9, 2013, from Reliable Prosperity: http://www.reliableprosperity.net/ecological_infrastructure.html

Eschool today. (2010). Forest preservation. Retrieved December 10, 2013, from Eschool Today: http://eschooltoday.com/forests/problems-of-deforestation.html

Grasslands. (2013). Ecological Infrastructure. Johannesburg: Sanbi.

Hickman, L. (2011, January 14). Population explosion. Retrieved December 11, 2013, from The Guardian: http://www.theguardian.com/world/2011/jan/14/population-explosion-seven-billion

Jackson, J. (Director). (2010). How we wrecked our oceans? [Motion Picture].

Pavan Sukhdev, J. B. (2009). TEEB Climate Issues Update. Bonn: United Nations Environment Programme.

Santa-Barbara Family Foundation. (2011, October 23). Population and scale. Retrieved December 10, 2013, from The Sustainable Scale Project: http://www.sustainablescale.org/areasofconcern/population/populationandscale/quickfacts.aspx

Sukhdev, P. (Director). (2011). Put a value on Nature! [Motion Picture].

The Rewilding Institute. (n.d.). Population Growth. Retrieved December 9, 2013, from Rewilding: http://rewilding.org/rewildit/our-programs/population-growth/

DILEMMA OF AN ARCHITECT!

Architectural education equips a student to get into the real world as an Architect. It culminates with a thesis project where a student standing at the threshold of the professional world showcases their learning they garnered in their journey of becoming an architect from a student. It becomes a project they associate themselves with; it carries a trait of their personality and it is a utopian world they live in. This ideal project paves the way for their entry to the profession. However, this dream project remains far from real life practice where it is rich with idea but the practical execution details don’t amalgamate into it.

As young professionals, students join architecture firm to practice what they learned in architecture schools. As an entrant, they are often given tasks in the office like working on execution/construction drawings, preparing coordination drawings, writing specifications or calculating quantities etc. of which they have very limited experience from college and they face real life problems for the very first time in real life.

In college, students romanticize Starchitects and aim to become impeccable creators, creators who design, craft and showcase their creations. Conceptual design is a skill in which the architects are trained at their best and they can create marvels but the process of creating this marvel from inception to execution is a multifaceted web of millions of processes and sub-processes, which one doesn’t actually learn or experience during college. Hence, the dream of working as a Practitioner and Architect doesn’t materialize easily wherein young architects gradually start learning various aspects they need to know about the profession and practice.

In order to establish an office, few of the different challenges that an architect faces are:

  • Procurement of Software
  • Finding Client and projects
  • Fixing the fee for a project
  • Project details:
    • Statutory Approvals drawings and procedures
    • Structural design
    • Integration of Services design – plumbing, electricity, HVAC, ELV, sewerage etc and coordinated drawings
    • Demarcation – coordinate drawings
    • Calculating quantities and preparing BOQs and project estimates
    • Preparing execution drawings and listing detailed specifications
    • Overseeing construction – quality control and monitoring
  • Establishing office

These are few of the challenges which bombard on graduates as they aim for establishing a practice, all on their own. Mostly, one tries to gain an experience by working in a firm which could equip thyself to establish their own firm, however, there is no fix formula to calculate this period of familiarity and young architects are often confused, as to when and how to start their practice. However, as one starts working in a firm and begins the process of learning, slowly they get into the firm, a few pursue post-graduation and then with the increased age, salary and experience, it becomes difficult to leave office and set up a new practice from scratch. A few believe that these skills can only be acquired while working and practicing them in others’ offices while others think that they could only be truly acquired if one works on them responsibly, and this responsibility would be felt on their own projects only.

As per my personal experience it has to be a mix of the two, where one should be working on a real-time project (preferably large scale) where complete responsibilities of the project should be experienced and involvement should be from conception to execution and then in parallel one should take a project where one can implement the learnings from project. This will help young architects to effectively acquire and perfect their skills which will help them become good practitioners. These important factors support a practice, but the spine of a good practice and the key for a successful architect is the Concept and good designing skills which will work only if supported with the factors stated above. Hence in my opinion, prior to starting a practice one should have complete knowledge of execution of minimum of one project and it should not be delayed as otherwise the passion and appetite for establishing self-practice reduces and further might get lost.

Why not Villages? We need Smart region and not Smart Cities!

At the beginning of 20th Century, Mahatma Gandhi had said, “The soul of India lives in its villages.” Today we are standing on a dwindling cliff, where the soul of our country is in distress and losing the significance of its existence. The villagers in the hope of prospects and employment have been migrating to cities which are leaving our villages crippled.

This migration to cities has led to an unplanned and unsustainable growth of cities augmenting urban agglomerations. This growth is like a tumour affecting the cities somberly.  The infrastructure of cities is not sufficient to support extra population which leads to poor conditions be it in transport, sanitation, education etc. The cities don’t have sufficient housing for the people, sufficient drainage to supply water, sufficient schools to educate children or sufficient hospitals for health care facilities. This leaves the migratory population in inferior conditions than their own villages which they left.

This segment of the population ends up finding their solace in the slums which are areas with deprived conditions. As per Indian census around 40% of the population in Mumbai is living in slums and conditions are not much different in other metros. These slums have clans where one room is available for an entire family in a house covered with tin sheets or asbestos roofing. The sewerage supply is not present which leads to poor sanitation and thus health problems; however still the percentage of the population in a city living in slums is growing with each day.

The intensification of slums in a city needs to be strictly controlled. The chieftain reason behind them is the migratory population which comes to the city looking for opportunities. Today, while we are thinking of making 100 new smart cities but we are forgetting our villages. A smart city will remain smart, only if it is allowed to support the population it is planned for. Any encumbrances on these cities need to be abstained, for which we need to make our villages Smart and desirable.

The investment required for the development of villages and creating opportunities therein is meagre in comparison to that required for a smart city. Moreover, it will safeguard planned development of city thereby protecting the massive investment that would be done to create smart cities. Hence, the entire conception of a smart city cannot be done in isolation leaving the surrounding areas. Creation of smart city has to begin with a conversion of surrounding and neighbouring villages to smart villages.

These smart villages have to have sustainable housing, health, sanitation, education, electricity, drainage and allied facilities. In addition to it, the ‘X’ factor of each village has to be identified and work should be done to enrich it. These aspects would vary from agriculture, heritage, culture, micro-industries, nature etc. These factors need to be institutionalised within village level and developed making it self-sustainable. The infrastructure should be sufficient to give it an equal opportunity as a city in terms of roads, electricity and telecommunication. The limited population of a village (which could vary from 1000-2500) helps in an apposite planning and implementation.

The scale of the villages is much more convenient and there exist examples like Tilonia, Dharnai, Punsari, Mawlynnong, Pothanikkad etc. which have utilised their forte and today are standing taut on world’s map. There are micro-industries like Pottery, Manufacturing of  Khadi, Sari, Churi, Craft work like Brass, Mojri, Silverware, Leather, Puppets etc which can be harnessed and centralised institutions can be developed for them. This will also help in boosting tourism, but it should be controlled and strictly monitored. It needs quality workshops and training for the villagers along with a creation of suitable infrastructure. The scale and requirement of these villages are just fit for trying new strategies like energy production through solar, micro-wind turbines, net metring, rainwater recharging and harvesting, geothermal cooling etc. It will set up model smart villages and will help us in converting our existing cities into smart zones.

Hence, a zonal plan should be developed for creating a smart region rather than aiming to create solely a smart city. The villages neither could be left alone nor separated if we are talking of smartness. The development of smart villages and smart zones would have far-reaching effects leading to successful implementation of our plans.

EARTH ARCHITECTURE – the winning factor

Mud construction can be the persuasive alternative for the success of a nation. It would be a remasvolutionary development plan that will not only enhance the target of energy efficiency and sustainability and combat climate change but also attract immense tourism and cause holistic development. However, the prejudice with which we live enforces us to think of earth architecture as something not superior, not strong and not durable. We need to question ourselves whether this is a problem with the material or our mindset.

Earth with it is clay, gravel, sand, soil, loam is omnipresent. It is time tested material where civilizations for centuries have been building with it and those structures are standing still and breathing fresh. These construction techniques have been known for over 9000 years. Adobe houses have been documented dating from 8000 to 6000 BC (in Russian Turkestan). Rammed earth foundbuildingwithearth-140216082907ations dating from 5000 BC have been found in Assyria. The world’s oldest Mud buildings can be found in Shahr –e-Sukteh (Iran) dating 3200 BC; these structures roughly age 5000 years. 1000 years old structures present in India and still in use are in Spiti Valley at Tabo monastery. These have withstood Himalyan winters since 996 AD.

You can’t get more sustainable or renewable a resource than mud. Approximately 58 percent of all buildings in India today are made of mud brick, some as many as 50 to 100 years old. Mud is gathered either at the construction site or very nearby, formed into bricks and dried in the sun. It is readily available and can be made by people with limited initial training—all resulting in projects that can be built at a fraction of the cost of those using concrete and steel.” – Laurie Baker

Few of the numerous advantages that earth buildings offer are:

  • EGTEZ Office NDElhiarth walls act as thermal mass and maintain a comfortable internal environment.
  • The earth absorbs the high humidity and releases it in dry conditions thereby creating universal comfortable conditions.
  • They have been tested and studies have shown that these walls absorb particulate pollutants maintaining a healthy indoor environment.
  • These buildings breathe and ensure clean air inside for residents.
  • Earth walls act as natural sound barriers hence enhances the sound quality by reducing the disturbing NRC coefficients.
  • Since the material is procured from site itself, it has no carbon coefficient and building erected is carbon neutral.
  • If under any condition building has to be broken down and replaces, the material can be recycled indefinite times after soaking it in water. It never becomes a waste material and thus never harms the environment.buildingwithearth-140216082907-phpapp01 (2)
  • The construction system gives a large flexibility for crafted construction where building can be decorated with in-situ systems which include niches, engravings, embossing, luminaries, furniture, landscaping etc.
  • Natural additives can be easily mixed with the material which can increase medicinal properties and give longevity to building reducing maintenance.

Depending on the climate, location and earth present different construction techniques could be deployed to create spectacular structures. Some of the documented earth construction techniques are:

  • COB – This technique works wonderfully for curved walls and low height (<10m) buildings. Cob is a lump of stiff mud which is made into elongated eggs and then stacked one on other. Final finishing is done by smoothening the sides. It becomes an engaging community exercise leading to interactions.
  • RAMMED EARTH – This system involves a formwork wherein wet stiff earth is put and then rammed to strengthen. It is done in layers. Different bands can be made to appear in elevations and formwork can be developed for different styles.
  • COMPRESSED STABILIZED EARTH BLOCKS (CSEB)– Itbuildingwithearth-140216082907-phpapp01 is the technique where mud bricks stabilized with cement (or similar admixtures) is made and compressed to strengthen. This is a technologically advanced system and is as competitive as any conventional technique.
  • ADOBE – This technique involves making sun-dried clay bricks and using it in masonry. This is a time-consuming and labour intensive approach as compared to CSEB.
  • WATTLE and DAUB – It involves the creation of a frame first which can be done either with bamboo or cane (or any similar material) which supports the roof. A mesh is then woven with the frame over which mud is then plastered all over.

There is a growing awareness in people over the mud buildings since these are ecofriendly and economical, however, the mindset where it is considered a poor man’s structure needs to be changed. World over, buildings like Centre of Gravity Foundation Hall at Jemez Springs (New Mexico, USA), Chapel of Raseconciliation, (Berlin, Germany) , Youth Centre at Spandau (Berlin), Academic accommodation building, Charles Sturt University at Thurgoona (New South Wales, Australia), Tourist resort at Baird Bay (Eyre Peninsula, South Australia), Mii amo Spa (Arizona, USA), Cultural Centre (La Paz, Bolivia), Kindergarten (Sorsum, Germany), GTZ Office (New Delhi, India) , Panafrican Institute for Development (Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso) and many magnanimous residences have been done using earth architecture. This is a system waiting to be adapted as conventional system and thereby giving a healthy lifestyle not only to its people but also to the planet.

#All the photos have been sourced from Internet and I am very thankful to these sources.

Living with the Senses

The Indian Institute of Management (IIMs) were created by the Indian Government with the aim of identifying the brightest intellectual talent available in the student community of India and training it in the best management techniques available in the world, to ultimately create a pool of elite managers to manage and lead the various sections of the Indian economy. In 2009, the Indian government decided to start six new IIMs including IIM Udaipur. The permanent campus of the institute is being built presently and the institute is functioning from a temporary campus in a rented building in the regional Mohan Lal Sukhadia University.

As a premiere step in propagating the inherent ways of leadership while initiating development; at IIMU we aim to create leaders who appreciate sustainability, social responsibility and have a sense of environmental consciousness. Quoting Mr. Winston Churchill who has very aptly said, “We shape our buildings; thereafter they shape us.” Embedded with the principles as stated above, we believed that campus could be that winning factor for the success of this goal.

I started out as Project Manager for the institute to monitor the campus development activities and suggest sustainable techniques which should be built into the design. In a little while it was realised that the environment of the current (temporary) campus needs to be realigned for a soothing setting for the present students. In the parallel, the space was also running short to meet the requirements. I hence prepared a proposal to construct a support wing with a spill-out space for the students. The construction system proposed stressed on encouraging waste, local and energy efficient materials. The project was thus aimed to be an asset, an example standing upright for the permanent campus.

Extension wing in the present campus of IIM Udaipur

Extension wing in the present campus of IIM Udaipur

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We all here have realised that this has brought a visible change in the manner people use to think and believe. Everyone as started appreciating nature, sustainable initiatives and environment around. People take a moment out from their busy lives to look and appreciate the surroundings. They stop over to put the garbage lying on a pathway to put it in the dustbin and they take pride in it.

Thus, we have established in our own sense that living with the senses is the way to be. Design should be done for all the senses as then they activate, act and appreciate.

#The details on the project and each part of it would be shared in the subsequent posts.

Designing a house, Designing a life

Whether it is ‘Chai pe Charcha’ or ‘Dialogue over Coffee,’ these are the moments where one can easily strike a conversation with strangers. I realised it while I was travelling for work last month and delved into a dialogue with my co-passenger. This gentleman had just got his house built involving an architect.

During the discussion, I started posing questions to him regarding his newly designed home, like where does the family meet most often, how often does he gets to see his mother while he’s home, where do they drink tea and likewise. He was quite amused by my questions and was more charmed when I told him the plan of the house based on his responses to my questions which were all based on the level of interaction only.

This person got perplexed when he realised that the new house has essentially has changed their living patterns and lifestyles. The closely associated kitchen in the centre of the house was now shifted to a corner which had restricted his mother’s presence to that area only and now nobody gets to see her while crisscrossing. Similarly, since the living room was beside drawing room and had no partition, dwellers preferred their rooms over it.

He asked me if architects know that the design of the house influences the living pattern. He told me that their architect never asked him any question pertaining to their lifestyle but told them how the new house should be. The jargons he used and the declamations he proposed were glitterati in front of their limited understanding and thus intimidated them. Their timorous self, was terrified of saying anything as they found themselves ineffectual to debate with the architect.

This made me ponder over profession and professionals. Architects often use gobbledygook language which bullies the client. Instead of putting forth their points, they therefore try to avoid any confrontation or debate with architect, who would anyway using the presentation and oratory skills misleads the client from understanding the design and examining if it satisfied their requirement.

There is a pressing need to shift the paradigm which the profession is following. Prior to designing, we should sit beside the client over a cup of coffee and try to strike a conversation with them, which would help them open up. This will in turn enable us to understand their requirements, their necessities and their desires. Unlike any other building, a house is a structure in which residents resides forever, it’s a structure which a person gets build once in his lifetime. Our responsibilities while designing a home multi-fold which we should genuinely understand, appreciate and accordingly design a home suitable for the residents, a home which they can relate with and which enhances their quality of life to their satisfaction.

A home designed by architect shouldn’t only look fancy and aesthetically pleasing but should blend into their lifestyle and living patterns. A family deserves a space where they can comfortably gather and converse, hence this should be a space which they can easily approach, they can have their essential needs, have colours/textures which they all like and the proportions which are not nerve-racking. We should understand that this is a structure we are designing for users and users only and thus ultimately it should be designed with them in the mind; considering their requirements and enhancing their comfort.