Not so long ago, the best architectural designs in India were based on the local climate, crafted from materials that were found nearby, and built utilising time-tested building techniques. As a result, different areas of the country were known for their distinctive, regional homes.
But soon all this changed and newly developed energy-intensive heating and cooling systems allowed designers to ignore the climate. Building styles across the country became similar without any regard for the climate or terrain.
Architect Anupama Kundoo from Pondicherry, a consummate eco-warrior, has tried to bring about a change to this almost thoughtless style of building and has created several low impact ‘pucca’ structures since 1990, that are healthy, climatically comfortable and such that can form the basis of an aesthetically pleasing building language. The creation of eco-friendly infrastructure that takes care of the running needs of a settlement in terms of water, waste and energy management through renewable sources as well as passive methods is also part of her ongoing endeavour.
We at Home Review caught up with the powerhouse of a designer, to discover the impetus behind her compassionate style of architecture and her ambitious task at hand.
What have been the rewards of practicing sustainable architecture?
Personal satisfaction. The closer you bridge your dreams and aspirations with your reality, the more comfortable you feel about who you are and what you do; you can then really enjoy your work rather than do it out of ‘duty’ or other less passionate reasons. I am passionate about design and I believe that you can achieve more with less, and I take the challenge of India’s resource crunch as one within which I try to create the best solutions I can imagine.
What are your key responsibilities as an architect?
They are to create harmonious, sensible and appropriate environments that are materially and experientially beautiful. By beauty I do not mean anything frivolous or superficial, I mean it in the deepest sense, where the outer beauty is nothing but a reflection of the inner beauty; where the truth and strength of every component can be revealed and celebrated.
Successful architecture is the deliberate and particular coming together of several interdependent decisions such as structural design, construction techniques, choice of materials, appropriate forms, scale and spatial composition.
Certified passive house structures have been appearing in the news a lot lately, but people in India have built green using passive measures for years. What’s the difference, if any?
It’s like the difference between the bicycle and a high tech solar powered vehicle. One is ‘green’ because being pre-industrial it evolved in ways that were not so energy and technology dependent, and the consumption patterns and lifestyles had less of an impact.
Higher consumption patterns per capita got sanctioned post-industrialisation where the feeling was that every demand can be satisfied with better technologies regardless of awareness of resource depletion issues.
Buildings dependent on artificial lighting and air-conditioning systems replaced wise methods of passive principles seen in vernacular architecture. Now fully aware that the show can’t go on, but not able to back-track or to let go of the current lifestyle conveniences, the attempt is to reduce the impact. However those examples rated ‘green’ these days are often nowhere close to the traditional buildings, particularly in the developed countries, in their greenness. These standards cannot be the new norm particularly for a India where even if all the population got a reading lamp there will be some forests destroyed. Our population vs. resources just don’t add up to be able to realistically deliver those kinds of green buildings for all.
The designs of public institutions are often offered to the most ‘iconic’ architects. How do you feel about this trend, and how do you work in a system like this and continue to create thoughtful, meaningful architecture?
I don’t worry about issues like these; I am probably too preoccupied with what I personally could do more towards creating meaningful work.
I develop a lot of ideas that I have envisioned but no client has asked for. I try to solve problems that bother me, in my mind and on paper too. I don’t wait for being hired by someone, as it costs me nothing to imagine things. Often these ideas have been realised, even though they didn’t originate through assigned commissions.
In India the profession of design and particularly architecture is not sufficiently valued and I think that this may take a long time to change; it’s a complex issue that is frustrating. But when you keep imagining and creating its uplifting and exciting. It’s sad that a lot of good ideas remain on paper but who knows if you work on them, there may come a time…
How important do you think is the mainstreaming of green architecture in the Indian context?
It of course depends on what you mean by ‘green architecture’. If you mean green rated buildings I don’t personally find it important to mainstream.
While it is great that there are standards and the performance is measurable I find that for India the cost of rating a building alone is prohibitive. It can only be afforded by the elite. In the Indian context I am most concerned by the ever-widening social segregation in the society, and this will be one of those issues that will further segregate the classes and create a huge gap between the consumption patterns between people. Ironically the rated green buildings will consume much more resources than the average buildings.
For India I think it is as pressing to mainstream good architecture as much as green architecture. There are more and more schools of architecture coming up, but proportionately not enough good architecture.
This is to a great extent due to the general conditions of cities in India and how they are being governed, planned or rather not planned. If the larger urban picture would be addressed, it could look more promising; I am sure then that the current architects in India would be less impotent.