Con­struc­tion in­dus­try pri­mar­ily re­spon­si­ble for cli­mate change Sus­tain­able, cost-ef­fec­tive hous­ing need of the hour: Ar­chi­tect

Kuwait Times - - HEALTH & SCIENCE - By Sa­jeev K Peter

The con­struc­tion in­dus­try is pri­mar­ily re­spon­si­ble for the degra­da­tion and de­te­ri­o­ra­tion of the en­vi­ron­ment across the world as it is con­tribut­ing sig­nif­i­cantly to the cli­mate change to­day. Un­less we make sus­tain­able in­ter­ven­tions to check this, we are in for ma­jor catas­tro­phes,” said renowned In­dian ar­chi­tect Pad­mashri G Shankar. “The en­vi­ron­ment is get­ting badly mu­ti­lated and for­est cover is dwin­dling at an in­com­pre­hen­si­ble pace. The pace and in­ten­sity of en­vi­ron­men­tal degra­da­tion matches with the pace and in­ten­sity of ur­ban­iza­tion. It is very crit­i­cal. We see signs of un­rest,” Shankar told the Kuwait Times in an in­ter­view.

Shankar spoke about his phi­los­o­phy of cost-ef­fec­tive and en­ergy ef­fi­cient hous­ing in the con­text of a grow­ing con­cern over cli­mate change. Shankar is known in In­dia as peo­ple’s ar­chi­tect by de­vel­op­ing con­struc­tion tech­niques that are eco-friendly, en­ergy-ef­fi­cient, cul­tur­ally ap­pro­pri­ate and cost-ef­fec­tive. He ar­rived in Kuwait to de­liver a key­note speech at FO­CUS Kuwait’s an­nual event. “To­day, the de­vel­op­ing world is reel­ing un­der an en­ergy cri­sis. The cri­sis is at our door step and un­less we find a vi­able al­ter­na­tive, we are in for trou­ble,” he cau­tioned.

“I don’t think we ever had a harsher sum­mer in Kuwait than this year’s weather. We are slowly inch­ing to­wards a day time tem­per­a­ture of 60 de­grees Cel­sius in Kuwait while nights are be­com­ing cooler. It is a per­cep­ti­ble change and this change is hap­pen­ing all over the world,” Shankar said. Shankar said con­struc­tion sec­tor is in­tri­cately linked to this change. “We are us­ing highly en­ergy-in­ten­sive ma­te­rial like steel and ce­ment un­nec­es­sar­ily in our con­struc­tion. It is adding to the pres­sures on en­ergy,” he elab­o­rated. Shankar has con­structed 150,000 in­di­vid­ual build­ings and half a mil­lion mass hous­ing units in var­i­ous coun­tries across the world. He has also headed sev­eral re­ha­bil­i­ta­tion mis­sions fol­low­ing nat­u­ral dis­as­ters in Nepal, Sri Lanka, In­done­sia etc.

In his view, gov­ern­ments across the world have be­come help­less and the world is los­ing its op­tions with­out re­sources in ad­dress­ing the en­ergy cri­sis. Ac­cord­ing to him, many dis­as­ters can be pre­vented if peo­ple make sus­tain­able in­ter­ven­tions. Though there are many ini­tia­tives and pro­to­cols such as Ky­oto and Paris where peo­ple talk of sus­tain­able de­vel­op­ment, they are not be­com­ing man­dates, he said.

“I strongly be­lieve that only peo­ple can bring changes not gov­ern­ments. Here, I am talk­ing about multi-di­men­sional in­ter­ven­tions to pre­vent en­vi­ron­men­tal degra­da­tions and cli­mate change.” “By pro­mot­ing eco-sen­si­tive, en­ergy ef­fi­cient and re­source-ef­fi­cient ar­chi­tec­ture, I am try­ing to tell the peo­ple that if houses be­come sim­ple and peo­ple adopt sim­ple life­style, it can make a par­a­digm change in the habi­tat sec­tor.”

Elab­o­rat­ing on how in­cre­men­tal hous­ing dif­fer­en­ti­ates be­tween dreams and needs, he said “We have to be­gin to look at our ba­sic needs. Dreams can come later. In In­dia, we have had the her­itage of build­ing happy homes. Our fore­fa­thers never suf­fered by build­ing houses. But for the present gen­er­a­tion, build­ing a house has be­come an in­sen­si­tive ex­er­cise which is fraught with ten­sion and men­tal tor­ture.”

Quot­ing his men­tor and renowned Amer­i­can ar­chi­tec­ture Frank Lloyd Wright, Shankar said, “If one were to con­struct a build­ing on a hill, it should be of it, not on it. Land is god given. Hu­man be­ings do not have the right to ma­nip­u­late it by de­fac­ing the pro­file of the na­ture. It is the essence of or­ganic ar­chi­tec­ture. And by de­stroy­ing the pro­file of the na­ture, you are invit­ing calami­ties,” he added.

Habi­tat sum­mit

The first habi­tat sum­mit ‘Habi­tat I’ was held in 1976 in Vancouver un­der the UN mis­sion on habi­tat called the United Na­tions Hu­man Set­tle­ment Pro­gram (UNCHS) head­quar­tered in Nairobi. “It was for the first time that the world de­bated the chal­lenges in the habi­tat sec­tor with a slo­gan ‘Hous­ing for All’ af­ter it re­al­ized the fact that there were mil­lions across the world who did not have ad­e­quate shel­ter,” he said.

“Twenty years later in 1996, a re­view sys­tem was held in Habi­tat 2 sum­mit Is­tan­bul. I had a huge op­por­tu­nity to par­tic­i­pate in the Is­tan­bul sum­mit as a rep­re­sen­ta­tive of civil so­ci­ety or­ga­ni­za­tion and raise the is­sue of ad­e­quacy of hous­ing. Shankar at­tended the Habi­tat III sum­mit that took place from Oc­to­ber 17 to Oc­to­ber 20 2016 in Quito, Ecuador. “To my dis­ap­point­ment, I found out that the whole habi­tat sec­tor was hi­jacked by in­sen­si­tive bu­reau­cra­cies, so-called in­ter­na­tional de­vel­op­ment agen­cies and aca­demi­cians. The ini­tia­tive was com­pletely triv­i­al­ized and voices were not heard,” he said.

“It is a kind of go­ing back on the prom­ises that were made in 1996. Present slo­gan be­fore the world is ‘Hous­ing at the Cen­tre’. So it is from ‘Hous­ing for All’ in Vancouver in 1976 to ‘Ad­e­quate Hous­ing’ in 1996 to ‘Hous­ing at the Cen­tre’ in 2016. We are not re­ally go­ing for­ward,” he said. Elab­o­rat­ing on his def­i­ni­tion of ad­e­quate hous­ing, Shankar said, “We told the world that ad­e­quacy of hous­ing means ac­cess to por­ta­ble wa­ter, ac­cess to clean cook­ing space and ac­cess to clean san­i­ta­tion fa­cil­i­ties as three manda­tory re­quire­ments.

More than 50 per­cent of the ur­ban pop­u­la­tion was still be­ing de­nied of these ba­sic fa­cil­i­ties in the 1990s. The pace and in­ten­sity of ur­ban­iza­tion was not as fre­netic as it is to­day. But for the first time, we thought of a sus­tain­able hu­man set­tle­ments de­vel­op­ment in an in­creas­ingly ur­ban­iz­ing world. The world re­al­ized the sig­nif­i­cance of it and they be­came manda­tory UN agen­das with around 140 coun­tries en­dors­ing them. Now 180 plus coun­tries are par­tic­i­pat­ing in UNCHS sum­mit,” he said.

Shankar be­lieves that hous­ing must be made as a fun­da­men­tal right. It is a multi-di­men­sional is­sue where the di­men­sions of safety, se­cu­rity and ac­cess to ba­sic ur­ban in­fra­struc­ture are crit­i­cal is­sues and to be ad­dressed se­ri­ously. “And there are sev­eral sub-head­ings to that such as la­bor man­age­ment, ma­te­rial man­age­ment and new di­men­sions in ar­chi­tec­tural de­signs,” he said.

Con­sul­tant to var­i­ous in­ter­na­tional or­ga­ni­za­tions like Cor­daid (Nether­lands), Ar­chi­tec­ture and De­vel­op­ment (France), BGS, Ger­many, Shankar looks at ur­ban­iza­tion as a pos­i­tive phe­nom­e­non. “It can be a prom­ise as well as a curse. Ur­ban­iza­tion is all about con­nec­tiv­ity. Peo­ple mi­grate to ur­ban ar­eas in search of liveli­hood op­por­tu­ni­ties, bet­ter health­care, ed­u­ca­tion and bet­ter trans­porta­tion etc. The world is get­ting ur­ban­ized be­cause the city will re­main a home as a prom­ise. It has the po­ten­tial to rope peo­ple in. At the same time, the world has be­gun to re­al­ize the fact that ur­ban­iza­tion is bring­ing a lot of prob­lems. Bad ur­ban­iza­tion could drive poor peo­ple who are liv­ing on the mar­gins out of the scene in the name of beau­ti­fi­ca­tion,” he said. “Ur­ban­iza­tion can be a pos­i­tive phe­nom­e­non if sus­tain­abil­ity be­comes a pri­mary cri­te­rion,” he ar­gued.

In­dian ar­chi­tect Pad­mashri G Shankar

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