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A fashionable pursuit, or an unavoidable responsibility?

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Parul Zaveri & Nimish Patel’s pursuit for responsible architecture has led them to initiate and explore design directions and processes that make the built environment functionally, psychologically, environmentally and spiritually, more contextual and more comfortable for the end user. Their design firm Abhikram (Sanskrit word for ‘Initiation’), has been focusing on the conservation of resources and conservation of our built and cultural heritage. Parul & Nimish, the mavens of traditional sustainable architecture techniques in India, write about what does the ‘label’ of sustainability mean and question if we are following it as a trend or a necessity.

Many of us may not still be aware that the building industry in the developed world contributes to 23% of air pollution, 50% of undesirable gases and 50% of wastes used for landfills. These are the countries who are lecturing us on our need to be sustainable. However, this does not absolve us at all. For many decades now, our mainstream development is following the western role model in our cities & buildings, increasing our resource consumptions drastically without being aware that such construction industry of the world contributes to 45-50% of the carbon dioxide emissions.

We have been seriously concerned for many decades and continue to seek answers to a few fundamental but simple questions like “Do we in any way assess such labels before believing in them, or are we just happy to find a different avenue to explore new interpretations for our architectural aspirations? If so, is that a professionally appropriate direction for our growing practices?”

It is essential for all of us to recognise and accept that in the current scenario of Climate Change and the commitments made by the Prime Minister of India, there is no alternative but to initiate a course correction in the designs of our built environment.

Single recipe Sustainability for India, are we serious?

India is extremely fortunate to be home to five major climatic zones and a few sub-zones as well, and therefore its range of terrains, soils, materials, flora & fauna, vegetation, farm produces etc. have few competitors in the globe. Its civilization has been one of the oldest in the world, and has a huge asset of traditional knowledge & wisdom developed over centuries. Inherent in them are multiple directions & solutions to sustainable development, a different one for every region, location, climate or materials. These solutions are simple, cost effective and maximise the use of local resources.

In contrast, the ‘Green’ label that more of us seem to be pursuing, is essentially a market driven approach with an intent to maximise the use of so called ‘Green’ products, which are expensive, not necessarily produced by local entrepreneurs and with relatively low sustainable performances. Yet we follow the same recipe for different climatic zones of India.

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