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Social Responsibility of Designers

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An Architect or a designer is the most responsible person in shaping a dream from nowhere to reality. Initial definition of design was to create the requirement based solutions and add value to it by applying elements of aesthetics, ergonomics, easiness of usage, and production. Then came factors like cost controlling, mass production, uniqueness, etc.

The third dimension of the design parameter shifted to less consumption of energy and dependency of natural resources without compromising to any of the above engineering parameters. This followed the green revolution and now the whole community of designers and common public being aware of all this, the trend is towards “HOW RESPONSIBLE” is the design and thereby the designer.

Like any principle to put in objective measures, ’ARCASIA’ the association of 22 member institute countries of architects in Asia, has proposed to study in detail and prepare objective guidelines for social responsibility of Architects, formed a committee for the purpose. The committee has gone in depth of the situation analysing various aspects of social responsibility, found the basis of it from ISO 26000:2010. After six years of deliberations and discussions, ARCASIA committee on social responsibility has come out with its own charter in 2016. Charter covers social responsibility as an ethical ideology or theory that an entity, be it an organisation or individual has an obligation to act to benefit society in large. Charter deals with accountability, transparency, respect for stakeholders, respect for the law and respect for international norms and behaviour. Recently heritage conservation is also taken as one of the core subjects for consideration.

We have issues like heritage conservation, preservation, universal accessibility, barrier free architecture, urban planning, judicious usage and prevention of misuse of natural resources; local arts and crafts incorporation and promotion, disaster relief preparedness of professionals, designers which should not hinder human rights, liveability of spaces etc.

To begin with we bring here two case studies of heritage conservation. All the areas mentioned about required social awarenes and sensitiveness. Experts in the field will be sharing in their experiences in the forthcoming issues of BuildoTech.

Social responsibility in Architecture reflects social, cultural and environmental ethics of a project on long term basis with a collaborative support of its users. It is a shift from individualism to combined efforts of local knowledge systems, local community, craftmen, materials, Government, other stakeholders, fundraisers, etc. The sustainability of the project is directly a function of maintenance and management. It is a subject of concern, especially in public projects, when the users are diverse. It is always important to append a maintenance phrase encouraging appropriate policies and strategies with a wide public awareness and outreach to the users. Thus the buoyancy of a project is always a product of collective social responsibility.

Vinod Kumar MM, dd Architects

Rediscovering an ancient well

The well before restoration work

The restoration of a historic well in Thrissur railway station, is such a project where the success emerged from a collective social responsibility. The well was identified as an important element in the history of railways in Thrissur, during a heritage walk conducted by INTACH, Thrissur Chapter in December 2016.

In 1902, when Thrissur railway station came into existence, this large well was built by the British as a premier source of water for the steam engine operations. The well is unique, being one of the biggest of its kind in the State, measuring an outer diameter of 10.60m and 13m depth. The wall around the well is built of granite stone and has a thickness of 0.80m. Water was drawn from this well using a double disc hand pump made by Ransome & Rapier Company of Ipswich, United Kingdom. But ever since the Railways started using Peechi dam water, the well and its surrounding has been squandered as a space for accumulating garbage.

Following the heritage walk, Minister for Agriculture, Govt. of Kerala V S Sunil Kumar visited the well and immediately alloted funds for its regeneration, understanding its heritage value and scope of tourism development. The work was taken over and successfully restored by Kerala State Nirmithi Kendra. Constructive suggestions were given by Ar. Vinod Kumar MM , which helped in restoring the well upto conservation standards. Thrissur Railway Station Manager, Joseph Ninan was also a part of the restoration process.

Restoration of Sree Vadakkunnathan Temple

Removal of Japan Black from stone base to reveal the original material

The Sree Vadakkunathan is one of the largest spaces of worship in Kerala and the most important landmark in the city of Thrissur, that still lives its daily spirituality. The triple-shrined temple is located at Swaraj Round, a 60 acres hillock right in the core of the town. It is also known for being the host of the present temple festival in South-India, the Pooram. Archaeologists speculate the temple’s first construction took place more than 1000 years ago and till the 17th century a teak forest surrounded the complex.

Temples are an important part of people’s life in Kerala, and many strongly believe in the holy faculties of this specific ground. As a representative of the architectural style of Kerala, the monument has an inspiring quality of timber wood work. The other basic materials used in a Kerala temple are laterite, lime, stone and copper. Due to lack of periodic maintenance, the temple was in a serious state of disrepair and required an urgent conservation program.

The restoration works started in 2005 after an assessment done in 1990s showed that a large per cent of the temple complex constructed of timber was in a state of ruin due to lack of periodic maintenance.

dd architects was designated as the local coordinator of the project, which comprises day to day maintenance and conversation works carried out on the site.

Ayyappan Shrine after conservation

dd architects is responsible for finding and selecting professionals of different disciplines. The team was allowed to outreach the craftmen community and the project patronizes master craft skills which are no longer in demand. As the extent of the damages is different in each structure, the restoration approach quickly differed from one to the other. It required different skills of traditional architecture. There was no cement used in the work, Lime was used with the mixture of many herbs as the binding material, while specially prepared herbal oils were used as wood preservative.

Surrounded by a traditional laterite wall, the temple covers an area of nearly 7 acres and our work also includes the outdoor gardening and maintenance, electrical and lighting works, and the construction of a small new shrine, the Vettekkaran.

New Mukappu, after work with the craftsmen( It took 6 months to complete)

The conservation of the Temple received the Award of Excellence from UNESCO in Asia-Pacific Award for Cultural Heritage Conservation in 2016. A total of 12 projects from five countries – India, China, Lao People’s Democratic Republic, Australia and Thailand – were honoured in this year’ awards.

“Sree Vadakkunnathan Temple has many historical as well as architectural uniqueness. You won’t get many structures, which elaborately used materials like wood, laterate, copper and lime mixture. Traditional oil mixtures have been used to give coating for wood. It is a living heritage structure as it is still the centre of activities in the city,” said T. Sreelakshmi, Superintending Archaeologist, Archaeological Survey of India.

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