Natasha Iype, Director, Good Earth shares insight into building sustainable communities and its relevance in the current times
Sustainable communities are the future of urban development today. One must constantly question the quality of life as it is promoted and perceived in our urban environments. While there is a growing awareness to conserve and care for the environment, unfortunately this awareness has been packaged into consumable ‘green’ technologies, which have become marketing tools for developers, and solve problems that are created by the design, rather than try to design appropriately.
There is a need for architecture, to collaborate with other skills and streams, to be able to make that difference, where shared decision making brings together all the stakeholders. Sustainable architecture is intuitive, holistic and practical. It has the potential to change the way we live and care for the natural world around us. It is best described as a gradual process of evolution, where responses to the natural environment, climate, selection of materials, scale of spaces, and planning of open spaces are more important than the individual expression of the architect. It is not about ego, but about collaboration, with nature and people.
The term sustainable architecture is often used in different contexts. While there are people practicing sustainability sensibly, there are others who may be just using it as a marketing tool. Sustainability should be collaboration of different skills like engineering, architecture, craft and business, to explore solutions that are sensitive, human and practical. Sustainability should not be marketed, instead it should be internalised in the society.
It is encouraging to see the government making it mandatory to treat sewage and garbage at community level, and the collection of rainwater, to augment the water supply. Planting trees has also become a green mantra today. All these measures are good, but one needs to understand that it is not enough to just plant trees, but what kind of trees are we are planting? It is not enough to segregate the garbage, but to reduce the consumption of plastic. It is not enough to collect the rainwater, but not waste water from any source.
At Good Earth we have been experimenting with building communities for the past 28 years. Our projects have been well received and we are proud to have nurtured over 20 communities in Bangalore and Kerala, some of which are outstanding examples of sustainable urban living. The approach and process in conceiving and implementing these communities has evolved over time, with learnings and improvements being incorporated with the next project. We see our work as a continually progressing style, much like how traditional architecture has evolved, gradually, with carefully measured responses, not random experiments.
The first steps in this direction, is the identification of a suitable land, which will be the home for the community. The land is usually picked on the outskirts of the city, in a quiet area, which is ideal for residential development, accessible to the city, yet a little away from the main roads. The infrastructure is assessed, availability of water, the site drainage, the possibilities of sewage treatment, the availability of power. Attempts are made to study the local population so that it may be integrated into the development, to create a more positive environment.
The brief for the community is then worked out, balancing the dreams, the costs, the land, and the users, the environment, keeping the profits workable. The emphasis is on the sufficiency of the design.
- Broader concepts of water management, sewage treatment and solid waste management are outlined.
- How the landscape integrates the natural terrain and drainage.
- The orientation and microclimate
- The individual home, where some of the land can be exclusively used by the family, spaces within, well lit and ventilated, and connected, sufficient semi-open spaces.
- The choice of materials and techniques which can be conveniently sourced, used in their natural form, and should preferably be able to be replenished and use minimum energy in their production
- To conserve and rejuvenate existing features like water bodies, streams, indigenous trees, to enhance the environment and create bird and insect habitats, which will also create awareness about the importance of the environment.
- The Masterplan responds to the natural lay of the land, using the features on the land to enhance the spaces, conserve the natural elements.
- A human scale is maintained, by building low rise and letting each individual have access to land, which he/she can take care of, feel and touch.
- A hierarchy of spaces is designed in order to bring down the scale of the number of homes.
- The community spaces take priority over the individual spaces. Public spaces, such as playgrounds and rain-fed water bodies, which can serve as platforms to transfer oral and visual traditions to the next generation are integrated.
- Designed for the pedestrian and not the car, the plan creates pedestrian-only spaces which are connected through interesting pathways and streets, which are disabled friendly. The vehicular roads are kept to a minimum, and not very wide, to enable a slowing down of cars, as they navigate through the community.
We strongly believe that design has the power to change the way we live. It enhances and can reinforce the intention of any community. It is a tool to create environments that are responsive to climate, location and human needs. At an emotional and aspirational level, design must symbolise who we are and express what we hope to be. A strategic response has the potential to change what we become.