"We did not inherit the earth from our ancestors; we borrow it from our children.”
This saying encapsulates the wisdom of previous centuries. We share our planet earth with a mind boggling 8.7 million1 other species that make up life on this planet. Seemingly Innumerable flora and fauna with remarkable diversity thrive in forests, deserts, hills, rivers, streams, seas and oceans. Is it not amazing that Mother Nature nourishes every life form in our complex ecosystem maintaining equilibrium?
In terms of the world being connected by space, consider the following:
Pesticides sprayed in Chile have the potential to harm fish stocks off the coast of Japan. The recent fish kill In Bangalore lakes is another instance which calls for caution. The air pollution emitted in Los Angeles affect the quality of air in Asia. On the other hand, clean air practices on one continent will positively impact air quality across the ocean. The earth’s connection to time is demonstrated in how we, today, are either benefitting or suffering from the choices of our grandparents and other ancestors. Their decisions about how to farm their land, for example, continue to impact the agricultural practices of today. Looking to the future, the economic choices we make and policies we endorse today will be the ones affecting our children and grandchildren as adults.
Humans are an integral part of this ecosystem. It is very important to understand our role in the whole scheme of things because as a human society our thoughts, decisions, words and deeds have an enormous impact on our natural surroundings which in turn deeply affect our future. This essay explores different aspects in which our built environment can be made sustainable and appropriate for the well being of our planet and its future.
Sustainable development is the organizing principle for sustaining finite resources necessary to provide for the needs of future generations of life on the planet. It is a process that envisions a desirable future state for human societies in which living conditions and resource-use continue to meet human needs without undermining the "integrity, stability and beauty" of natural biotic systems.
The main areas of sustainable development could be considered with reference to the following:
Natural Environment such as forests, grasslands;
Pic 1: Sustainable Roof for Parking
Sustainable construction involves usage of appropriate building materials and building technologies such as Earth blocks, rammed earth walls, filler slabs, micro concrete elements, bamboo constructions elements, corrugated bamboo mat roofing sheets. Other crucial issues that has to be considered include the design and management of buildings; materials performance; energy and resource efficiency in building, operation and maintenance; robust products and technologies; long-term monitoring; adherence to ethical standards; socially-viable environments; stakeholder participation; occupational health and safety and working conditions; innovative financing models; improvement to existing contextual conditions; interdependencies of landscape, infrastructure, urban fabric and architecture; flexibility in building use, function and change; and the dissemination of knowledge in related academic, technical and social contexts.
Solar and wind energy: Energy from these resources is limitless, meaning we have the ability to eliminate dependence on non-renewable power sources by harnessing power from renewable resources. (Pic 1)
Sustainable construction: Homes, offices, schools and other structures that incorporate recycled and renewable resources will be more energy efficient and stand the test of time. (Pic 2)
Water fixtures: Water conservation is critical to sustainable development, and more and more products are available that use less water in the home, such as showers, toilets, dishwashers and laundry systems.
Pic 2: Earth Block, filler slabs, brick arches at Gurukul school, Bangalore. Courtesy: Architecture Continuous
‘Bio’ means Life and ‘Philia’ means love; Biophilic Design is an innovative way of designing the places where we live, work, and learn. We need nature in a deep and fundamental fashion, but we have often designed our cities and suburbs in ways that both degrade the environment and alienate us from nature. The recent trend in green architecture is an attempt to decrease the environmental impact of the built environment, but it is equally important to reconnect us to the natural world, the missing piece in the puzzle of sustainable development. In Traditional Indian Architecture nature and natural elements were always an integral part of built environment. (Pic 3).
Pic 3: Traditional Indian Temple Architecture integrated nature and natural elements in design. Source: commons.wikipedia.com
But somewhere down the line this relationship was lost yet we yearn for nature and natural elements. The good news is current trends in architecture indicate that architects and building designers are consciously make an effort towards course correction (Pic 4) .Biophilic Design points the way towards creating healthy and productive habitats for everyone. By connecting people and nature more and more built environments in future would comprise of schools where children are smarter and creative, residential enclaves where families thrive and are involved with communities, offices with industrious workers, hospitals where patients heal faster.
Pic 4: Building form dictated by the meandering tree branches. Courtesy: Architecture Continuous
Pic 5: Large glass façade for visual connectivity. Courtesy: Architecture Continuous
Pic 6: Left: May flower plant soaring up in the double height sun kissed courtyard integrated in the design to keep the house cool and to provide daylight. Courtesy: Architecture Continuous
Pic 6: Right: Open to sky - pocket gardens.. Courtesy: Architecture Continuous
Sky lit courtyards with clear storey ventilation that keep the building cool, open to sky yet secure garden pockets, large openings for visual connectivity are frequently used design vocabulary in our projects. Day light which is one of the most beautiful and inexpensive design element adds life and energy to a given space.(Pic5).Plants keep the indoors fresh and green and has a soothing effect on the occupants.
Green Rating for Integrated Habitat Assessment is a rating system developed considering Indian Climate Zones and inhabitants requirements indigenously. GRIHA is a Sanskrit word meaning – ‘Abode’. It is developed to rate commercial, institutional and residential buildings in India, emphasizing national environmental concerns, regional climatic conditions and locally available solutions. This tool has been adopted by the Ministry of New and Renewable Energy. This tool, by its qualitative and quantitative assessment criteria, is able to ‘rate’ a building on the degree of its 'greenness'.GRIHA stresses passive solar techniques for optimizing visual and thermal comfort indoors. It integrates all relevant Indian codes and standards for buildings and acts as a tool to facilitate implementation of the same.
On a broader scale, this system, along with the activities and processes that lead up to it, will benefit the community at large with the improvement in the environment by reducing GHG (greenhouse gas) emissions, reducing energy consumption and the stress on natural resources. Some of the benefits of a green design to a building owner, user, and the society as a whole are as follows:
· Reduced energy consumption without sacrificing the comfort levels
Reduced destruction of natural areas, habitats, and biodiversity, and reduced soil loss from erosion etc.
Reduced air and water pollution (with direct health benefits)
Reduced water consumption
Limited waste generation due to recycling and reuse
Increased user productivity
Enhanced image and marketability
Sustainable development: Grass lands and Forest
Grasslands are versatile ecosystems, generating a diverse array of goods and services that are useful to humankind. It is widely recognised that grasslands support high quality livestock produce, chiefly from ruminants. By maximising pastures as the primary diet, grasslands provide alternatives to concentrate feed. This reduces the inefficient use of arable land and increases the food that is directly available for human consumption from cereals, grasslands provides critical ecosystems services that regulate, support and underpin the environment that we live in. These include climate regulation, water storage, nutrient cycling, erosion control, pollination and biodiversity.
Forests are critical for sustainable development. They provide a wealth of goods and services that are essential for people's lives, livelihoods and the green economy. Maintaining and enhancing our planet's forest resources is essential if we are to succeed in the global efforts to alleviate poverty, address water scarcity and biodiversity loss, and mitigate climate change.
An estimated 1.6 billion people rely on forests for their livelihoods to some degree, while more than two billion people - a third of the world's population - use biomass fuels, mainly firewood, to cook and to heat their homes. In fact, roughly a quarter of the world's poor and 90% of the poorest depend substantially on forests for their livelihoods, including some 60 million indigenous peoples and other forest-dwelling communities. Indeed, forests sustain nearly half of the population in the developing world, providing wood for fuel as well as non-timber products like mushroom Culturally and historically, the intrinsic value of forests, and the spiritual and sacred use of forests, is of great importance to local communities and our cultural identity, nuts, rubber and medicines.
There is an urgent need to recognize and add value to the multiple ecological functions of grasslands before large areas of this vital resource are degraded or diverted into agricultural land. An important goal is to raise awareness about the potential of sustainable grassland and forest management to achieve positive outcomes for the environment, people and economies.
We need to cherish this planet not because we are duty bound but because we are an integral part of it. The world’s resources are finite, and growth that is unmanaged and unsustained will lead to a disastrous future. We owe it to future generations to explore lifestyles and paths of development that effectively balance progress with awareness of its environmental impact. In order to preserve the future, we must appreciate the interconnectedness between humans and nature at all levels. Sustainable development practices in built and natural environment and biophilic designs can help us do this; and through education and building awareness, preserving the future is within everyone’s reach.
1. Census of Marine Life. Furthermore, the study, published by PLoS Biology, says a staggering 86% of all species on land and 91% of those in the seas have yet to be discovered, described and catalogued.
3. Brundtland Report