Need constitution on sustainable practices post COVID
Real Estate

Need constitution on sustainable practices post COVID

Strength in architecture emerges where there is an emotional connect to work. This is the belief of well-renowned architect firm Somaya & Kalappa Consultants. The firm is a multi-disciplinary architecture and design practice offering a combination of design expertise across a diverse typology of projects. The design process is propelled by extensive research, site and cultural context. It is inspired by innovative and vernacular methods of construction and use of indigenous local materials and arts and crafts, while evolving steadily within the parameters of sustainable design principles. Through four decades of design, the common thread connecting all the projects of Somaya & Kalappa has been basic design elements that represent the Indian architectural vocabulary.

In an exclusive video interview hosted by CONSTRUCTION WORLD, Brinda Somaya, Founder and Principal Architect, Somaya & Kalappa Consultants, discusses how the environment needs to change sustainably and more...

Excerpts:

Urban conservation: I believe the role of an architect goes way beyond just building buildings. I believe, especially in today's context, that apart from master planning and building a lot of new contemporary buildings, which we do, it is important to conserve, restore, recycle, retrofit the old buildings we have in our country. And we have a large number of those. I think even more after what has happened recently with the COVID-19 pandemic that waste should not figure as a word at all in anybody's vocabulary. So at my studio what we do is apart from building new, we conserve, we also do a lot of social connected projects like rural buildings. Our work spans India, which is so rich in geography, history and culture. And so, it has been exciting doing all these different types of work throughout the country. Each aspect of our work has its own value and the diversity of the practice is what makes it different and unique and for me and the studio.

Impact of COVID: The pandemic has probably affected us in very different ways because of the diversity of our practice and also because of the different stages that each project was in before the pandemic hit us. As far as our studio is concerned, I am happy to say that we anticipated this, so a week before the actual lockdown was announced, we were fully ready to work remotely. We had moved computers to our individual homes and all the data had been organised. And so, for the last over 60 days, we have worked remotely. We divided the team into various sections and connected frequently. Even working remotely, we have been quite good – we made two large presentations and we have been able to prepare a lot of drawings going ahead. Now as far as projects are concerned, there was perhaps just one client who told us they were going to hold the project because of the situation, but they did inform us before the lockdown. As far as all other projects are concerned, they are in different stages of construction in different parts of India; most of many of them are institutional projects, for instance, we are working with the Indian Institute of Management and we are doing a lot of buildings for the Indian Institute of Technology. As these are ongoing projects, they came to a temporary halt during the lockdown but we used this time to complete drawings and coordinate well. Luckily, we had drawing works and tendering works that we were able to complete.

Each project has different problems depending on where they are located and what stage of construction they are at – whether they are still in the design stage, who the client is, whether the client wants to hold it or proceed, etc. We will have to run fast to catch up the time we have lost.

Guidelines to start work: Not only has the government sent out rules, but a lot of the construction and real estate industry has very nicely brought out detailed rule books, which we have circulated among our clients and the contractors, and our team as well. They will have to study this carefully because it depends on the zone you are in, and naturally the rules for each zone differ considerably. We also have to make sure of basic rules, like workers are wearing masks and washing their hands regularly, wearing gloves, social distancing, among others. The client, contractor and other consultants, all have to work together cooperatively and collaboratively.

Change in the built environment: There are a lot of discussions on what has to be built, how does it have to be built, and for whom does it have to be built? Here, I think is where builders also need to reconsider. Unless there is developer support, things will not change. The design ideas have to change too, and developers and builders may be have to build smaller housing but with a space for ability for a desk or a computer.

Everybody has to look at how do you create sustainable materials, how do you look at the manufacturing of these materials, how are they manufactured, what are the materials that are used to manufacture these materials, are there fossil fuel, what fossil fuel do they use to make them, do they come from the earth, are there plastics, and so many such questions?

I personally feel one of the biggest ways to save costs and to save the Earth is to reuse waste. Waste as a word should not exist. We have to retrofit, we have to recycle, we have to restore, and we have to reuse. We cannot just keep breaking down buildings – that is not going to be the answer because they have embodied energy and what exists is just lost when you break down things.

Another aspect is that everything does not have to look like a five-star hotel or a mall. We have so much of traditional and wonderful architecture in our country and we have ordinary buildings, which is fine. There is a beauty in simplicity as well.

Watch the full video to know more on what Brinda Somaya has to say about the environment and sustainability...

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