Rishika Shroff is one such young sustainable environmental design expert who is passionate about creating a holistic environment that promotes sustainable living. A Master of Architecture from the University of Nottingham, UK, Rishika presently works as an associate at Educated Environments (EdEn), a holistic green solutions provider. In an exclusive conversation with Dibyendu RoyChowdhury, she talks about the green building parameters and how EdEn integrates environmental sensitivity into the built environment.
What role does green construction play in today’s architecture?
With the new climate pledges that India has signed on, it has become imperative to reduce the emissions and reliance on fossil fuels. Green construction adds an extra ring of sensibility to the design process, forcing the architect to go an extra step to align new projects to the triple bottom principle, broadly defined as social, environmental and financial sustainability.
Green construction initially revolved majorly around the more tangible aspects related to environmental sustainability, directly impacting energy consumption, water usage, waste and resource management, and so forth. Today these measures are mandatory practices in the green construction world with other principles determining quality of a space — including user comfort, daylight availability and air quality — have become parameters that lay the foundation for a “good” building design.
Green construction has also spread to the allied services and products of the architecture world, with major brands and companies creating solutions that fit into the demands of the green building sector. This surge in products has helped spread the awareness about the principles governing green construction, thereby raising the percentage of the population that works towards a more sustainable living.
The rising awareness of global warming and climate change issues and the knowledge that green building techniques lead to a lower level of greenhouse gas emissions are helping grow green building construction. What are the other green construction activities and trends?
It is great to see increasing awareness for sustainable design. However, climate change mitigation through green building techniques is only one way to respond to shifting scenarios. Adapting to climate change is becoming increasingly crucial for designers. We, at EdEn, believe that it’s increasingly important to induce a change in lifestyle amongst the population through the design of spaces, creating a more holistic environment that promotes sustainable living.
The industry has raised the bar above green construction techniques to combat global warming and climate change. The construction sector had adopted a slew of proactive measures like reducing use of virgin material, encouraging sustainable harvesting of materials, recycling and reusing that support the “cradle-to-cradle” movement as against the cradle to grave analysis, adoption of alternative green sources of energy, reducing waste generation, prefabricated and modular construction and reducing project construction timelines. Innovation in type of design to combat temperature rise and flood risk has also taken centre stage in the design and execution of projects.
Most cost-effective steps towards reduction in a building’s energy consumption usually occur during the design process. What should be the perfect design of a green construction?
The most effective design is contextual to the microclimate of the site. A thorough climate analysis can provide valuable inputs for an appropriate passive design strategy. We often turn to vernacular architecture of the area for clues — be it building form, fenestration design, material usage, indigenous plantation or space planning. For a project in Ahmadabad, we were able to cut capital costs considerably when an initially proposed high performance DGU was replaced by a SGU with an external roller blind to shade the glass. This not only reduced air conditioning load but also the overall construction cost. There is no perfect design that can be replicated and made to function in the same way as on another site. It is important to understand that each design project is unique and has to be started on a new page.
India has three primary rating systems, including GRIHA and IGBC. You are also an integral part of several rating organizations. How important are these ratings systems? Do they have a right approach to sustainability?
Green rating systems are great tools to approach sustainability and the bare minimum that designers should aim to achieve. Issues of energy and water saving, site treatment, daylighting and ventilation are well-addressed through green building certification guidelines. However, we can push the envelope further and look at ways to address sustainable living. Initiatives like carpooling, creating walkable and accessible environments, informative signage and community gardens create a platform to involve the community with the spaces they inhabit. More often than not, occupants of a green building are unaware of the green aspects of the project. Sharing information and communicating with the residents can spread awareness and compel us to ask some basic questions.
How far is your solid waste hauled? Are there good recycling opportunities, or does your waste have to end up in the landfill if you don’t reuse it?
Since the 1980s, passive solar building design and passive house have demonstrated heating energy consumption reductions of 70-90 per cent in many locations. Where does India stand in designing passive solar buildings?
India is so large that multiple climatic zones coexist, each complete with its own vernacular principles of architecture. Passive solar design is majorly used in India to reduce cooling demands in contrast to reducing energy consumption for heating in the west.
Certain cities like Bengaluru and Ahmadabad have taken long strides in passive building design. But most cities are far behind in the use of techniques that reflect their local building typology. For example, the increased need for speedier construction in major cities of India has increased MIVAN construction which is whole structures made of poured concrete. It is a known fact that concrete does not suit our climate conditions and has indeed been the cause for increased “urban heat island effect”.
It is of utmost importance that vernacular techniques of construction, which align with passive design principles, are adopted in more dense urban areas.
Tell us about the landmark green projects you have been associated with. What makes them landmark projects?
We, at EdEn, believe “less is more”. For us, a landmark project is the one where we are able to add maximum value. This may be arrived at through large impact interventions like a louvered façade system that reduces energy consumption by more than 30 per cent or small-scale strategies such as reducing virgin paving material consumption by using waste granite sink cutouts from apartments.
Recently, we have identified a gap in the way green buildings or townships communicate with their occupants. We are often unaware of what goes into the design and working of the spaces we use, and therefore are uninvolved in their proper functioning. Community involvement provides a great opportunity for our design intent to materialize into a successful initiative. We believe small sustainable urban interventions help build responsible communities. Our latest experiment on that front is the urban farming initiative at Rustomjee Urbania, which is designed to involve the residents of the township as well as students as volunteers for the operation of the space.
How is Educated Environments helping optimize energy efficiency and climate-responsive building design from design development stage itself?
Climate-responsive design requires a very strong understanding of the contextual microclimate. Various tools and simulation techniques are used in order to assess the annual patterns of the local climate, only subsequent to which a methodology to address passive design is outlined. We have learnt the importance of a strong methodology from our experience. On various projects, we have worked backwards from a set goal. For example, on a façade optimization project for Infosys, the benchmark was set to 1W/sq.ft. of solar load and every intervention was carried out to meet this goal on the project. This ensures that an appropriate solution is arrived at without redundant or overdesigned solutions.
How does Educated Environments get developers to take a long-term approach to the way they look at sustainability?
We often draw references to the customer engagement pyramid to convey to our developer clients, the different levels at which product value appeals to a customer. Most projects are able to connect with potential buyers on aspects of rational satisfaction, confidence, integrity and pride, mainly achieved through selling points like connectivity, amenities, luxury, specifications, proximal location and so on.
There is still a core “belief” value that needs to strike a chord with a potential buyer. There has to be something that appeals to your faith in a project. At EdEn, we believe sustainability can be this core belief or the USP of a project. When sustainability is imbibed in the “why” component of the project, it automatically rolls into the “what” and “how”. Sustainable thinking must precede sustainable building.