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  • Writer's pictureSanchi Bhardwaj

Designing Emotionally Resonant Cities: The Balance of Sustainability & Practicality in Urban India

In the ever-evolving landscape of our bustling cities, a topic that demands our attention is the glaring absence of emotional design in the urban fabric of modern India.

The towering skyscrapers and contemporary structures that dominate our cityscapes might impress with their sheer grandeur, but do they truly resonate with our climate, lifestyle, and cultural values? Shouldn't our cities be more than just functional spaces? Should they not inspire a sense of belonging, connection, and bonds with nature?

The rapid urbanization has created architects, who often overlook the essence of 'home', and neglect the importance, of human emotions in design. The concept of emotional design doesn't merely stop at aesthetics. It extends to the very essence of how our cities function.

The sustainable building and living techniques of our ancestors, present the opportunity to create a future that honors our natural existence while embracing innovation. The wisdom of vernacular architecture, with its passive cooling techniques, use of natural materials, and harmonious integration with the environment, offers a very romanticised solution to the problem.

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Who does not like the idea of having a neighborhood designed to capture cool breezes, buildings adorned with intricate latticework that filters sunlight, and green spaces that provide respite from the concrete jungle? But how sustainable is the idea of using ‘sustainable’ building techniques? How relevant is the sustainable way of life considering today's highly accelerated lifestyle and business needs?

Sustainable architecture as is understood and popularised by the ‘purist’ architects has its own shortfalls and challenges which are very practical. It might look like a fancy idea to ‘experience once in a lifetime’ however it fails to catch the interest of the mass population and commercial builders and town planners at large. Probably that is also the reason why this kind of ‘sustainable’ buildings are merely limited to tourist places, resorts, and ‘avant-guard houses’ . There is also an association on sustainable architecture & lifestyle as a ‘poor’ person's house.

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I am Certainly not critiquing the use of natural building techniques. I agree that it offers several benefits in terms of sustainability and environmental impact, but they do present challenges, particularly when it comes to accessibility for the economically disadvantaged.

  • We need to ask ourselves are these techniques readily accessible to every section of society?

  • Natural building techniques often require specialized knowledge and skills. Are they readily available within the local workforce?

  • Natural building methods are labor-intensive and time-consuming. Does it lead to increased construction timeframes? Can we, with limited resources and a perpetual time crunch, afford prolonged construction periods?

  • While natural materials can sometimes be sourced locally, this is true only at places with an abundance of natural resources like villages and farms. What happens In urban setups and multistoried construction sites where the cost of transporting, preparing, and constructing with these materials could deter the use?

  • Natural building techniques may require more frequent maintenance and repairs compared to conventional construction methods. Do the ongoing upkeep costs become a burden?

  • In some regions, building codes and regulations may not recognize or permit certain natural building techniques. Does that create legal and bureaucratic obstacles, particularly for those who are already marginalized?

  • Natural building techniques might not integrate well with existing infrastructure, such as utility connections and sanitation systems. The need to retrofit or adapt these systems to work with natural construction methods could add complexity and cost.

  • And last but not the least of all issues. There are social stigmas associated with using non-traditional building methods because concrete structures are seen as a sign of progress. This perception could result in exclusion or discrimination.

What we have to understand is that sustainability in architecture is a multifaceted concept that extends beyond the traditional notion of using only natural materials. Addressing the challenges associated with accessibility and affordability will require a multidimensional approach that includes skill development, technical support, and policy reforms.

By blending sustainable building techniques with innovations in the field of urban architecture, we can create spaces that are both functional and emotionally enriching. Architects and designers should explore innovative and diverse approaches to sustainability that address various dimensions, including social, economic, and environmental factors.

It is redundant to approach sustainability without acknowledging the need for practicality, affordability, and holistic impact.

Sustainability in architecture and urban planning is a dynamic and adaptable field that must embrace a range of strategies to address diverse challenges. While environmental sustainability is one aspect of it, we need to adopt a holistic approach that considers the unique context, affordability, energy efficiency, social impact, and long-term benefits. We need buildings and communities that are not only environmentally responsible but also socially and economically sustainable.

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As architects, designers, policymakers, and thinkers, it's our responsibility to redefine the urban landscape with an empathetic lens. By honoring our cultural heritage, embracing sustainable practices, and putting people at the heart of our designs, we have the power to reshape our cities into vibrant, livable, and emotionally enriching spaces.

Explore this topic further with:

  1. Urbanized - A BBC documentary about the design of cities, which looks at the issues and strategies behind urban design and features some of the world's foremost architects, planners, policymakers, builders, and thinkers.

  2. The Galaxy Concept of the City, Auroville's Masterplan.

  3. Architect Balkrishna Doshi's philosophy & life's work

  4. Vernacular Traditions a book on contemporary architecture by Aishwarya Tipnis

Please read the concept note for the visual representations here, Dissecting a collage



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