5 things we learned on regenerative architecture and design in India

WOHA Architects

On the 1st November Forum collaborated with our long-time partner Interface to gather some of the best architects and designers together in Mumbai. We had an exciting topic to discuss: regenerative, net positive design in the built environment; spaces that quite literally rejuvenate, revitalise and revive the environment around them and the people within them.

We were privileged to feature an all-star cast both in terms of panel and audience members. On our panel were:

  • Sanjay Prakash — a deeply respected architect of sustainable buildings yet who manages to remain incredibly humble. You can see some of his work here: http://shift.org.in/
  • Rajat Malhotra — the COO of Integrated Facilities Management at Jones Lang LaSalle in West Asia, who is walking the talk with their new “showcase of the future of work” office in BKC.
  • Karen Lee — lead on sustainability at Interface in Asia and the driving force behind a huge Interface effort to up the ante on regenerative design across the region.
  • Priya Balijepalli — the Market Development Manager at Autodesk Sustainability & Foundation. A water specialist, she helps startups use Autodesk’s tools to ensure maximum sustainability benefit.
  • Dwaipayan Aich — masterplanning lead at the Design Studio at Godrej Properties Ltd, and a keen teacher of the next generation of designers on climate appropriate buildings and planning.

Whilst many insights were shared on the current state of play and what can be done to radically turn the dial, there were a few that really stuck in my mind:

  1. We’re going to need more space, and quick: experts suggest that with the current pace of urbanisation, we’ll need to add floor space equivalent to the whole of Chicago each year in India alone. Chicago is not small. I’ve not been but I’ve seen ER.
  2. With current practice, that’s not going to be pretty, or even possible: buildings use over 50% of the world’s natural resources. The cement industry in India openly admits that there isn’t enough limestone in the country to meet demand at current projections. Buildings also require 50% of the water we use. With water tables dropping and water availability reducing in some areas and becoming more sporadic in others, we don’t have the water to sustain this growth.
  3. Regenerative design is already here: There are incredible examples of water self-sufficient campuses in deserts, 7* hotels designed not to interfere with the thousands of snakes that share the same space, and offices that aim to support our natural circadian rhythms. One audience member shared how crocodiles lived under his office in harmony with his employees. Interface’s Climate Take Back strategy is full of excellent initiatives that aim to make products and their manufacturing sites net positive: from carpet tiles made from raw materials that store carbon to a factory that provides the same ecosystem services as a forest.
  4. But it needs help to be scaled up as mainstream practice: the current inclination is to move pesky animals off the premises, or to maximise the floorspace in a development despite knowing that the water table will not support it in 5 years’ time. It will require a mindset shift in those with traditional concepts of short ROI and limited responsibility. Dwaipayan shared how water-aware residents in Bangalore are helping to drive that mindset shift in developers there by asking the right questions, and policy makers have inspired innovative approaches by outlawing the drawing of water from certain aquifers.
  5. It’s going to need everyone, but no one is alone: Sanjay recounted a story of how one project of his was stumped by one conundrum and simply asked the internet. The global hive mind answered and provided the perfect response. Priya shared how it’s in Autodesk’s interest to help designers to tackle the world’s challenges. And Rajat highlighted how you have to bring each client with you from where they’re at, be that a beginner tackling efficiency or a pioneer seeking new solutions that push best practice to the next level. Collaboration is key, and definitely possible.

We’re excited to see the growth of regenerative design and architecture here in India. Do get in touch if you are too.

You can see the event report here.

Forum for the Future

Written by

We are an independent non-profit working globally w/ biz, gov & others to tackle complex sustainability challenges. Offices 🇬🇧🇺🇸🇮🇳🇸🇬