The following is a documentation of a parallel conversation in response to a panel discussion scheduled for a GRIHA Summit in January 2014. The Panel for the Summit discussion included Architect Mr Hafeez Contractor as well as other prominent industry representatives. The panel was to debate two schools of thought on the theme question. While one school of thought was considered clearly for the motion, a parallel belief, that incorporation of resource efficiency is beneficial for developers and occupants of buildings- and hence does not need incentives for promotion, was also a possible consideration.
It was strongly felt that the issue that the panel would debate was a real one.
The general take on the question for debate in this conversation was against the motion. It was felt that the incentives were possibly going to the wrong people for wrong kind of buildings so they may be just cut out. Also systems like GRIHA should be revamped to make them into a non-market approach to validating well-designed buildings.
It was also felt by some that the panelists representing the builder lobby would have an important viewpoint in this debate, although others felt that this may make views too market-driven and that there should have been representation from the commons. Possibly there is a growing disenchantment of the building business with the kind of architecture professed by some sustainable design professionals. Was the solution to become …Builders? The parallel discussion became quite thought provoking, again with different views on the subject.
One group felt that as few understood the GUBBI offering in theory, the finished buildings will have to speak for themselves. Most of the work of these professionals was not mainstream enough compared to some high profile builder driven projects that were more relevant to the general public.
Others felt that the work that they did would eventually bring about a change in thought and that greater focus in media may help. They felt that influential builder projects were few and most were generally ‘falling off the shelf’ anyway, including projects like Masdar city cutting down its agenda of “sustainability” and ITPlan city completely abandoned in Portugal! Also having a construction company (separate from the architectural business) may not result in being able to build sustainable buildings. Possibly one may fare better as a consultant where one could dictate how one ought to build.
So to effect change in the construction industry should:
A – one take up both design + construction on a larger scale
B- do whatever one can within one’s sphere of influence and push the envelope whenever possible to introduce change (model used by most)
or a third option?
C- start partnerships with builders who are market driven but also have the vision to look beyond the immediate?
It was felt that the latter could happen but was rare and would entail a struggle to find that market acceptability, legal issues, and conventional logic dominate the profession. On the other hand with the first option one may have greater control and even if idea were watered down the authentic essence would still prevail. One could compare this to car designers setting up a factory to give proof of concept of a new type of car rather than having to prove the concept to an investor. Easier to do because walking into a well created space complete is easier to sell than the idea of a space that hasn’t been visualized and will be watered down along the way as well. Experience with Good Earth Homes was a good example in this context.
The above discussion gave various insights into the questions posed. It was thought that the major one was the relationship between the actions of the self and the idea of sustainability. Possibly there is a conflict between the collective and the individual. If so, it could find expression in the conflicts between frugality vs luxury; introspection vs expansion; equality vs polarity; associating vs. asserting; conserving vs consumption… and such others.
All cannot be equally good as builders, thinkers, writers or speakers… or even if we are good, we may not get chances. So, let us do what we get to do, however small and simple it may be. Also one needs to be happy doing things that one considers ‘good’ or ‘useful’ and not worry about changing the world. There is far too much emphasis placed on what we can do with buildings and far too little on what we can do with ourselves. Ultimately all that we do must change human behaviour for the better. Laurie Baker was effective because he did manage to change people’s perception of what constituted a liveable house or building.
The world may be afraid of change, as “normal” people assoicate change with chaos, loss of control and even sometimes a complete shake down. Gubbi may not be doing big things right now but if as a group it is committed to change, then it could strategize what needs change and how to manage it to make an impact so that it makes a difference without it being threatening; at least to start with .
In addition to the various important modes, one certainly needs to affect policy. For that are needed solid arguments directed by our values but based on empirical facts, trends etc. That is the only thing policy will listen to especially when it is not very popular market friendly logic. Its ok if policy does not listen immediately. The logic of history suggests that there are moments when the state is more willing to listen than others. We need to address energy, economics, empowerment and well-being related aspects in a coordinated way through this in the long term. This is not one person’s or paper’s job. In any case a strong, well formulated argument will always be useful even to reach out to the public/clients etc.
As is evident in the conversation, no single path will do. Many have to be attempted and many are needed to do so. The world may not care, but each of our actions matter. Neither the problem nor the potential is with the place alone, but finally, it is with the people who are sensitive. GUBBI is a group of such people.