How to design a sustainable futuristic society? Architects share their perspectives

Technology reigns over the world. Today with machine learning and robotics setting new standards and smart device revolution swaying everyone, therefore, when one imagines a future city it is nothing less than a VFX heavy shot from a Sci-Fi movie. Whether the imagination will become fruitful or not is a question but the predominant concept that needs to be embedded in the future is a sustainable smart city. 

To delve deeper into the concept, AnimationxlXpress’ Architecture, Design and More (ADM) Summit’s had a panel discussion on “Designing in/for/with Society. ” The eminent panellists included Boston based Studio Chahar  principal architect Yasaman Esmaili; PVP College of Architecture, Pune urban designer and director architect Prasanna Desai; Kumar Consultants, Architects, Bengaluru founder and principal Leena Kumar; National Institute of Urban Affairs, New Delhi professor Debolina Kundu. The panel was moderated by School of Architecture, CHRIST, Bengaluru director, design principal and professor Vijay Narnapatti.

To transform the picturesque city, it is essential to understand the people living in the city. Today we live in a society which is dominated by the growing middle class which was not there in the last century as per Kundu. And this emerging class is also informed and aspires  to have a better quality of life. Due to heterogeneous features of the society and lifestyle, the standard of living and the idea of an ideal city vary from person to person. She pointed out that today a lot of gentrification is happening where the slums are pushed out of the city so that they don’t get the foothold in the center of the city. At the same time, “we have a rising demographic dividend (rising youthful population) which needs to be nurtured and skilled. If we are unable to provide education, healthy surroundings and employment, then the demographic dividend will convert into demographic disaster,” Kundu added.

Another important trend Kundu pointed out is  that the emerging youth population choose to live as nuclear families over joint families and therefore there is a high demand for housing units and it will grow even more in the coming years.

At the same time, in developed countries, especially in the southern regions, an increasing trend of old age population can be noticed.  It is true that the type of homes a youth will require might not be the same for a senior citizen. With time the life expectancy has increased and the feature priorities of homes are different as per age group and it will rise further and thus architects need to think while designing and planning the cities as per the demographic need.

“According to the 2011 census data, there is an increasing trend  of peripheralization which really means that the population is shifting from the core of the city to the periphery. These are the people who commute to the center of the city and then they go back,” Kundu shared.

For a better future it is essential to have more engagement with the society, policymakers, Niti Aayog, stakeholders who are involved in the process, program management unit and so on. “Unless and until a dialogue happens between them and society at large, things won’t work out in the desirable manner. When ideas are being formed, they can be shared and discussed  ad it also brings exposure to the process,” Kundu opined.

On one side clientele requirements are necessary to tap on while designing a project, and on the other side it is also important to tap into the economical and health standards of the city. “If we are talking about society and people, I will set the base of health at the top most priority followed by the economy. Cities should become healthy, livable and enjoyable and the economics comes along with it,” Desai shared.

When the projects are designed as per the requirements, families enjoy their living. Desai cited an example of the BSUP project where every house was made as per the needs of the family within the framework that was set up. Every single house is occupied and hasn’t been resold either. Currently everyone is staying there.

Desai added, “There are policies but they need to be implemented. People’s participation is low and when it comes to projects, people’s participation is extremely superficial. Someone needs to be involved to make people involved in projects.” He also shared that a lot of NGOs are involved for the basic rights of fresh drinking water, sanitisation, hygiene and so on whereas it is the actual job of the professionals. When it comes to discussion of the projects, people’s involvement along with their professionals is crucial.

Getting people involved means getting time. There are projects which need to happen overnight and people’s participation doesn’t happen overnight. Desai cited an example that during the “Jnnurm BSUP  slum upgradation scheme, every evening for almost two to three months we were sitting with the slum dwellers and trying to negotiate with them. Whereas the local corporator will announce that the construction will start within the next 15 days to one month but it took one full year before the construction actually started. Negotiation is a long process, people’s participation is a must then acceptability levels go up. We need to first take people under confidence. Policies are currently made first and then people’s participation happens.”

Kundu also shared, “People in the centre of policy planning assume real importance but when we review the policy in programmes of the government of India or the state level, we do find that people’s participation are important pillars of such interventions. GOI passed the 74th constitutional amendment act in 1992 to decentralise urban governance and also to bring people’s participation at the center of local governance to the formation of committees. Jawaharlal Nehru Urban National Renewable Mission went further and tried to mandate the formation of the area sabhas below the committees. Praja foundation 2020 study said what was intended did not happen. There is actually a disconnect between what we desire and what actually happens on the ground and that is one of the important hurdles which we need to overcome.”

Also, if we really want to study the health of a nation, it is essential for us to study the institution of a nation and that will tell a lot of story about the country. If we look at the institutes, we get to know how the profession is doing in the society.

“The role of an institute is to bring people together, to come to a common ground on what really is an important aspect of planning, and it can be a very strong point to propagate ideas if we look at planning,” added Kumar. 

Proper sustainable infrastructure includes everything from important design calls to decoration. Decoration comes second and design comes first because a perfect design can  solve many problems that we are living in whereas decoration enhances the beauty of the place and makes it more livable. So therefore when a client comes with a small budget to build up a housing unit, here is where professionals need to prioritise the basic features of a sustainable housing unit rather than interior decoration. 

With the wonder of design magic anything and everything is achievable. “We live in a much more connected world and how we can be connected and share data has transformed people’s thoughts all around the world. It has also changed the idea of equity and people are more aware of their rights. It is important to involve more people while planning a society for them to live in,” Esmaili highlighted.

The panelists also highlighted that rather than creating a smart city, it is important to enable a city with smart features enabled. The professionals should also focus on how to reuse water, transform old furniture into new one, use of solar and wind energy and so on for a picturesque future city.