Home is not a one-time sustainable approach: Sonali Rastogi

[] In a world struggling with environmental degradation, we need to revisit traditional Indian architecture and use locally available materials for construction, to build a sustainable future, says Sonali Rastogi, founder partner of architecture firm Morphogenesis

Sonali Rastogi is founder partner of Morphogenesis, an award-winning architecture and urban design firm, whose aim is to build a global discourse on contemporary Indian architecture. The firm has been ranked among the top 100 architectural design firms worldwide, for the sixth time in a row, by Building Design Magazine, UK in 2017. Rastogi completed her architecture studies at The School of Planning and Architecture, Delhi. She was also associated with the Architectural Association, London (where she studied housing and urbanism with George Fiori) and the Design Research Lab with Jeff Kipnis, before starting Morphogenesis in 1996 with Manit Rastogi, who is now her husband. Today, the firm, which has 135 people, with work spread across south Asia and Africa, has designed schools, colleges, commercial spaces, art galleries, cultural centres and much more.

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Green living, in metropolitan cities

In metropolitan areas, where people generally buy readymade homes, her advice is to keep in mind a few elementary aspects, such as the orientation of the apartment. Based on simple principles of passive design, one should remember that north-facing apartments do not get much sunlight and west-facing ones, will overheat the apartment, she points out. Gather information on all the energy data of the building, such as its U-value, the thermal lag of the walls and the insulation, especially if one’s apartment is on the top floor, she advises.

To be aware of the environmental damage being caused from one’s own habitat, one needs to take cognisance of the quality of the materials and the finishes used when buying a finished flat. “For example, if a paint with high VOCs (volatile organic compounds) is used, then, the contamination in the air carries on for five years and repainting it, doesn’t remedy the situation. To keep the carbon footprint low, try sourcing materials from nearby places, rather than trying to replicate something with materials that are available only miles away,” adds Rastogi.

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Home owners can also opt for recycled materials that have high aesthetic value. A home cannot be truly sustainable, if it incorporates a one-time approach towards sustainability, during its construction. One also has to use the home in a sustainable way and maintain it in a sustainable way, for example, by using cleaning materials that are herbal and less toxic, she elaborates.

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Sustainable architecture for the future

“Indian architects of the past, have successfully addressed sustainability, by creating adaptive, affordable, liveable, socio-culturally responsive and visually rich structures, usually, in response to the limited resources of water and energy that were available to them. In a world struggling with environmental degradation, this is a highly valuable skill. The real question is, how can we take what we were really good at and create a model for the future,” she asserts.

It is an assumption that eco-friendly homes/buildings are more expensive to build. Green buildings are cheaper to build and cheaper to run. “We still have the advantage of customisation of crafts and materials, in our country. It is imperative that Indian architects, take a few steps back into the past, to find the inspiration to create a sustainable future. We need to build, in a manner that responds to the climatic needs of the region, while remaining economically viable,” Rastogi explains.

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About Morphogenesis, Rastogi describes it as a living, thriving ecosystem and a repository of data, knowledge and wisdom. “We feel strongly about sustainability, not just in terms of energy, but also environmental, social, cultural and financial sustainability. Over the last two decades, we have had the opportunity to engage with a diverse set of people, culture and climates. This has elicited varied architectural responses from us, vis-à-vis sustainability through passive design and resource optimisation. At Morphogenesis, the philosophy with which we work, is SAIL – sustainability, affordability, identity and liveability,” says Rastogi, who is based in Delhi.

Winning India’s first World Architecture Festival award for The Pearl Academy of Fashion at Jaipur, cemented our faith in our design approach, recalls Rastogi. “In 2014, we notched up another first for Indian architecture, by being named laureates of the Singapore Institute of Architects’ Getz Award,” she adds. Other significant awards include the Architects Regional Council Asia (ARCASIA) Award for Architecture under Public Amenity: Commercial Buildings and the GRIHA Exemplary Performance Award at the 9th GRIHA Summit for the British School in Delhi, in December 2017.

Notable projects by Morphogenesis

  • Pearl Academy of Fashion, Jaipur: This project addresses both, cost and environmental design, as its basic goals. Many elements of this thermally adaptive environment, were borrowed from the traditional passive cooling techniques prevalent in the hot and dry desert climate of Rajasthan.
  • Uttarayon Township, Siliguri: This cluster development has equitable distribution of greenery throughout the site and segregation of vehicular and pedestrian movements. The project incorporates different layers of service systems, along with effective disposal of rainwater, planting of reed beds and sewage treatment plants that allow for the waste water to be reused.
  • The British Council in New Delhi, is a collaborative effort of Howard Hodgkin and Charles Correa. The overall design approach by Rastogi and her team, when redesigning the project, was to make the building more accessible and sustainable. This meant a strong emphasis on the use of regionally extracted and manufactured materials, 30 per cent of which was recycled material, minimal waste to landfill, efficient fixtures for water and energy conservation and measures to improve the well-being of the occupants. Consequently, the British Council New Delhi has been awarded a LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) Platinum rating, under the commercial interiors category by the US Green Building Council, making it the first British Council worldwide, to be certified as USGBC LEED Platinum.

“We construct buildings that consume 75 per cent lesser energy than certified green building benchmarks. Our architecture is rooted in global, as well as local practices, celebrating diversity over homogeneity. Our aim, though architecture, is to build resilient communities by putting the user at the center of the design process,” Rastogi explains.

Rastogi’s own house reflects her beliefs, vis-à-vis environmental sensitivity. It incorporates high thermal mass in the west, earth damping for the basement studios, landscape buffers on the south, high-performance surfaces on the east and a large cavity on the barrel roof, as well as the lap pool, which helps with heat absorption on the terrace. The landscaped courtyard, has earthy elements, daylight simulators and carbon-dioxide sensors.

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Category: Lifestyle

Debora Berti

Università degli Studi di Firenze, IT

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