Sustainability is as much about traditions, as about the environment: Yatin Pandya of Footprints E.A.R.T.H.

[] For any architectural structure to be sustainable, it should take into consideration its surroundings, the people it caters to as well as its purpose, explains architect Yatin Pandya, founder of Footprints E.A.R.T.H.

Architect Yatin Pandya, the founder of Footprints E.A.R.T.H. (Environment Architecture Research Technology Housing), is a multi-faceted personality. The author, activist, academician and researcher, has to his credit urban design, mass housing, architecture, interior design and conservation projects. Pandya, who holds a masters in architecture from McGill University at Montreal, Canada, worked with the Vastu Shilp Foundation for Studies and Research in Environmental Design as an associate director, before starting Footprints E.A.R.T.H. in 2008. “Today, we are a team of about 18 colleagues pursuing, research, practice and publications. Environmental sustainability, socio-cultural appropriateness, timeless aesthetics and economic affordability, are the key principles of our work,” says Pandya.

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The need for sustainable architecture

The Ahmedabad-based architect believes that as professionals, one has an obligation to ensure larger societal good.

“By putting the man-made on the natural, one alters the natural landscape and creates imbalances. So, one has to be responsible, to ensure harmony. Moreover, buildings last longer than us and therefore, our mistakes may perpetuate forever. The building industry account for nearly 41 per cent of energy consumption, 12 per cent of land use and a quarter of water consumption, as well as contributing significantly to pollution,” Pandya explains.

Hence, any contextual design, should optimise resources and maximise affectivity. “Sustainability is an inherent dimension of any design, which stems from appropriateness to the milieu – the place, people and programme. Sustainability is about the environment and about traditions. Reduce, reuse, recycle and regenerate are integral to the design and construction decision,” he maintains.

Projects by Footprints E.A.R.T.H

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As a third-year student, nearly four decades ago, Pandya’s housing project design had water harvesting, passive cooling, alternative sanitation and edible landscaping aspects. His work spectrum ranges from designs for ventilation and natural light for slum houses, memorials for corporate pioneers, large spiritual campuses overseas and charity hospices for the terminally ill patients, to mega cultural complexes, as well as interior designs for small homes and luxurious villas.

Pandya has had the chance to restore century-old buildings of Gandhian legacy, as well as modern architect Le Corbusier’s Sanskar Kendra and mill owners’ association buildings.

“We had the privilege to create guidelines for developments in heritage precincts and raise awareness about heritage through writings, exhibitions and souvenir designs. Restoring the dilapidated building of Sanskar Kendra and morphing it into a permanent museum on the city of Ahmedabad and dignifying the Gandhi heritage in Sabarmati Ashram’s premises, have been the most significant, as well as fulfilling projects,” says Pandya, who has been a visiting faculty at the National Institute of Design.

[] ‘Sustainable buildings are needed as much for the industry as for society’

Another project, the Manav Sadhana Activity Centre and Crèche, designed by Pandya in Ahmedabad, had walls created from fly ash, which is less polluting and cheaper. Glass bottles, oil drums, rags, clay bowls and old keyboards were used in several different applications. The activity centre was built with recycled waste materials, sourced domestically. “The informal settlement context of Manav Sadhana project, with the recycling of waste into building components, was apt to reduce waste pollution, empower the poor through value addition and improve housing through affordable and better performing alternative materials,” he explains.

Elements that make up a sustainable design

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Unfortunately, in today’s world, we find more of lip service, in terms of policy, production and popular behavior, he laments.

“Rather than changing the way of life, we are putting onus on gadget efficiency; rather than reducing consumption, we are trying to use and enhance technology to meet increased demands; rather than improving mass transit, we are trying to depend on fuel efficiency,” says Pandya, who has lectured in over 15 countries and won over 35 national and international awards for architectural design and research. Recent recognitions include the UN Habitat Awards – special mention, for ‘Ujasiyu’ natural light and ventilation interventions in slum housing, in December 2017 and the US Curry Stone Foundation Design Prize for sustainable practice, in 2017.

As an architect, one has to consider the sum total of six factors, for wholesome architecture – location, form and mass, space organisation, elements of space making, material and construction and finishes and articulation, he explains.

Pandya offers several pointers, for a sustainable way of life:

  • Use space in multi-functional ways.
  • Choose natural and local materials for finishes and construction.
  • Give patronage to handcrafted and local skills and traditions.
  • Allow natural light and air to be a part of the indoors.
  • Maximise natural insulation.
  • Nurture more greenery, to improve the indoor air quality.
  • Avoid or reduce dependence on mechanised or energy-intensive applications and appliances.
  • Minimise waste.

“Sustainability does not have a set formula or recipe that can applied indiscriminately, everywhere. Therefore, strategies and solutions need to emerge out of contextual conditions,” Pandya sums up.

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Category: Lifestyle

Debora Berti

Università degli Studi di Firenze, IT

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