Students Aswini T. and Pawan K. interview Dean Emeritus Prof. KT Ravindran about sustainability, emerging technologies and the future of our cities.

01 October 2016

Expert Talk

Everything is about time and pace. One quick construction means you are going to consume more energy. We have to draw an optimum line with the help of sustainable practices.

Prof. KT Ravindran is Dean Emeritus at the RICS School of Built Environment. He was previously the Dean, Professor and Head of Urban Design at School of Planning & Architecture, New Delhi for over two decades. He is also the Founder and President of the Institute of Urban Designers - India, a professional association of qualified urban designers.

Prof. Ravindran is also on the academic boards of a number of universities in India and teaches classes such as ‘Urban Morphology’ and ‘Humanizing Cities’. He is now nominated as Member of the Advisory Board for the United Nations Capital Master Plan, a five member committee drawn from around the world, advising the Secretary General of the United Nations on the ongoing UN project in New York. 

1.    What is your interpretation of sustainability? 

The general interpretation is that we use the resources in such a way that we don’t exhaust them but we keep them for the next generation. I think as long as we can allow nature to continue its self-regenerating mechanisms, then we are living in a sustainable environment. For example, air and water has its own self cleansing abilities, but if we do it more than it can self-regenerate then we are damaging that cycle of regeneration. This is how I interpret sustainability.

2.    What can be done to implement sustainability into built environment?

Many things can be done, firstly the way in which we use land intelligently without damaging the land resources which already exist. Secondly if the materials which we use have the capacity to go back into the ground, then that’s a sustainable material. If materials like plastics which cannot be absorbed into the natural systems, then it is certainly unsustainable. So we have to aptly choose the materials that we consume.
Energy consumption is another important parameter in sustainability. We should strive to achieve reduction in embodied energy of materials.
Finally, building waste should be 100% in-situ recycled.

3.    How important is sustainable design right now for the developers in the country and how can municipal corporations embed sustainability in their functioning?

Every project is subjected to some kind of regulations. In our country we are still developing the regulatory mechanisms. If we can comply with those mandatory regulations, we are moving in the right direction. Large projects are subjected to EIA assessment to ensure that there is no harm caused to the environment. Self-regulation of developers is very critical for making sure that sustainable practices are successfully implemented. There are many ways in which the construction industry needs to be educated about the way they produce. By enforcing regulations such as not giving permission for buildings to be constructed on a lake even if the lake is shown as dry, municipal corporations can enforce sustainability in their functioning.

4.    How can sustainable construction and development impact the economy and social structure?

On a general perspective, sustainability has a positive impact on the economy as it reinforces the natural resources which are available. Once we become richer in resources, the economy will grow. Very often social systems are built around the available resources.

There is an inter-link between the resource availability, economy and social structure. The link is very direct with the environment. Link of environment to livelihood and link of livelihood to social structure is also very direct. For example, change in vegetation bought by expansion of city has led Kashmir which was once famous for its silk production to now import silk from Japan and the people who were producing silk are now working as taxi drivers.

5.    What are the linkages between architectural conservation and sustainability in built environment?

Architectural conservation and sustainability are very directly linked. For instance, if you look at the old cities in India, they are compact settlements which were built using the natural materials.

People were working, living and recreating in the same area. They did not require mechanised transportation. The economy was rolled into one. The energy consumption was minimum and it was a much more sustainable system.

Buildings were built close to each other so that they cast shadows on each other, and reduced the radiation of heat. It made people live together and they created a healthy social structure. In many ways the old cities were very sustainable systems. Today we are talking about mixed use and reducing energy consumption, but all these were already practiced in old cities. So there is a direct connection between architectural conservation and sustainability.

6.    Do you think technology helps in developing sustainability? 

Technology is a neutral thing, it’s not something that comes and does something to you. Either you do something to it or something with it. It’s only an instrument and based on how well you use it, it can be sustainable or unsustainable. For example, it takes 3.5 hours to travel from Shanghai to Beijing in a bullet train and it must be consuming huge amount of electricity to make that machine run so fast, the question is do we require that speed?

Finally it comes to the ultimate question of time, it’s a problem of time. For example, Lord Shiva holds the damru in his hand; the damru is keeping the pace of the universe and Shiva’s dance which is a dance of destruction is regulated by that pace. Destruction and regeneration is one cycle, the pace of this cycle is kept by this damru. Drawing a direct parallel towards speed, damru divides the time between one knock and another knock. As you increase the pace, the time shrinks and if you shrink time you consume more energy which means you destroy more. We are on the path of destruction. So everything is about time and pace. One quick construction means you are going to consume more energy. We have to draw an optimum line with the help of sustainable practices.