Saturday, 12 December 2009

Built Environment and Biodiversity

(This paper, "Architecture and Biodiversity in India:A Context to Aesthetics in Our Times", was presented to PAITHRUKAM 2004:  Seminar/Workshop on Aesthetics in Indian Architecture:  Past, Present and Future, at MES College of Architecture, Trissure, Kerala. This is Part 2 of the paper.)

Built Environment and Biodiversity

WE THINK OF ARCHITECTURE HERE, also, because it is major consumer of energy that affects ecology in a major way, and modifies environment through its six design fields. Architecture is no more “a plot and a monument”. The scope and context of architecture has widened with environmental awareness. Here we consider architecture as “built environment”, which has six design fields: Product Design, Interior Design, Architectural Design, Urban Design, and Town planning, now added by Regional Planning. Any of these six design fields have bearing on all other fields, which include land, water, air, and biotic and abiotic nature. These could be verified in any example at any place and time.  
   What legacy the Industrial civilization has given us? We know that industrial civilisation only takes from the earth but never returns. We may generalize it in brief. About 10 percent people of India may have made it theirs. They rule and force others to accept it (Industrialization). It is not a willing acceptance or by understanding it. It has left increasing gulf between the educated (now armed with computer education) and the illiterate, the rich and the poor (includes those below poverty line and the starving, the unemployed whose skills are redundant in industrial society and the educated unemployed).

      Yet in spite of environmental and ecological degradation all is not lost in India. There are a large percentage of people that still remains outside the folds of industrialization.  There are still a number of social and cultural sub-groups who are not trapped by the cult of monoculture. These diverse subgroups have their kinship with biodiversity in their regions. Their languages, culture, life-supporting skills, traditional wisdom, and of course architecture — vernacular architecture, are akin to the biodiversity. There are fifteen regional languages recognized by the State, leave aside fifteen hundred vernaculars, and as many bio-regions and as many “styles” of vernacular architecture.

      The ruling minority has made persistent efforts to colonize them or to bring them into its web of economy, education, planning, law and institutions but they have remained outside. Are they defiant in spite of being a weaker section or is the system not keen? It is perhaps both. The system has failed them again and again though no one will want to admit it. It is happier in self-gratification. In such a situation the people – the masses – become easy target for attacks by either the State and the power mongers or the terrorists.

      We fail to recognize even at the turn of the last century in the historical context, if not democracy, that no person or a group has any credibility without people. There is no credibility for any brand – economic, social, religious, political or any other – without people. We mention religion not with any bias but it is our mindset, irrespective of rites, rituals, castes, sects, creeds, or superstitions.

            It is a historic flux. We are parting our ways mentally, morally and culturally from nature and the living traditions, while dilly-dallying between old and newfangled ideas. We easily begin by falling for commercial brands issued in attractive packages and with compulsive justifications through multimedia and propaganda in the name of information and communications, and market economy. Leisure, for example, is free for anyone, but now it comes as entertainment industry with a price tag of money, time and health. We are indeed destitute in time by being helpless, complacent, or contented, or irresponsible to the society at large and the posterity.

No one ever needs to justify needs

            In such a state, we – individually and collectively – have only one option left to our discretion. It is to sift, screen, scrutinize and select between the needs and wants: personal, social and beyond personal. While the needs are permanent, universal and timeless, the wants always remain transient, temporary and passing fads. No one ever needs to justify needs. But the wants, now and then, need justifications. Manufacturers and traders tell us what we must want and have. Architects are not far behind them to advocate through their products and designs to tell people how they must live in a mass society. This is a joint venture to make people opt for the ways of industrial society.
      All products (and ideas) supplied and sold, or even donated, by the industrial society in the name of needs, wants, conveniences, philanthropy or altruism, must be tasted in the laboratories of environment, ecology and energy for health of man and nature, and scrutinize their price, cost, benefit and value. But it may not be our priority, not being a profitable venture.

      Science, religion or philosophy, unless responsible for the sustenance of all the living beings, may remain a dead irrelevant matter. In spite of all the glamour, the Einstein and the Nobel Prizes are irrelevant, even irresponsible to the large majority of the needy. Perhaps that is why mythologies have lasting value for people. Sooner or later we, and the future generations, may even loose them, or get them distorted.  Why does an arrow (archery) have a symbolic meaning and not the ICBM? Why does ‘Hermit’s Hut’ come in the discussion on architecture? Is there any example of mythical value in the modern architecture?

            Modern architecture is a by-product of industrial revolution, and is born in city. A city has always been a symbol of power. In modern times, metropolitan city has emerged not only as a symbol of unlimited centralised power but also as a parasite on the planet. It has extended its footprint beyond its physical boundaries of sovereign states for its sustenance into the regions near and far. It extends even beyond the sovereign state and beyond continents. This (globalization) does not mean that any place should adopt the dictate of International Style of architecture. It is not obligatory.

            Regional planning becomes a pressing problem in India due to the accelerated mechanization and industrialization, migration of peasants from their homestead and the neglect of hinterland, large population and biological diversity of the country. We must note the difference between the conditions of developed countries and India. In the West the urban population is about 80%, while in India it is about 30% that includes a large number of slums. In 1890 almost 30% of entire US population was living in the cities.

      Environmental awareness has brought up the grave issue to the fore of destruction of biological diversity and the need to conserve it. It is time now for architecture or the built environment to bring biodiversity into its discipline. Or revive itself in the realms of biodiversity instead of becoming an instrument or expression of inequity and exploitation of people, land and waters. This revival, having sufficient understanding of the Indian agrarian society, should bring forth the ethical and new aesthetic values; their roots are already in the land and her people. 

PRESENTATION to this paper: Man and Nature (Within and Outside)

To be continued
See the link to previous post: Garden under a Glass Cage… 
Author: Remigius de Souza
14 OCT 2004
© Remigius de Souza, all rights reserved.

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