Akshat Bhatt Underscores the Principles of Design that Can Pave the Way for a Sustainable Future

Commercial Design

Featured on: Commercial Design

In an era when the urgency of mitigating environmental degradation looms large, the industry needs to pause and reassess key principles of design and construction. Our energies must focus on designing a sustainable future that not only preserves the integrity of our planet but also enhances the quality of life for present and future generations. This imperative calls for a departure from traditional modes of thinking and a reevaluation of how we conceptualise, execute, and inhabit our built environments.

Make the most of what is given to us
Today, there remains a whole world of redundant structures, technologies and landscapes that can yet be transformed into something moving or quietly contemplative, no matter how seemingly naïve or banal. I think it’s fascinating to take something forgotten and give it new life: This is the century of recuperation. There is no space, no forests, and no water for continuously producing new things. So we must learn to take something old and make it special.

The beauty of preservation is that you begin with something that already exists and, therefore, is already local. By definition, a preservation project is an homage to earlier cultures and mentalities to which you can add a new dimension, function, beauty, or appeal.

One of our projects, the Jodhpur (JDH) Urban Regeneration project, commissioned by the Royal Family of Jodhpur and Motherland Joint Ventures, aimed to restore the Walled city to its former grandeur, breathing new life into its invaluable landmarks. The project identified key pathological elements and used them as catalysts for the regeneration process. The first initiative was the restoration of a stepwell that dates to the 9th century, following which nodes were identified, restored, rehabilitated, and assigned functions to represent contemporary India. As part of the project, an old haveli was also converted into a contemporary retail outlet for Forest Essentials. Through the project, we realised that it does not take a lot to breathe life into spaces, making them relevant to contemporary times without burdening the environment with new construction.

Critically Address Our Patterns of Consumption
We must address the way mankind is making the planet uninhabitable quickly. To do this, we must relook at our patterns of consumption and develop innovative solutions that minimise resource consumption.

For instance, at the height of the pandemic, we realised that discarded shipping containers could solve the country’s lack of primary healthcare infrastructure. Made from upcycled shipping containers, the Mohalla Clinics are designed to bring affordable primary healthcare to every neighbourhood in Delhi. The clinics are a prefabricated, easily deployable and sustainable solution to the issue of inaccessible primary healthcare. A typical unit is made of two 20-foot-long containers joined by a central walkway and consists of a reception, a waiting lounge, an examination room, and a pharmacy, making it suitable for routine health checks, testing, and vaccinations. The units come equipped with services, essential interior finishes, and built-in furniture, making them suitable for plug-and-play installation. In this way, we were able to utilise post-industrial waste to address pertinent social issues.

Explore New Materials and Construction Techniques
It is clear that the way we are building now can no longer address the challenges of the future. Architects and designers must make it a point to continuously explore new materials and construction techniques that can benefit the environment and offer a sustainable solution to construction. We must attempt to optimise construction at every step of the way.

At the studio, we have been exploring using Glulam or Glued Laminated Timber from the Mass Timber family. We have recently completed India’s first residence in Glulam, a structural material from the mass timber family that sequesters or stores atmospheric carbon dioxide instead of emitting it, in Vagator, Goa. The design consists of a single linear block composed of 11 glulam portal frames, sitting lightly on the site supported on stilts and retaining walls. By using a prefabricated construction system, we were also able to minimise material wastage and build efficiently on the sensitive site. We hope that projects like this work to popularise the use of sustainable materials in construction in the country.

I believe that by reminding ourselves that we are, through the design of every building, setting up environments for the future, we can cultivate a mindset of responsibility and foresight, ensuring that our endeavours leave a positive and lasting impact on both the planet and its inhabitants. We must collectively work towards establishing principles of design to equip us for the future.