FuturArc Interview

Mar-Apr 2017

Suhasini Ayer-Guigan

Co-founder, Auroville Centre for Scientific Research
Principal architect, Auroville Design Consultants
by Bhawna Jaimini
 
 

Suhasini Ayer-Guigan is one of the pioneer practitioners of sustainable architecture in India. She moved to Auroville in 1985 where she co-founded the Auroville Centre for Scientific Research. She currently heads Auroville Design Consultants, which has implemented many projects in India over the last 25 years. Over the years, Ayer has devised various technologies to work in remote areas with resource scarcity, which not only look at the built aspect of the building, but also at the postoccupancy scenario to minimise energy consumption. She believes that sustainability will only have an impact if it is linked to frugality.

Ayer was the co-recipient of the Hassan Fathy Award for Architecture for the Poor in 1992, and was co-nominated for the Aga Khan Award for Architecture in the same year. She talks to Bhawna Jaimini about the issues and challenges of sustainability as a concept and practice, as well as its protocols.

BJ: As a practitioner in the sphere of sustainable architecture that goes beyond just the built form, what do you think has changed in this field from the time you started your practice more than three decades ago? How has the perception of sustainability in architecture impacted the practice?

SA: I finished architecture school in Delhi and moved to Auroville, where the challenge was to work with very little resources. I had to work in isolated sites where people lived without access to any services like electricity, drinking water or a sewage system. Apart from the post-occupancy scenario, there were other challenges of designing and building with unskilled labour, poor quality materials, non-availability of steel and cement as well as other resources that we now take for granted. It was an incredible learning experience that had changed my view of the built environment. I began to practise what I call low-input architecture. I didn’t even know the word sustainability then.

I come from a generation that deemed architecture as an individual’s creations. The master architects were celebrated for their sense of design, aesthetics and proportion, and everything else was irrelevant. Architecture was boxed in this thinking for almost two centuries, which was further glorified by the book The Fountainhead. When I read the book after joining architecture school, I felt that it did not take into account the complexity and subtlety of human nature. It glorifies a masochistic view of humanity and, most shockingly, how it symbolised that our architecture will be founded on rape, and not co-creation. The book shaped the idea of architecture for decades. However, in the ’90s, people started talking about climatic architecture—which later became solar passive architecture—and then the word sustainability came into place.

Sustainability, unfortunately, has become a slogan rather than a sensitive approach to built environment. Sustainability is about context, and context is about geography. The geography dictates everything, from the environment and people to food and culture, and even to how human neurological synapses work. The flag bearers of globalisation wants us to believe that humans can be transported from one end of the world to another and can still function without context. But context is imperative and that is why sustainability as a buzzword does not work because we are still looking at it divorced from context.


BJ: What about social sustainability? When we say that a work of architecture is sustainable, we do not take into account the labour issues behind it.
SA: When I say that sustainability is linked to the geography, it is not only about where your building is placed, but also who is doing the building. In India, migrant labour is used for all the construction work without looking at the larger social impact of this phenomenon. The migrant labour is distressed due to the agricultural issues in their villages and they leave behind their community to work in a different region, sometimes for years. They work without any relationship with the developer, the financing agency, the architects and other consultants. All these agencies are already in conflict; they are not working in synergy. They are all working to create a product that can be finished as soon as possible so that the developer can make profits and the financing agency can get the interest and the input capital back.

The weakest link in this nexus is the architect. The architect wants to safeguard his practice by doing the maximum number of projects for minimum payments to give decent wages to the people who are working for him. He is not even thinking about the craftsmen, or rather labour, who is executing his design on-site. He is momentarily shaken with guilt when he sees a pregnant woman carrying bricks on-site but he is not thinking how he can fine-tune his design so that the work done by the labour is of some value. The global capitalist system wants cheap labour, which is a quantitative entity in the bill of quantities. They are no longer individuals but just numbers. If any sustainable approach fails to recognise the contribution of these individuals and only keep looking at energy, materials or other systems, there can be no social impact.

 

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Previously Published FuturArc Interview (Abstracts)

Jan-Feb 2017


Mike Guerrero is perhaps one of the most active personalities in the Philippines’ sustainability front. His design ethos hinges on the principles of good design, and his work is a showcase of intense passion and advocacy on sustainability.

 
   

Nov-Dec 2016


Chitra Vishwanath is an architect based in Bengaluru, India. She is one of the influential architects in making sustainability a household term in India.

 
   

Sep-Oct 2016


Bill Browning is widely regarded as one of the foremost thinkers and strategists in the world of Green design, and an advocate for sustainable design solutions.

 
   

Jul-Aug 2016


Born in Jakarta, Indonesia, Sigit is an emerging architect and urban designer best known for his design projects and research in architecture, urban planning, and environmental and social community movement.

 
   

May-Jun 2016


In her seminal book—Biomimicry: Innovation Inspired by Nature—she described an emerging discipline that emulates nature’s designs and processes to create a healthier, more sustainable planet.

 
   

Mar-Apr 2016


The roots of architect Harrison Fraker’s distinguished career lie in the US energy and environmental crises of the 1960s and 1970s. A key figure in the development of US environmental design, Fraker founded the University of Minnesota’s architecture school. 

 
   

Jan-Feb 2016


A pioneer of biomimicry, Michael Pawlyn founded his London-based practice Exploration Architecture in 2007 to concentrate on solutions found in biology. He was shortlisted for the Young Architect of the Year Award and the Buckminster Fuller Challenge in 2008. 

 
   

Nov-Dec 2015


Madhura Prematilleke, at one point, was seen to be anti-Bawa by some in the architecture fraternity in Sri Lanka. This was a misreading of his position on the well-known Sri Lankan architect, Geoffrey Bawa. In an interview with FuturArc editor-in-chief, Dr Nirmal Kishnani, he explains why the Bawa legacy is complex.

 
   

Sep-Oct 2015


David Orr headed the effort to design, fund and build the Adam Joseph Lewis Center, which was named by an American Institute of Architects (AIA) panel in 2010 as “the most important Green building of the past 30 years”, and as “one of 30 milestone buildings of the 20th century” by the US Department of Energy.

 

Jul-Aug 2015


The Singapore hospitals that Liak Teng Lit has managed as CEO—particularly Alexandra and Khoo Teck Puat—are seen to be game changers in design for healthcare. He is now the chairman of Singapore’s National Environment Agency.

 

May-Jun 2015


Rahul Mehrotra is an architect, urbanist and educator. He is founder principal of RMA Architects, Mumbai, as well as professor and chair of urban planning and design, at Harvard University’s Graduate School of Design.

 

Mar-Feb 2015


Chrisna Du Plessis has been both an articulate advocate and a blunt critic of the sustainability movement, a global thought leader often seen presenting keynotes at sustainability conferences worldwide. 

 

Jan-Feb 2015


Robert Engelman is a Senior Fellow at the Worldwatch Institute, a globally focused environmental research organisation based in Washington, D.C. He originally joined Worldwatch as vice president for programmes and was named president in 2011. 

 

Nov-Dec 2014


Daniel Kammen is an internationally known energy expert, and former Chief Technical Specialist of the World Bank’s renewable energy and energy efficiency programmes. Kammen is a professor at the University of California – Berkeley’s Energy and Resources group.

 

Sep-Oct 2014


Ridwan Kamil is an award-winning architect and urbandesigner who, since September 2013, has been mayor of Bandung city, Indonesia. Dr Nirmal Kishnani, met with Mayor Kamil at the 2014 World Cities Summit in Singapore, where they talked about how being an architect affects his worldview as mayor.

 

Jul-Aug 2014


Considered one of the most influential individuals in the Green building movement today, Jason F. McLennan’s work has made a pivotal impact on the shape and direction of Green building in the United States and Canada. He is a much sought-after presenter and consultant on a wide variety of Green building and sustainability topics around the world..

 

May-Jun 2014

The FuturArc Competitions Jury, by Dr Nirmal Kishnani


Over two days in March 2014, four experts—Adi Purnomo (Indonesia), Sanjay Prakash (India), Vo Trong Nghia (Vietnam), and Nirmal Kishnani (Singapore)—met in Jakarta to decide on the winners of FuturArc Prize and FuturArc Green Leadership Award. The fifth juror—Herbert Dreiseitl (Germany)—joined via teleconference.

 

Mar-Apr 2014


The foundation focuses on capability-building and employment-generating projects and is known for initiatives such as the Design Against the Elements (DAtE) competition, Liter of Light, and the Bottle School project. Since 2008, when he was named a Young Global Leader of 2008 by the World Economic Forum in Geneva, Diaz has garnered accolades and much international media attention to his cause.

 

Jan-Feb 2014


Ada Fung has no easy job. As deputy director in charge of Development and Construction at the Hong Kong Housing Authority, she literally must answer to millions. As of mid-2013, approximately 30 percent of the Hong Kong population lived in flats developed and managed by the Authority.

 

Nov-Dec 2013


No matter what the regulatory level, I believe in voluntary higher-level standards. We have to raise the bar, reward it with incentives, PR and tax credits, and anything we can to keep pulling towards net zero and beyond. I don’t believe in either/or, I believe in both."

 

Sep-Oct 2013

SIR NICHOLAS GRIMSHAW - Architect, by Y-Jean Mun-Delsalle


I certainly love structure, but it’s not the be all and end all of our work by any means. Our architectural solutions evolve out of an investigation and understanding of a project’s programme, the careful balance of elements that make up architecture."

 

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