Meet the Initiator: Ashok Lall

Meet the initiator - Ashok Lall

As the developing world across the globe urbanises and modernises at an unprecedented rate and intensity, it will determine our collective future. How we build our buildings and how we structure our cities becomes ever more critical. Business as usual, hurtling towards ever increasing energy intensity in the way we build buildings and cities, is likely to lead us into irreversible climate change.

As architects, urban designers and city planners, we hold the key to the future! NOW is the time for us to change course and leapfrog into a low-carbon city life. In this age of globalization and interconnectedness, the global community of designers-of-the-built-environment will be engaged in changing course. The leaders of these professions will chart the new paths and catalyse the cultures of BUILDING SENSE – cultures that respond to the local climate, learning from established principles of climate responsive design for comfort demonstrated eloquently by vernacular and colonial adaptations – a low-carbon route to well-being, beauty and vibrant, productive living.

The tangible risks follow the desire for cool comfort

The majority of us on the globe live in the warm tropics and our desire for cool comfort is fast becoming the dominant consumer of energy in air conditioning and of increasing GHG emissions. We are falling prey to a vicious cycle. Cities are getting hotter as we build more and more intensively, leaving the remaining land to be claimed by the motor car. The hotter it gets the more air conditioning we demand. The electricity consumed in air conditioning turns into heat in the city, adding to the urban heat island effect……There are ‘modern’ buildings being built in the manner of solar cookers which we then seek to refrigerate! They consume more than 300 KWH of electricity per annum for each square metre of floor space. But we now know that we can meet the need for comfort at one quarter of the building-as-usual energy consumption.

“We can choose our way to a low carbon future”

The good news? The architecture of low carbon building and the DNA of low carbon urban development – the way to the future – is being demonstrated in all parts of the globe. And it is affordable! There is the potential for creative innovation for architecture of intelligent simplicity for sufficiency and comfort. There is the task re-inventing the optimal forms for compact cities. It has to be the expertise of professional leadership coupled with the imagination of designers that can correct the myopia of narrow commercialism on the one hand and, on the other hand, strengthen national and international initiatives by businesses and governments working towards environmental sustainability.
The leading edge of this change towards low-carbon city life will be the solutions for compact affordable housing – integrating education, recreation and commerce into its fabric. Remember the good sense of the walkable neighbourhood? Shade, insulate, ventilate, grow green on the roof, catch the sun for electricity – we can choose our way to a low carbon future. We can return to sanity from the precipice of climate change. It is for the professions of the built environment to lead the culture of BUILDING SENSE NOW.

Ashok Lall, born in 1948, graduated from the University of Cambridge U.K. in Architecture & Fine Arts and obtained the Architectural Association Diploma in 1970. His architectural firm (estd. 1981) is committed to an architectural practice based on the principles of environmental sustainability and social responsibility. The firm has won a number of awards and its work has been published widely. Engaged in architectural education since 1990, he has developed curricula and teaching methods to address environmental issues. He has published many articles and presented papers on environmentally sustainable design and has been an active member of institutions and groups promoting awareness and building competence in sustainable design of buildings. He has been invited to present his work on sustainable design for a developing world at various fora in India and abroad, including UK, Australia, Switzerland, Egypt, Indonesia, Sri Lanka, Nepal, Uganda, Iran, Philippines and Mexico.

He was chair of the Jury for the Holcim Awards for Sustainable Construction, Asia Pacific Region and member of the Global Jury. He is presently Design & Technology Chair at Kamla Raheja Vidyanidhi Institute for Architecture (KRVIA), Mumbai.

He has been consultant to the Swiss Development Agency and the Bureau of Energy Efficiency in India for the Building Energy Efficiency Programme. Here he has participated in developing Energy Efficiency Guidelines for Multi-storeyed Residential Buildings and for the development of Energy Efficiency Code for Group Housing.

His current interest is in developing strategies for sustainable urban development in the context of rapid urbanization. Over the last five years he has designed projects for affordable housing in different parts in the country and researched the potential of resource efficiency and energy efficiency in affordable housing in India. This has resulted in a Position Paper describing the DNA of sustainable housing for the majority urban population of the country. He is actively advocating a correction in the town planning norms and building regulations to secure a sustainable future for the current rapid urbanization in India.

He believes that while the primary responsibility for driving sustainable design for buildings rests with the professions of the built environment, the market for sustainable buildings also requires an aware consumer who can make demands of the designer and the developer. To this end he has made a popular video series called “New Vastu” in collaboration with the Centre for Science and Environment, India.