Meet the Initiator: Ipsita Mahajan

Meet the initiator Ipsita Mahajan

Despite all the progress made by humankind, life on Earth is still wholly dependent on its finite pool of natural resources. Today, with a burgeoning global population, that threatens to rapidly overwhelm the planet’s ecological balance, we are presented a huge challenge to very quickly figure out how to stretch the meagre resources that remain and find ways to regain the lost equilibrium before we reach a point of no return.

Living in a developing country, we face on a daily basis, the awareness that there is large chasm in the resources that are available to a privileged few as opposed to a vast majority of our populace. This presents a huge moral dilemma, which perhaps our colleagues from developed countries do not have to contend with at such a close range — how can we deny anyone the right to have the basic comforts that we already possess and enjoy in abundance, in the name of planetary preservation?

This is in a sense, also a reflection of the dilemma which presents itself when we speak of developed and developing global economies.

It is undeniable that developed nations have evolved their economies often at an incredibly high cost to the environment and while today developing economies are fortunate that there are technological advances available at reasonable costs, which would allow us to leapfrog past some of the damaging strategies used in previous centuries, we are still struggling to strike a balance between the need and the desire for development and its effects on the environment.

I believe if we do not find the way to create holistic sustainable development solutions that are effective, economically viable and above all aspirational for the masses, we are going to lose the war to protect our planet.

As architects and engineers in a developing country we are at the frontlines of this challenge. We are tasked to fulfil the agenda of creating housing and providing basic infrastructure – power, water, clean air, rudimentary healthcare and social security to a large segment of our population but we must also find the way to do this in the least invasive manner.

Almost all habitable parts of the globe and in particular, those which have developing economies, already have an abundance of traditional technologies, craftsmanship and materials which having evolved over centuries, are culturally and climatically appropriate and sustainable. However these are quickly being abandoned for the aspirational, glass and steel penthouse in the sky.

We would tend to agree that most traditional architecture is by nature culturally and climatically appropriate but where does this fit into our overpopulated cities?

Should we in fact be pursuing the model of cities? Cities were after all a manifestation of the industrial revolution. Why do we need cities anymore when we are so wired that we can work effectively and efficiently across continents? Now in the information age, with the technological revolution are we pursuing a model of living which is redundant?

Can we think of more appropriate alternates?
Is it time to seek drastically new paradigms for development?

More importantly, even if we find a way to reduce the consumption of resources in undertaking these mass developments, does this mean we have achieved our goals?

Many of us today think that by the very act of constructing an energy efficient, ‘certified building’, we have created a ‘sustainable’ development and we feel good about it, but more often than not, like the veritable crash diet plan which one employs to lose weight quickly, it is an unhealthy fallacy. In fact we definitely need to re-examine the idea that there exists a magical formula for sustainability.

Further, at least to my mind, the concept of sustainability is incomplete if we only speak about the environment and do not consider ‘social sustainability’.

Are we creating truly sustainable developments if we do not take care of all people? If we build elegant, net zero energy townships and business districts with no room for the marginalised, whom we continue to employ to undertake our menial tasks? If we don’t value the lives of workers who construct and maintain our infrastructure, while negotiating dangerous, unhealthy environments on a daily basis? I contend that if our projects are inaccessible, exclusive enclaves then they are by definition unsustainable.

While many of these issues might appear overwhelming and insurmountable, I chose to retain a sense of cautious optimism. For several millennia, which include periods of extreme climatic conditions far worse than the present, this planet and the life on it has survived and thrived. Moreover, humans have also survived through wars, pestilence and famine across the ages and there are still many who live with rudimentary tools and technologies in extreme and hostile climates, largely due to our unique ability to find ways to surmount unfavourable situations.

As architects and designers, we have the innate ability to look beyond things as they are and come up with innovative ideas and strategies for improving lives. If there ever was a period in human history which required us to share our knowledge and collaborate across boundaries, utilizing our skills collectively to find ways to help the planet heal and replenish its resources, it is now!

Time to start Building Sense Now!

Ipsita Mahajan has more than two decades of insight and expertise as a Consulting Architect with leadership roles in Project Management and Development Management.

Adept at establishing and managing unique and complex projects through all phases of the life-cycle, her technical skills have been honed by her all-round exposure within the building industry.

After setting-up an Architectural partnership early in her career; Ipsita drew upon the experience to significantly contribute to the organisational growth and development of a Project Management Consultancy, building a market leader; and now works as a Development Management Advisor to Private Equity Investors in Real Estate in Mumbai while also collaborating with Open Building Research, a highly acclaimed architectural practice at Milan.

Ipsita believes that economic progress in developing nations such as India must work hand in hand with environmental and social improvements to be self-sustaining in the long term. Her commitment to addressing environment, health, safety and sociological issues faced at various stages of the lifecycle of the built environment, is reflected in her work.