Building the Future by Looking to the Past
As with many emerging nations, India too has looked to the west for inspiration, resulting in an “architecture of nowhere,’” devoid of identity. YPO member Manit Rastogi’s architectural firm, Morphogenesis — a name derived from the Greek word morphê (shape) and genesis (creation) — sought to bring back this contextual, climate sensitive, sustainable wisdom of the past, into the present. “While the rest of the world is trying to go green, we are fortunate to have a vast tradition of building green that seems to be all but forgotten,” he says.
Buildings are resource intensive and inherently environmentally damaging — consuming 40 percent of the world’s resources and contributing to CO2 emissions in equal measure. Building is inevitable, particularly in emerging nations such as India; it is projected that 70 percent of buildings that will stand in 2050 are yet to be built. Indian architects had always built and designed with limited resources and with a local, sociocultural response to design, the results were often passive solutions, which reduced energy and water dependence and the reliance on mechanical means. As proof that they’re doing something right, Morphogenesis has been ranked five years running as one of the top 100 architectural firms by global ranking firm Building Design.
“I like to think of it as closed-loop architecture,” says Rastogi. “I approach a new building with the assumption that there’s no energy, water or waste disposal available and then find a way of supplying it at close to net zero as possible.”
India is the most populous country on earth with a population of 1.3 billion, and Rastogi sees tackling sustainability as the country’s greatest challenge. “Not just in energy but also environmental, social and financial,” adds Rastogi.
Rastogi has challenged himself to apply the idea of sustainability to large-scale developments, something he believes is the need of the hour. Instead of being helpless bystanders in the face of inexorable urban growth, Morphogenesis has chosen to engage with it actively. The firm has survived four major recessions over their 20 years of existence, so they know a thing or two about sustainability. “We used the downtimes to research and improve our skills, which allowed us to focus fully on delivery when the good times came around again.”
Rastogi and his co-founder have refined a practical passive design approach that they apply to each new build. A sustainability overview takes the Energy Performance Index (EPI), a measure of energy consumption per square foot, per year, into account. The typical urban building in India functions at an EPI of 200; the green building benchmark is set at 140. Morphogenesis has achieved an EPI of 25 for a fully air-conditioned development of 20,000 people — 75 percent less than the green benchmark. ‘Identity’ measures the success of a project based on how much exposure it gets from awards and publications and ‘Livability’ looks at the user experience after completion and if putting users at the center of the design process has indeed succeeded. Everything goes into a proprietary knowledge management system that acts as a repository for what works and helps them continually refine for the future.
“Much of the present urban planning and architecture continues to be ecologically unviable, culturally unsympathetic, and visibly incapable of sustaining the massive growth we see in cities today,” says Rastogi. “We hope our work in India will serve as a development model for the world one day.”
Author Grant Schreiber is the editor of “Real Leaders.”