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Spaces with Natural Habitat

“We need to deconstruct our notion of “sustainable architecture” because it is all around us. People have been building sustainability for centuries and they continue to do so all over. In-fact, informal settlements in Indian cities, those that we pejoratively call “slums”, are in-fact more sustainable than other buildings in the city. This is because they use materials that have been thrown away by us like old bricks, cement roofs, pipes, etc. By saying this, I do not mean to romanticize informal settlements and unequal structural conditions under which people live their lives. Rather, I want to destabilize our understanding of “sustainable architecture”, says Ar. Siddharth Menon, Urban Geographer, Ph.D Student – Department of Geography, University of Wisconsin-Madison


A Scientific Approach to Design – A close relationship and integration with nature and the environment. Can Nature itself be recreated through artificial means? 

This is a heavily loaded question. Today, the idea of science and nature and what is scientific or natural is itself in question. We live in a world where there are GMO crops, where our poultry and livestock are being given artificial stimulants, and all of our crops are being given chemical fertilizers. Therefore, we are consuming more human-made objects as we go along. In this day and age, I’m not sure if anything can be considered purely natural. Even our understanding of nature as forest, biodiversity parks, mountains, etc. doesn’t hold up because all these places have been constructed by human activity. So, therefore what is nature or where is nature is a question that is up for debate? So yes, nature can and is being recreated through artificial means!

A call for an ecological transition – what will happen if there is more extinction and disappearance of plants, animals and others species; its connect to the climate emergency.

Geologist are calling our current geological epoch, the Anthropocene, which is the current time period of the earth that started sometime over the last few centuries with the colonization of the Americas. It is during this time that human activity has impacted the world so much that geologists and soil scientisits can actually witness changes in deep earth soil samples. Hence the different name to signify it. It is worrying time because it has also come about because our deep love and fetish for technomodernism or technological things that accompany the concept of modernity. The Anthropocene is also the time when disasters like the Kerala floods and Uttarakhand floods, cyclones and landslide are occurring more frequently. However, it is important to note that these climatic events do affect everyone in the same way. People at the bottom end of hierarchies of class, caste, gender, relgion, ethnicity, etc are affected more than others. Therefore, when thinking about way to combat the climate emergency, it is important to think about people and their role in it.

Tell me on systematic presence of plants in the urban environment. 

“Nature” has always been part of the city even before the advent of landscape architecture. All our urban landscapes were made with materials like concrete, sand, stone, etc. that was produced in some rural/natural place and then transported to cities and then worked upon. Not only that, but nature has also existed in terms of subsistence agriculture by informal settlements residents in cities like Mumbai. For example, if you travel on the Mumbai suburban railway network, once can see many patches of greens that have been grown by informal settlement residents along and between railway lines. All of these are examples of nature. They may not be the nature that is understood by Indias middle classes, but they still are nature.

What is sustainable architecture: definition, concept and famous examples, both local and global?

For me, sustainable architecture is anything that is built by local people all across the world. People have been building houses for generations. These houses, that we call vernacular in India, are not some static object, which hasn’t changed at all over the year. These houses have been changing and responding to various social, political, ecological, economic, and cultural issues as they developed around them. Hence, we need to deconstruct our notion of “sustainable architecture” because it is all around us. People have been building sustainability for centuries and they continue to do so all over. In-fact, informal settlements in Indian cities, those that we pejoratively call “slums”, are in-fact more sustainable than other buildings in the city. This is because they use materials that have been thrown away by us like old bricks, cement roofs, pipes, etc. By saying this, I do not mean to romanticize informal settlements and unequal structural conditions under which people live their lives. Rather, I want to destabilize our understanding of “sustainable architecture.”

Sustainability, green, eco-friendly, clean…How do we make sense of this constant onslaught of green-washing?

Yes, these are examples of green-washing. Again, these words mean nothing if it doesn’t take care of the people who build, construct, repair, and service our cities. These words in this regard. For example, with the well publicized plight of our migrant workers, how many of our green companies, firms, architects, builders have come out publicly, either with a statement or with some initiatives. Therefore, “sustainability” is being mobilized by levers of global finance. The middle classes are certainly buying into the idea, but the costs are being borne by our most vulnerable and marginalized people.

What are you working on now?

As part of my doctoral research in Urban Geography, I am working on a book about building construction practices in smaller regional towns in India.

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