This Change Can Help 17000 Architecture Grads Transform India’s Homes

About 17,000 students graduate from India’s architecture colleges with deficient skills to design environmentally responsible buildings. But here are some solutions to that.

What does it take to construct a building? Designing dynamic spaces like these requires individuals who work with their hearts, heads and hands while listening with love to the earth, the climate and the thoughts and needs of the diverse people and other living beings co-existing on our planet. A building after all demands landscape alteration, resource extraction, waste disposal, besides, continual resource exploitation during its lifespan to meet energy demands and other requirements of individuals who inhabit the space.

For instance, air conditioners — one of the most energy-intensive, momentary comfort providing and injustice perpetrating innovations by humankind, dominate most structures inhabited by monetarily privileged families in India. Did you know that a typical split-unit AC in India consumes the energy required to run 24 ceiling fans? Imagine the energy consumed by entire buildings of air-conditioned houses during their lifespans, besides other requirements.

India is yet to build 70% of the buildings that will exist in 2030. If we continue with our current building design practices, the demand for ACs will increase exponentially.

Jharia coal mine in Jharkhand
Jharia coal mine in Jharkhand; Pic source: Greenpeace

Given the climate emergency we are living in, socio-ecologically sensitive building designs that incorporate passive cooling strategies—building design strategies that improve indoor thermal comfort with low or no energy consumption—among other sustainable aspects are non-negotiable a need of the hour. However, one wonders if the present architecture education system is equipped to handle the task at hand.

State of architecture education in India

Based on our research, less than 25% of India’s top 55 architecture colleges that cater to 2,888 architecture students each year offer courses that include energy efficiency or sustainable design knowledge in the syllabus.

Furthermore, what they include is only three to four courses, out of the 72 courses over the bachelor’s degree course, that require students to think of the environmental impact of their designs. Overall, less than 5% of the curricula of India’s architecture colleges are related to the environmental impact of the buildings they will design. Scaling this number to the full magnitude of the number of students graduating from India’s 423 registered architecture colleges leads to a startling conclusion.

About 17,000 students graduate from India’s architecture colleges with deficient skills to design environmentally responsible buildings.
Thus, even if the exceptionally visionary Indian Energy Conservation Building Code (ECBC) by the Bureau of Energy Efficiency (BEE) becomes mandatory today for all new buildings, which will curb the AC demand significantly, presently there isn’t enough workforce that will be able to adequately handle its implementation. The work is filling this formidable gap between policy, knowledge and on-ground action/uptake.

Given the current scenario, even training architecture student’s directly is insufficient. The magnitude of this problem is so vast that capacity building of professors within India’s architecture colleges (those that also teach air conditioning design) themselves are required to share sustainable design related knowledge and to cultivate socio-ecological sensitivity among students. This effort must be institutionalised through curricula change. Here’s some food for thought on why we need to rethink architecture pedagogy.

How will my students learn v/s how will I teach

Kolbs cycle
Kolb’s cycle; Pic source: link

Our experience with architecture colleges over the years indicates that architecture education in its present form does not cultivate empathy for the climate crisis and its social injustice based roots. This leads to a largely inorganic, abstracted, mechanistic approach to building design. Further, predominant ‘teaching-centric (as opposed to learning-centric) pedagogy techniques do not foster an intuitive understanding of sustainable design principles thereby continuing to perpetuate amongst students the dominant view that conventional air conditioning is imperative for the thermal comfort of occupants.

Students are not exposed to skills related to sustainable Heating, Ventilation, and Air Conditioning (HVAC) systems in building services.

David Kolb in 1984 introduced the Experiential Learning Cycle (ELC), emphasising the benefits of ‘learning by doing’. According to Kolb’s learning cycle, an individuals’ learning experience can be enhanced through four processes — namely, Concrete experience, Reflective observation, Abstract conceptualisation, Active experimentation.

To explain this cycle in simple terms — an individual who is part of a new experience can reflect on this experience, formulate abstract ideas based on their reflections and learnings and experiment with these in real-world situations. The cycle of learning continues as the individual is again exposed to new experiences as they apply their ideas, reflect on their outcomes, conceptualise new ways to deal with learnings that emerge through this process and continue experimenting again. Learning outcomes are gradually enhanced as this cycle continues.

In the context of architecture, therefore, students should be exposed to such learning cycles to support their journey towards contributing to a just world.

Empathy can ignite the fire to design with care. Care that is visible through buildings that minimise energy consumption in their lifetime, cater to the comfort of those living in these spaces and are also mindful of the health of living beings outside these spaces.

The ‘Academic Curricula Integration Project’ (ACIP)

Solar Geometry Teaching Aid Kit
Solar Geometry Teaching Aid Kit

Recognising the need to curb the socio-ecological atrocities perpetrated by the current architecture education system in India, we at cBalance curated the ‘Academic Curricula Integration Project’ (ACIP) within our FairConditioning program in 2015. This project focuses on working with architecture colleges to support cultivating heads, hearts and hands that contribute to socio-ecologically sensitive building practices. Unlike current government and market-transformation programs (including green buildings certification), which use end-of-pipe thinking, the ACIP is a beginning-of-pipe program that deconstructs the issue where the hegemonic idea of air conditioning-as-default is born.

We have embarked on a pedagogic intervention journey in pursuit of ecologically responsible and socially equitable reconceptualisations of thermal comfort for all rights-holders in society and not merely those with privileged access to ACs. Motivation building, critical thinking, and skill-building related pedagogy for students that make sustainably cooled buildings inseparable from responsible architecture are how this program solves the heat problem.

One of the few principles guiding the ACIP is the principle of invisible and ‘integrative’ curricula change as opposed to ‘additive’ curricula change (i.e. not adding a new course on environmentally responsible architecture, etc).

This supports ensuring that sustainable concepts are not viewed in isolation but are rather considered an inextricable element of building design. Horizontal integration of sustainable cooling-related knowledge is facilitated so that knowledge gained from ‘taught’ subjects manifest in design studios too.

Through our workshops designed to enhance sustainable design pedagogy skills amongst architecture professors to encourage activity-based learning processes amongst students, professors are supported in seamlessly integrating sustainability aspects in their lesson plans. Our program’s contents are co-created with teachers and not ‘for teachers’ in solidarity with them and their predicament.

Developing a learning-centric pedagogy where the generative theme is ‘how can my students learn this’ vs. ‘how will I teach this’, necessitated co-creating of knowledge products with professors and other experienced members in the field of sustainable building design is essential.
A Massive Open Online Course (MOOC) encompassing building physics and Sustainable Cooling Technologies or the Sustainable Cooling Pedagogy Handbook for Architecture and Engineering are some of the products we have worked on so far.

Few of these resources are available on our website and contact details for others can be explored, too.

With this, we’d like to encourage you to reflect on your pedagogy techniques and reach out to us, if you need support in your sensitive architect mentoring endeavours.

As Kolb once stated, “Learning is the process whereby knowledge is created through the transformation of experience.” Let’s create spaces for budding architects to experience, reflect, conceptualise and experiment with ideas for positive change. Let’s work together towards creating spaces of comfort and hope and battle climate change through architecture that is sensitive to a socio-ecological point of view.

(Feature image source: link; Written by Vivek Gilani and Vinita Rodrigues; Edited by Yoshita Rao)

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