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Architects, planners, designers discuss impact of climate change on infrastructure

By Dr Mansee Bal Bhargava* 
The School of Architecture and Planning at the Woxsen University, Telengana, organized a conference on Architecture & Design of Built Environment (ADoBE) on 6-7th June 2024 at the Indian Institute of Technology, IIT-Hyderabad. The larger theme of the ADoBE’24 pivoted on ‘Cities Embracing Inclusivity’. 
The subthemes around which the panels were organized involved Design for Inclusion; Dynamic Urbanism; Equity in Built & Urban Conservation; Mobility for All; Resilient Built Form & Infrastructure; and Participatory Governance & Equitable Development. 
My role as chair and of Prof Piyush Pandey's as co-chair was to coordinate the panel on ‘Resilient Built Form & Infrastructure’, which included eleven papers of which ten were presented through 2 sessions. We looked into the concept of resilience, the concept pertaining to the built environment, including the bio-physical context,  the philosophy of planning, designing and developing built environment towards resilient individuals, institutions, communities and cities. 

Resilience as a concept

Resilience is linked to sustained coping strategy from events and disturbances. The concept is applied to individuals, institutions, communities, infrastructure, and cities. 
Like building a muscle, increasing one’s resilience takes time and intentionality besides focusing on core components --connection, wellness, healthy thinking, and meaning which will empower one to withstand and learn from known and unknown difficulties and traumatic experiences (Source: Adapted from American Psychological Association).
Community resilience is the ability to prepare for anticipated hazards, adapt to changing conditions, and withstand and recover rapidly from disruptions. Activities, such as disaster preparedness -- which includes prevention, protection, mitigation, response and recovery -- are key steps to resilience (Source: National Institute of Standards and Technology).
Resilience in the built environment is the built environment's capability to keep adapting to existing and emerging threats such as severe wind storms or earthquakes and creating robustness and redundancy in building design (Source: Encyclopedia).
Resilience of the infrastructure systems (encompassing both built infrastructure such as, buildings, roads, bridges, pipe networks, treatment facilities, etc. and infrastructure services) is the ability of such infrastructure systems (including their interconnected ecosystems and social systems) to absorb disturbance and still retain their basic function and structural capacity (Source: SRIS program, University of Illinois).
Resilient communities have the capacity to identify problems, establish priorities and act. Organization of community events (fairs, clean-up campaigns, etc.) Resilient communities have relationships with external actors who provide a wider supportive environment, and supply goods and services when needed (Source: The Resilience Cities).
Resilient cities are cities that have the ability to absorb, recover and prepare for future shocks (economic, environmental, social and institutional) (Source: OECD). Seven qualities that ascribe resilience in urban environments are, reflective, robust, redundant, flexible, resourceful, inclusive, and integrated (Source: The Rockefeller Foundation and Arup Group, 2014).

My take on resilience

With a rise in the natural and manmade events and disturbances across the world, India is no exceptional. The social-ecological impacts of the events and disturbances alias disaster are reaching their extreme. The disaster here combines both natural and human induced events and disturbances. 
The earthquake, flood, drought, landslide, sea level rise, salinity ingress, glacier melting, avalanche, etc. are considered nature/climate induced disasters; and the war, communal violence, genocide, etc. are considered humanly induced or socially constructed disasters. 
Though we consider climate change as a humanly constructed disaster, its manifestation through the disasters is considered as natural to a large extent. 
The disaster prevention, mitigation, and adaptation towards reducing destruction, displacement and other social-ecological distress are now serious policy issues. The measures in the hands of the government yet look unresolved, unfinished given the misunderstanding and misinterpretation of the problem. 
The prevention measures seek to eliminate the impact of hazards and/or reduce susceptibility to them; the mitigation measures accept that the event will occur and seek to prevent or reduce the impacts; and the adaptation measures can be understood as the process of adjusting to the current and future impacts of the disasters. The convergence of these discourses makes the scholarship of resilience.
The idea of resilience and disaster induced distress go hand in hand. The distress rises from the anxiety for and the lack/delay of access to shelter, livelihood, water, food, education, and more. Thus, the physical distress is intertwined with the mental distress. 
There was more focus on addressing the physical distress as part of immediate relief and long-term resilience, until recently, when mental distress and wellbeing found a pivotal place in the mainstream disaster and distress policies and discourses.
While for long time, the discourse on addressing climate challenges revolved around sustainability, the increase in the frequency and intensity of disasters pushed the discourse to resilience. 
The discourse moved further to the robustness of the society and its institutional system to withstand disaster. Robustness is the quality or condition of being strong and in good condition with an ability to withstand or overcome adverse conditions or rigorous testing. 

Reflection from the presentations 

1. Developing a Climate Responsive Urban Form Model Specific to Urban Areas of Kerala: The study focused on developing a climate-responsive urban form model tailored for the environmental conditions of Kerala and thereby identify design strategies that will enhance urban resilience and sustainability. The case of Kochi was modelled. A crucial comment was made on redoing the already existing urban setup and if there are possibilities of undoing in order to execute the idea and learn for future planning and design of urban forms.
2. Evaluating Retrofitting as a Regenerative Strategy: The study looked into retrofitting in existing buildings to add positive impact to the building and the environment. The retrofitting techniques are applied on an IT office in Trivandrum to evaluate how effective can a regenerative technique be in a retrofitting scenario and to identify its potential in mitigating environmental degradation. 
The study recommended proactive retrofitting to incorporate regenerative systems between building and its surroundings besides satisfy +the net zero petal. The key suggestion was to prepare a toolkit of simple attributes of retrofitting for users and architects for information, education and communication.
3. Appropriate Building Facade for Office Building in Warm Humid Climate - A Comparative Study  highlighted the design of building facades as crucial in regulating indoor thermal comfort and energy consumption. 
It looked at four different facades in an office building in warm-humid climate by evaluating the thermal performance, energy efficiency, and occupant satisfaction associated with different façade configurations. The key suggestion made was to compare the façade design with conventional method of integrating indoor-outdoor spaces.
4. Developing Architectural Interventions to Reduce Heat Stress of Football Stadiums in Warm and Humid Climate - Case of Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium, Kochi: The study aimed to develop architectural interventions in mitigating heat stress within football stadiums. DesignBuilder software was employed to simulate the impact of the retrofit on temperature and humidity of the Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium, Kochi. The study presented a compelling case for the potential of retrofitting strategies to improve thermal comfort in challenging climatic conditions. The simulation tool is suggested to be applied to more buildings and make professionals aware of its availability. 
5. Creating Earthquake-Ready Cities: Inclusive Development through Resilient Infrastructure: The study underscored the importance of earthquake-resistant design principles in urban development initiatives. 
By explaining specific vulnerabilities and potential damage scenarios, it identified critical areas for intervention to enhance the earthquake resilience of built forms and infrastructure. The role of community engagement and capacitating is considered crucial as a planning process for earthquake preparedness. The key suggestion was to prepare a toolkit of attributes (design principles) for community information, education and communication.
6. Investigating the potential of Alternate Building Envelope Techniques for Naturally Ventilated Buildings in Tropical Climate: A case of Vijayawada, India: The essay explored the alternatives for building-skin to enhance energy efficiency in buildings as closer to the naturally ventilated buildings. It takes the case of thermal comfort as a case of energy efficiency in selected residential buildings in an institutional campus at Vijayawada. 
The findings highlight the material selection and design strategies in optimizing thermal comfort. Green roofs, fly ash brick walls, and advanced fenestration technologies emerge as effective solutions for reducing energy consumption and enhancing indoor environmental quality. The key suggestion made was to compare the contemporary façade design with conventional method of integrating indoor-outdoor spaces.
7. Rooftop Solar Programme as a step towards Sustainable Urban Lifestyle: A study of Ahmedabad, Gujarat: 
The essay looked into the installation (and not) of rooftop solar panels in the houses of Ahmedabad. It takes people's perception to understand the challenges and opportunities of installing (and not) rooftop solar panels. 
The key suggestion made was to also include the challenges of solar panels from environment perspective, especially the afterlife and circularity of the material.
8. Landscape Evaluation of Roundabouts: Case of Visakhapatnam: The essay talked about the role of landscaping of the roundabouts in traffic management. The study of the roundabouts of Vishakhapatnam showed that landscaping of roundabouts improves the safety of passing commuters, enhances air quality, and adds to the locality's aesthetics besides reducing the number of conflict points and eliminating traffic signals from road intersections. The key suggestion made was to integrate road design into the landscape element of junction design. 
9. Sustainable Urban Development- Integrating UHI Mitigation in Developing Low Carbon Neighborhoods in Chennai Metropolitan Area: The study looked into high density neighborhood (ward) in Chennai Metropolitan Area to understand mitigating the urban heat island (UHI) effects and lowering carbon emissions. 
It established a significant relationship between built up density, population density, carbon emissions and urban form, green spaces, energy consumption. The key suggestion made was to compare the high-end neighborhoods with the compact dense neighbourhoods to understand better where is the need to cut the development costs and the carbon emissions. 
10. Eco-Urbanism: Integrating Urban Ecological Commons in Urban Design for Resilient and Sustainable Cities: The essay highlighted urban ecological commons as crucial urban design attributes toward sustainable, resilient, and equitable cities. Ecological commons encompass a range of green spaces, parks, wetlands, community gardens, and green corridors, which if integrated with urban development can contribute to restoring biodiversity, ecosystem services, and human well-being within cities. 
The key suggestion made was to integrate this crucial approach in architectural pedagogy where the idea of commons is still vague, for example, water, forests, biodiversity are still excluded from architecture and planning education.
11. Resilient Dwellings: Ethnographic Exploration of Tribal Architecture in Disaster-Prone Regions: The essay underscored the significance of tribal architectural approach in materials and methods as a learning for enhancing resilience in present day-built environment. The goal for resilient built form and infrastructure is to prepare for difficult situations, assist people in enduring stresses, and to be 'elastic' enough to quickly regain functionality as the adversity subsides. 
The study looks into cases of, Bodo tribe in Assam, Garo tribe in Meghalaya, Santhal tribe in Jharkhand and West Bengal, Kutchi Rabari tribe in Gujarat, Lepcha tribe in Sikkim, and more. The key suggestion made was to develop a matrix of the materials and methods and document the work into a manuscript. 

Reflection on resilience 

The presentations touched scales from building to neighbourhood to city touching the intersectionality of shock and comfort through adaptation in the changing climate. 
Most topics looked into the current building and planning approaches while seeking solutions in them and through them, except one on looking into the tribal architecture. Addressing the concern of ‘Heat’ dominated across the topics which is a clear sign of rising temperature in the climate change. 
There was a serious discussion on role and responsibilities of architects, planners and designers in sustainable development and building resilience. Relating to the Sustainable Development Goals, the SDG 11 on ‘making cities and human settlements inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable’ seemed an urgent need throughout the discussion. 
However, not much was discussed over SDG 12 on ‘ensuring sustainable consumption and production patterns.’ My belief is that the way to SDG 11 is only possible through working on the SDG 12 however, this was not raised instead considered as ‘business as usual’ to continue which seems a lost battle. For example, much of the discussions were on adaptation to shocks than prevention from shocks. 
Including the concerns and care of sustainability and resilience in the architecture of buildings, neighborhoods and cities is a long way ahead in architecture and planning profession. This will require a serious pedagogy of sustainability and resilience in the architecture and planning education. 
This will also require debunking some of the celebrated works that mislead the idea of sustainability and resilience. Learning from the masters including their mistakes and wrong decisions are important; and importantly instead of panacea of adoption, a critical appraisal in the approach may help leapfrog the design approach towards more sustainable and resilient buildings, neighborhoods, and cities. 
The profession also requires a serious engagement with the masses beyond its niche practice of serving the classes in order to shift towards building sustainable and resilient communities where the practitioners are empowered to handhold the people with simple methods and materials to address and adapt to natural and manmade events and disturbances. 
---
*Entrepreneur, researcher, educator, speaker, mentor (www.mansee.in) WforW Foundation and Environmental Design Consultants, Ahmedabad (www.edc.org.in, www.wforw.in)

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