Impressions of “International Seminar on Theorizing
In the backdrop of NCA-Edge Hill partnership, developed for evolving specialized
program on sustainability, the theme was chosen to build an academic
framework for teaching and learning of sustainability concepts in the built
environment. Topics for presentations and deliberations focused upon concepts
of academic interest relevant to application and pragmatic thinking.
Challenge before sustainability…..
Presentation by Dr. Nigel Richardson (Edge Hill University) on “Climate Change
and Built Environment” set the tone for the seminar. In fact the issues of
sustainability flow from the irreversible changes that have been caused by
‘anthropogenic forcings’. Current positive interventions leading to mitigation of
the present accelerated climate change crisis would begin to show results only
after 2040. Thus, the magnitude of inertia already set in and the consequences
on built environment need radical innovations. Dr. Richardson identified specific
areas of built environment that are likely to be impacted to the level of being
crippled. Change in weather pattern, flooding making drainage systems
ineffective, frequent heat waves, strengthening of urban heat island effect,
deterioration of air quality leading to health problems, increased frequency and
intensity of rainfall are some of the impacts that would need to be addressed by
academics, research community and professionals. The presentation, thus laid
the context for sustainability.
Dr. Magda Sibley (University of Liverpool) in her presentation on “Sustainable
Building Design: Some Contemporary Thoughts”, too highlighted the issues of
climate change with specific reference to architecture. One could see a subtle
message of disconnect with traditional wisdom in built environment and the
consequent global climate crisis.
Mr. Muhammad Ali Tirmizi (National College of Arts, Lahore), addressed the
issues pertaining to green architecture and sustainability in the context of
Pakistan in his presentation on “Sustainable Building Design Strategies for
Pakistan”. At 10% consumption in embodied energy and 43% in operational
energy in building sector in Pakistan, there is an opportunity to make substantial
energy savings. Attributing over consumption to inefficient build design and
construction practices, Mr. Tirmizi expressed his optimism to save 20-50%
operational energy. The challenge for Pakistan is the alarming rate of depletion
of natural resources due to demand for building materials. While underlining
sustainable options, Mr. Tirmizi, reminded of traditional wisdom in architecture,
which needs to be re-discovered in the present day context.
Availability of effective renewable technologies is a major concern, especially for
the developing economies. Are there enough efforts made to research and
develop affordable effective renewable energy technologies for sustainable
development? Mr. Shiraj Mahmood,(a practicing architect /planner in London),
underlined some of these apprehensions in his presentation on “Renewable
Energy Resources in Sustainable Building Design”.
Together, Dr. Richardson, Dr. Sibley, Mr. Tirmizi and Mr. Mahmood, presented
the perspective of sustainability discussion embracing specific challenges arising
out of climate change, the need to research contemporary solutions around
traditional wisdom and a possibly situational disadvantage created by
inadequate interests and policy initiatives for clean energy.
Architecture, planning and engineering are known to play a major role in
creating sustainable built environment although it is also well recognized that
sustainability encompasses economic, social and environmental aspects. Key-
note presentation by Dr. Tasleem Shakur (Edge Hill University) convincingly
argued the significance of human geography in meeting the objectives of
sustainability through his key note paper entitled “Theorizing Sustainable Design
Through Human Geographies”. According to Dr. Shakur, needs and limits are
intrinsic to the definitions of sustainability. Whether it is ‘north south dialogue
between industrial and non-industrial countries on demand and supply of
international trade’ or basic concepts of sustainability, the issue of ‘needs and
limits’ is the key determinant. This in turn, relates to human and social
dimensions. Therefore, could there be sustainable development without
comprehensive social and human perspective?
Dr. Shakur identified and illustrated emerging contemporary principles as;
understanding place; connecting with nature and natural processes;
understanding environmental impact; embracing co-operating design; and,
understanding people. Thus, it can be seen that the ‘contemporary principles’ are
aimed at creating a ‘humane’ foundation for the sustainable built environment.
Essence of Dr. Shakur’s emphasis on human and social issues could also be seen
in the activities of COMTECHSA (a Liverpool based community technical
/architectural service center), presented by Ms. Rosie Jolly (COMTECHSA,
Liverpool)and the case study presentation of a ‘green building’ of Health Faculty
of Edge Hill University by Ms. Catherine Murrey, Mr. David Oldham and Mr.
Andrew Brown (project Architect). The site visit to Academy of St. Francis of
Assisi, Liverpool demonstrated the human and social interplay in a sustainable
built environment in practice.
The approach of COMTECHSA to work with local communities and evolve
solutions relevant to their needs is modeled on technical validity as well as social
dimensions of sustainability.
‘Green building’ case study of Health Faculty of Edge Hill University was an
excellent example of a technical solution to the functional needs of a built facility.
Truly, an ‘RICS award-winning’ building. However, what this prima facie
appreciation misses is the context that Dr. Shakur referred to. The quality of
work-life of the occupants, as expressed by them during the visit, social
integration of faculty and student community groups through spatial planning,
access to the work spaces in informal areas were some of the human and social
dimensions wherein the building, as a system really excelled. Thus, it is the social
dimension that makes the ‘built environment’ of a building meaningfully
sustainable and allows the community to embrace the facility.
Academy of St. Francis of Assisi, Liverpool is a school building with a difference.
Building is clearly a demonstration of energy efficient technologies employed for
the functional needs. A text book solution on building orientation, use of ‘thermal
wall’ (concrete), high solar radiation heat gain during winters and the opposite
during summer by appropriately inclined transparent double-membrane glazing,
daylight accessed spaces, use of photovoltaic’s etc. What is beyond these
technological solutions is the very objective of the school, which includes
educating and sensitizing the students towards environmental concerns through
the built spaces as well as the curriculum. Thus, the school is not only a low
resource, carbon sensitive building but it creates social interventions by
transforming communities to be responsible towards environment. It presents a
sustainability model wherein there is convergence of interests in the guiding
principles of physical elements of the building and the societal purpose of the
facility. Looking from the Dr. Shakur’s perspective, the Academy of St. Francis of
Assisi performs well on his suggested ‘contemporary principles’ of sustainability.
Sustainability dimension expanded by Dr. Shakur alters the perspective one very
often has based on the physical appreciation of the built environment. Human
geography, would have to be an important component of development
sustainable built environment.
Carrying the argument further, Dr. Nigel Simons’s (Edge Hill University) remarks
in the concluding presentation re-emphasized the need for human geography
interventions. Aptly said by Dr. Nigel Simons, ‘sustainability calls for
Analysis tools and techniques…
Sustainable planning and development needs tools and techniques for validation
of proposals. While one would look for accurate and reliable methods for
assessment, the need for simple yet reliable options cannot be overlooked. There
is certainly a need for research to embed such tools and techniques in the
sustainable built environment planning process. Two very significant assessment
options were presented to emphasize the need for quantitative analysis. While
Ms. Sarah Khan (a practicing architect based in London) presented an innovative
“Sun Shade Calculator for Lahore”, Mr. Rusdy Hartungi and Ms. Elisavet
Dimitrokali (Unviersity of Central Lancashire) underlined the importance of life
cycle assessment (LCA) approach of sustainable proposals in their presentations
on “LCC Application in Sustainable Building Design” and “Life Cycle Assessment:
A Fundamental Tool in Assessing Sustainability in Built Environment”
Simple though, the relevance of a calculator for calculating sun shade using
worksheet during design development stage is well argued considering heat load
contribution of 48% through the windows in a building in Lahore. A reliable,
inexpensive, user-friendly, quick and versatile option is truly a ‘sustainable’
option. While detailed analysis using computer programs is still necessary for
any application, the role of calculators, especially for specific applications, is
significant. For developing countries such options are most suited. Deliberations
concluded that further research and extending the scope to other locations could
be undertaken through academics.
Mr. Hartungi and Ms. Dimitrokali stressed the importance of LCA as a basis for
decision-making. In fact, from the presentations it appears that the LCA is
perhaps the most significant assessment and analysis tool. For practical
application though, the academic research still needs to focus on the databases
for inputs on cost centers. While it may be relatively easier for the costs of
building systems to be built in, there are major issues with regards to cost
benefits that need to be resolved.
For a meaningful education in sustainability, development of simpler tools and
techniques for analysis would be an essential academic research agenda.
Complexity of sustainability is only appreciated when applied in practice.
Validity of concepts, methods and analytical tools is understood when applied on
a project. In regeneration project of “Sustainable Regeneration of Historic Urban
Centers”, Mr. Syed Faizal Sajjad (National College of Arts, Lahore) brought out
multidimensional issues, including social and heritage value that needed to be
balanced for a sustainable proposal. Although analysis and strong theoretical
framework for practical proposal seemed diffused, the complexity to integrate
analysis and theorizing the proposal is also an issue for process introspection
which is inherently evolutionary. This re-enforces the belief that the
sustainability calls for a systematic ‘case based learning’ as mentioned by Dr.
Jammie Halsall (University of Huddersfield) in his presentation on “Curriculum
Design for Sustainable Architectural /studies”.
Education and pedagogy…..
A multidisciplinary domain, sustainability is as much a challenge for practicing
professionals as for the academics to groom future professionals and research
community. While de-novo curriculum focused at sustainability is a rather recent
approach being contemplated, the need to dovetail sustainability concerns in the
existing programs in architecture, planning and project management is equally
relevant. Prof. Virendra Kumar Paul (School of Planning and Architecture, Delhi)
presented one such effort being made at the School of Planning and Architecture
(SPA) New Delhi as a part of project management specialization in his
presentation on “Issues of Sustainable Built Environment: Context, Evolution and
Pedagogical Dimensions”. The approach at SPA was to infuse sustainability to
make it holistic.
While recommending approach to mitigate the negative impacts of design and
construction practices, Mr. Tirmizi emphasized the need for pedagogy to address
the issue of dovetailing traditional knowledge of building design and
construction with the mainstream architecture design to provide comprehensive
coverage on sustainability.
In his presentation, Mr. Halsall underlined the need for providing students with
transferable and vocational skills. Building on theoretical background of
sustainability and curriculum development, Halsall identified traditionalism,
social reconstructionism and progressivism.
The approach of SPA presented by Prof. Paul and the conceptual issues
mentioned by Jamie merit consideration for pedagogy in sustainability.
Seminar, though aimed to theorize sustainability, expanded the discussion
further. Education and pedagogy would have to look further into the challenges
and dimensions underlined during expert presentations. Academic research
agenda would have to be reviewed comprehensively to cover all dimensions of
sustainability. Seminar outcome has a potential to be a road map for academia
for meaningful contribution in development of sustainable built environment.
Prof. Virendra Kr. Paul
Department of Building Engineering & Management,
School of Planning and Architecture,