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Responsible Architecture

Interview with Sheila Sri Prakash

It is accepted now that individual buildings can and should be greener and the discussion has moved so that those at the forefront of the industry are talking more about the integration of green building with the physical and social infrastructure of our societies. It is in this position that Sheila Sri Prakash sits.

Credited with being the first woman to set up her own architectural practice in India, Shilpa Architects established in 1979, she has been named one of the 100 most influential people in architecture by the Italian design journal – Il Giornale dell’Architettura (Journal of Architecture).

She is now involved in numerous movements and activities with a focus on environmentally and socioeconomically responsible architecture In her presentation at the Kuala Lumpur Design Forum, taking place yearly together with Archidex she discussed how from macro level of whole regions undergoing revitalisation to the micro level of a door knob, these principles apply. When she was involved in consulting on the site for the London Olympics the goal was how to implement the necessary infrastructure while minimising the any future potential changes. As such more care and resources were put into clever solutions to roads and other infrastructure that would be hard to revisit in the future but necessary over the long term.

Sri Prakash set up her own reciprocity index after noting that while development and environmental indices existed there was no holistic system that pulled them all together. She believes that the built environment can be not only beautiful and environmentally sound but also used to empower people. For example, certain species of plants in a public space may have been selected for their C02 absorbtion properties – why shouldn’t the users of the space know about that?

Human health as it pertains to the built environment is generally not given enough weight. Walkability, hygiene, impact on animals, how responsive is the space to the needs of the elderly are all factors that have to be considered when

“People don’t know what we as designers can do” said Sri Prakash in an interview following her presentation continuing to emphasise the enormous responsibility that designers have for the built environment.

In one of her projects she has used art as a tool for “sensitising”, as opposed to the more didactic “educating”. Artistic teams were each working on various 3D artistic pieces that had a relationship to environmental preservation. As they were working in a public place passers by stopped to enquire what they were doing, and in the process learnt about the social and environmental messages of the art from the artists as it was being created.

Sri Prakesh appears to be driven by both love of integration between silos and interaction between people. She suggests many way that designers of the built environment could encourage more interaction, such as by making a lift lobby larger and more inviting. Architects can also reduce the ability of people to interact by designing gated communities where people are “not able to empathise”.

While emphasising that there is no right answer the most important message she wants to send is that while the world is in a state of chaos with “epidemic” levels of non-communicable diseases such as diabetes and heart disease, architects and designers can make a difference.

Sri Prakash feels herself lucky to have grown up on a farm, surrounded by nature with a cow offering fresh milk. Most children today will grow up in cities, surrounded by an environment created by architects, designers and engineers. And as a one of them it is her responsibility to take care of the people growing up and living in the environment she creates.

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