The Architecture of Sustainability


What’s Up, Germany? spoke with Manit Rastogi, founding partner at Morphogenesis, one of India’s leading architecture and design firms, on the need for sustainable urban development and a more holistic approach to urban design and city planning.

Manit Rastogi, Founding Partner at Morphogenesis

At Morphogenesis, you place a great deal of emphasis on sustainable solutions. Tell us more about your approach and design sensibility.

We understand that we are often working in an environment with limited resources. Our approach to creativity is inspired by the evolutionary processes in nature. Our belief in sustainability shapes all our projects and is a consistent theme in our designs. At Morphogenesis, we deploy passive strategies by responding to the local climate and ecology, and address parameters like comfort, safety and liveability. We are mindful that the projects we undertake remain economically viable and globally pertinent.

Given that our cities occupy a mere 2 per cent of the earth’s land surface, yet they consume 75 per cent of the earth’s resources, there is an intrinsic need to start exploring the possibilities of a closed-loop typology of architecture. Assuming there is no energy, no water and no waste disposal, how does one approach design? As a response to limited natural resources, especially water and energy, traditional architecture has always been green.

What, according to you, should be the number one priority of the “Smart Cities Mission”?

The most critical priority of the government’s smart cities project should be to establish a model of governance where the functionalities of various departments are clearly defined, with minimal overlap, and processes and policies are streamlined. The city is like a human body with all organs effectively performing unique functions, yet needing to work synergistically towards one’s overall health. Without that, any city—smart or otherwise—is likely to fail.

How would you define a smart city? What do you think is the most important aspect of a smart city?

For us, SMART is an acronym that stands for Sustainability, Mobility, Affordability, Resilience and Technology. A sustainable smart city is much more than a development that embraces technology; it is the city of the future which has to be net- zero on water, net- zero on energy and net-zero on waste-to-landfill. We need to start thinking of our buildings and cities as bazaars (places of human inter- action) rather than as machines (places of human habitation). So how do we redefine our urbanism as an emergence of interwoven networks?

The first thing is to determine the carrying capacity of a city and define a target population based on the water and renewable energy potential. This determines the human capacity of the land. It is essential to design a city as a system and let it evolve naturally. If one become highly prescriptive about how a city should be, it doesn’t allow for the changing nature of human interaction. And we cannot predict how that will evolve over the next 100 years.

It is important to design a city to be safe, where you don’t build setbacks and boundary walls. Instead, you build pavements and put eyes on the street. A self-regulating society is much more effective than a police state.

If you could implement one smart city feature in Delhi right away, what would it be?

It would have to be the “Delhi Nullahs Project”. By revitalising the redundant and interstitial spaces of the city, this project aims to bring together an exemplar world of governance, environment and development.

Tell us more about the “Delhi Nullahs Project”.

The intention was to use Delhi’s neglected nullah (storm water drain) network to fundamentally transform the city. Currently, nullahs are just unhygienic drains which are seen as a problem by the citizens of Delhi. They smell, breed mosquitoes, pollute the River Yamuna. However, a relatively small investment can transform them into a valuable asset for the common citizen. Since our city’s sewage system is largely under capacity, most of our sewage gets dumped into the Yamuna, making it dry up. Our vision is to clean the nullahs, preserve the receding water table and create open spaces and pedestrian corridors in the area surrounding these storm water drains. On 13th January 2015, the National Green Tribunal (NGT) declared that the project shall be implemented in a phased manner and shall be called the “Maili se Nirmal Yamuna Revitalisation Project 2017”.

What is your message to aspiring architects and urban planners in India?

We believe that architecture and design is not only a profession, it is a way of life. The commitment required is paramount, as there is a tremendous responsibility towards oneself, the environment and society at large. It is an immense opportunity to define a new emergent Indian architecture.