Ashok B. Lall, Ashok B Lall Architects: Bridging the social and environmental

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Ashok B. Lall, Ashok B Lall Architects: Bridging the social and environmental
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Ashok B. Lall, Ashok B Lall Architects: Bridging the social and environmental

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Ashok B. Lall, Ashok B Lall Architects: Bridging the social and environmental
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Can design bridge the social and the environmental? How would a building do both, effectively? Is it possible to marry beauty and wellness with intelligence and efficiency?

In this episode, we meet Ashok Lall, principal of Ashok B. Lall Architects, an award-winning practice in India. His career spans the peak of regionalism in the 80s to the rise of the Green movement in the 2000s.

Ashok is foremost a humanist. He asks what people and communities need. And how these needs are met. He is also a proponent of craft, bringing to life textures and micro details in architecture.

Episode outline

00:10:48 “You must master your craft. You must think of everything you can think of. You must communicate well with your audience and your client so that you can build a culture collectively.”
00:11:13 A sustainability approach, appropriate to India
00:13:42 “Nature is an ordered system and it has its own rules. And you don’t want to disturb them too much. You want to work with them rather than counter to them. It’s not about conquering nature, but consider yourself within its rhythms and its potentials to make your own life.”
00:34:07 “We actually found out about this in case of […] five stories of office building, you get sufficient roof area for solar PV with a little extension around the periphery of the building, about a metre, a metre and a half around the edge of the building, you get sufficient solar PV area to meet the demands of a very efficiently designed office space.”
00:39:31 The challenge of the city
00:41:25 “What is it that really needs attention in our world? What is it? What’s the ‘what’? Where are the really issues? […] One is that you got to get engaged with the city. Our cities are going from bad to worse. What’s at the root of it all? Let’s think about it. How can we correct that trend?”
00:47:21 “The per capita carbon or carbon emissions in a small town are much lower compared to a big city […] There will be the few big metros […] there might be seven or eight, but there’ll be 200 middle and small towns which will also grow to an optimal size. And the nature of that growth is going to be the key factor that will determine whether they’ll remain sustainable or not.”
00:52:54 “It is clearly established that the only reason when somebody has to live on the 15th floor – in the face of a possible fire, possible earthquake, possible electricity supply breakdown, water supply breakdown – the only reason they are going to do that [is] because of the cost of the land and there’s no other reason. It has to do with the management of the economics of land and the availability of land.”
00:57:09 “Don’t forget the inherent cost of going vertical. Even in the distribution systems… you talk only about horizontal transport becoming more economical, but what about vertical transport? Is actually becoming more economical or not? Sending up water 20-30 storeys up, is that becoming more economical or not? People going up and down. Even to hold those systems in place, we know that the electromechanical systems in buildings don’t have more than a 20-year lifespan, even the best of them today. Right? I think there’s a complex calculation that needs to be done to really find what you call the sweet point.”
00:58:32 Becoming Ashok
01:02:39 “I would say stick to an idea, articulate it as best as you can, share and share it with like-minded people. Become a band of people who can work together. That’s the way.”
01:04:36 “We need in intelligent, articulate, well-informed dialogue. There is just too much ill-considered opinion and too much ill-considered self-praise. I think we need deep research, clear thinking, articulation, argumentation and proof of the pudding. Show what you’re talking about. This is a culture which I think is still weak amongst us, especially in India, it’s very weak.”

Summary

The questions that Ashok asks in the day-to-day of his practice lead to an examination of bigger issues: what sustainability means to India; how it shapes the craft of Architecture.

Over the course of four decades, his work has echoed principles of regionalism – with emphasis on climate, materiality, craft – and simultaneously embraced the Green movement, with its pursuit of quantifiable performance.

Some of his projects reveal the tension between the two approaches, also between social and environmental, beauty and performance; these are tensions that underpin much of what is built in India today.

The Development Alternatives World Headquarters in New Delhi deploys local materials and striking geometric forms.
© Joginder Singh

The Development Alternatives World Headquarters in New Delhi, is exemplary of Ashok’s approach to materiality and climate, with low-energy interiors, reliance on passive modes, and brought to life by attention to form and craft.

With Green certification, Ashok adopted new ways of reporting performance. He recalls both the frustration and excitement working on the Institute of Rural Research and Development building (IRRAD) in Gurgaon, which was LEED rated.

The IRRAD building in Gurgaon was rated LEED platinum, the first of Ashok’s buildings to do so.
© Ashok B Lall Architects
Rustic local materials are combined with precision fabric sunshades on IRRAD facades.
© Ashok B Lall Architects

Ashok’s latest offering is a high-performing office building for the Telangana State Renewable Energy Development Corporation, the first government building in India to aim for net zero energy — i.e., it will consume only what it produces onsite, renewably.

Like IRRAD, this building blends local materials and passive strategies with new technology for production, such as roof-mounted solar panels and a wind turbine.

The Telangana State Renewable Energy Development Corporation building in Hyderabad is a breakthrough project in India.
© Ashok B Lall Architects

Beyond the question of buildings, Ashok also makes a case for how cities are to be reimagined. He denounces high-rise, high-density urbanism, arguing instead that all buildings should be low- to medium-rise.

Ashok Lall is a rare breed of practitioner-theorist. Each of his projects reflects the zeitgeist. Seen collectively, his work mirrors a trajectory of big ideas. He extends this trajectory, through writings, to ask how buildings and cities will shape India’s future, and vice versa.

Gallery

Images

Episode Notes

Keep reading if you want to deep dive into this interview’s content and get more out of it. You can also find out more about this episode’s guest/s and sponsor/s, and the team that put it all together.

This episode is brought to you by:

The Holcim Foundation for Sustainable Construction

The Holcim Foundation helps drive systemic change towards a more sustainable built environment. It was founded in 2003 to define and promote the key principles of sustainability for the construction sector and is committed to accelerating the sector’s transformation so that people and the planet can thrive.

The Foundation has investigated various aspects of sustainable construction via a series of roundtables and conferences with international experts. It has also recognised excellent contributions to this field with the Holcim Awards which are considered the world’s most significant competition for sustainable design.

Committed to a holistic approach that recognises the equal importance and interdependence of four key goals, the Foundation combines the collective knowledge, ideas, and solutions of our global community of experts with our recognised platform of international competitions to democratise thought leadership for the entire sector.

Today, the Holcim Foundation is proud to accompany Ecogradia’s new podcast and its host, Nirmal Kishnani, with whom we share a common goal: contribute to a just, equitable, and sustainable future via sustainable construction and design.

W  |  holcimfoundation.org

Facebook  |  Twitter  |  LinkedIn  |  YouTube  |  Instagram

This episode is brought to you by:

The Holcim Foundation for Sustainable Construction

The Holcim Foundation helps drive systemic change towards a more sustainable built environment. It was founded in 2003 to define and promote the key principles of sustainability for the construction sector and is committed to accelerating the sector’s transformation so that people and the planet can thrive.

The Foundation has investigated various aspects of sustainable construction via a series of roundtables and conferences with international experts. It has also recognised excellent contributions to this field with the Holcim Awards which are considered the world’s most significant competition for sustainable design.

Committed to a holistic approach that recognises the equal importance and interdependence of four key goals, the Foundation combines the collective knowledge, ideas, and solutions of our global community of experts with our recognised platform of international competitions to democratise thought leadership for the entire sector.

Today, the Holcim Foundation is proud to accompany Ecogradia’s new podcast and its host, Nirmal Kishnani, with whom we share a common goal: contribute to a just, equitable, and sustainable future via sustainable construction and design.

W  |  holcimfoundation.org

Facebook  |  Twitter  |  LinkedIn  |  YouTube  |  Instagram

As mentioned in this episode

If you heard it in this episode, we likely have a link for it right here. Click on any topics, people, buildings, places, products and/or technologies listed below to learn more about each of them.

00:07:24 “…That is when we learnt climatology as a physics-based method of design …”
climatology: meteorology”  |  Britannica
00:07:42 “…so climate conscious or climate responsive design was what was taught to us…”
Climate-responsive design: A framework for an energy concept design-decision support tool for architects using principles of climate-responsive design”  |  A+BE (Architecture and the built environment)
00:08:16 “…Now that was the height of the regionalist movement in India…”
Critical Regionalism for our time”  |  The Architectural Review
00:09:25 “…hear in the background the sarod…”
sarod”  |  Britannica
00:09:26 “…the sarod and the santoor…”
santur”  |  Britannica
00:09:30 “…with a light tapping of the tabla…”
tabla”  |  Britannica
00:10:07 “…almost derived from a kind of brutalism of looking at volumetric arrangements and light and shade…”
Brutalism”  |  Designing Buildings
00:21:47 “…there were two other metrics. One was obviously embodied energy …”
Embodied energy”  |  Level
00:21:49 “…One was obviously embodied energy, embodied carbon…”
1 – Embodied Carbon 101”  |  Carbon Leadership Forum (CLF)
00:25:22 “…India had produced the first LEED platinum building…”
LEED rating system”  |  USGBC (U.S. Green Building Council)
00:33:43 “…what it takes to put together a zero energy building…”
Zero Energy Buildings Resource Hub”  |  Office of Energy Efficiency & Renewable Energy (EERE)
00:36:11 “…you have an EPI of between 60, 65 or thereabouts…”
Green building performance matters: measure it correctly!”  | The Economic Times
00:37:15 “…provided we don’t let the RH rise above 65%…”
relative humidity”  |  Britannica
00:37:58 “…I’ve been giving talks on integrated design …”
What Does Integrated Design Mean for Architecture?”  |  ArchDaily
00:43:16 “…the rate of growth of the large metros was slowing down…”
Which Are the Metropolitan Cities Of India?”  |  BYJU’s Exam Prep
00:43:20 “…the rate of growth of the second tier and third tier cities was increasing…”
What are tier I, II, III, IV cities in India?”  |  99acres
00:51:38 “…when they change the FSI to three and four as against 1.5…”
All you wanted to know about floor space index”  |  The Hindu Business Line
00:51:58 “…you know anywhere close to Green if you’re going to have lots and lots of tall buildings…”
Green Cities: How to Make a Sustainable City”  |  Milwaukee ONE-KEY
00:02:31 “…I think it was at a Holcim foundation event…”
Past Events”  |  Holcim Foundation Sustainable Construction
00:03:13 “…your degrees in Cambridge University…”
The Faculty of Architecture and History of Art”  |  University of Cambridge
00:03:14 “…degrees in […] the Architectural Association in London?…”
Architectural Association School of Architecture (AA)
00:03:29 “…ambassador to the European Economic Community I was sent off to boarding school…”
European Community”  |  Britannica
00:04:56 “…set up by Sir Leslie Martin at that time…”
Sir Leslie Martin”  |  The Guardian
00:05:39 “…because of my father’s acquaintance with Jane Drew at that time…”
Jane Drew”  |  Britannica
00:05:56 “…Jane Drew and Maxwell Fry had assisted…”
Maxwell Fry”  |  Britannica
00:05:57 “…had assisted Corbusier when Chandigarh was being built…”
Le Corbusier”  |  Britannica
00:06:48 “…And we had Peter Cook […] producing these amazing drawings…”
Sir Peter Cook RA (b. 1936)”  |  RA (Royal Academicians)
00:06:55 “…futuristic buildings and ideas… Cedric Price, thinking out of the box…”
Cedric Price”  |  Architectuul
00:08:22 “…the likes of Charles Correa […] was steering the conversation…”
Charles Correa”  |  Britannica
00:08:23 “…the likes of […] BV Doshi […] was steering the conversation…”
Balkrishna Doshi”  |  Britannica
00:08:35 “…I worked at […] Joseph Allen Stein‘s office for six years…”
Ode to ‘Steinabad’: Joseph Allen Stein’s affair with light, landscape and architecture”  |  STIR World
00:17:03 “…led by a gentleman called Ashok Khosla…”
Dr. Ashok Khosla”  |  Development Alternatives
00:26:09 “…It so happens that Dr Sehgal…”
Indian American solving rural India’s challenges wins philanthropy award”  |  Financial Express
00:26:13 “…it’s called the SMS Sehgal Foundation…”
About Sehgal Foundation”  |  SM Sehgal Foundation
00:27:14 “…at that time the U.S. Green Building Council, USGBC…”
USGBC (U.S. Green Building Council)
00:27:18 “…they didn’t want to go to the IGBC…”
Indian Green Building Council (IGBC)
00:33:56 “…a project for the Telangana State Renewable Energy Development Corporation…”
Telangana State Renewable Energy Development Corporation Ltd. (TSREDCO)
00:35:07 “…with a net-zero energy building in Singapore…”
National University of Singapore’s SDE4 building is a prototype of sustainable design”  |  Dezeen
00:48:20 “…I’m talking about officers in the Ministry of Power…”
(Government of India) Ministry of Power
00:48:23 “…I’m talking about officers […] in the Ministry of Environment…”
Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change (Government of India)
00:48:26 “…officers […] in the Ministry of Housing and Urban Affairs…”
(Government of India) Ministry of Housing and Urban
00:03:15 “…and the Architectural Association in London?…”
London” (United Kingdom) |  Britannica
00:06:02 “…assisted Corbusier when Chandigarh was being built…”
Chandigarh” (Chandigarh, India)  |  Britannica
00:16:07 “…talk about the Development Alternatives world headquarters […] completed in 2006…”
Development Alternatives world headquarters – Office building in India”  |  Holcim Foundation for Sustainable Construction
00:16:47 “…This is located in Delhi […] they’re doing a lot of work in northern India…”
Delhi” (Delhi, India)  |  Britannica
00:17:36 “…experiments in Auroville and building with that in other parts of the world…”
Auroville
00:25:09 “…this time the Institute of Rural Research and Development…”
Institute of Rural Research And Development at Gurgaon by Ashok B Lall”  |  ArchitectureLive!
00:25:25 “…the CII’s Sohrabji Godrej Green Building Business Centre in Hyderabad…”
CII Sohrabji Godrej Green Business centre”  |  Asia Business Council
00:25:28 “…Business Centre in Hyderabad…”
Hyderabad” (Telangana, India)  |  Britannica
00:26:30 “… in his home state, which happened to be Haryana…”
Haryana” (India)  |  Britannica
00:49:48 “…This was a research done in Gujarat […] we found that happening…”
Gujarat” (India)  |  Britannica
00:56:26 “…you get in the heart of Paris or in Barcelona…”
Paris” (France)  |  Britannica
00:56:27 “…you get in the heart of Paris or in Barcelona…”
Barcelona” (Barcelona, Catalonia, Spain)  |  Britannica
00:56:31 “…let’s say you look at Amsterdam or Rotterdam, etc…”
Amsterdam” (Netherlands)  |  Britannica
00:56:32 “…they let’s say you look at Amsterdam or Rotterdam, etc…”
Rotterdam” (Netherlands)  |  Britannica
00:09:45 “…he would look at the traceries and the jalis…”
History of Jalis in Indian Architecture”  |  Perforated Screen Designer (Sites at Penn State)
00:18:27 “…where it was converted into earth blocks…”
Earth Block International Sustainable Bricks”  |  Elemental Green
00:18:31 “…CESB, cement stabilised earth blocks…”
Compressed Stabilised Earth Block”  |  Auroville Earth Institute
00:33:31 “…the surface area of solar PV has to be increased…”
Solar Photovoltaic Technology Basics”  |  Office of Energy Efficiency & Renewable Energy (EERE)
00:33:36 “…there’s also a wind turbine…”
Building-Integrated wind turbines”  |  UN Climate Technology Centre & Network (CTCN)
00:37:35 “…that we had this radiant cooling system which is…”
Radiant Cooling”  |  Energy Saver (U.S. Department of Energy)

Host
Nirmal Kishnani

Producer
Maxime Flores

Editorial assistant
Abhishek Srivastava

Sound technician and editor
Kelvin Brown  |  Phlogiston

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