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2020 – The Year of Corona

How Architects across the country are taking on the Covid-19 outbreak

A digital illustration of the coronavirus shows the crown-like appearance of the virus.

As India begins to warm up for her entry into Stage – III of the Covid-19 pandemic, all services and industries in the country (barring a few essentials) have come to a total standstill. The 21-day lockdown which is targeted at preventing the community transmission of this virus covers a massive population of 1.3 billion and has come to be understood as the “harshest in the world” beating both, China and Italy. Nevertheless, India’s position continues to wobble given that circumstances in connection with the Covid-19 outbreak worsen every few minutes.

It is no secret that the country’s economy has taken a mighty fall in the past few months. The transmission of the virus has led to a significant retardation of various sectors such as finance, oil and manufacturing, inter alia. With the possibility of the pandemic obstructing global growth, companies going bankrupt and supply chains getting the short end of the stick, it is safe to assume that India is standing at the forefront of a global economic meltdown.

Construction, Design and Architecture

The Design Collective spoke to some of the most renowned Architects across India to gain an insight into how they are dealing with the effects of the outbreak of this deadly virus and how it has affected their firms practice.

As offices across the nation pull up their shutters, Alfaz Miller, who heads ABM Architects, told us how the firm implemented the Work from Home concept to keep things going. “We had anticipated the seriousness of the pandemic and asked employees who use public transport to stay at home. Then we equipped our designers with equipment and software to work from home. Over the week we slowed down and worked with fewer and fewer staff until we has to close our studio. However, we are working from home, prioritizing projects that have major deadlines.” ABM Architects is a leading architecture and design firm which has enjoyed eminence for its comprehensive, committed and most importantly, varied and proactive architecture and design solutions for the last 35 years.

This firm is just one of many studios countrywide grappling with the fallout from the still-developing Coronavirus outbreak in India, with no real end to the crisis. “The potential impact of this is definitely going to be lesser works, reduced economic gains and a prolonged stalemate in the profession. Demonetization and the GST, coupled with global recession had already put us in the ICU and now this pandemic is the grafting of the ventilator, literally”, said Architect Habeeb Khan, who was recently elected as the President of the Council of Architecture. Not only has he garnered appreciation for his remarkable contribution towards elevating the quality of education in Central India, but also for his firm Smita & Habeeb Khan Associates, which has its origins in contemporary vernacular propositions. “Whatever the result may be the, impact is going to be serious. And I think for the good”, he added. “At least now we should wake up and stand - if we can after the phenomenal respiratory malaise - and think about what our industry should be and what all do we n'eed to do hence forth. I have been espousing the cause of “De-Growth” for a long time.”

While explaining the concept of “De-Growth”, Habeeb Khan said, “Basically it is a theory which looks inside yourself and makes you introspect about the way our future development should be. It also denounces the senseless existing growth models, economic policies and restrains you to live justifiably-not frugally but justifiably. Because it believes that this development pattern is the root of ill and evil plaguing our world today.”

Furthermore, Architect Habeeb Khan also shed light on the role that the Council of Architecture has to play in these circumstances. “We were the first ones to come out and issue advisory to our Institutions and workplaces to remain closed to contain community spread. We were the first one to tell the management of our institutions to apply the Work from Home concept to faculty and Administration staff as well. We have written to the institutions to volunteer and give concurrence to use their institutions as quarantine or isolation facilities in the god-forbidden eventuality of a larger spread. We have also written to the Finance Minister to look into issues and concerns of the fraternity specifically in the aftermath of the pandemic. Similarly we have been active enough and written to central health minister and chief ministers of States to utilize the expertise of our fraternity ion establishing emergency health care facilities. We shall also be now working with the universities to look into the delayed examination schedules and establish an equitable system pan India”. While talking to us, Architect Habeeb Khan also reiterated the importance of working from home and advised fellow professionals to go slow and easy.

As COVID-19 cases in India crossed the 1400 mark in Tuesday morning, every State in India is focusing on one thing – ramping up healthcare facilities around the country to be able to counter the impact of the COVID-19 outbreak. India’s population stands at a gargantuan 1.3 billion today. With the Government trying its best to pre-empt any further transmission of the virus and the resultant deaths, the question that comes up for scrutiny is whether, or not, the already delicate healthcare infrastructure will be able to cope with this outbreak.

We also asked various firms across the country how the architecture and design of healthcare buildings can be improved to be able to cater to such situations. “Currently, there are only a niche of Architects who work on Healthcare Projects, may be because the college education doesn't help in understanding the importance of it, so that needs to be taken care of at the root level”, said Studio AVT, a national award winning firm based out of Delhi, whose portfolio comprises of several Architectural and Interior projects of varied nature, scale and size along with eminent contribution to the Healthcare sector. “Secondly, the Government should focus on making separate buildings which can act as isolation blocks for running Hospitals, plus work should be done towards designing and creating modular suites for isolation prototypes. We can come up with a modular self-sustaining movable, dismantle-able module which a person who is affected can rent or build at the time of crisis”, they added.

On the flip-side, reports suggest that the COVID-19 outbreak has accomplished more in terms of climate protection than all of the combined efforts in that respect have in years. The pandemic has compelled us to introspect and think about how we treat our planet. We have been compelled to understand how these small sacrifices like social distancing and self-isolation can benefit the entire world. Keeping in mind the vitality of protecting the environment, we asked firms whether the use of traditional and sustainable architecture methods could help in solving an urban crisis such as the one at hand.

“Traditional techniques give us climatologically responsive construction like courtyards, gabled ventilation. Age old techniques such as Rammed Earth infused with construction waste debris (a product of urban development) to make modern "Shutter Debri Walls", which we believe can be used for large housing development areas considering the large number of urban demolishing”, said Vinu Daniel, the principal Architect and Founder of Wallmakers, based out of Kerala. Wallmakers are known for their use of sustainable earth materials for the construction of buildings. They have achieved a number accolades for their work and have been widely published in various magazines and online portals.

Written by: Tasha Tyagi




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