Ar. Gurpreet Shah on Sustainability and the Green Building Movement

February 03, 2016, 12:50 pm IST

“Sustainability should not be treated as a solution to a chaos that we create. It should be a basic fundamental, a permanent fad rather.”

Ar. Gurpreet Shah, Principal Architect, Creative Group talks about the sustainable future of architecture in India. Being a promoter of the Green Building Movement, he exudes a passion towards net zero structures that are grounded with nature.

Firm Name: M/s Creative Group

Founding Principal: Prof. (Ar.) Charanjit Shah

Principal Architect: Ar. Gurpreet Shah

Executive Director: Mr. Prabhpreet Shah


Sustainability is a much talked about concept, but perhaps, it has been misunderstood and misused at most occasions. Any built form that we call “sustainable” today, needs to be a built mass which is in harmony with nature, more than anything else. Ar. Gurpreet Shah talks about designs that respect the solar movement, wind direction and the climatic conditions of a particular region so as to have built spaces with maximum daylight and minimum heat gains, particularly in the composite climate. The architect gives an insight into where we stand in terms of sustainable development in India. 


What, according to you, is sustainability?


If we specifically talk about sustainability for our country, Indian cities have their own unique fabric, which is quite different from the West.

Sustainability is a term which is very easily thrown around, but never truly practised. Using technology to make a “green building” is something entirely different, and usually confused with sustainability. Therefore, moving away from the typical notion that use of technology is enough, we should consider a simple historical fact: The previously built Indian cities were simple yet intelligent without much use of technology. Then we need to understand that a perfect amalgamation of passive strategies of sustainability and use of technology is what makes a “smart yet sustainable” building.

Restoration of our water resources like kunds and baolis, mutually shading and orienting the building to minimize the heat gain and maximizing daylight and practising courtyard planning to assure moderate temperature and better articulation of spaces, are all factors that carefully reinterpret our definition of “smart architecture.”

These factors should be a part of your design right from the beginning, and not added on later. In fact, sustainability should not be treated as a solution to a chaos that we create. Rather, it should be a basic fundamental; a permanent fad.


Which are the cities in India that you think have practiced sustainability in the true sense?


We have very harsh climatic conditions in the middle of the Rajasthan deserts. The walled pink cities of Jodhpur, Jaisalmer and Jaipur are some of the truest examples of sustainability, wherein comfort conditions in the human settlements have been achieved by mutual shading, creation of hierarchy of courtyards and blocking of the South-West sun by deep verandahs and use of jaali.

In terms of infrastructure and conservation of natural resources in the heart of the desert; lakes, baolis, stepwells and kunds etc have been made to conserve rainwater. The infrastructure with respect to transportation facilities and community spaces have also been developed very well, particularly in Jaipur with wide open roads thus creating large chaupals as community areas and business areas for the convenience of the trade and to provide comfortable living.


Government of India has a plan to have a 100 odd smart cities. How do you define a smart city?


I do appreciate the Prime Minister’s vision of creating 100 smart cities in India. Perhaps some of them are Greenfield cities and some would be Brownfield cities wherein the existing cities would be updated to a standard of smart cities. Besides bureaucratic and political vision, I strongly feel that the Architects’ and Planners’ intervention is important in not only creating smart cities but smart and sustainable cities. We need not copy or imitate the global technology in creating smart cities by way of intelligent building management systems but the cities need to be vibrant while respecting the socio economic and cultural heritage of the community or the society so that there is a sense of belongingness in the various built forms and spaces thus creating the city. We need to make sure that the city is walkable as well as cyclable, other than of course being motorable. The pressure of the transport and infrastructure system can only be reduced provided the physical planning caters to the needs of the community within the neighbourhood and each neighbourhood is connected to another, through pedestrian and cyclable walkways.


What is the scope of sustainability in India?


I would rather express that we are the pioneers of sustainability and the pre-independence cities of India were truly sustainable and were created as per the aspirations of the society, keeping in view the socio-economic, cultural and religious needs of the inhabitants. I’m afraid that due to the elevated urban growth in the major cities, we are perhaps neglecting the ethnic character of a city and superimposing infrastructure layers by way of elevated flyovers, elevated metros and overhead bridges, all of which have created a jungle of concrete mass and have overshadowed open spaces leading to an unbreathable environment.  The city fabric is being disturbed because these various additions are not being inserted in a logical manner; rather they break the flow of the city. Therefore, we must realize and I take it as a wakeup call, that sustainability should be the top priority and we should try to create smart and sustainable cities that are eco-friendly.


What are the sustainable projects that you have worked on?


We have been practicing since 4 decades, and have been fortunate enough to design some of the mega infrastructure projects like Airports, Metro Stations, Railway Stations and Intermodal Hubs as well as the Redevelopment Master Plan 2057 for Jamshedpur City.

All these infrastructure projects are considered to be “energy guzzlers.”  While designing the Airports, we have taken into consideration the various passive strategies of green architecture to achieve high quality of sustainability wherein we have maximized daylight and minimized heat gains within the envelope of the building, thus being able to reduce our consumption of energy in terms of Air Conditioning and lighting of the building.

No doubt our buildings are also technologically advanced and cater to all Intelligent Building Management Systems so as to optimize the consumption of energy.

Similar effort has also been made in terms of conservation of water resources by way of rainwater harvesting, creation of lakes and storage of rain water, recycling water for air conditioning, flushing and gardening through sewerage treatment plant; production of energy through non conventional systems like solar voltaic panels, windmills and biogas are also being practiced in our projects. Our endeavour was to incorporate basic design principles in the projects that have helped us to conserve water and electricity to the best of our abilities, and hence, we are proud to have been associated with these sustainable projects.


What are the various other aspects or segments which would be helpful in creating a smart and sustainable infrastructure?


The most important aspect which is missing, apart from all the design principles I have talked about, is the last mile connectivity. The various modes of transportation need to be interconnected and seamless connectivity without any barriers needs a serious planning intervention to create walkable cities.

We, at Creative Group, are the pioneers in creating Intermodal Hubs with 4 modes of transport - surface, air, metro and railways - all have been fully connected with each other thus creating an intermodal hub at Chennai Airport along with the Chennai Metro Station, for the comfort of the public. We have also created recreational spaces within the hub so as to provide human comfort within, while simultaneously achieving last mile connectivity to the destination. The same has been our intention while designing the Koba Circle Metro.


How do you create buildings which are affordable particularly in Tier II and Tier III cities? Can the concept of sustainability be helpful in achieving this goal?


Invariably, we find in today’s global context, most of the commercial buildings are Air Conditioned and sometimes due to high maintenance cost, they are not really affordable for the common public. 

Keeping the same in mind, we have intelligently designed Times Square Mall in the Tier II city of Raipur, which is non air-conditioned and purely based on the concepts of sustainability. 

The intention was to create stepped terraces on North and North-East as a comfort zone for outside sitting while avoiding the South-West sun by making South-West as the highest point. The elements of jaali, double layered facade, ribs etc have been logically used depending upon the solar movement so as to provide human comfort in the central atrium and in other public movement areas. This is a fitting example of creating a built form which is sustainable and thus conserves energy and other natural resources.

We have also worked on some office buildings like Oil India in Jodhpur’s hot and dry climate, HPGCL Building at Panchkula, Suguna Poultry and CRI Pumps at Coimbatore; which are also some of the sustainable commercial buildings designed by us wherein we have saved energy and water resources.


Could you also give technical details of your projects to highlight what makes them sustainable?


I, along with my father, Prof. Charanjit Shah, who is the Founding Principal of Creative Group, have always strived for the kind of work that challenges us. All of our projects that we work on, varying from mega projects like Airports and Metros to small scale projects like residential farmhouses, our aim has always been to meet the needs of the present without compromising on the abilities of our future generations to meet their own needs. Our future generations should not blame us for depleting the natural resources.

Apart from Chennai Airport and Times Square Mall, which I have already talked about briefly, there are other projects as well which are notable sustainable designs.

 One of them is the Koba Circle Metro Station, it is a Transit Oriented Development Model which has a dense radial design, thus reducing the travel distance. It is based on a “walk to work” concept, wherein we have designed a walkable and cyclable neighbourhood around the metro station, a factor which automatically reduces energy consumption and use of fossil fuels. Moreover, the Executive Director of the firm, Mr. Prabhpreet Shah, suggested that if we create a recreational hub within the neighbourhood, we would be able to make the experience of public transport an enjoyable one, thus arousing the theory of “live, work, play.” We have also incorporated a green roof that runs over the entire commercial area.

Moving on to Vadodara Airport, an airport which has been accredited with a 4 star rating by GRIHA, the terminal has been designed in a way that Active and Passive Strategies of Sustainability have been amalgamated to conceive a terminal which is hyper-environmental.

The terminal has a continuous overhang on the South-South West and North-North West side, as big as 18 m, thus respecting the solar movement and avoiding the low harsh sun. On the North-east and North-west, as well as on the South-East and South-West, glazing has been avoided and solid insulating walls have been incorporated such that there is no penetrating heat from the sun, neither from North-East nor from South-West.Diffused skylights in the roof maximize the daylight whilst a solid mass of AAC blocks used in the external wall protects from the West Sun.

We were also conscious in discouraging the cutting of trees and almost all existing tress have been left untouched.

All active strategies of sustainability have been utilized in terms of equipments such as light sensors etc, so as to conserve energy intelligently. Similarly, water has been conserved as recycled waterfor flushing, HVAC  and gardening shall be used besides the use of rainwater harvesting within the premises.

Similar attempts have been done in the Chennai Airport. The terminal’s orientation according to the sun movement plays a major role in ensuring energy efficiency. Facing South, the city-side is shaded with a 24m long cantilever, one of the largest in India. With the principle of minimizing heat gain and maximizing day lighting, the project used a double skin glazing on both its airside and city side.

Retention of storm water and rain water harvesting recharges ground water, to ensure judicious and energy efficient functioning of the terminal.  Achieving 43% reduction in water consumption, the terminal building complies with the ECBC (Energy Conservation Building Codes) for attaining the energy savings. The terminal has been constructed by use of recycled local materials – Fly Ash in Concrete and materials such as AAC Blocks minimizing heat gains in the building. The terminal is clad with double insulated glass that maximizes daylight into the terminal.

The Chennai Airport has received various awards like “Outstanding Concrete Structure” by ICI (TNCC) & UltraTech, “Award for Architecture” by AICA and “Special Mention Award” by Engineering Watch.


Lastly, what would your advice be on sustainability?

We have been practicing for more than 4 decades and because of all our experiences so far, our firm follows a philosophy very religiously.

“A building should not be treated as a dead mass of brick and concrete, but as a living organism that breathes and is embodied with the natural environment.”

In the current scenario of rapid urbanization, I believe that ‘less’ truly could be ‘more.’  Creating designs that are conscious to the climate and nature, and are able to cater to the needs of the people, rather than their desires are what truly constitute sustainable designs.

I wish that all of us would understand the need of the hour so that we adhere to the basic principles of sustainability and are able to create net zero buildings which are beyond our imagination. We, as architects, have the responsibility of making architecture a force for mobilizing cities and rejuvenating cultures. We must focus on the performance of architecture responding firstly and primarily to its ecology and available resources; this criteria will change how the design performs throughout its life cycle, hence making the buildings truly sustainable.