Kirti Manian (00:59): Agnimitra thanks so much for coming on the show. I'm going to get started by asking you this - take us through your career arc, and in doing so, do tell us to what or whom would you attribute your design sensibilities
Agnimitra Bachi (01:13): Thank you for having me first of all. Just to give you a little background. We are a small firm called Made in Earth, and I can tell you a little bit about how we came to be. There is four of us-- there's me, Agni, there is Shruti, Jeremy and Ajinkya. Shruti and Jeremy got into Earth architecture in Auroville Earth Institute, which is also the UNESCO Chair of Earthen Architecture. They also worked in Chênelet Constructions in France, which works around innovating and re-adapting traditional building techniques. When they returned to India, they worked in Kutch for a while with organizations like Hunnarshala and Khamir.
Ajinkya, who is the third partner has also worked in the Dustudio in Auroville for 4 years. I am relatively younger than the other three. And I worked in the Centre for Science and Environment during my college years, and worked for some time in Sri Lanka. That's where I was thrown open to the world of tropical architecture and sustainability. I came back to Bangalore around 2015, and I dived straight off into a few individual projects in other constructions right after I got out of college as well. And sometime in 2015-16, I'd meet these three, and they'd already had the seed of Made in Earth, waiting to take root.
And yeah, Made in Earth became a collective practice with the four of us. Our love for earth was, I think, at the centre of everything. And the studio, even now is driven by our passion and each of our separate strengths and to a large extent our craziness. We've all followed very different paths before we met, but something became very clear when we started working together, that there's nothing else other than sustainable architecture for us, and we had a burning need, I think, to make buildings with natural materials. And we wanted to make them in such a way that they were desirable and accessible to people also. And I think at the centre of it all, we believe that sustainability is not just an option anymore, it's become a hard necessity. And having said that, it should also be immensely fun. And I think this is what bound us all together, and we are constantly and continuously exploring the infinite possibilities of creating with natural materials. And that's also the central tenet of our design and approach to running this firm.
Kirti Manian (03:45): I love it. It sounds brilliant, like it sounds like an amazing initiative. You answered in part my second question, (laughs) as well. (laughs) Because I was interested in knowing what was the basic premise and having sustainability at the core of it all, it sounds so amazing. Can you just tell us a bit more as well, and then maybe tell us about a couple of projects that define your company?
Agnimitra Bachi (04:08): Yeah, because I already answered a bit of it. But I think if you have to cut all the frills, right and strip it down to its core passions, there are two tenets of Made in Earth I think one is to make earth accessible for all or sustainability as a building practice available for all. And the other is to bring Earth back into the city. And it deals with promoting earth as a viable and pragmatic alternative to a built environment within the city as well. I think we look at ourselves as a small community of makers almost.
We believe in getting to know our materials. We are really, really I think we are intimately aware of how these materials feel, how they behave, what they do, what they are capable of doing. And with every day that goes by, it's like we get to know a person better, we get to know our materials better. Having said that, we also have to strike a balance between making this a crafty or an artisanal practice and developing methodologies that can be easily adopted in the current building industry to make earth more prevalent as a practice to make earth architecture more effective practice. I think that's the premise if you want to call it that. Yes.
Kirti Manian (05:27): Right. Yeah. Makes sense.
Agnimitra Bachi (05:30): Yeah. And you asked about a few projects.
Kirti Manian (05:33): Yes, please.
Agnimitra Bachi (05:33): I think one of the projects that comes immediately to mind is a really small project. And one of our first is what we call the Cuckoo School Project because actually the project on which I mentioned Shruti and Jeremy, and it's actually where the whole journey started for me. It was a small school that was built in the fringes of the Tiruvannamalai forest in Tamil Nadu, and it was supposed to be a small library structure that was to be built for kids from the nearby villages and the nearby communities.
But the twist was that this whole structure, which is an octagon with a dome on top, was to be designed and built by a set of 30 volunteers, not necessarily architects, they came from all walks of life. And we got together, this is a place without any network, without any phone with no electricity. The first day was just you know building huts to provide us shelter, means to cook and we spent a good 15 - 20 days building the structure and I think, before that, a lot of connection. It was great to be away from the city, and at the same time to create something so meaningful for a small community and such a distance from the material that was just laying on site. We made around 11,000 bricks, with which these 30 volunteers were to make the structure so that was one of the most meaningful journeys and one of our first that we shared in together. So it always has a special place in our hearts.
But more recently where there are projects like Samvada College, which is a larger, much larger community college that has been developed in the outskirts of Bangalore and it's still under construction. It's something that we are currently extremely excited about because institutional projects are very close to our hearts. This is being done with rammed earth and several actually it employs more than two three building techniques. There are so many, there is renovation, renovating an old Bangalore bungalow for a restaurant. We've designed an office space for an organic certified company on one hand, and then on the other hand, we have done the same as we've developed an office for a real estate developer also. And we've done quite a few houses and with each house we've not only built the house, I think we've also built relationships with our clients that are going to last as long as the building.
And I think every project is always so punctuated with emotions, with learning, with sleepless nights, whatever you want to name becomes hard to even understand where to start talking about them or where to stop talking about them. So there's not one project that stands out, because of the building that it is. I think this, we hold all our projects so close and so dear to us.
Kirti Manian (08:27): Your first one sounds amazing, like you're literally using your hands to create something that is going to last, especially for kids, right, like to have something that is so meaningful to them. That sounds absolutely brilliant Agni.
Agnimitra Bachi (08:41): Yes. (Laughs) And actually, there's so many images that are just etched within. We have thousand stars in the sky and all the children would come to help. The children started coming to that library before even the library was up, so in that way it was a success even before the structure came up. Yeah, and that's also where I met Shruti and Jeremy and eventually Ajinkya through them, so I don't think there was any other place to meet them then being two feet knee deep in mud, with our hands muddy and filled in.
Kirti Manian (09:17): (Laughs) It sounds amazing. Can you talk about your specific role at Made in Earth and tell us more about the Ochre House. For our listeners, the Ochre House is nominated for Best Architecture - Social Impact Projects by the Forbes Designer award in 2019. So please do tell us more about this.
Agnimitra Bachi (09:36): Yes, we are a collective and being a relatively young company our roles are constantly evolving, changing, overlapping and confusing.
Kirti Manian (09:47): (Laughs) Right.
Agnimitra Bachi (09:48): But currently, I think we are operating in three overlapping realms, one is the design studio that designs the project and puts up designs and we offer our services as a design consultancy, the other is a part that handles the construction of these design projects. And the third is something that we call Earthly Yours. Earthly yours deals with artisanal natural finishes. What started as a passion and love for finishing plasters of lime and clay, it sort of ended up becoming a full wing of Made in Earth. It's currently a full team of artisans and designers and we offer our services to other architects, clients and any other building, for example, who would like to bring natural finishes into that building. So we have a small place that's called the earth kitchen where we cook up our plasters, our oxide finishes, our set flooring, and whatnot. So I'm mostly taking care of this part of Made in Earth.
And the Ochre House well, the Ochre House is a great experience. I was telling you about bringing earth into the city. And I think this is the pinnacle of that example, because the Ochre House was a small residence, the compact three-bedroom house residence that was built for our clients. And it was built on a 30/40 site like a 30 feet by 40 feet site in a dense urban settlement in Vijay Nagar in Bangalore, and this 30/40 site is very typical size for a compact house, at least in Bangalore, and it's widespread and to bring earth into this small site with no other open areas around was a big challenge. One of the easiest ways to work with earth is to make blocks of earth, either CSB or compressed stabilized blocks or adobe that’s sun dried bricks or just earth blocks that are like concrete blocks but made of earth. So all of these require some area for you to process your material because obviously earth blocks are not so readily available in the market like burnt bricks are.
So we always thought we would need a certain patch of land where we could produce these blocks try them etc., but not having that space to do so in that project made us choose a technique called rammed earth. Now, rammed earth is an in situ technique where the walls are created as a monolithic compressed earth wall. So you compress layers of earth one on top of another within shuttling and once you reach shuttle you have a monolithic wall that is nine inches thick and is also load bearing and it's already a finished wall in the sense that you do not need plasters or you do not need paint for it. So, that is a technique that we used.
Kirti Manian (12:42): Wow.
Agnimitra Bachi (12:44): Rammed earth. Yeah. So, since rammed earth is also a load bearing technique, all the peripheral walls took the load. This is a ground plus two storey structure. There was only one column in the centre and that too it was there only because we did not want nine-inch-thick walls within the house because we wanted to economize on space because it was such a small site.
So we had four inch walls inside and one central concrete pillar to take the central load, but all the peripheral rammed earth walls took the load of the building and we've used all natural finishes like some parts that have to be finished were finished with lime plaster with lime wash, the exterior was lime wash. And we haven't used any plywood in the whole project.
We used only hardwood; we use reclaimed wood in the whole course of the project. We've used traditional flooring techniques, what is usually called red oxide flooring. And this is one of the first projects that we completed with a very dear contractor of ours and the whole journey was quite fabulous in the sense that he discovered a new earthen technique and I think now he stands almost as he is an ambassador of that technique. From convincing him to telling him that no this earth wall can take the load of two floors to actually making it to train the team - it was one hell of a journey.
Kirti Manian (14:13): It's fascinating to hear, I think because we're so used to the idea of cement and plywood then you know, it's a typical thing that you associate with urban homes or apartments in that sense. It's fascinating for me to hear that natural materials can just do the job and work really, really well. It's a really amazing concept.
Agnimitra Bachi (14:34): Actually, I think just to add to that, it was one of our early projects also. And it was one of the projects that really proved to us that earth is a very viable technique and be it in terms of cost or be it in terms of timelines, that it is very comparable to conventional building practices. And they're not compromising on anything. It's very relative to the current industry that exists in the city. And that's what made it like the huge it just shows that earth has a huge future within the city. It just needs the will and the knowledge to just go ahead and do it.
Kirti Manian (15:12): It sounds amazing. So COVID has affected everybody and everything it feels like in this crazy crazy year, what kind of challenges as a team faced pre-COVID times and right now what are the things that you kind of dealing with on a day to day basis or even as a big challenge, so to speak?
Agnimitra Bachi (15:32): Wow. So COVID is crazy. I will get back to that a little bit later I guess. Pre-COVID generally, there are so many aspects to building with natural material. As I say you need to know your material very intuitively, very personally, and natural materials change from space to space, there is no one thumb rule that works everywhere with natural materials. So the challenges from working with clients who probably have never been exposed to such techniques and materials, then there are challenges in finding teams to execute this project, and then eventually finding the material to build the buildings itself. But in all of this, I think primarily, we have a very strong belief that one can’t force a sustainable lifestyle, on anybody, it has to come from within, it has to come from their own learning from their past, that we need to make that shift to a more sustainable lifestyle.
That is the very first challenge to find the right people to work with, to find the people who are in it for the right reasons, you know, who are not there for the tag of it or for the cost, or just the aesthetic. It has to be a balance of all of it. And I think the first challenge is to associate with these people to do those works. Then there are all these small fights that are very usual in our industries, Earth is always associated with the rural typology. They always think it's like a rustic aesthetic. And we're constantly trying to fight that. And we're constantly trying to innovate. We're trying to engineer to create a certain freshness in the look and to use more towards contemporary expressions.
Then, over the years, I think we've also seen in terms of materials itself, we've seen that the sources of basic materials, like lime, linseed oil, are just vanishing, that they're no longer available in the market. And that's mostly because the market has found more convenient and, at the same time, more energy intensive commercial replacements for each of these. There are 100 kinds of primers, there are 100 kinds of lacquers. So moving away from these readily available and trending solutions that are available out there is quite a challenge to convince somebody to work with something that is more fundamental, that’s more basic, has also been a challenge.
Lastly, when it comes to manpower to use these materials and to work on the projects that we have procured, we've seen that the last generation of people who worked with natural materials, by this time, they've already reached their retirement age, and they're slowly going out of the industry. And there's a whole new generation of cement and steel and standardized human resource that's available that is exposed to a lot less. And they're more used to working with a very small set of thumb rules that work across the industry across the country, probably across the world. So the loss of that, that knowledge base is also something that we need to constantly fight.
Whereas in a typical project, there would be no need to train in our projects when we have to work with natural materials there's a strong component of training, there is a strong component of educating the teams as well as the clients to do this. There's a huge knowledge exchange, there is government involvement, there have to be active dialogue throughout the whole building process without which there are issues of trust, there are issues of execution, there are issues of knowledge that we have to constantly keep right. But at the end of it, I think it's always a more rewarding experience than a challenging one. I don't think I've ever felt that it's a challenge that I have to talk to my masons and tell them about lime. It's always the other way around, where I'm like, I'm happy that I got to talk about lime to somebody who's willing to listen.
Kirti Manian (19:28): And is there a willingness among the younger generation because you talked about the older generation kind of thing they are retiring so is there scope for younger generation do you think there's hope that they would be interested and want to carry on? Or is it you're constantly finding yourself training new people all the time? I'm just curious to know, like, is there a challenge in that also?
Agnimitra Bachi (19:49): See the more we speak, the more you dig in, you realize that it's a much bigger problem than what it seems. It's not about just educating a person. Let's talk about masons for example, if we were just to educate them on a particular technique, and you let them go, first of all, they're not equipped to find the same kind of work again. Second, I think it's a much more fundamental approach towards a person's aspiration, and that comes only through exposure. We have to tell them the masons, that this is a really good work, and this is much more valuable than the other work that you do. And this is skill, and this is knowledge and this is sought out currently in the industry, and we will or we will try to make avenues available for you to grow in this right?
Kirti Manian (20:36): Yeah.
Agnimitra Bachi (20:36): To a lot of the workforce that is available right now there is no scope for growth like from... you become a mason and that's the end of it. But I think it rests on some of us to sort of find the avenues to show them a scope for growth, and only then will they aspire to become more. I don't think there's anybody who's opposed to that idea. You know, fundamentally everybody wants to grow, everybody wants to be more comfortable, and everybody wants to be more knowledgeable. It is just finding the right setting and the right space to make them realize that.
Kirti Manian (21:10): And what about COVID? How are you guys dealing with a situation like this? I mean, in our living history for all of us, it's something so novel, and how do you deal with it when you're figuring out how do you train people? How do you keep the momentum going really?
Agnimitra Bachi (21:29): Oh, I mean; I'd be lying if I said that everything is fine, and we are keeping it going at full swing. But I think we closed down the office a couple of weeks before the national lockdown happened here, and what started off I think I took a walk with Jeremy in the park and I said, hey, let's just talk about how we're going to run the next week or so. You know, that was the timeframe that we had. Yes, a couple of weeks we work from home of course this can happen. And that little conversation would then become a whole protocol as to how to work from home. And now I'm sitting at home and it's been six, seven months since I saw the face of all my teammates. (Laughs)
So of course, it's turned our world upside down. We depend a lot on the internet on communication and I think we are still trying to figure out how to go about it. Some of the site sort of restarted. It works in a way that the teams are isolated unto themselves, like, each team works on a building site by themselves. Yeah, I mean, these are all pragmatic, practical solutions that we'd have to find on the spot, and that's how it's going. The only thing is just to keep your chin up, and we're constantly trying to adapt to every new thing. With new schedules you have to find new fun ways of still feeling like a team that is connected, talking to our site engineers to ensuring that even when we do go on site visits, we somehow use laser pointers to point instead of going close to the team, you know, what I mean I can keep going on there are hundreds of problems but we just have to get past them with the smile and with a wink.
Kirti Manian (23:14): Yeah, absolutely. Absolutely. I agree. I think Covid has thrown all of us into a tizzy and we are just finding new ways of adapting and say, okay, what's the best way to kind of move forward in that sense.
Agnimitra Bachi (23:26): Right. And it's not just in the operational front setting up of our projects, say for example, the F&B projects, which are the restaurants and designing a brewery. There have been very fundamental requestioning of the kind of spaces that we need to design. There's been a whole pause and a rethink of how we imagine spaces in the future, and it's such an unsure realm. I would be lying if I said we're completely confident that large gatherings are not a good idea. We might in a few months feels stupid that oh, the cure is out and COVID is no more. So it's either that way or this and this really stuck in between.
But it was such a good opportunity to pause, reflect and even ask okay, so are we changing the way we live? For the first two months, it was just resilience but after that, it raised important questions of okay do these things mean, what do my social ties mean, what does my time with my teammates mean? What does this building mean right now? What does this public space mean right now? So I think in that way, while it's been a little challenging, it's also offered innumerable insights, even for the running of the company and to the work that we do. And yeah, to be very honest, we're still mulling over these thoughts and they're still being processed. One thing we've learned is, yeah, we actually need to pause and reflect and that was something that became very clear and very soon also, that we really need to pause and reflect.
Kirti Manian (24:58): Which goes very well into my next question right, we talk about the construction sector, they tend to be responsible for a major share of the emissions. Now I read somewhere that the cement industry dumps 2 billion tons of carbon into the air each year, which sounds just insanely crazy to me. I mean, you're talking about... how crucial do you think your work is then in negating the effects of emissions in this light? And would you describe your work as carbon neutral?
Agnimitra Bachi (25:27): Actually, from 2 billion, it's risen to 2.8 billion tons of emissions.
Kirti Manian (25:32): Oh my gosh!
Agnimitra Bachi (25:33): And if you were to imagine the cement industry as a country, it would be the third largest carbon dioxide emitter in the world after the US and China. Yeah. And there's also this other caricature, which is every 10 seconds, like almost 19,000 bathtubs of concrete is being poured somewhere across the world. Right. So there are so many caricatures like this that are floating around these tidbits of facts. The UN is also trying to promote it, the newspapers, everybody's talking about it. And each is an attempt to sort of make it real in people's minds, right, it's trying to tell them that, hey, listen, I'm going to paint this picture where I'm going to take something that you know of, and compare it to what is happening in terms of emissions. There is a book by Ilka & Andreas Ruby right, and it's called The Materials Book. They say that we want them to believe what we see. It's really easy to see a structure rather than the consequence that it has. We don't see emissions, right. And then so consequently, warnings about the risks posed by something invisible it's not very compelling. We're already standing on a very thin arch environmentally, and the worst thing is, we may be able to only see the collapse of it.
Kirti Manian (26:56): Yeah, absolutely. I agree.
Agnimitra Bachi (26:57): And so that's what makes it really hard for people to just understand what 2 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide emission means. So when you say, how crucial do you think this work is, I would rather say, we're already in a situation that we need to ask, how do we negate the effects of this emissions rather than how crucial it is. I think we are way past that. It's extremely crucial, there is no doubt about it. So when it comes to our work, and I should say that if you actually look at it in terms of numbers, we might be a tiny speck in the huge ocean,right? And it might not statistically seem like it matters. But the fact that we may have answered one of the many how questions as to how to solve this problem, and the fact that we've given people a choice, at least the people around us a choice, a choice in a way that one approaches a built environment as an alternative, right? I think at the end of the day; everybody will be faced with choices. Every day, people are faced with choices big, small. And each choice that we make is either one step away, or one step towards a more sustainable future. So the more exposure the kind of work that we're doing gets, and the more we're able to show that this is a viable alternative, the more steps we're taking towards that sustainable future.
Kirti Manian (28:31): So when you're talking about sustainability becoming a necessity, is there a demand for LEED like Indian system which can be adopted? For those of you who don’t know, LEED is Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design -- this is a green building certification program used worldwide. Is there something similar in the system which can be adopted and should be adopted for that matter?
Agnimitra Bachi (28:52): Yeah, there is LEED and other accreditation systems like GRIHA that are available and we do work with them whenever our clients are open to it. See the thing about accreditation and labels, developed as a means to assess the impact of a building, and they are trying to promote a more sustainable approach to design, construction, even maintenance, demolition and other practices. They are, of course, very good steps in the direction of sustainability. And the more accredited buildings there are, it will definitely have a positive bearing for the environment, to our cities and ultimately to all the people. But one could argue that given the ecological crisis that our country or even the world at large is facing already, so currently they are being used as voluntary marketing tools, and instead, we feel that it could even be used as policies and as part of law that applies to all future constructions, right. The question becomes whether just a voluntary marketing tool is enough to make a change, should it move from a voluntary tool towards becoming more grounded in policy and law? That is the question that one needs to have. Apart from that there are also philosophical debates around these criterias. For example, should we consider a building with a glass facade and aluminium shading louvers as eco-friendly? Just because it's consuming less energy for air conditioning compared to a glass building without these louvers does not make it eco-friendly, right?
Kirti Manian (30:33): Yeah.
Agnimitra Bachi (30:34): It's a comparison still, less bad is not good. So these are conversations and debates that one needs to constantly have, and all the shareholders in the construction industry need to constantly have and this continuing debate will reset that criteria time and again, the crisis is constantly evolving and it is a dynamic catastrophe, if you have to call it that.
Kirti Manian (30:59): You said dynamic catastrophe, I immediately think of it like this thing that's constantly changing and causing chaos, right?
Agnimitra Bachi (31:06): (Laughs) I think personally, at least I'm of the firm belief that, just because we are not able to see it, we're not able to experience it at an individual scale. I think it's already quite late, and I know it sounds dire, I know it sounds hopeless (laughs) but it's actually not, and it's actually the counterpoint of what I'm trying to say it is this time that we energize ourselves, time that we can join hands and stand shoulder to shoulder and just get this done, and just do.
Kirti Manian (31:36): Yeah. So in this context of doing, how can green design practices be adopted in office buildings, that air conditioning, IT paraphernalia how do we make that balance happen?
Agnimitra Bachi (31:49): Right, actually, what you said in the end, the last two words, how do you make that balance happen? I think that's the crux of that question, because the thing that makes sustainable practices a little bit more inconvenient than those readily available commercial answers that are out there. There is no magic formula that works everywhere. It requires a careful considered approach to the whole design of the whole building. It's not necessarily just the implementation of ready to fix systems that are out there. It's not just an aggregate of invented systems out there. Having said that, it's also important to recognize that those systems exist for a reason. See, concrete, steel or air conditioning is not bad, like air conditioning is quite literally a miracle, right? Concrete too is quite a miracle. Let's give credit to where it's due, right, it's an amazing material.
So you asked about IT paraphernalia.. IT infrastructure like server rooms have to be humidity free. They need to be kept at a certain optimal temperature and air conditioners are great for that. But we need the whole building to be at a freezing 18 degrees through the year. This is where choice comes in. I keep saying choice because of this that for each aspect of design, for each space, for each building, there's a choice, where to shade, where to let in the light, how to ventilate, which passive cooling technologies to use, where to compromise, and where not to compromise. I think it's the sum of all of these choices that makes it a green design practice and not just small components of it. You can’t judge each single component and say that's a great design practice or not. Once you take the whole building into consideration, and you add all of these choices that you've made, and then you will realize whether you've made a green building or not.
Kirti Manian (33:49): Sometimes I think it's like this chapa (benchmark) right, like just saying we have done it. I did my test exactly that is what you're saying is looking at the whole thing from a higher point of view and saying yes, it's possible for the whole building, not just picking and choosing and say, yeah, we've done this. So we're sorted now, you know, it's green as can be.
Agnimitra Bachi (34:07): Exactly. And that is a problem with blanket approaches to anything. Like how the world is waking up to racism right now, right, like you can’t brand a whole typology of something as a thing, or give it a stereotype. It's the same with buildings. There is no green typology. The typology is only there because it evolves from ground up from the very existential design, questioning from the very fundamental of the idea of the building to what it wants to achieve, to why it even is there.
Kirti Manian (34:44): Yeah. And so keeping this in mind, what kind of narrative is being presented by the media about sustainable architecture? And does more work need to be done?
Agnimitra Bachi (34:55): I think there are lot to do with this is what we just discussed. That's what I personally noticed there is a shift in the tone for sustainability for both the good and bad. I think the good is that it's become a word that everybody knows. Everybody's talking about green, sustainable, eco-friendly. But, subtly, and this is my personal opinion is that there seems to be a shift in a way that there's a huge onus on the consumer to become more responsible towards climate change. And the industry is placing an onus on the consumer to sustainably consume. So the general trend is that sustainable architecture is featured as a product and as a new must have. Everybody needs a sustainable building, if you're going for a building make it sustainable. And as a result of that, the market is now flooded with what you call green products.
There is now the risk of sustainability just becoming another tag that the consumer is guilted towards getting, and at the same time satisfying ourselves also that, yes, I have a green tag on my product and I'm good to go. You know, anything, do not have my hand in killing those dolphins. (laughs) And that's a larger problem. I think sustainable architecture is a small part of this larger sustainability discussion to be had.
Somehow I wish that more people would be equipped to talk about sustainability, more as a lifestyle, rather than a product. I think more people need to engage in conversations about policies, about anything from the ban on plastic, about mining, land use, dam’s, policies for large corporations and conglomerates, whatever it is, you know, there are so many things. I just wish that everybody was equipped to have these conversations because these are the real issues that need public participation. I am not negating the whole movement towards sustainable consumption yes, that too adds up. But I think this has a much larger scale of impact. And I think the media too has a very critical role in highlighting these as serious and troublesome issues. And more they have a role in encouraging discussions and discourse within the public, rather than just productifying it or making it seem as yes, you just need to look for the solution.
Kirti Manian (37:28): Yeah, absolutely. I want to ask you a personal question. Do you have heroes you look up to in the sustainable architecture movement?
Agnimitra Bachi (37:37): Oh, yes. (laughs) I mean, the practices is relatively so small currently, as in modern sustainable practices, specifically in building compared to the general industry is quite small. And in the realm of earth construction we are standing on the footsteps of giants. There's been a lot of work that has been gone into develop alternative building practices over the last few decades from Auroville Earth Institute that's near Pondicherry, even IISc in Bangalore, Hunnarshala in Gujarat, development alternatives, there are so many and all of them have paved the way for us to confidently adopt so many building techniques and methodologies because they've documented they have studied, there's so much research out there.
And there's also the legacy of a long line of architects like Hassan Fathy in his works near to Egypt, B.V. Doshi in India, Laurie Baker, exceptional contemporary architects like Anna Heringer, the list can just go on, I can just keep talking about people, but I think especially in the age of the Internet, and social media, right, inspiration is all around us. The idea of a singular hero is looking up to one person and following on the footprints of those. I think there's a certain movement now that is moving past this, in the sense that there are a lot of people in India and everywhere, who are just pushing the boundaries, and we can see this in food, in healthcare, in clothing, energy, buildings, even beauty products, everything right, that there's a whole movement of young people who are pushing the boundaries of what sustainability means for each of these sectors.
And it just feels great to feel a part of this generation, a part of this movement that is really taking inspiration from the past, that it takes inspiration from each other, they are questioning the present, and sort of thinking and working for a better future. And I think that's the biggest drive that we have. To be really honest, it might sound really small, but just your Instagram feed is --it's such a powerful tool in inspiring each other and to draw examples from all across the world from just individual people who are just doing their bathroom plaster somewhere in England, to people who are constructing huge skyscrapers in wood. So, yeah, I think that's where we take our inspiration. And that's what we look up to. Like all our contemporaries who are doing mind blowing and boundary pushing work at this time.
Kirti Manian (40:19): I am sure the next few decades, we're gonna hear about you guys and you guys will be the giants really speaking.
Agnimitra Bachi (40:25): That’s far too kind.
Kirti Manian (40:27): Yeah, for me, it's been really a revelation right to hear about it's not just about concrete, it is not just about cement, right? You can do different, right, and the work that you're doing is pushing the boundaries and forcing and it should really force people to rethink the way that they are living in their homes and apartments and what more can they do. Which brings me to my next question, and my last question, really to you is, what would your call of action be to our listeners? What should they be doing? You talked about in bits and parts... you talked about plastic, you talked about sustainable lifestyle but what is your call of action to our listeners?
Agnimitra Bachi (41:06): I think right now, it all boils down to one thing, which is to conserve our biodiversity. And I think this can only be achieved if you're proactively engaging in nurturing and adding to the green environment. This is the larger picture. In terms of architecture this directly means we need to question what we build, how much we build, and whether even we build it at all Buckminster Fuller, and his kids said, doing more and more, with less and less, until eventually you can do everything with nothing like that it should sort of become the motto and I understand, it's very ironic for me as an architect to be speaking like this to say, you should question what you build or question whether we build at all but the fact to digest at this moment is that the construction industry is always several steps ahead of the need. There is an excessive volume of construction going on, and at great speed, right? It's happening at a pace that's never before seen.
Any vision of green architecture, environment friendly, close to nature, regardless of where the building lands, is eventually taking away from our natural resources. However sustainable your building is still having an impact. There is no such thing as a no impact building. So our natural resources are already very feeble. And we should really question the why to build first, right? The first question to ask is why build at all? Why are we building this? And the second is okay, fine if we have to, how much do we really need to build, and then the third, and the last is fine okay, then having figured out how much to build, then we can come to okay, how do we build this. I think that would be it. The question then is why, how much and how to build, and with why being the very first question to any chance that you make, that would be my call to action.
Kirti Manian (43:11): Thank you so much Agni. It's been a wonderful conversation. I've learned so much. I mean, I think our listeners would have to, because it's such a fascinating subject in that sense to hear about how you can sustainably build and the work that you guys are doing, I think, Made In Earth sounds really, really, like, amazing. So I'm wishing you guys the best of luck and I really, really hope three decades from now, you guys are like, way way there. Your work needs to be celebrated as much as possible, really.
Agnimitra Bachi (43:43): Thank you so much for having me. It's been great answering questions also. And every time we speak, it's like another moment to introspect, because I've just said all of these things out loud enough and I have to go do something about it.
Kirti Manian (43:57): (Laughs) Always a good idea. Always a good idea.
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