50 Shades of Green

IVLP participant Roshni Udyavar Yehuda shares her thoughts on India’s transition to sustainable buildings and ecofriendly construction.

The concept of “green building,” as an element of smart urban planning, involves ecofriendly construction that is self-sustainable, energy-efficient, and minimizes waste. Beyond these practical measures, green buildings also represent a philosophy, where architecture and nature are seen as working in tandem.

Roshni Udyavar Yehuda understands this concept. As the head of Rachana Sansad’s Institute of Environmental Architecture in Mumbai, she has extensive experience in the field of environmental research. An architect by profession, she has worked at the Mumbai-based International Institute for Sustainable Future as the head of a sustainable development program. Yehuda has helped develop the Eco-housing Assessment Criteria and Rating System for Pune and Mumbai in collaboration with Science and Technology Park, Pune; International Institute for Energy Conservation; United States-Asia Environmental Partnership; United States Agency for International Development (USAID); The Energy and Resources Institute and Rachana Sansad. Yehuda also participated in the U.S. State Department’s International Visitor Leadership Program on environmental protection in 2009.

Excerpts from an interview.

Can you tell us about the practical implications of green buildings and the ways in which the overall philosophy of architectural design working together with nature has been successfully manifested as workable project designs?

The modern concept of “green building” focuses on resource efficiency. More advanced rating systems have benchmarks for building performance. However, I think that green building is fundamentally about reducing and managing our resource consumption. This includes human behavior toward a sustainable lifestyle and community coherence. Green buildings cannot just be a numbers game and complicated simulation models. They have to be grounded in reality and in context of a place and its people.

You were part of the USAID-sponsored Indian delegation to study green buildings in the United States in 2004. What were some of your most interesting findings? Are there particular green buildings in the United States that you really liked?

What I recall with distinction are a few projects like the community with interesting eco-houses near the University of California, Davis. Each house has a yard full of fruit trees, compost and no border fences. Another was the straw bale-constructed Shorebird Park Nature Center in Berkeley, California. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) building in California was also remarkable.

In all these buildings, what interested me is the effort by occupants, developers or users to make the change toward sustainability. Aesthetics and technology were secondary.


Did you find any particular examples of green buildings or technologies that you thought would work well in Indian cities?

Technologies could be applied anywhere, but the Indian context is different. The culture, scale, consumption patterns and lifestyle have very few parallels. Green buildings in India need to be suitable to the context.


In comparison to the United States and other countries that implement the concept of green buildings in their city planning, where does India stand today?

If green building is about resource efficiency, then I would say that India has a greener footprint as compared to the U.S. or many other western countries. This is because nearly 70 percent of the population of the country is residing in villages with minimal footprint. In contrast, the educated urban dwellers, particularly in the information technology and other service sectors, are increasing their consumption to equal or even surpass the per capita consumption of the western world. It is in this category that we have seen a huge mushrooming of the concept of “green building.”

Green building rating agencies, such as the Indian Green Building Council (IGBC), which has been around for more than a decade, as well as others like Green Rating for Integrated Habitat Assessment (GRIHA), boast of several million square feet of green building. Still, there is a long way to go.


Which are some of the most successful green buildings in India?

Specific green buildings that I favor are: BCIL (Biodiversity Conservation India Ltd) T-Zed buildings in Bengaluru; Torrent R&D Centre, Ahmedabad; IGP (Inspector General of Police) Office Complex in Gulbarga, Karnataka, which is India’s first government building to achieve a LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) Gold rating; Cement House in Mumbai, a LEED Gold-rated and BEE (Bureau of Energy Efficiency) five-star-rated building; Brunton Boatyard hotel in Fort Kochi, Kerala, which has all the green features like rainwater harvesting, waste water recycling, but is not rated; and DakshinaChitra in Chennai—a complex designed by Laurie Baker to showcase South Indian architecture.


Natasa Milas is a freelance writer based in New York City.