Ahmedabad, Jan 8: Rupal and Rajendra Desai, Ahmedabad based architect-civil engineer duo, who has been recently honored with prestigious Jamnalal Bajaj Awards 2018 for the application of science and technology in rural areas shared their concern about the poor quality construction and alarmingly low skill levels of building artrsans prevalent across the country at a function held at Gujarat Vidyapith on Sunday to facilitate them.
Jamnalal Bajaj Award is an Indian award for promoting Gandhian values, community service and social development. It was established in 1978 by the Jamnalal Bajaj Foundation of Bajaj Group. The award recognizes their nationwide contribution through the application of science and technology which are relevant, accessible and affordable to the weaker sections of the society and which has created an impact on rural and tribal housing.
Rupal Desai, an architect and Rajendra Desai, a structural engineer, decided to leave their professional work in the US, and got into the non-profit mode of socially relevant technical work in India thirty four years ago.
The couple is deeply concerned about the falling skill levels of today’s building artisans in the country, and absence of viable institutional arrangement for their skill up-gradation. They are equally concerned about the systematic abandoning of traditional building systems of different regions and entry of modern building systems that are responsible for more than 30% of carbon release in the country, thanks to the engineering and architecture education that focus solely on the modern building system. Even in these newly built buildings low skill levels are resulting in to untimely deterioration, rendering them vulnerable to natural disasters like earthquake.
The couple has been involved in the skill up-gradation of over 13,000 masons and other building artisans in rural areas of the country. Under their leadership their team has evolved an artisan friendly training program that has been going on for nearly fifteen years. In their opinion the Skill Development Ministry’s blueprint may be suitable for India, but certainly not for Bharat.
They have also been working on the vernacular or traditional building systems in different parts of the country, particularly those prone to natural disasters, through their synthesis with materials and technologies, to improve their performance, especially in the face of natural disasters. In order to make the existing masonry buildings safe against future disasters, they have extensively worked on retrofitting in most earthquake prone regions of the country and have actively worked to popularize this cost effective option for bringing safety.
They lament that in spite of the fact that overwhelming number of buildings in the country, especially the houses, are made of traditional or vernacular building systems, especially the load bearing masonry using local materials and skills, the education in architecture and engineering colleges across the country has summarily excluded these systems, and instead focus on the modern building systems that account for a very small percentage of buildings. The net result of this is the unsympathetic attitude of the establishment towards vernacular buildings.
Lastly, in long run the masses will be deprived of sustainable, suitable and disaster resistant housing that they can access to suit their needs, and at the same time more and more houses of poor quality will get built, large number of which will succumb to natural disasters causing undue hardship to the people and diversion of scarce funds meant for development work to the post disaster rebuilding. Low local economy component of building construction will fail to produce jobs for local people, thus adding to grave unemployment situation in the country. These buildings will continue to add millions of tons of carbon to atmosphere, making climate-change more and more difficult to fight.