It’s ironic that someone who grew up in the concrete jungle of Mumbai, is now an award-winning architect designing sustainable buildings made of the earth. If you sit down with her, you will find part poet and part entrepreneur. She describes buildings and cities as “not ends in themselves, they are parts in the larger cyclical loops of nature and should be planned as such.” Currently, she runs The Auroma Group in Pondicherry, India. Read on to find out what led Trupti to get off the conveyor belt and become a quintessential Redoer.
Q1. What does a day in your life look like?
My home and architecture design studio are in the same campus in Pondicherry - Auroville - designed by me - both surrounded by large fragrant flowering gardens, where I have nurtured an organic kitchen farm. This supplies fresh herbs and vegetables for my kitchen. My days begin earlier than sunrise as I love being in my garden early morning and welcoming the sun. I generally complete site reviews and all meetings pre-lunch. I love home-cooked fresh food for most meals! Afternoons are for deep diving into design ideas and new projects. Evenings are reserved for badminton followed by family time. A book is a must before going to bed.
Q2. What is sustainable architecture?
Sustainability is closing the loops. For example, when fruit and vegetable peels or leftover food gets composted and goes back to the soil as manure and we receive fresh fruits and vegetables from the same soil--this is closing the loop--a cyclical process.
Q3. Who or what played a major role in sensitising you towards sustainability in architecture?
I was 20 years old, sitting in a Humanities class in my Architecture school in Mumbai when I was introduced to the catastrophic levels of ecological devastation that happens in our country in the name of economic growth. I was shattered. The only place I could find to hide my tears was the college washroom. I slammed the toilet seat down and sat on it crying. Was I too going to chop the forests, mine the mountains and poison the rivers? On that day, I decided that I don’t want to be on the conveyor belt. I want to be a changemaker.
Q4. Tell us about Auroma.
I co-founded The Auroma Group with my family in 2014. My father is a product designer trained in New York. My mother is an interior designer. My brother is a furniture designer and building technologist. My sister-in-law is a graphic and web designer. I am an architect and integrated sustainability engineer. The Auroma Group is a multidisciplinary design group active in end-to-end design and construction, specialising in Sustainable Development.
Q5. Did your early work projects have a deep impact on your mindscape or career?
In response to the turning point, I experienced as a 20-year-old in architecture school, my first project out of college as Project Architect was Sharanam Rural Development Centre in Tamil Nadu. I headed all aspects of design ranging from master planning, architectural design, Earth technology, water and waste management, energy efficiency, use of renewables, landscaping, furniture and detail design. I carried out the entire construction by training local unskilled villagers. I personally trained more than 450 people from the surrounding villages and made them highly skilled technicians, bricklayers, masons, etc. specialising in various traditional crafts and skills. This project provided a fantastic foundation, a great in-depth knowledge of various components and processes as well as a discovery of my unique leadership style.
Q6. Which projects from the past make you feel proud and purposeful?
I have not followed the beaten track. Every project I have undertaken has been out of the ordinary, unique and special. I pour myself completely in all I do and explore the learnings each project brings.
Q7. What exciting things are you up to these days?
I am currently immersed in 6 super exciting projects. Some are on the drawing board and some on the building site. One of them is a Free Progress school project. It is an alternative education institute inspired by a method based hands-on learning from kindergarten to XII standard. It is set on a farm with no classrooms! Another one is an enterprise incubation centre situated in rural north India. The third one is a residential project with ‘smart homes.’ I am also working on a meditation hall and 2 eco-friendly homes which are nearing completion of construction.
Q8. Sustainability in modern architecture is rarely heard of vis-a-vis sustainability in fashion. Individual small fashion businesses with a specialization in sustainability are extremely vociferous about what they do, so are the handful of nonprofit organisations creating awareness campaigns across the world. What do you have to say about the future of sustainable architecture becoming mainstream or commonplace? Where do you see it headed?
Now, this is technical! Sustainability in architecture covers several aspects with an aim to optimise the embodied energy (energy required to make a building) and operational energy (energy required to run the building). Very few people would know this but the energy required in creating buildings is only a fraction of the energy that is required in running buildings throughout its life-cycle. Clients may not consider this because they do not know that the money required to maintain badly designed buildings will far outweigh the cost of the building.
There are three main aspects of sustainable architecture. The first one is the use of appropriate materials and building technologies. Second is the resource efficiency in planning water, waste and energy. Lastly, we have proactive response to climate. It is important to use it as an aid to create unique and culturally relevant buildings rather than treating the climate as something to be kept out by locking ourselves in water-tight air conditioned rooms. Architecture is an extension of our clothes. The way we cannot wear the same clothes in Mumbai, Jaipur and Shimla, we cannot have the same buildings in different climatic zones. This is extremely crucial for a country like India where energy demands will be increasing almost 8 to 10 times in the coming 20 years. This is where we should be headed and it would be a welcome change to see more sustainable buildings around us.
Q9. Describe your dream city.
That is up on my drawing board! And would require an entire book to describe!
Q10. Most of our readers are conscious consumers and decision makers. Do you have something more to say to them? How can we help in creating more sustainable spaces around us?
I believe that spaces are living entities with stories, just like us. Buildings are meant to complement their environment, not compete with it. Architecture need not be a 'product' to be consumed as a measure of standard of living (what you own). It can be a source of delight and inspiration that enriches the quality of life (who you are). My quest through architecture and sustainability is to enable us to respect the earth and live in harmony with ourselves and each other.