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Domain Themes

Architecture & Built Form | Urban Planning & Design | Physical Infrastructure | Social Infrastructure | Water & Sanitation | Transportation | Economy | Energy & Environment | Governance | Housing | Resilience

Domain Team

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Domain: Sustainable Habitat

Broad Coverage

India is at the threshold of a major shift in the way human habitation is perceived. By the end of 2030, 250 million new urbanites are expected to join in Indian cities. The agglomeration will certainly provide increased economic impetus but poses significant social and environmental threat. Places of India's habitation are already struggling with poverty, slum, informality, pollution, and resource degradation. Any significant transformation from status quo needs swift yet sustainable solution to extend a decent quality of life to every Indian citizen. In order to achieve the coveted livability in our habitat, the domain has envisaged an integrated and multidisciplinary approach. The output of this exercise will be disseminated as an education policy and framework to achieve quality education and research on sustainable habitat in India.


Habitat, particularly urban habitat, is the epicentre of global economic growth and subsequent energy requirement. With increased economic and industrial activity, average global CO2 emission is growing at 1.3% per year. Respite from this grave situation is not seemingly possible in the immediate future with the primacy in geopolitical consideration. With the business as usual, global cities which emits largest share of CO2, will rise in its share of CO2 emission from 71% in 2006 to 76% in 2030. This amount of energy and resource usage is not only due to increasing economic activity and behavioural changes, but also due to the current spatial planning of cities. Organisation of human habitat, both urban and rural, should not only imply design at a meta-level of cities and rural clusters, but also at smaller levels like neighbourhoods and communities. There is no gainsaying that human habitat needs energy and resources to survive and sustain its living standard, economic and social pursuits. It is known that proper habitat design has a direct impact on energy and resource consumption. But absence of awareness creates a situation where most approaches to sustainability concentrate on idealized energy rating systems of measurable components, such as buildings, building components and consumer goods. While it is important, such measures are on track to reduce total energy consumption by just 1-2%. And yet assembly of these hi-tech gadgets invariably increase carbon footprint, a dimension neglected in measuring energy efficiency. Energy performance at the habitat scale is often overlooked due to its complexity in modelling with available predictive models. But it is evident that optimization of energy consumption and maintenance of environmental balance is not possible without achieving the goal of sustainable habitat design.

Sustainability in its true sense does not only concentrate on maintaining the current environmental position, the popular perception. It also calls for socio-economic stability and prosperity. Economic growth affects socio-economic development but not entirely. Spatial reflection of socioeconomic growth needs to be harnessed properly. Spatial networking between different economic factors reduce transaction costs and enhance superior economic output. Networking and ease of accessibility also enhances social connection to enhance societal development. Location and growth of human habitation and its complex relationship with its environment requires innovative design.

In general, habitat in India struggles with compound problems. In the past we have planned and design many habitats, including the newly developed urban habitats like Noida, Gurgaon, and Raipur and so on. All the newly designed habitats are struggling with various issues arising from poorly conceived habitat design, based on Western thoughts, while ignoring the ethos of Indian habitat design. Knowledge and developing human resources in habitat design are of utmost importance in today's emerging India. The objective of this study is to create a policy paper on delivering quality human resource with capable knowledge to transform Indian habitat through home-grown solutions within the constraints of our social, economic, administrative and political structure.

The Approach

Our approach is to visualise habitat not only from the perspective of space but also its deep ecological and emotional values attached with spaces. Development doesn't always refer to be oblivion of the past and embrace the glittering present, but to harness the past in sustaining built environment in the present and the future. Sustainable habitat is the single most influencing factor which outlines a society's aspiration for living a sustainable life.

Habitat policies are government's response in understanding problems, perceived approach towards the remedies, and visualise future development of the society. Future habitat can only be sustainable and inclusive if we can replace the traditional ways of visualising policy merely with economic cost benefit outcome. This traditional capitalist approach often neglects superior ethical dimensions of equality and justice. Capitalist sector often restricts itself in GNP growth numbers and end up creating gigantic economic centres like metropolises. Increasing “metropolitanisation” in the globe is a direct manifestation of this lopsided economic aspiration, which is affecting imbalance in regional distribution and accelerating greater urban rural division. Already 53 urban agglomerations in India have a population of more than a million and it hosts almost 43 per cent urban population. Excessive concentration of economic benefits in urban region is invariably leading towards migration from rural hinterlands to urban core. Furthermore, rural regions in the neighbourhood of urban areas are becoming peri-urban areas. Thus, a continuous sprawling of edge-less cities is happening more than ever before.

A recent discussion organized by IIT Roorkee touched on a variety of issues and concerns regarding sustainable habitat. Discussions or government policy today compartmentalises habitat into either urban or rural ecosystem. The linkages between these two ecosystems and its interdependence are neglected both by the western and eastern scholars. The first workshop foresees the domain's approach both from top down and bottom up. Once we can create quality of life to be the benchmark to evaluate human development, all such spatial divisions between rural and urban become obsolete. Of course, this will require a paradigm shift in the thinking process about sustainable habitat design.

Way Forward

It is evident that no single discipline can integrate the aspirations set out in our approach to education and research policy of Sustainable Habitat for India. It is also evident that “once size fits all” policy cannot work given the diversity in social and cultural ethos across the country. There is a necessity to create benchmarks that would identify sustainable development of habitat. The benchmarks need to be validated based on “people-level” discussions. Therefore, the education and research policy needs to emphasise equal priority to practice and application of research on the “ground-level” (Figure 1).


So far we have identified eleven themes, although the cross-links between the themes are evident and need to be emphasized.

I. Architecture & Built form;

ii. Urban Planning & Design;

iii. Physical Infrastructure;

iv. Social Infrastructure;

v. Water & Sanitation;

vi. Transportation;

vii. Economy;

viii. Energy & Environment;

ix. Governance;

x. Housing and

xi. Resilience.

  • Architecture & Built Forms: Architecture & built form are the fundamental unit of all built environment. It includes various sub-themes such as archaeology of human habitation, contemporary architecture, space making in architecture and energy studies in architecture.

  • Urban Planning & Design: Urban planning & design help in integrating human habitation with physical, social, economic and virtual functions. The relevance sub-themes instigated during initial discussion are; planning for old towns & new towns, urban space design, conservation & heritage, city image and local area planning, urban regeneration & smart growth.

  • Physical Infrastructure: Physical infrastructure serves to provide basic minimum requirement for survival and maintenance of health and hygiene for society to flourish. In addition to the traditional infrastructure, the domain introduces regional infrastructure covering urban and rural areas, infrastructure efficiency, and smart infrastructure.

  • Social Infrastructure: Education, health, culture, religion and society form the basis of social infrastructure. The domain will concentrate on social infrastructure and its role in space making.

  • Water & Sanitation: This subject was initially conceived as a part of physical infrastructure theme. But recognizing its extreme importance among Indian citizens, it has been decided to create an independent theme for water & sanitation. Sub-themes like potable water supply, waste water treatment, sanitation, public hygiene will be discussed under this theme.

  • Transportation: Transportation consist one of the major domain for sustainable habitat. It enables movement and has implications in economy, environment and societal development. Transportation planning & traffic engineering, transportation policy & economics, environment, non-motorised transit, and smart transit system are the most prominent inclusion in sub-themes.

  • Economy: Habitat planning is spatial manifestation of socio-economic development of any country. Therefore, understanding economic issues are very important for habitat planning and its sustainability. Subjects like regional economics, formal & informal economy, equity, cluster and networking, innovation and creative economy are significant part of this theme.

  • Energy & Environment: Energy and environment are grouped together as a theme for deliberation under sustainable habitat domain. Human activities are completely dependent on energy and its affordable supply. Environment which is the mother of our very existence needs special care to continue our existence. Increasingly human beings are threatened with energy security and various consequences due to environmental degradation. Sustainability, pollution, urban greening, heat island, are the major sub-themes to be addressed.

  • Governance: Effective legal and administrative framework extends the benefit and addresses various concerns in an effective manner. Physical, social and economic benefits can only be distributed effectively in a society if existence of an effective governing system is already functioning. People's participation, smart governance, complexity between different governance hierarchies will be deliberated within this theme.

  • Housing: More than 80% of built environment belongs to housing and human habitation. Physical, social, governance and economic aspects related to housing needs emphatic attention, particularly in the extent of government policy like 'Housing for all 2022'. Affordable housing, informal settlement and slum, real estate, materials & construction method, durable housing, temporary housing are some of the sub-themes include in housing.

  • Resilience: Increase in intensity of natural disaster of various forms in this globe, resilience has become an important issue. Resilience is an innovative idea which discusses about flexibility, adaptation and knowledge to survive during disaster and harness knowledge of post disaster physical, economic and social development.

    All these themes have strong direct and indirect consequences both vertically and horizontally in this matrix. Housing has strong linkage with transportation and infrastructure which in turn has strong linkage with economy, environment and energy. These mutual linkages are undeniable within the domain of sustainable habitat. It creates more insight to opt for “experiential model” in education and research. Education in sustainability and habitat are more focused on indoor teaching and learning of models and then validate the model based hypothesis with outdoor samples. The approach is restricting in true understanding of human habitat of different genre.

    Education and research policy may not be open ended. As policy designers, we will work out mechanism to foresee the possible consequences of the policy implementation. Identification of themes, sub-themes, titles and topics would provide the foundation to identify all the necessary instruments in great detail which influence habitat. It won't be surprising if we find out that many of these topics eventually need multidisciplinary team to solve the real life problem. The future education and research to provide effective solution may well lie with interdisciplinary approach rather focusing to solve the immediate problem. This greater interdependence among the themes is already instigating ideas of creating institutions which offer multiple disciplines instead focuses on isolated discipline. Strong communication and collaboration among these discipline is also needs to be ensured.

    Policy scientists often criticise policy designers for narrowly focused means end rationality of policy analysis. We assimilate this criticism and will work on to come up with specific strategy which would gratify the spirit of policy. One such measure would be to introduce specific policy measurement methods. Proposed policies will not be floated freely without any evaluation matrix.

    Sustainable Habitat domain will establish a pragmatic index to measure the progress of the proposed education and research policy. It may have both short term and long term measurement options to provide government enough opportunity to measure the gravity of the situation. The policy will be flexible enough to enable modifications depending on short term feedback to make it more effective in long term.

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