Today is the day for the very first entry on this blog as it follows the launch of the Billion Bricks website last week. Billion bricks is an international and multi-disciplinary non-profit organisation which aims to improve the quality of life of the homeless and people in extreme poverty in developing countries.
It is the brainchild of Prasoon Kumar, a friend and colleague who is an architect and an urban designer. Prasoon and I worked together on several projects and often discussed how our professional and even personal lives were invested in catering to the needs of clients who often prioritise financial gains over the quality of the built environment. Terms such as saleable area, FSI consumption and efficiency tend to be valued more than the ideas of equity, sustainability, inclusivity and accessibility.
Prasoon realised that while architects dream about designing glitzy shopping malls, high end condominiums and landmark office buildings, they often forgetthe poor and homeless who struggle for a mere roof above their heads. He chose to bridge this huge gap as he envisioned Billion Bricks, a non profit organisation, which aims to generate and provide sustainable solutions for buildings and urban infrastructure. He also realised that the only way to realise his vision was to quit his job and completely commit to this cause.
Needless to say, the curious and opinionated family and circle of friends are finding this move tough to understand and accept wholeheartedly. Prasoon has been receiving his share of raised eyebrows, critical remarks and 'pertinent' questions from ‘well-wishers’, colleagues and friends.
I have to admit, I too have many questions of my own. Here is a gist of my conversation with him, which I am sharing here. I hope it gives usa better insight into his thoughts, strategies and experiences as he prepares for this exciting journey.
1. What inspired you to start this new venture?
I strongly believe in the power of design and good architecture in shaping human behaviour and society as a whole. I realised that we architects, continually spend our time and energy in servicing a very small segment of the society, by catering to their housing, shopping, recreational and workplace needs. There is a huge segment of the population that gets left out and can benefit from good design and architecture and hence I decided to shift my attention.
2. Will you miss designing buildings and large urban townships, residential areas and precincts ?
Yes, I am sure I will miss designing buildings but I will still be very close to the architecture and urban design community which surely will keep my spirits alive.
3. Are you geared up for the drastic change in your client's profile?
I think all clients are difficult and engaging the client irrespective of their profile is key to good architecture.
4. Could you tell us a bit more in detail about your vision, strategies, goals and action plans?
When we design for the poor, we generally have the tendency to provide the cheapest and most frugal solution. We believe that a new piece of architecture is at least better than what they currently have access to.
Our basic foundation is on questioning this premise. We believe buildings should be adequately designed, high quality and provide for what is appropriate, not what is the cheapest. To draw a parallel, this would be similar to feeding one roti to a person who has not eaten for days; while his usual diet is of three. Buildings last for a long time during which aspirations and requirements change, and hence building design needs to build in this flexibility.
5. How can people reach out and help your cause?
The best way for people is to reach out through our website or over email at firstname.lastname@example.org and let us know how would they like to help us. It is worth mentioning that we ourgoalis to becomethe most transparent non-profit in the world.
Prasoon been lucky to get the support of many, who encourage and inspire him to do what he truly believes in. Let us wish him all the best for his endeavours and reach out to himby pledging our support here: