Housing Infrastructure – The Social Responsibilities of Today’s Architects III

By Engr. Mohammad Iqbal Mirza, CEO, Green Leaves

From biological point of view, ‘Man is a social animal.’ Nothing better explains the relationship between man and society than the said words of Greek philosopher Aristotle. The society is made of individuals. When individuals share similar beliefs, behaviours, values, objects and common characteristics, they are said to have a common culture. The culture defines people and groups conforming to society’s shared values and their contribution to the society. Culture, therefore, includes many societal aspects: language, customs, values, norms, rules, tools, technologies, products, organizations, and institutions.


Individual is a part of society with his given consent, so is he obliged to obey the laws of society. Similarly an organization or institution is also a part of the society and has to contribute and obey the laws of society.  Although, today it is generally believed that the individual’s rights has preference over the community, but he is not entirely free from the society’s obligation. The individual becomes part of the whole. He has to give up some freedom, willingly or unwillingly, to obtain safety, develop and strengthen social bonds.  The role of individual is very important in the sustained wellbeing and uninterrupted functioning of the society. When we talk about social responsibility of any individual or an architect, it is meant to solve the problems of the individual or the architect. The problems cannot be solved without clear understanding of individual relationship with the society.


Let’s study the life of a family, every individual has a role and in order to remain the part of family, he or she has to abandon some of his/her specific features to become member of the family or whole entity. Since primitive times, in the life of family, to keep the life moving, we see division of tasks according to gender and age; the intimate life of husband and wife to perpetuate the race, upbringing of the children, other multidimensional and multifarious psychological, moral and legal obligations. We all have to share, reciprocate and owe a responsibility to each other. The life of a family is like a small society from where a child steps into the bigger society, gets orientation, learns values of different norms and behaviour, expands his language and thinking process.


The social responsibility of an architect is to be viewed in the same perspective with same objectives. The state and the individuals are paying for the education and upbringing of architects, engineers, doctors and accounting professionals; and in response state and its citizens do not expect any monetary benefit, but they do expect these professionals to use their education in bringing improvement in the life of society. How far our alumni contribute in the wellbeing of state and its citizens, is not our subject, however there have been two camps on animal behaviour and animal cognition-one that focus on the difference between animals and humans called as exclusivists and the other who stressed on similarities between the two, called exclusivists. This debate is going on since centuries, the philosophers like Aristotle and Descartes have argued that humans are the only species capable of higher order cognition such as rational thoughts and language, whereas Voltaire, Darwin and Hume have argued “that beasts are endowed with thought and reason as well”. Irrespective of what these great philosophers believed, what we all have witnessed and are witnessing is human beings with all the higher order cognition have acted and are acting like beasts. When human beings do not bear the responsibility to society, where is the humanity? As the child grows older, enters the society, he has a role to play, the education and the job he is assigned demands a positive contribution which resolves issues of individuals and groups formed so. The influence of an individual on another individual is extremely limited in scope; the influence on the whole society is the main educational and motivating force.


The architects are a privileged class of society, they are respected and valued by their clients. They work for the whole society and the services they provide are meant to bring not only pleasure but joy and comfort with happiness to all segments of the society. Can we experience it? There is no possibility of a utopian state, but the efforts behind services can measure the intent of service provider. Architecture is not a display of lines drawn on a white paper, but in fact should be the house of inner peace, where the souls are going to reside for most of their live. The lines architect draws need to move beyond the parameter of merely controlling humidity, temperature and ambience. He shall direct his approach to well-being of its residents. Why well-being? Because, it is the combination of health, happiness and prosperity. The environment built or otherwise can have long term effect on humans’ quality of life, so architects should try not to optimize use of space, but persuade people to change their behaviour in deciding the interior and exterior of their houses.

The designs offered by architects should concentrate on health and well-being of those who live there, because the potential implications of absence of wellbeing are greater than the absence of ill-health. The housing design shall keep away poor indoor environmental quality, which we hardly see in modern designed houses especially the low income group; the designs shall be supporting positive mental well-being, which, in turn, has direct impact on physiological health of people. Our architect do not focus on well-being in buildings, it is more important to incorporate a wide range of both quantitative and qualitative health considerations rather than to focus on a single, narrowly defined criteria –more space, temperature and humidity control, etc. We don’t find diversity and adaptability in our today’s architectural designs. The large population in Pakistan is destined to have a poor indoor quality. Why architects can’t break stalemate in house designs, as we see quick changes in other household appliances? The people health is determined by their circumstances and environment, such as, the place they live, the environment they are exposed to, education, income level and the state of relationship with friends and family they enjoy. Most of our housing schemes can be termed as modern slums by all standards-indoor/outdoor environment and amenities of life available to the residents.

Health is not limited to availability of medical treatment only, it is a state of complete physical, mental and social wellbeing along with medical. There is a deep relationship between all the aforementioned factors. The quality of built environment which is responsibility of an architect affects directly the health of an individual. Environment is a prevention and the old saying “Prevention is better than cure” gives long term solution to so many psychological problems arising in the society. Keeping people healthy at home and in the society is interdependent.

Health is not only absence of disease, which a doctors typically measures in terms of symptoms such as body temperature or blood chemistry. Comfort is widely understood to be a “condition of mind which expresses satisfaction” with the environment whether temperature, air movement, visual, noise level, etc. Do we experience comfort in modern designed houses in these conventional terms? The answer by and large is no! Happiness is primarily a subjective and qualitative consideration, which colloquially refers to emotions experienced, potentially ranging from contentment to joy. In this busy world of ours, the designs offered by architects seldom bring happiness to the inmates of a building. I refer to them as animals shed to protect from weather severity. The houses and buildings lack both in ventilation as well as air quality harmful for its vulnerable occupants, both young and old with impaired lungs condition. If an individual feels well, he of course will function well also. The happiness in life creates a positive characteristic in the individual thus allowing him to have positive relationship, control over his own life and sense of purpose to live. The designs today have deprived people of happiness and joy. The houses and housing schemes instead of being a source of connection for the people have disconnected them which in turn has taken away the attribute of taking and giving.

The research in developed countries has established a relationship between architecture (Designing Healthy Buildings) and good health, which has historically received little attention in the past. The west is emphasizing on ill health as a result of direct and indirect effects of environmental characteristics such as overcrowding, noise, air quality and light. True, it is not possible to have an ideal situation with one universal design which ensures an environment looking after every parameter of good health. The feasible objective for a design should be achieving at least a minimum level considered good enough to avoid “ill health” and responsive to user’s behaviours, requirements, and freedom of choice giving them control over the environment. In Pakistan architects like all other professionals are running in a rut, no innovation, the interior like the exterior is monotonous, doesn’t promote connectivity even among its inmates. The exterior is bland like tarmac roads and doesn’t support socializing.

The design of the home, the strategy should be to creating an environment that avoids ill-health and sustains good health (While designing a home the strategy should be to create an environment that avoids ill health and sustains good health). The sense of a quality environment shall be the prime focus of our architecture design enabling the inmates to feel happy while they are at home relaxing and enjoy even the cooking and housekeeping. We are all accustomed to kitchen areas close to the living room, instead the dinning should be in the near proximity of kitchen eliminating TV during dinning and increasing social interaction between family to support learning eating habits and eating choices.

The electricity is a great invention, but natural light has more advantages over it. It is our link to the outside world. The benefits of natural light to physical health are now well understood. Natural light is a remedy to seasonal affective disorders. This doesn’t mean we shall have a design that over illuminates, it has its own disadvantages of disrupting comfort, especially if sleep during day time and heat affects during hot summers. Our architecture is devoid of thermal design strategy, this denies comfort to the residents and does not allow stimulating conditions to exploit climatic conditions. We human beings want change after a certain period of time; in hot summer we like the weather to change and enjoy rain, but if the design of a house brings the rain in the house and inundates the exterior, the sense of enjoyment suddenly dies. Similarly natural ventilation and conduction of heat are both desired but our design don’t give any control to its inmates on radiation and wind storms. The world is changing, the architects and all other professionals are required to make the world a better living place. In our part of world the feeling and need is increasing to use material science in providing a natural environment for day and night comforts with a control at their disposal.