To lose oneself in the woods is something that we city dwellers dream of doing. The woods, nature, sky represent a respite from the concrete jungle that we have created around ourselves. While the last two decades have been spent discussing global warming and climate change, these urban concrete forests have been discovered to have serious social impacts as well.

Buildings and their architecture divides society. The way projects are structured, the urban planning decisions, the placement of important infrastructure in a city such as flyovers and highways, location of industrial and commercial spaces, the area the city grudgingly allows for community spaces – all of this is determined by the architects who define where the walls are put up, how high they rise and the purpose they will serve.

Given the vast role that architecture has come to play in the growth of cities and society, modern architects are no longer content with just designing buildings and execution of those designs. The talk on climate change has forced the architect community to explore and minimize the impact the built structure will have on the environment. Efforts are on to subtly blend the built structure with the surrounding landscape. The social question is pushing the design team to check how the structure will relate to the communities amidst which they stand. And of course, the most significant question: how with the inhabitants of the building interact with the built space, the envelope and the void with where the business of life will be conducted.

These many angles have led architects to focus on different areas of the industry. While some are focused on the social interaction, there are those who passionately invest in new technologies to deliver innovative designs, faster and more efficiently. Innovation through technology, through ideas is driving this conventionally slow industry in the recent years.

Speaking on the subject of social impact of architecture, Alejandro Aravena, a Pritzker Prize–winning architect says that people migrate toward cities not just to satisfy their basic needs but also because they desire a better life. To solve that challenge — of meeting basic requirements and offering something more — architects are working with local communities to ensure they create structures with the greatest impact. These structures are usually built using locally sourced and fabricated material, and built by hiring local labour. These conscious initiatives make the built structure more meaningful to the community.

“What if in every building we make, we ask not just what its environmental footprint was, but what the human handprint was of those who made it?”
Michael Murphy,
Co-founder and Executive Director,
Boston-based MASS Design Group

Today, social impact projects are winning awards and getting recognition on the global forum. The concept of Social Impact has now gone beyond low cost. These are projects that seek to make a difference in the quality of life of the residents. Social impact projects focus on involving members of the community at the planning stage. The architects look to engage the community through local sourcing of material and manpower, effectively, changing the conversation around the building.