Constructing Climate Solutions
2023, Senior, Creative Writing
Climate Hero: Prashant Kapoor: International Finance Corporation, World Bank Group
Legs drumming on the airplane floor, fingertips tapping on the armrest, Prashant Kapoor brimmed with anticipation. Alongside his four-year-old daughter, he was journeying back to Chennai, the city of his youth. Memories of navigating its labyrinthine streets on his bicycle, pausing by the marina for snacks, and playing cricket with friends in the verdant fields danced before his eyes.
The journey had been years in the planning; the hustle and bustle of life always seemed to intervene. Yet, after clinching a lucrative deal to develop a new city in Abu Dhabi, he finally found a week to spare. His work-related thoughts evaporated as the plane’s tires kissed the tarmac at Chennai International Airport.
As he stepped off the plane, he anticipated the city’s vibrant energy; its sweet, familiar aroma, akin to his cherished childhood memories. However, an unanticipated reality struck him, his nose curling in distaste at the invasive stench of toxic chemicals, vehicular emissions, and discarded waste littering the streets. Throughout the journey to his friend’s home, under the watchful and expectant gaze of his daughter, he grappled with a disquieting sense of estrangement.
Where had the enchanting streets, redolent with the earthy scent of coffee stalls, disappeared to? What had become of the spirited bicyclists whizzing through the lanes? The temples, once billowing fragrant incense, now seemed muted. His hometown felt like a stranger.
Through the cab’s smudged window, he witnessed a terrifying tableau of decay. Streets were choked with litter, roads saturated with cars, and the city seemed to heave under a shroud of pollution. The temperature, too, seemed to have escalated; whereas once fans sufficed to combat the heat, air conditioning units now hummed from every shop, apartment, and office space. His taxi was no different, the air conditioner laboring at full tilt, just managing to resist the punishing heat.
Upon their arrival at his friend’s house, a sweltering gust enveloped Prashant as he stepped out of the taxi. Hastily, he and his daughter were led into a room where air conditioning worked overtime. He managed a smile for his friends and his daughter, concealing his perplexed thoughts. Internally, he wrestled with the radical transformation that had occurred. Once the initial pleasantries subsided, he found a moment to converse with his friend.
“Where is the Chennai we once knew? The city we once roamed as children?” Prashant asked, his voice heavy with apprehension.
His friend’s face assumed a somber expression. “Unfortunately, it’s the result of rampant consumerism and disregard for the environment. Over time, an influx of factories and vehicles have swarmed India, making outdoor excursions a rarity. This situation isn’t exclusive to Chennai – it’s a common sight across India.” His friend’s casual shrug suggested an acceptance of this dismal reality, a submission to raising children amidst these circumstances. But Prashant couldn’t reconcile with the notion of his daughter growing up in a world overrun by plastic waste, tainted by vehicle exhaust, and clouded by industrial fumes. He envisioned a world for her where children roamed free, where the enticing aroma of coffee and sweets pervaded the streets, and where the sun cast its radiant light against a pristine sky.
As Prashant dreamt of a green city, he started noticing things differently. The architect in him began scrutinizing everyday buildings with fresh eyes. For the first time, he grasped their inefficiencies. It dawned on him how the same box-like structures were replicated worldwide, with little consideration for environmental impact. A nudge of effort could have steered architects towards designing more energy-efficient buildings. He remembered a time when the absence of air conditioning didn’t compromise comfort – vernacular architecture with high ceilings and well-ventilated courtyards was prevalent. The architects of yesteryears understood this, enabling occupants to live comfortably using just a fraction of the energy. An epiphany struck him – his dreams needn’t remain just dreams. As the chief engineer for a new city development, he possessed the power to turn his vision into reality. And thus, the blueprint for Masdar City began to take shape.
The biggest obstacle in Masdar City’s design was the pervasive human desire for consumption. It is relatively simple to lower the energy consumption of an unpopulated city. However, reducing energy use in a bustling city, with inhabitants possessing diverse wants and needs, is far more complex. This challenge was intensified by Masdar City’s desert location, where residents would demand high energy for cooling requirements and other daily activities.
Prashant Kapoor sought answers in architecture solutions. The city’s design includes three narrow parks that slice Masdar into four sections, offering greenery and cooler, shaded spaces for the residents. Moreover, Masdar’s streets are distinctively narrow, but not uncomfortably so, with the adjacent buildings providing shade. This layout ensures minimal heat absorption by the asphalt roads. Additionally, the buildings are oriented either southeast or northwest to diminish heat absorption and thereby lower cooling requirements. As a result of these architectural strategies, the city operates solely on green energy derived from photovoltaic panels and waste. This waste, including materials like wood and plastic, is incinerated at a special energy plant, leaving no carbon footprint. Hence, Masdar City exemplifies a true green oasis in the desert, boasting a zero-carbon footprint.
Prashant Kapoor managed to conceive a city where future generations, including his own daughter, could live without fretting about present-day pollution. However, the realization of such a world cannot hinge on a single city. To counter a problem induced by humanity, the design of efficient cities is a starting point, but not the full solution. It is incumbent upon us all to work towards a world where children can freely cycle on the streets, play in open fields, and bask in the outdoors without the dread of polluted air.
Climate change often appeared to me as a vast, distant entity - too immense to touch or alter. I felt as if my individual actions would be but a drop in the overwhelming ocean of this global crisis. Yet, amidst this perceived helplessness, I discovered Architect Prashant Kapoor. His role in the creation of Masdar City revealed an unexpected intersection of architecture and climate action. Kapoor transformed his professional skills into a tool for combating climate change. He sculpted sustainable futures from concrete and steel, conveying a powerful message that everyone, regardless of their profession, can contribute to environmental preservation. Exploring his work, I was struck by an epiphany. Each sustainable structure in Masdar City was a testament to the impact of individual initiative. Our diverse talents and passions can be directed, with ingenuity, towards a greener future. We each hold a unique piece of the solution. This revelation was both staggering and enlightening. It rekindled my belief in the potential of individual actions to affect collective change. Kapoor's journey stirred a profound realization within me - we are not powerless against climate change. Every action, every decision, every innovation, counts. It reaffirmed my conviction - change begins with me.