Amol Prabhu is a partner at
Shashi Prabhu & Associates.
He brings over 22 years of
experience in managing engineering,
construction, and design projects
in India and the US.
There are many things that need to be done right for a multi-storey structure to work well for all stakeholders involved in shaping and using the new space
While planning a high-rise building, one cannot place enough emphasis on the factor of safety. High rise buildings add to the complexity of managing safety especially while dealing with children, visitors, and staff. We constantly analyze the fall areas, blind spots, balconies, parking lots, open shafts, electrical installations, etc, from the point view of children’s and occupant safety while planning such structures.
Another aspect of critical importance while planning high-rise structures is the factor of vertical transportation – may it be staircases or the elevators. Transportation engineering is a specialized field which involves planning the number and location of elevators by balancing the cost and the wait times for passengers.
And finally, one of the most important factors while planning high rise structures is the management of people while exiting to the streets. Many designers limit the extent of their planning to within their site boundaries. While the local regulations do limit the control, a designer could have on the external environs, one cannot overlook the fact that high rise structures exponentially increase the burden on adjoining infrastructure – may it be traffic, stormwater runoffs, people, cars, etc. It is prudent to put in place design solutions that would reduce this impact on the external infrastructure.
Visual appeal vs usability
Visual Appeal and usability are two independent issues, while not necessarily mutually exclusive. Each factor, while independent on its own, could impact the other with bad planning. Well, it’s all about donning different hats as and when required. While working on a project, you not only function as an architect but also as the planning consultant in order to review all supporting facilities in place. While designing it becomes very essential for us to take into account the requirements of the clients, traffic flow increase and decrease of the FSP and several earlier views and design for the intended purpose. We also have to consider the lighting levels, adjacencies with immediate connectivity. While designing any structure, we follow a strict protocol of satisfying the following factors in the descending order of importance i.e. safety, functionality and aesthetics. While aesthetics is a critical factor of considering for us, we do not approach it until we have completely resolved the issues of safety and functionality within a building. Aesthetics can certainly be enhanced without affecting usability by paying attention to Form of the structure, using creative materials and colors. Creative use of lighting and landscape does enhance the aesthetics of a building.
The fire safety is key to reducing risks to life and property. Maintaining effective fire safety standards can appear to discourage the innovative use of new and natural materials. Every designer should focus primarily on the building safety by using such materials that will have maximum resistance to fire spreading. During a fire, Appropriate use of material can make buildings fireproof and prevent the spread of fire. A basic clean look can balance the design and safety.
Once you follow a process, planning a high-rise building is similar to any other structure. However, in Mumbai, one of the most critical challenges faced by designers today is the regulatory restriction. While it is an accepted fact that the relaxed regulations were probably misused by a few people for personal gains, tightening these regulations have indeed put a curb on the creativity while planning a high-rise building.
One of the biggest challenges Indian construction industry will face is the difficulty of scalability caused due to fast paced expansion of all markets. Indian contractors will continue to struggle due to lack of adequate qualified workforce, and hence, investment in Training and knowledge sharing will go a long way in building a solid foundation to support the growth of the nation.
If we talk about sustainable high-rise buildings then, norms and standards that are contextual/region sensitive, easy to use, intuitive, and capable of capturing and documenting the direct/ indirect benefit. Therefore, the role of the government/ statutory body becomes essential in defining such standards and enforcing them into law, so that people are required to use them in their practices. Subsequently, it takes a paradigm shift in the mindset of all the stakeholders of a project to mandate that their project is sustainable in nature by extracting maximum benefit and not necessarily looking at the short-term savings there may be by not enforcing these standards.
I get fascinated when I see the focus and vision of associations such as Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) and BREEAM who have, over the past numerous years, put a solid effort in developing sustainable standards that have not only increased the awareness of green architecture throughout the world but also benefitted numerous organizations promoting the compliant products.
Sustainability, in my opinion, should be perceived as a duty of every citizen to adopt such norms for the sake of preservation of our resources for the next generation. However, in the failure of mandatory regulations and or clarity of enforcing the law, such benevolent causes sometimes gets overlooked by many developers for the sheer greed and short-term outlook. Although we all do our part in infusing sustainable elements such as solar power, LED lights, rainwater harvesting, STP’s, composting and solar passive architecture in most of our projects, more needs to happen on a national level. Adoption of sustainable elements should be intuitive and mandatory to be successfully executed. There needs to be a greater initiative from the government to standardize these norms and make them mandatory, and if not, provide better incentives to the end users to adopt such practices in their structures.
Great opportunities ahead
In the coming few years, India is probably going to see unprecedented growth in infrastructure and building construction sector – probably more than any other nation in the world. Therefore, rightfully so, when in June 2018, when the Indian Prime Minister while speaking at an event to mark The World Environment Day emphasized India’s commitment to raising the living standards in a green and sustainable manner, we sensed, for the first time, a paradigm shift in high-level strategic thinking in India. Nevertheless, we believe that a lot of groundwork needs to happen in the area of sustainability, which starts with awareness and education of people.
Indian designers and developers work very hard to create high-quality sustainable assets which meet their strategic business and financial objectives. However, sustainable solutions usually take a back seat due to budget constraints. It is fascinating to see the focus of associations such as LEED and BREEAM who have, over the past years, put a solid effort in developing sustainable standards that have not only changed the outlook of green architecture throughout the world but also benefitted numerous organizations promoting their environmentally compliant products. Sadly, many of these products are not indigenous and as a result, Indian clients are forced to use foreign products if they want their buildings to be “Green” compliant of a certain standard. This not only costs more money to most of the smaller businesses but is sometimes inappropriate in local context i.e. the local climate and culture. The higher costs force the customers to cut corners and compromise on the end goal thereby
defeating the essential purpose of long-term sustainability.
How green is green enough?
GRIHA Council, an indigenous body, claiming to promote interaction on scientific and administrative issues related to sustainable habitats in the Indian context, was formed but hasn’t seen as much of a successful penetration in India – at least not as much as what would have hoped for. In our opinion, this is partly because of lack of awareness and also due to a failure of a mandate to include these standards through regulatory norms, as is done in the developed nations. It was rumored a few years ago that all buildings with central and/ or state government funding would be forced to adopt GRIHA norms. Till date, no such thing has happened. Even today, most government and public funded projects do not have a mandatory requirement to comply with any of the green building norms. So, how can one blame the private sector for not adopting these standards knowing very well that adopting green architecture is typically a capital-intensive effort in its short-term, To a common customer, the future payback and savings are only a hypothetical number.
Adopting sustainability should be a duty of every citizen. While awareness percolates over time through the cracks of ignorance, every citizen until then could play their part in adopting as many norms as they could possibly afford, not just for the saving money but for preserving our natural resources for the benefit of our next generation – a tiny donation that would eventually pay off immensely in the long run. Adoption of sustainable elements should be intuitive and mandatory to be successfully executed. However, we try to convince our clients of the long-term benefits of these practices and most of them are open to the idea of making their, if not large, contribution to the cause within their means.
Today, a host of resource-conserving ideas are available in the market such as Sensors automatically shutting down Energy Consuming devices during inactivity, Heat exchangers converting lost heat from Air-Conditioning systems into hot water, Energy-saving LED lights, geothermal plants using groundwater for airconditioning systems, sewer treatment plants converting raw sewer into grey water used for landscaping and AC systems, etc. Even when developers choose not to adopt the intensive energy saving rating certifications for their buildings, they could adopt any combination of the energy saving components thereby supporting their contribution to a greener planet. After all, it goes without saying that “One small step for man could possibly be a giant step for mankind in the future”.