22 August 2019

Cover Story

What’s Shaping India?


Decoding the zenith of Indian architecture


"Every great architect is -- necessarily -- a great poet. He must be a great original interpreter of his time, his day, his age."These words from one of the greatest architect, Frank Lloyd Wright, are more significant today than ever before. A true architect is a visionary who can foresee the needs of the future and plan homes (and lives) ages ahead of them. Rohan Ambike writes about the current trends and the future of architecture and planning in India.


India of today is a reflection of various architectural styles, which is a mix of traditional designs and modern office blocks that inspire creativity. The country is littered with iconic buildings today. Architecture is a blend of Art, Engineering, and Technology, and the structure should be a confluence of all three, reflecting the purpose of its existence and the cultural milieu within which it exists.




Modern Architecture trends in India


Construction sounds boom loudly nowadays as the Indian skyline towers with competing skyscrapers and IT office parks sprawling in outer suburban townships. More high-tech, high-glitz international airports replete with all the commercial building associated with major transportation hubs have fulfilled many Indian intended building goals but the design is often American inspired.


In earlier days landscapes were perceived essentially with nature and the natural beauty of nature with the sky, hills, trees, forests, rivers flowing, endless meadows, undulating mounds on hill slopes, vast open green spaces, the endless sea, limitless horizon, deserts, sand dunes and oasis.


With extensive growth, industrial & commercial development and rapid urbanization, land has developed new versions of landscapes. Hence we have cityscapes, urban landscapes and rural landscapes. Most places in the world went through this transition associated to the disconnect they experienced in rapid mass development in a planned or mostly unplanned manner that left out nature while construction and built form took over.


The field of Architecture, or in other words, the art and engineering of buildings has now earned the reputation that it deserves. In India, architecture has always caught the eyes of the masses. May it be the single stone carvings of the Ajantha, Ellora and Karla caves that date back to the 7th and 8th century, or the tall skyscrapers that are now a day’s common in all the metros. All have the power to aw the viewers. Noted economist Amartya Sen had once said, "Globalisation is inevitable." Looking at the architecture of the houses and commercial spaces in the cities of Modern India, this has been true as each construction these days has reflected this thought in its full glory. Being world-class is one of the changing trends in India Architecture that every architect seems to swear by.




Indian Architecture after Independence


Just after independence, the pressure on the town planners was to create more shelter spaces for coping with the sudden influx of the population that happened due to partition. Functional designs, minimalistic approach and houses delivering basic amenities formed the food for thought for the architects on one hand, while the modernistic views of our first Prime Minister Jawahar Lal Nehru reflected in the buildings where 1 per cent of the cost of development was dedicated to art and sculpture to enhance the aesthetics of the structure.


It is an interesting fact that at the time of Independence, India had just 300 architects who needed to cater to the large population of 3 million people belonging to different classes of the society. While the fear of losing the heritage stopped the policy makers from encouraging newer trends, the pomp and show of the Modern architecture continued to cast its spell over the minds of those people who wanted the country to move on with the changing times. So, the first and most visible impact on Indian architecture after Independence was emerging of the trend where architects came up with designs that were classy amalgamation of traditional royal design and modern aesthetics.


India boasts a galaxy of architects who have designed iconic buildings in India and abroad. Also many architects of global repute have made seminal contributions to Indian architecture, ranging from Lutyen’s Delhi to Master Planner Le Corbusier’s Chandigarh city. Post independence India saw an emergence of two major schools in architecture, the Revivalist and the Modernist schools. The Revivalist advocated continuity with the past, but the Modernists wanted Indian architecture to be liberated from its colonial roots and embrace global trends in modern architecture. When one thinks of modern India the new rage is tall buildings.


There is a variety of architectural designs found in this genre in contemporary India, especially since the beginning of the 21st Millenium, and the most iconic is going to be ‘World One’ in Mumbai. Still under construction by the Lodha Group, when completed it World One will be the world’s second tallest residential tower.



Changing trends in Indian Architecture that Defined Progressive Approach


India has come far from the era when only traditional designs were the available option for the house seekers. With change in land price and increase in property rates, flat system has penetrated the residential housing architecture and people are seen selling off their lands to buy flats – the representatives of modern, urban living where all the amenities are provided in gated communities.


The problem of providing shelter and creating more room out of given space still rules the architectural designs, but the difference is that the designs of today are not only minimalistic, they support the multi-utility feature also. The malls, shopping complexes, commercial establishments and cinema halls have gone a makeover in sync with the emerging global tastes. The previous notion of procuring the material as well as expertise from within the close vicinity has transformed into going for cross-border solutions and picking global trends and integrating as per Indian conditions. Thus, there is no hesitation among the architects of today in picking the looks from Italy, or US or any other place and converting the buildings into world-class structures yet in lines of Indian housing policies and weather sustainable designs. If we define the changing trends in Indian Architecture more clearly, the connect between the exterior and interior seems to have erased off, completely. Architects put the looks of the building at a higher pedestal then the purpose they are meant to serve.


Integrating service with structure is considered the ideal way of bringing the brick and mortar into an adorable edifice. When the first five-year plan was announced in 1952, a whirlwind effect was seen on the architecture. Completing many projects in limited time and resources required the architects to move from the conventional schools of design and bring realistic expression into action. The vision was quite clear as more and more buildings were made future-ready by integrating features such as reduced floor heights, absence of proper ventilation ( to accommodate the air-conditioning feature) etc. Magnificent just got replaced with relevant.




Latest trends in Indian Architecture


Back to basics seem to be one of the latest trends in Indian Architecture. The spaces are shrinking no doubt; but, the importance of living close to nature is again occupying the centre of thoughts. The definition of modern is no more blindly following the West; what the visionaries have done in the past  but to use the resources in an optimized manner is also being studied again. Health issues, fast life and pressure to deliver the projects in limited time span is bringing readymade features into the structures, manufacturing components is certainly not the focus; but assembling is.


Invisible presence of technology in the structures developed is another trend that is winning attention everywhere. Technology is being embedded deep into the design so that messy look can be given an organized appearance. Geometrical structures and importance of the rectangular shapes of the buildings are other trends from the recommendations of Vaastu experts.


The environmental concerns are being taken into account more seriously and so the final form takes the back seat and concepts of insulation, radiations and reflection are brought to the central stage; thus, more than the looks, it is environment-readiness that forms the base of the ideas of the present times. The architect is now required to think only on these lines instead of finding coordination between the exterior and interior.


Builders want to get returns on every square feet of land they put on sale in the form of house. Thus, building voluminous structures that contribute to saleable area feature is one of the latest trends in Indian Architecture. Commercialization is giving way to creativity.




Open concept & flexi rooms


The era of boxed up homes with tiny grilled windows is finally making an exit. Irrespective of the space used, pople want to experience more freedom and self-expression in their homes. Whether its studio apartments or luxury condos, well-defined quarters have given way to implied spaces, which connect to each other without obstructions. Rooms are defined by changes in the ceiling or floors, rather than walls. This concept has also successfully flowed over to multiple floors to create an expansive and eloquent space, given to connectivity and interaction. Besides blurring boundaries, rooms also are becoming less defined in their purpose. Contemporary architects are now designing rooms with the capacity to easily transmute into a new functional area without a drastic makeover or renovation.




Health conscious design


The quality of our buildings directly affects our own health. Our homes today are veritable hot-spots of a mind-boggling array of products both used in construction material as well as design elements within the home. These chemicals surreptitiously invade our homes in the form of seemingly innocuous products like wall-paints, vinyl flooring or even your flame retardant mattress. The list of pollutants includes hormone disruptors’ neurotoxins, carcinogens, linked to a wide variety of health concerns including cancer, chronic fatigue syndrome, obesity, depression and frequent infections. According to a John Hopkins University study, oil-based paints and stains alone contain potentially 300 toxic chemicals and 150 carcinogens. And since we spend up to 90 per cent of our time in buildings, the potential dangers of dallying with the explosive mix is just beginning to draw attention.




The Green revolution in architecture


India ranks third on the US Green Building Council's (USGBC) annual ranking of the top 10 countries for Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) certified buildings.  According to the survey by USGBC, the top 10 list highlights countries outside of the US that are using LEED and India with more than 752 LEED-certified projects totalling over 20.28 million gross square meters of space, ranks third.


Indian architects are also tech savvy in using Green construction materials. Construction material manufacturers are coming up with innovative materials to meet their demands. Several Indian projects have won Green construction awards. Green buildings set their goals a notch higher in 2017, going from just reducing energy consumption here and there to becoming zero-net-energy buildings – which means they aim to produce as much energy as they consume. Some have even managed to become energy-positive buildings that produce surplus energy that can be given away. This requires a stringent use of resources as well as strategies to produce one’s own renewable energy. The ITC Group of hotels is an apt example of zero energy buildings – the group also produces enough wind energy for its green hotels.


Awareness regarding the negative impact of construction on the environment has meant a steady shift towards environmentally responsible green building materials. Green concrete alternatives were a major development this year. Green roofing alternatives such as metal as well as synthetic thatch have been soaring in popularity. Using eco-friendly sustainable materials has a lesser impact on nature because they are responsibly sourced, cause less pollution and can often be recycled or disposed of without harming the environment.


The use of natural sunshine gained a greater emphasis in 2017. ‘Daylight harvesting’ is a simple, but effective step that can help keep a tab on the energy use of buildings. Using automated shades is another trend that is catching up, these shades will self-regulate depending on the sunlight available, protecting materials indoor from the harsh sun, while leveraging daylight whenever possible.




Future of Architecture in India


Collaboration of Public and private spaces


With the massive burst in the number of people shifting from the rural areas to the urban cities, space has been a topic of concern and issue. The rise in the number of people has resulted in having a series of jams. Meaning that it is high time we take a call on the way cities organise their space. To deal with the space issue, there are plans to combine the public and private spaces. Initially, there were designated areas in the cities that had been marked as residential, commercial and industrial. However, it has been learnt that there are plans to combine all these areas which will reduce the need for transport. Experts believe that this will also keep the residents happier.




Increasing focus on outdoor living


With the evolution of living room and dining rooms into common areas with an open space layout, there has been a gradual disappearance of formal spaces in urban homes. As homes are progressively de-formalised, we will see an increase in emphasis on outdoor living. Until a few years back, outdoor areas mainly comprised of the balcony, decks, patios, and outdoor grills, but now you can easily find outdoor kitchens. Some house owners go a step further with fully furnished outdoor rooms.




Eco-friendliness reaches new highs


Green terrace, eco-friendly material, green walls, green bridges, we have seen it all. While there is a wave of creating eco-friendliness in every industry, it is architecture that has created new trends. Green roofs and green walls are expected to be very popular in 2018. In addition, we can also expect to see more of green inside the buildings. Indoor parks are expected to be the next big thing along with micro-climates.




Use of wood and other material


Cross-laminated timber panels are way stronger and fire-resistant than traditional wood. This newfound availability has allowed architects to design not only homes but huge skyscrapers with timber. Traditional concrete and iron houses are being replaced with newly found materials. In addition to wood, dirt mixture is constantly being tested and experimented with. These changing technologies are surely going to re-image some conventional building types and have a huge impact on the kind of materials used by architecture.






With all the movement taking place in the architecture sector, we will remember the lines of Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, the German writer. He had coined the field of architecture as ‘frozen music’. For our living spaces have evolved from elementary brick and mortar boxes to alive, intuitive and organic spaces, capable of evolving and interacting with the humans who use them every day. And going forward, the buildings of the future are not only going to be sustainable and cost effective, but are also expected to purposefully and actively contribute to the health and wellbeing of their inhabitants. From experimenting with new technology and radical ideas to reviving classic and natural approaches to construction, the architects and planners are responding to the shift in our social construct and demands of climate change with surprising and evocative results.

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