Green buildings require an integrated design approach

HM Architects is an Ahmedabad-based multi-disciplinary design studio, which specialises in architecture and interior designing and has built a distinguished corpus of work. An interview with Harshad Mistry, partner, HM Architects.

WORDS: STHAPATI

What new trends do you see emerging in 2018 and over the coming years?
The trends are different in each segment that we design for – high-end bungalows to affordable housing apartments to commercial buildings. Hence, trends are difficult to generalise but we can look at them separately.
Trends vary based on changes in regulations or sentiments of investors/actual buyers. Commercial buildings are the most affected by changes while high-end bungalows are the least. To understand the trend, we have to understand the present and the past as well.
Financial perspective: Investments in real estate have not appreciated in the recent past as compared to equity markets; they both share a very close relationship. This has significant impact on investors as well as actual home/property buyers – in the way they want to park their money.
Sensex and Nifty are at all-time highs with returns up to 30% in the last year. While there is a trend of excessive cash inflow into equity market, the rate is proportionately lesser in real estate markets. Cheaper loans from banks should encourage young buyers to take the plunge as it leads to reduced EMIs. Prices are expected to remain stagnant.
Regulations: RERA’s impact had cautioned the developer community in the beginning. The projects that we do are already RERA compliant. We saw excessive number of projects coming to us for design before implementation of RERA and a lot of them did not materialise even after their design was complete.
Basically, there was a slow down last year, especially from smaller and new developers, as they wanted to check the impact of RERA. We expect that many of those clients looking to ‘wait and watch’ will gain confidence from others and come forward in 2018 – after all no one can sit idle with money for long.
RERA brings in more transparency to buyers. The Supreme Court has taken strict action against developers defaulting on their commitments. Hence these changes will encourage buyers – give them more confidence that there is someone working for their interests.
The new General Development Control Regulations (GDCR) for Gujarat launched last year resulted in changes in some projects. We expect 2018 to be streamlined after some hiccups of 2017.
Buyer’s perspective: There seems to be an increasing demand for affordable housing – value for money – from for home-buyers. It generates employment for the youth, which is good news. We expect that to continue with government preparing its last full budget before general elections.
People tend to prefer high-rise multi-apartment schemes with lot of amenities, which cater to the needs of the family.
Construction technology: People are moving towards alternative construction technology apart from conventional cast-in-situ RCC construction. People are exploring other models – precast/prefab construction, column free structure, etc.

What are your views on the emerging green building concept?
Green building design deals with the way of life in which both the occupants and environment stay healthy. Putting green roof and wall does not make a building green – or for that matter painting the wall green – they can be counter-productive if not executed well; eg it could be water intensive.
For a city like Ahmedabad, shading is far more important than green roofs and walls. Simply look at green curtains that people put up during summer outside their windows and balconies; the façade never looks the same.
Green buildings require an integrated design approach with active involvement from all the stakeholders including clients, consultants and contractors. There is an increasing awareness in certain pockets about green buildings but there is a long way to go.
However, there is no doubt that we have to adopt the concept and create exemplary buildings for others to follow. Clients and occupants have been benefitting from them greatly.
We are trying out wherever we can. We see ‘Vaastu’ being implemented without ‘Shastra’, which leads to counter-intuitive designs – one cannot use principles without understanding the context. With so much technology and computing power available these days, we need more incorporation of science in buildings. Buildings have to evolve.

What changes do you foresee in designing following technology revolution?
We have already initiated certain changes in the way conventional architectural practices run. We believe that those changes will be implemented on a wider scale.

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Technology can be soft or hard – everything impacts the design.
Design visualisation: We create detailed 3D models of all the projects – architecture or interior – so that there is complete clarity from day one for us, client and contractors.
We can visualise the entire building and spaces easily rather than client having to understand innumerable sections and elevations. It streamlines the entire construction process, leaving more time for productive work. Delivered project also closely resembles the 3D. This process will see industry wide application.

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Building information modeling: Use of BIM has been increasing and we use it a lot for our projects. We look forward to further integration of our work flow. It improves project delivery time and the client is always happy with that. We will see more and more integration of the entire process in many kinds of projects. People are becoming computer literate.
Building analysis and software: – A lot of tools are available to analyse design before construction. For instance, evaluating the impact of shading system on solar heat gain inside the building, daylighting availability, energy-savings

due to various parameters; all these enable us to take better design decisions. However, clients must be ready to appreciate and utilise the importance of these services. It will take some time. It will also change the character (all-glass, little shade) of the building that people aspire based on Western influence. Even the West realizes that such designs don’t work. It will bring about sensible climate-responsive buildings which occupants appreciate for their comfort and well-being, rather than acting as a fancy piece of art (if we can call it that).
Construction: Faster and less labour intensive construction

technology will have to be adopted considering the shortage of labour that industry faces (among other problems). It has tremendous advantages and scalability.
Many people are experimenting at various levels and there are companies successfully implementing the projects in India. However, for industry wide acceptance, there should be a thorough analysis of the impact of these systems, which goes beyond technology.
It has to consider social aspects, lifestyle of people, aspirations and appreciate the Indian context and bring awareness.

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Do you see increasing demand for outdoor living in new homes? What may be the reason?
There has been a definite increase in the demand for outdoor living spaces in individual bungalows because of the increasing exposure and aspirations of the client. People prefer to take a break from routine life and go to luxury establishments to have a nice relaxed time with family, friends and relatives, away from the city.
However, due to busy schedules, it does not become possible to spare dedicated time. Hence, clients prefer to have elaborate amenities as an extension of the house, just in case they may need them to enjoy quality time. Outdoor living spaces become an extension of the house. They help people to unwind from the routine indoor life at home and office and keep them going.

Which new materials are in demand?
Things change fast. Due to globalisation and easy availability of technology and materials, people in the construction industry keep on bringing new materials for exploration. It’s the novelty that attracts clientele.
Clients demand unique experience and products most of the time. In a way, any material that can be successfully used is in demand and sky is the limit. For certain type of projects, the cost does not matter much as long as the product is exclusive. Such aspirations often lead to issues such as lack of specialised workmanship or understanding of context, which may be problematic at times.

How can better urban planning result in better quality of life?
If we revolve around just one of the basic necessities of life in city and start resolving associated issues, it will create a huge impact overall. And it is not about urban planning only; we have to look at the broader picture and a multi-pronged approach.
Everyone breathes air. But is it healthy? No. That’s why we see increasing ads about air purifiers providing healthy indoor air. But this is like creating a problem and then solving it, rather than avoiding the problem in the first place.
While operating, air purifiers consume electricity, which is generated from fossil fuels, which emit air pollution somewhere else. So we are just transferring and increasing our problems.

Can all buildings afford air purifiers? What about the end-of-life waste generated by air filters? What about time spent outside buildings? Should kids use PM2.5 masks while playing cricket?
There are so many questions. But what about focusing on creating clean outdoor air in the first place? It would solve all the issues. We need seamless and comprehensive integration of public transport systems, bicycling, etc. across the city, which would automatically encourage people use it.
We need more native tree plantation all across the city, not just on paper. There are many good models available across the world. However, some aspects are cultural and personal. We need to change the way we think about home, work and commute.

– We use AC cars to avoid air pollution but in the process create more air pollution outside and the cycle repeats itself and conditions deteriorate endlessly.

Things change fast. Due to globalisation and easy availability of technology and materials, people in the construction industry keep on bringing new materials for exploration. It’s the novelty that attracts clientele.

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But we fail to understand the fact that in the end, I or my kid is going to breathe that air at home/school/playground. Did we gain anything? Probably no. There is a need for massive awareness and people will start realising. If not, regulations should take care of the situation.
– People buy home and stick to it for life. However, work place changes frequently and then they travel 10km to work creating traffic congestion, air pollution, spend billions on oil import, etc. This money could be used to create better infrastructure and facilities in the cities. We need to come up with innovative models of housing, where changing your address is seamless – right from paper work to logistics for shifting.

– Affordable housing projects are limited to certain areas of the city, which can be far from work places.

This forces people to travel for a longer time. The situation has psychological impact that we commonly observe – causes rash driving, tempts riders to over-speed, jump traffic signals just to reach home early. Families also spends less time together. But can we distribute housing typologies evenly across the city? We can play with the size and construction technology of the unit to make it affordable in certain areas.
Apart from changes in people, there is need for a strong leadership, which can take effective actions against the problems that we are facing today.

What changes do you see in client’s requirements after demonetisation?
Clientele, in general, has become focused regarding the investments.