07 June 2020

Cover Story

Capturing India’s Zeitgeist

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 India reflects myriad architectural styles, an eclectic mix of traditional designs and modern office blocks that inspire creativity. The country is littered with iconic buildings, from a lotus shaped house of worship to the proposed delicate eggshell like Cybertecture Egg, the oeuvre of Indian architecture spans a wide repertoire. Satish P Chavan tries to capture its Zeitgeist……..


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.


However, the tower trend started in India a long time ago, when Ar Charles Correa designed the iconic Kanchanjunga Apartments in 1974, located in Mumbai. Its flats reconcile courtyards and the connected spaces of traditional Indian living with the urban context of an apartment building.


Another iconic strucxture designed by Ar Correa is the ‘Champalimaud Centre for the Unknown’, located at Lisbon in Portugal. It is a state-of-the-art facility for research in contemporary science and medicine. But Correa’s most aesthetic design is the prayer hall in Toronto's Islamic cultural centre, which shares a patch of parkland with Fumihiko Maki's, Aga Khan Museum, which is a faceted glass dome.


Fittingly enough it is India’s IT sector which boasts of iconic modern buildings. With its egg-like shape and metallic detailing, the iconic Infosys building in Pune looks like something straight out of a sci-fi movie. And it may as well be, given its futuristic energy-saving systems, making it one of the most environmentally-friendly buildings in India. Another iconic building is its Infosys Multiplex campus in Mysore, a geodesic dome structure housing a 4-screen digital theatre, and the largest of the four screens can hold over a 1,000 people. It is the world’s largest training centre spanning 1.44 million sq ft., and a showpiece for the company’s Mysore campus. The boat shaped building of Infosys in Trivandrum was awarded the highest LEED rating in India.


I-Flex Solutions’ building in Bengaluru is another good example of modern IT campuses. Its design is such that the building lies on the banks of a water body and offices with a panoramic view of the water must be the most coveted. Also, it’s designed to make the most of the natural light available, making it an energy-efficient structure. The Cyber Towers in Hi-Tech City Hyderabad is another and landmark building located at HITEC City, one of the major technology township or IT park in India. Other notable designs of IT buildings include; iGATE Patni Knowledge Park located at Airoli in Mumbai, Oracle in Bangalore, Microsoft and TCS in Hyderabad, Wipro in Noida, and L&T Infotech and L&T’s Engineering Development and Research Centres (EDRC) in Chennai are laso iconic of modern design.


An upcoming project at the Bandra Kurla Complex (BKC) in Mumbai will be the most iconic of modern India.  Currently under construction, the Cybertecture Egg in Mumbai is a parametrically designed office building that is entirely column-less and has strong green characteristics. Vijay Associate (Wadhwa Developers) has commissioned James Law Cybertecture International -- a global Consultant specialising in the design and strategy formation of Cybertecture project -- to design a building ‘unlike any other’ for Mumbai, India. Its innovative design will make it the first office building with an egg-shape, accommodating 13 floors and providing enough space for customsable living and working spaces.
The Cybertecture office building will be a confluence of iconic architecture, environmental design, intelligent systems, and new engineering, creating an iconic 21st Century landmark for Mumbai and India. The analogy to the form of the building is for the beautiful planet form to “land” on the site in Mumbai, and create a new Cybertecture ecosystem within the building. Like all the buildings of the future, the 32,000 sq m Cybertecture Egg will be self-sustainable and environment friendly as it will make use of solar-photovoltaic panels and wind turbines on the roof.
The building is basically a steel frame structure with a concrete core and basement. The steel diagrid is precision manufactured off-site with solid steel diagrid nodes that do not need fire protection due to its high steel mass. The structure is 14 floors high at 62 meter height with 3 basements. Approximately 30,000 sq.ft per floor of open office space. The cantilever in the egg spans more than 40m. The structural diagrid is one of its kinds in the world, and uses cast steel nodes of solid steel to create a fire resistant structure.



The building will be cooled by an elevated garden consisting of natural vegetation. Another Green feature is the water conservation via a greywater recycling system for irrigation and landscaping. The ‘planet’ form is further stretched to cater for ground floor plus 13 levels of office space, and the ‘Egg’ is further orientated and skewed at an angle to alleviate the solar gain of the building. Compared to a conventional building, the Egg shape of this building will have approximately 10–20 per cent less surface area. Within the building, an innovative structure derived from the skin of the egg creates up to 30m spans of columnless floors. And indoors, innovative cybertecture technologies will empower people to work in a better way.


Design apart, Indian buildings also have a Green footprint with a sizeable population of Green and Sustainable buildings. According to the ‘World Green Building Trends 2016,’ report, published by Dodge Data and Analytics, India has seen a dramatic increase in Green buildings.


India already ranks third among the top ten countries for LEED certifications, and in 2016 nearly 650 projects in India earned LEED certification. According to a recent USGBC survey, 87 per cent of Indian green building professionals anticipate the use of LEED in India increasing overall, with nine out of ten industry senior executives in India anticipating that their LEED-related work will increase over the next several years.


In India the Father of green sustainable architecture is Ar Laurie Baker a British-born Indian architect, renowned for his initiatives in cost-effective energy-efficient architecture and designs that maximised space, ventilation, and light, and maintained an uncluttered yet striking aesthetic sensibility. Ar Baker was way ahead of his times, his pioneering work of sustainable and organic architecture can be seen in his designs as early as the late 1960s, advocating concepts of rain-water harvesting, minimizing usage of energy-inefficient building materials, and above all minimizing damage to the building site and seamlessly merging it with its natural landscape.


Influenced by Mahatma Gandhi and his own experiences in the remote Himalayas, he promoted the revival of regional building practices and use of local materials, and combined this with a design philosophy that emphasised a responsible and prudent use of resources and energy. His social and humanitarian efforts to bring architecture and design to the common man, earned the title ‘Gandhi of Architecture.’ Ar Baker pioneered low-cost nature friendly housing in India, and earned the sobriquet, 'Brick Master of Kerala' for offering housing solutions to roofless millions. Some prominent Baker buildings include Centre for Development Studies, and Chitralekha Studio Complex, in Thiruvananthapuram. His professional achievements won him several awards including: Order of the British Empire, Padma Shri, Great Masters Architect of the Year, UNO Habitats Award and UN Roll of Honor. As a matter of fact, when the Ministry of Urban Development established 400 building centers for the construction sector under supervision of HUDCO, one of them was named the ‘Laurie Baker Building Centre,’ to honor his genius.


Indian architects are also tech savvy in using Green construction materials. And construction material manufacturers are coming up with innovative materials to meet their demands. Several Indian projects have won Green construction awards. The latest trend is Glazed Facades that allow adequate play of natural light and also add to the architectural chic of the building. Most new structures are designed and built using Green recyclable materials with an eye on Green certifications like GRIHA or LEEDS, and the Indian Green Building Council (IGBC) is doing a yeoman’s job promoting Green and Sustainable architecture.



It is common knowledge across the world that the 21st Century belongs to India. The ‘Smart City Mission’ launched by the Indian Government will ensure this happens. This Smart space will generate plenty of projects involving iconic designs, and some of it is already happening. GIFT City in Gujarat is one such project, which has been developed as a Smart financial center. June this year, Gujarat Chief Minister Vijay Rupani inaugurated the international exchange of National Stock Exchange (NSE) at the International Financial Service Centre (IFSC) of GIFT city.


This is the second such exchange opened at IFSC. Earlier in January this year, Prime Minister Narendra Modi inaugurated BSE's international exchange -India INX- at IFSC.


More such opportunities in India’s Smart space will spawn iconic buildings. Especially tech savvy Indian architects are leveraging a lot of this Smart technology to design and build Smart homes using Smart building materials which range from phase changing materials that store energy to solar panels and embedded systems using IoT to make buildings alive and Smart using dynamic control systems.


Capturing India’s architectural Zeitgeist is rather difficult. The whole plethora of modern building designs ranging from Minimalist to Maximalist styles help architects to meet difficult challenges of fulfilling client aspirations. There is a paradox here. While the outer envelopes of new buildings reflect modern design trends, the interior décor in such buildings is a beautiful blend of modernity and tradition, a confluence of traditional Indian themes in a modern office block or a residential apartment. India’s interior décor space is another landscape in itself, a palette of vibrant color and themes. By end of this Millenium, India will have spawned avant garde structures which will reflect a Smart neo-Modernist style beautiful blending the continuum of Tradition and Modernity.





The Big League

India has a Galaxy of iconic award winning Architects, including:

  • Ar Achyut Kanvinde, who also worked with Modernist architect and Bauhaus founder Walter Gropius, dealt in proportional geometry, economical shapes, steel frames, and reinforced concrete.
  • Ar Brinda Somaya’s  practice is dictated by “the conscience of the built and unbuilt environment” and her work unites architecture with social equity and conservation.
  • Ar B.V. Doshi worked with Modernist and contemporary giants Le Corbusier and Louis Kahn. He retains a Modernist edge but adds a distinctive Indian spirit. His creation Sangath is a Modernist yet earthy idyll, with soothing white vaults and free-standing pots set against lush green lawns. His project National Institute of Fashion Technology, on the other hand, interprets the Ahmedabadi baori – or step-well – alongside steel and concrete.
  • Hafeez Contractor, a Maximalist known for glamorous buildings, slated by critics as unoriginal yet enthusiastically sought-after, is definitively one of the most controversial forces shaping modern India’s skylines.  Worked in other styles, as seen in the Global Education Centre in Mysore, which blends classical symmetry, domes and columns of Mysore palaces, with Doric architecture.
  • Nari Gandhi a friend and colleague of the great Frank Lloyd Wright, had a hands-on, tactile, craftsman-like approach to architecture. His first reaction was always to the specificity of the site; each work creating a scape of earth, stone, shape, and color.
  • Raj Rewal is a sophisticated exponent of the Indian vernacular, which is apparent in his Asian games village; its courtyards, gardens and winding streets turn it into a living heritage museum. His vernacular idiom is also reflected in the courts, galleries, and level changes of the National Institute for Immunology campus.
  • Sheila Sri Prakash practices environmentally and socio-economically sustainable architecture. Her designs include green spaces and forms that shelter from natural elements and maximise ventilation.  Renowned for creative solutions addressing pressing needs of India’s rising urban population, whilst always retaining the cultural heritage of the places she builds for. She graces many national and international advisory committees as a consultant for how architecture and its materials and processes relate to human behavior and the environment.


Covestro’s Eco-commercial building

German chemical giant Covestro’s (formerly Bayer Material Science) Eco-commercial building at Greater Noida is an excellent example of Green architecture.  The building operates majorly on clean renewable energy, consuming 70 percent less energy compared to conventional buildings. To further compliment its exceptional design, it has been rated Platinum by LEED, receiving a total of 64 points. The innovative solutions make it climate-friendly, highly energy-efficient and it functions at an unbelievably low operating cost.

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