In a candid interview with WFM Media, Ar. Sriram Ramakrishnan talks about his journey as an architect, his projects with FHD and the most challenging ones, his takes on Sustainable architecture, trends in façade and fenestration designs, materials, and technologies, the future of façade technologies and much more.

Could you tell us about your educational background and your experiences as an architect at FHD?

I graduated with my B.Arch. with University Gold medal and Best Outstanding Student award from NIT Trichy. Later pursued my M. Arch. with full University Fellowship from The Ohio State University, USA. I had the fortune to study under the tutelage of Theorist Jeffry Kipnis, Jose Oubrerie (associate of Le Corbusier), and Peter Eisenman as a visiting professor. I have worked in India and the US in leading practices, and have been a part of FHD India since 2017, leading a team at our Hyderabad office earlier. We worked on diverse projects across India and international projects. Since Nov 2023, I have been leading our Bengaluru office.

Boat-club-Parametric-Facade
Boat-club-Parametric-Facade

What inspired you to pursue a career in architecture and design?

I was passionate about sketching and painting right from my school days, apart from a strong academic background in maths and science. Joining B.Arch was my way of bringing all my strengths together. Since then NIT Trichy and Ohio State University (OSU) shaped me into who I am now. Today, I love the deep intricate relationship between architecture theory, built environment, and human behaviour.

What type of projects do you specialise in? Brief some of your milestone projects with FHD.

Dhriti Nirvana – A sustainable residential project
Dhriti Nirvana – A sustainable residential project

At FHD, we work on all major typologies of built programs, across India and around the world. We work to challenge and evolve each typology of building.

My first project in FHD is Polycab Experience Centre, Gujarat which has won several recognitions post recent completion for its Sustainable design and reimagined workspace. I worked on several international projects across commercial, retail, hospitality, and masterplan typologies in Dubai, Abudhabi, Cairo, Saudi, and Seattle, where we tested the architectural theory and form development to the limit.

In Commercial typology- our work includes Polycab Experience Centre – Vadodara, and ongoing development for Syna in Madhya Pradesh. In Housing, we worked on Organo Antharam in Hyderabad, Srias Boat Club in Hyderabad, Capstone Mid Summer Rain in Bengaluru, and a housing development for Adani Realty in Panvel near Mumbai, to name a few. In master planning, our works include a master plan for Adani in Vishakapatnam, IRA Aerocity Hyderabad and TVS Estates Tamil Nadu.

In Institutions and public buildings, our works include – Ignite International Raipur and the International School of Hyderabad. Our vertical housing includes 2getherments in Bengaluru. Our private residences include those in Vadodara and Seattle. These are just some of the projects of FHD where I have led the design team over the last 6 years. FHD has a much larger portfolio.

In each of the above projects, we challenge the conventions of typology and work to push the boundary of design in a way specific to the project needs. That is what sets us apart. We work closely with all the stakeholders of the project to transform the design thinking into a unified integrated project.

Dhriti Nirvana Thermal conductivity study
Dhriti Nirvana: Thermal conductivity study

What is your take on sustainable practice in architecture today?

The concept of sustainability has come a long way over the last decade. Social awareness, climate change, and the national push toward renewable energy have made sustainability an integral part of design today. FHD has been an early adopter and sometimes a pioneer in sustainability strategies. Organo Nandi was one of the early projects to imagine Sustainability at a community level. It is a self-reliant community with farms, and strategies towards water, air, waste, food, and energy. It uses only 10% of the land for construction (compared with the market standard of 55%) leaving the rest open to nature. Today we are incorporating principles of sustainability across all our projects in some form or the other. Our Polycab EC project produces its energy from over 190KW of solar power installed on the roof. The benchmark we set is getting higher with each project, which we are proud of.

How would you define your design and installation process for façades and fenestrations in your projects?

We believe the façade is an integral part of the design and not a surface finish. The concept & design of building strategies the program, user requirements, identity, and performance of a building. The façade, being an element of the building is critical in achieving the above said goals beyond aesthetics. We perceive buildings as 3-dimensional entities and not extrusions of plans. So we work on the façade strategy right from the initial concept stage. As the design evolves, the façade evolves with it. We try to bring in façade-related vendors and consultants in the design development stage to share their inputs and for us to understand the materials at a deeper level. Fenestrations are a critical part of design expression, programmatic functionality, and energy performance. In design development, we use software modelling and physical modelling to test the façade. Sometimes we need prototyping as well.

Dhriti Nirvana Literite façade
Dhriti Nirvana Literite façade

During the tender and procurement stage, we focus on specificifications, fine details of the façade, and fenestrations. Finally, during execution, mock-ups play a critical role in the façade. We test all our unique designs with mockups on-site and fine- tune them aesthetically and performatively based on on-site conditions. Finally, the full façade is executed. This allows us to create an integrated façade design.

Could you please brief me on the latest trends in façade and fenestration designs, materials, and technologies?

Boat club - Parametric Façade
Boat club – Parametric Façade

I see the following new materials making a difference in façade design.

Engineered Stone: Today there are several alternatives to real stone, that are more sustainable than mining stones. Terracotta-based stone finish, Cement-based stone finish, artificial base with a thin stone surface, ACP with stone finish, and engineered marble are good alternatives for stone, especially for façades since some of them can bend to clad curved walls. They are much lighter in weight, affordable, and can maintain texture consistency across scales.

Fabric: Fabric opens up a new dimension in façade design. Traditionally used

for roofs, newer fabric products are available for façade application. Fabric is light, tensile, and easy to use. They can be used as shading devices, to enhance privacy without hindering views, for aesthetic firms. They are also waterproof and fire retardant (specific products). This makes the fabric a versatile material.

IN TERMS OF TRENDS:

Make in India: A decade back, many advanced façade materials were imported. Today many of those same companies manufacture locally, which is a game changer, especially in the construction Industry. The product range has expanded significantly to respond to local climatic and cultural needs. This also produces unique aesthetic looks. The product cost comes down without compromising quality. The connected ecosystem develops- thereby improving the maintenance and serviceability of the material. I believe this trend will continue until every brand starts local manufacturing at least partially. At FHD, we strongly support products that are made in India.

Srias Boat Club
Srias Boat Club

Please throw some light on the façade and fenestration designs of a few of your favourite projects.

I will look at a few of our projects

Polycab EC: We created a curtain glass system towards the views on the East and South. The balcony overhang shades the south while vertical aluminium fins shade the east. We used software modelling to study the lux levels of light and optimised our fin design to maximise daylight. Post-construction, we measured light levels across work areas to confirm that we get sufficient daylight for work throughout the year. The arrangement of the vertical fins creates the unique character and identity of the building.

Fenestration for Different Ages
Fenestration for Different Ages

Dhriti Nirvana: The site in Zaheerabad has Laterite rock which is a natural construction material. So, we used laterite blocks, as the building material. It is low-cost on-site and has good thermal properties in hot and dry weather. It also has an excellent aesthetic character when exposed. Its major limitation is porosity towards the water. So we exposed the material in shaded areas while plastering it in rain-exposed areas. This combination creates a unique aesthetic language for the project.

Srias Boat Club: The project with group villas is facing Medchal Lake creating beautiful vistas and a natural breeze. But shading is critical for the Hyderabad heat. We wanted to create a contemporary high-tech façade in continuity with the design language. So we designed a custom module of a jalli, such that it can be placed in 8 different placements. We used parametric software to test various combinations to arrange the jalli in the façade. We 3d printed 8 numbers of jallis in a 1:1 scale to physically test the jalli arrangements. The final jalli shall be manufactured in Aluminium, with MS reinforcements to hold them in place. Aluminium avoids rusting in the humidity, while the MS provides strength against the wind. Overall, each villa can have a unique look, due to the variation of the jalli placement, while the use of a single module ensures the efficiency of procurement.

Private Residence in Vadodara: The farm-facing villa needs shading from the Gujarat heat while maximising views. The concept needs a contemporary strategy while using earthy materials that connect to the farm villa experience. The conventional terracotta tiles are too vernacular. So we selected a refractory clay jalli (similar to fired bricks). They have a higher strength, sleeker look than regular jalli, and larger frame size – thus larger cutouts for views The limitation is their higher weight. We designed large jalli frames that can be reinforced with MS on the rear side, which would not be visible fully from the front. The natural exposed look of the jalli ages well with time.

Ignite International in Raipur: In our toddler and primary school, the children in classrooms are of varying age groups. We need views that can be enjoyed by all. Daylight and ventilation are critical for a healthy learning environment. Meanwhile, we also need shading from the central Indian heat and direct sun. First, we created a deep façade with a double wall that provides horizontal and vertical shading for all windows to cut direct sun. It also doubles up as a shelf area indoors. Then we created a high daylight fenestration, which allows deep daylight penetration. The operable windows are placed in unique sizes at different heights. This opens view and ventilation for different ages.

The combination of multi-age windows, daylight windows, and a deep façade creates a unique and playful aesthetic from the exterior symbolising a playful school for kids.

Please brief on future façade technologies, designs, and materials that you wish to see in the next 20 years.

The future of façade design looks bright with a plethora of upcoming materials and technologies.

Adaptive and Responsive façade systems: My 2017 thesis at OSU included a technology demonstrator of a façade system that can adapt to changes in temperature and humidity through a pre-programmed electronic chip. Selected buildings around the world have already installed such systems in scale. I see that becoming commonplace in the future. Especially with the sudden rise of Artificial Intelligence in life applications, it can manage adaptive façade systems effectively in the future.

Bio-degradable and Low Carbon footprint materials: Today we are moving away from carcinogenic materials from the past. It is not long before we move away from non-biodegradable materials. New technologies are already available and demonstration buildings use them. It will become the norm in the future.

Digital façades: Sci-fi films since the 70s have predicted the future with display façades. I believe the future shall have digital façades more commonly, but not as mere advertising boards, but more as a character-creating device. The Dome in Dubai Expo 20, and in LA are already demonstrating the power of digital façades. But they are still façades made for the sake of display. More real building façades will become digital.

Dhriti Nirvana - is low-cost on-site and has good thermal properties in hot and dry weather
Dhriti Nirvana – is low-cost on-site and has good thermal properties in hot and dry weather

What is your advice to young and upcoming architects?

There are a couple of points that helped me in my early years that I believe will help other young architects as well:

Young architects today are motivated by colourful Images of buildings on social media. It is important to visit some of the great and classic buildings in person to understand better the 3- façade dimensionality of architecture – the form, space, scale, as well as the performative and experiential nature of architecture. How a building responds to its context is equally important which photos do not fully communicate.

We work on advanced cutting-edge technologies. But It is important to build hard skills and basics at a young age to be successful in any profession, more so in architecture. Hand sketching, physical modelling, basics of structural design, hands-on feel for construction materials, site visits, case study visits, and reading architect’s writing, go a long way in building a long career. Software is great to learn, but it evolves with time. The core skills are timeless.

Read more: Polycab Experience Centre

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