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“Glass has Revolutionised the Façade Industry”
By: Mitu Mathur
In an interesting conversation with WFM, Ar. Mitu Mathur talks about her practice, their latest projects, the evolution of façade and cladding technology and trends in India and many key factors to consider while designing and choosing materials for façades. Here are the excerpts from the interview.
Could you please tell about your practice and your firm’s journey?
Architecture is not just a profession, but a passion that drives our family. Me and my sister are third-generation architects. Our father, Gian P. Mathur started the practice 40 years ago and since then we have been blessed with opportunities and embraced all new kinds of projects that are being introduced in the industry over the decades. When my father started the practice, our firm did a number of prominent, particularly industrial projects. With the onset of commercialisation, we ventured into a variety of commercial and mixed-use projects, especially in Delhi/NCR.
Soon GPM became the pioneers in the malls & multiplexes industry, designing multi-screen arrangements and retail establishments across the country. Consequently, catering to the housing boom, we forayed in the sector and successfully completed many housing and township projects, especially in the northern & the western part of the country. Subsequently, we have been successfully designing and delivering projects in the infrastructure segment also, including projects such as metro stations, bus terminals, railway stations, etc.
We have been progressively increasing our team size since, standing as a team of more than 100 members today that makes our organisation strong and dependable. Under the leadership and guidance of Director Amit Singhal, along with diversified team leaders like Rajeev Singhal, Namita Agarwal, Jamil Ahmed and many more, we have diversified our portfolio in various sectors. We have different teams for varied sectors we work in. An in-house team of engineers and structural consultants adds much value to each design we execute on the field.
Netaji Nagar redevelopment, New Delhi
I got inspired to see a lot of large scale developments in the United States. The approach towards large scale developments in the West intrigued me to study urban design in the States. I was lucky to be selected at the acclaimed Columbia University, New York. While I was studying there, I got a chance to reflect upon our indigenous traditional practices, Indian architecture. Thereby applying a lot of my learning into my projects, which were really appreciated by my peers. After completing my Masters, and spending a year exploring the American sub-continent, I realised the pool of opportunities India has and hence decided to come back to India and apply my learnings.
After joining the practice, we aggressively pursued getting our hands-on government projects with the intent to achieve better infrastructure and services for the public. Following many discussions with government bodies like NBCC, CPWD; we were fortunate enough to bag some prominent projects like the National Institute of Design, Bhopal and Sarojini Nagar and Netaji Nagar Redevelopment; currently being the largest redevelopment projects in Delhi/ NCR. The GPM team is also working on more than 5 redevelopment projects for Railway stations pan- India.
What inspired you to become an architect?
My parents have been a constant source of inspiration; with my father’s ‘never give up’ attitude and my mother’s creative insights; I have grown up in a motivating atmosphere. Also, the scenario in our country is very stimulating. The way our infrastructure is progressing, it has a lot of potential with young designers like us. The government is pushing a lot of new ideas like the concept of smart cities; Railway stations and Bus terminals revitalisation, emphasis on conservation of heritage and public/pedestrian centric designs.
Railway Station redevelopment project, Tirupathi
The current scenario has a lot of opportunities that encourage architects like me and other young designers. Today, architecture firms work as corporate entities that have the potential to grow very large and diversify into conglomerates. The profession has morphed from being a mere provider of shelter to embrace all arts and every new technology, which can be integrated to provide better user experience and better habitat.
Tell us about the latest façade and cladding technology in India.
The façade industry in India is evolving each day. Dating back to 2015-16, when the glass façades were picking up, we managed to complete some well-executed façades in glass for office and commercial buildings with the very basic technology available in the market back then. We lay enough emphasis on the solar properties and maintenance of the façades because nobody would want a shiny looking glass building with bad quality glass. We always suggest our clients go for the products which are easy to maintain, easy to install and as well as having good thermal properties.
Railway Station redevelopment project, Dehradun
In the present day, we are witnessing changes in glass façades. Today, a clear or laminated glass is equipped to address thermal comfort and noise reduction. These technological developments have helped us go for better visibility with a façade in glasses as well, as opposed to the tinted glass used earlier. Now the light intake through a clear glass façade is optimum, thereby cutting down the solar effects and providing thermal comfort.
Lately, ventilated façades have taken over the traditional façades since these outdoor cladding building solutions are much practical and can be applied to both new build and refurbished buildings. It offers improved thermal insulation, continuous finish in the façade and faster installation coupled with easy maintenance. Ventilated façades allow for the circulation of air between the supporting wall and the cladding material available in varied materials like terracotta, marble, ceramic tiling, zinc titanium panels, etc.
In this manner, the supporting wall is protected from both the cold and heat resulting in energy savings. These façades are also exceptionally easy to erect, using hidden fasteners and requiring no cutting or drilling of the panels. Ventilated façades help in ensuring a pleasant, dry indoor climate; bring great advantages to the building and provides tangible added value. The energy savings of a ventilated façade is between 20% and 30%, owing to the “chimney effect“.
You have done many green-rated projects. Could you please tell us about your approach to choosing the appropriate materials for building façade and fenestration?
National Archives and National Libray, Mauritius
We have completed several Green rated projects, one of them is the Unity One Mall in Rohini, Delhi. Originally provisioned to be a multilevel car parking on a plot owned by the DMRC, the mall stands as one of the most efficient multi-use developments in the city today. We designed it as an integrated development that intelligently combines parking facilities with commercial benefits of retail spaces, multiplex, food courts, etc., providing commuters with a convenient one-stop solution and a great public place for recreation. The development is envisaged to be an ideal example of how an efficient infrastructure system can be a lucrative development model for any developer entity; and a profitable partnership between government and private developers.
Metro stations have their separate ingress and egress system which are often not integrated with the surrounding buildings. Realising the potential of utilising the true real estate value of the site, we connected it to the metro station, to maximise footfall in the commercial areas, providing an attraction point for the commuters. The pedestrian space has been converted into a vibrant plaza, which is actively used by the commuters and residents of the neighbourhood for recreational purposes and offers a great place to spend time with the family. It is one of the first malls in Northern India, where customer footfall is ensured from 6 AM to 12.30 AM.
Separating the parking area completely from the commercial zone influences the user experience of the overall space. To make the experience effortless, direct access to the commercial and multiplex has been designed at different levels from the parking levels. This greatly enhances the parking experience and encourages people to commute using the metro for intra-city connections. The façade, which is much appreciated for its elegant design, is done in GRC Jhali. The façade is made of premium-grade material which ensures a long lifespan and is also alkali resistant, has high impact strength, maintenance strength and is environment friendly.
The feather in the cap would, however, be the solar carport installed on the rooftop. The first in the country, this rooftop is connected through the ramp and has significantly helped in the utilisation of the space; it has also reduced the solar heat intake of the structure, thereby reducing energy consumption. The incorporation of the Solar Carport has substantially reduced its dependence on the external power grid, thereby reducing the load on the city. This building, owing to the extensive use of sustainable measures, has received the IGBC Platinum rating recently. Certificate: IGBC Platinum rated green building.
We practice the utmost care in the selection of materials while designing a building. We are currently experimenting with the recently introduced solar films on our new projects, especially for the south-facing façades. By using solar films, we can actually generate electricity parallelly reducing the heat ingress. We are also proposing green façades, embedded with a layer of green plantation on the outer skin. This model is being followed in projects like Marina Walk and the proposed National Archives and National Library in Mauritius.
Could you please tell us about the key factors you consider while designing façades and fenestration?
I feel the experience is very important for us as it brings elements of WOW! From the client-side, it is very important for us to know how the installation is going to happen. We propose new technologies keeping in mind that it should not be outlandish, digging a hole in the client’s pocket. The façade we propose should bring in the right balance of money spent versus money earned, also taking care of the money which can be saved by selecting the right materials and application techniques.
Maintenance and sustainability are also the key factors that we take into consideration. As an endeavour, we always aim to make buildings that are cost-effective and maintenance-friendly, ensuring an unforgettable yet comfortable experience to its users. There is a lot of conflict happening between uPVC and aluminium for fenestration. Could you please advise something about this? It really depends on the quality. The flexibility in colours, finishes and aesthetic appeal provided in uPVC is great at a good price. uPVC also has different grades and different standards which we have explored in a variety of our projects.
For different projects, the grades need to be specified depending on the purpose it serves. If we talk about the present scenario, for low-cost housing, one uses different specifications of uPVC as opposed to high-end residences. Nowadays, Aluminum also offers a good variety and we are proposing a lot of projects. There was a time when uPVC was used widely owing to its easy application and cost, but nowadays better quality of aluminium is available at a competitive price, thus it is being preferred for some projects.
What are your views on present technologies and materials?
Coming from a firm where we do all sorts of projects, from affordable housing to large scale infrastructure projects, we believe that in a country like ours, the market will evolve and a variety of good quality, pocket-friendly façade materials that are easy to maintain will be available soon. Over the past 2-3 years, prominent buildings in the Cyber Hub in Gurugram have considered changing their existing façade. This has happened because the market was not equipped with the right materials and technology to cater to important factors like fire efficiency, glare prevention, thermal and noise controls, etc.
Hence the façades planned back then have failed miserably. These 10 years have taught us a lot and we don’t want to commit the same mistake. There are dynamic façades, media façades, intelligent façades, etc., which showcase much better technologies and are easy to maintain. The longevity of the façades is of utmost importance to us. Quality of materials used, thermal properties, maintenance (easy cleaning) of the façade, noise insulation and safety are some key aspects.
Considering the Indian conditions, what makes the façade intelligent? How can an intelligent façade bring in the greenhouse effect?
As an architect, I have always paid attention to solar passive design techniques. We should learn from our traditional culture and techniques used in the orientation and placement of a building. The selection of the material should also be derived from the orientation, which could also bring down the cost of air conditioning and energy consumption substantially.
The selection of materials for the façade is actually third in the step. The first step lies with the right orientation, and the second, designing the plan in such a manner that it gives better cross ventilation or air-conditioning.
The third step is the selection of materials and designing the elevation. I also feel that if we have sunlight in abundance, then why should we even go for artificial lighting.
Movable shading design is a challenge in India. Please share your views on it.
Movable shading is a challenge yet because of its power consumption and hence it is very costly. Operational and maintenance costs are very high. But they have great potential especially at places where temperature changes are erratic and kinetic intervention can add substantial thermal comfort indoors. We are currently exploring mechanisms to effectively use this technology while being cost effective and aesthetically appealing.
Do you use membranes in your projects?
Mahagun Marina Walk, Noida
Yes, we do use membranes for shading purposes, usually for the semi-open spaces like atriums in commercial projects, entrances or other highlighted areas. Membranes add an element of interest so we use them where a lot of people gather. Some of our ongoing railway station projects use these membranes. Some of our ongoing commercial projects use membranes for corridor and plaza shading. We have also proposed them for large public areas in railway station Redevelopment projects.
What about the sustainability and environmental considerations when choosing façade and cladding material?
The inclination towards sustainable buildings is driving the shift in façades and cladding’s. Earlier, there were limited options in the market, but now we have plenty of natural materials like terracotta tiles, zinc panels, aluminium panels, etc., which cause less harm to the environment. As far as sustainability is concerned, the traditional stone façade does the trick. We have a natural abundance of stone and the finest technologies to install them.
How do you choose the materials for façade cladding?
I always look for natural materials because I like my buildings to gel with the surroundings. I prefer anything that is natural – like the stone façades or basic painted textures. It is important that the building should be breathable. I am also in favour of glass, it is an excellent material. It will not only change the real estate scenario, but it will also change the attitude with which people live now. Developments in Glass have really revolutionised the façade industry.
What is your advice for young architects?
Our office has great energy with a lot of young people working with us that we enjoy and promote. With an uninhibited thought process, the young architects bring fresh ideas on the table and are an asset. But unfortunately, I see a lot of them yearning to shift from India and practice in foreign countries. I feel that we, as a young generation, have a lot to explore in our field and highlight our culture to put ourselves on the global map; the road is rocky but it’s definitely worth the effort. On the contrary, we should look at how our industry is getting global with so many international companies showing their interest to enter the Indian sector. It is time to make the most of these opportunities and practice to bring out the best in our country.
Mitu Mathur, Director of Gian P. Mathur – Architects & Planners, is associated with the firm since 2006. An architect by profession, Mitu Mathur has a keen interest in urban redevelopment, designing public domains, art appreciation, systems of project management and understanding the application and utilisation of master plan and laws. After graduating from Sushant School of Art & Architecture (SSAA), Gurugram, Ar. Mathur did her Masters in Architecture & Urban Design from GSAPP (Graduate School of Architecture, Planning and Preservation), Columbia University, New York City. Presently, as a Director, she leads the team of design research within GPM, which explores the constantly evolving dynamism of design in Indian cities. She also coordinates various initiatives undertaken by the firm for the promotion of ideas in architecture and contemporary urbanism.