India, a country of restless energy on the verge of continuous change, offers contemporary architects and interior designers previously unheard-of challenges. It’s no longer only about the
aesthetics of a building. Today, it’s impossible to talk about responsible architecture without touching upon factors that will define it: the sophistication of technology used in
construction, energy-efficiency and eco compliance, and managing the environment and the atmospherics equally well.

The next generation of architecture in India will be based on ingenuity combined with meticulous teamwork. “The use of the best technologies and techniques in building construction, and the inclusion of environment friendly facilities like rainwater harvesting, will play a big role,” predicts Noshir Talati, founder and chairman, Talati and Panthaky Associated. New materials, more energy-efficient and luminescent lighting options, heat-resistant glass, smarter homes and offices, and innovation in construction – all of it driven by massive technological changes, have changed the way
buildings and spaces are constructed and designed. According to Ameet Sukhthankar, senior architect, MS Suctancar Architects, “Apart from the fact that our local markets are flooded with materials and products that, a few years ago, were known only to the developed world, the changing face of our construction technology is helping architects continuously push the boundaries of imagination. It is also helping our industry to transform from an unskilled to a skilled one.”

Chesapeake Boathouse. Photograph: courtesy Robert Shimer, Hedrich Blessing

In a world where, increasingly, the spotlight is turning on sustainable technologies, architects the world-over are evolving new design languages to enhance environmental performance. Young Bengaluru-based architect Rafiq Shah talks about how architects have devised facades that adapt to changing climate conditions. “Among the new buildings that have adopted the technologies which have evolved beyond the mere use of sustainable materials, is the Design Hub at the Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology in Sydney. The outer layer of the double-skin facade consists of over 16,000 individually mounted translucent glass discs repeated on all four elevations of the eight-storey main building. The selected grouping of the discs automatically pivots around a
vertical axis in response to the sun’s position, and is a wonderful use of kinetic technology.”

Dynamic facades like the one cloaking the  Design Hub, many say, are a response to the industry’s latest preoccupation: performance. “In India, too, dynamic facades will be the statement to make if you want to do a Green building,” believes Shah.

Among the path-breaking ideas explored internationally are the 3-D concrete printers, which can be used to ‘print’ or ‘shape’ an entire building. A robotic arm precisely drizzles layer upon layer of concrete on a site in a prefabricated mould – to produce walls, decks and other structural shapes. “I remember seeing this technology at the UK’s Loughborough University and, on a smaller scale, at the MIT’s Mediated Matter lab. 3-D printing is a reality, and could usher in a new era of mass customization in  home building and large-scale construction,” insists Delhi architect Ravi Kapoor of Atlus Architectural Studios.

The new design language defines that people look for more contemporary and high value designs in almost every space. A material like glass lends itself to various interpretations. Technological changes have led to the creation of safe glass or tempered glass that does not break easily and is not harmful. KAS Menon, senior VP, Sales, HNG Float Glass, says, “The share of high-performance glass is increasing each year. In the present day, glass not only allows natural light into the building, but also prevents it from heating up.” Technology has also allowed us to reinterpret
concrete to make it appear translucent, coloured, mouldable, bendable and self-healing of cracks. “This has made it a material to vouch for in the future,” declare Shubhashish Modi and Satish Shetty, Mumbai-based director-principal architect (Modi) and co-director (Shetty) of Arris Architects.

A tough material like fibreglass has emerged as a new-age alternative to glass. “Its application in construction equals that of glass,” insists Shah. Among the other materials that have found
their way into the construction of modern buildings, Shah mentions engineered wood. “It’s a term used for products made of particles of wood that are bound together with an adhesive – and the two I would like to mentionare Oriented Strand Board (OSB, a panel) and Laminated Strand Lumber (LSL, a structural lumber substitute).” Typically, [milled] wood will usually break in the tension zone, but engineered wood is tough and can withstand huge amounts of pressure.

Not traditionally associated with home design, apart from roof insulation, metal is now being extensively preferred for cladding purposes. “Metals like copper are used for cladding contemporary buildings, particularly bungalows,” says Kapoor. “In one of our projects in Himachal Pradesh, we’re planning to use this material for cladding. One of the best examples of copper cladding is the
Clip House in Madrid, Spain. The material looks good and adds strength to the façade, decreasing wear and tear over the years. A copper leaf skin takes advantage of the material’s unique weathering properties.”

Denmark’s new national aquarium designed by 3XN Architects, is an iconic structure that has changed the skyline of Kastrup Harbour. “It is a challenge to work with a building like The Blue Planet, which consists of completely amorphous forms; but today we can do it much better than before,” Kim Herforth Nielsen, partner and creative director, 3XN. “In the past, such forms were very expensive and difficult, and we had to experiment our way forward – often a process that was very resourceful. But today, the technological development has provided us with the right design software; so we, together with engineers and other partners can plan and calculate quantities of material. In many ways, technology sets creativity free.

Denmark’s new National Aquarium, The Blue Planet designed by 3XN, is shaped as a great whirlpool

”Newer materials have edged out the traditional choices in the world of interior design. Once, wood was the most popular material – apart from stone, of course. Today, laminates and veneers have replaced them to a large extent because of their low cost, ease of maintenance, and the wide variety of designs and textures available.
It helps that not only are wood and veneer more sustainable, they also lend to bespoke design – which means, they can be customized to suit individual needs. As architect Rajesh Patel of Rajesh Patel Architects states, “Laminates offer a lot of design options, have a hard-wearing surface and are easy to maintain – hence they are ideal for table tops and cupboards. Veneers have an affinity to wood, which is why they look more elegant.

”Greenply is offering customisation in laminates through its Greenlam Xtraodinaire Custom Laminates. “The customization process involves digital printing technique, wherein a given photograph, logo, theme or design is printed on the laminate,” says Subir Palit, country head, Decorative Division, Greenply Industries. More importantly, thanks to cutting-edge technology, it is difficult to distinguish between veneer and wood. As with sheet vinyl floors, most new laminates also look like the natural materials they are designed to emulate, particularly the textured products that help give dimension to the floor. It is in the sphere of lighting, however, that interior designers have embraced technological advances with fervor. As lighting manufacturing companies invest money into researching new technologies, LEDs begin to emerge as the big story. Shailesh K Tokekar, group manager, Marketing, Wipro, says, “In the last few years, the performance of LEDs has improved in terms of efficiency (Lm/W). High power, high light output LEDs are now available for applications that require higher levels of illumination. The new-generation LEDs have better thermal
performance characteristics, and they also last longer.” Fluorescent tubes may have taken 60 years to double in efficacy, but LEDs took just a decade to improve over ten times. Along with the evolution of LEDs, the story of modern-day lighting is also about the maturing of related paraphernalia – like digital controls, for instance. Manjul Trehan, director, Lutron, points out that digital control and dimming of LED lighting marries technology to affordability.

“According to Cree analysis, Cree CR Troffers equipped with Lutron EcoSystem technology can increase luminaire lifetime up to 50 per cent and substantially increase lumen maintenance factors,” adds Trehan. In several spaces, like hospitals, often a single luminaire is used for different functions: reading, ambient, examination and night light.

Among the newest single luminaire in the market is Wipro’s ‘Sunshine’, which can be manipulated using a wired remote – for both direct and indirect usage. A bathroom can be just another functional space in the house. Or, it can be an indulgent zone. Contemporary bathrooms are like spas: uncluttered, minimalistically designed, with swish bath fixtures. Rahul Kher, country
manager – India, Keuco, discloses, “The trend veers towards minimalism coupled with great functionality and unusual colours. People want walnut furniture or a beige vanity in their
bathroom. The overall décor should somehow connect them back to nature.”

As an engineered wood, Laminated/Parallel Strand Lumber is tough and can withstand huge amounts of pressure.

Bespoke furniture for the bathroom has also come into its own. Walk-in wardrobes and vanity cabinets in MDF and PVC finish find a place in large bath suites. Materials like glass and wood blend seamlessly with chrome in modern-day bathrooms. In fact, chrome plays a major role in bathrooms – be it in faucets, fittings or accessories, you cannot take the chrome plating lightly.
The bathroom can also be stress busting and retreat-like. “Innovative bath fixtures help to relax the body, calm the nerves and invigorate the senses. A caressing and stimulating ‘power bathing’ experience is a must to unwind and recharge stressed-out bodies,” maintains Sandeep Shukla, head – Marcom, Jaquar Group.

A new and more contemporary design language is transforming bath spaces. As Anitha Sharma, GM Marketing, Hansgrohe India, says, “A mix of materials, which soothe the mind and body but require low maintenance, is in vogue. Chrome-plated fittings in various finishes – for instance, mineral resin basins and bath tubs, and handmade customised mosaic tiles.” The materials used for bath fixtures go beyond the mere artistic and inventive fixtures. The all-important sustainability factor has permeated the bathroom: for instance, showers that use a fraction of the water used by traditional showers are desired. According to architect Paryanka Bakhai, “Currently, the industry standard for a shower head is 2.5 gallons of water per minute. By installing a new 1.75 gallon per minute shower head, water consumption could be reduced by 30 per cent.”

Technology has given us highly efficient new shower sprays that use a small fraction of the water, compared to traditional showers. It has also given us equally efficient lighting. According to Asutosh Shah, MD, Duravit India, “Electronics, light and sound, electronic pictures and cleaning systems will redefine the bathroom space. These technological advancements have to be incorporated into the design.”

Copper makes for a fantastic cladding material, as exemplified in the Clip House, located in Spain.

Then there is the bathtub, which has gone through a complete technology overhaul. Kohler’s new VibrAcoustic Hydrotherapy bathtub has transducers that broadcast sound
waves through the water to relax and calm the body. Unlike jets, the transducers don’t interrupt the surface of the water, since they’re found below the bathtub’s shell. You can choose from pre-selected music compositions or plug up a device to play any genre of choice.

Going beyond the aesthetics and the indulgence, is the exciting new interactive mirror that turns your bathroom vanity mirror into a tablet. You can read your emails, access your Twitter feed and check the weather on it. The technology syncs the mirror with the smart phone. Among other technological advances that are creating waves are electronic water pressure and temperature control systems by  brands like Kohler and American Standard. These systems enable you to save the desired water pressure and temperature settings for the showers, tubs and sinks. The new generation of digital technology has transformed the bathroom into a space for the geek. Several gadgets have made their way into contemporary bathrooms. For instance, a showerhead with a bluetooth enabled wireless speaker system from Kohler allows you to listen to music, podcasts and news while showering; the LED bathtubs, with LED lights generously embedded in a dramatic way, are
absolutely glamorous; the new Philips personal wireless lighting system, Hue, will prove to be a game changer in the bathroom.

The Hue app on iPhone or iPad can be used to wirelessly control the lights in your bathroom and choose the exact colour, temperature and brightness required. Used in the bathroom, the possibilities are endless. More than any other aspect of interiors, the future of smart HVAC (heating, ventilation and air-conditioning) systems has to be sustainable. It is critical not just for the
Indian environment, but also its economy – as natural fossil fuels become rare and more expensive. Environment experts say that manufacturers need to figure out ways to provide smarter cooling and heating in new buildings to make them more energy-efficient, especially in view of the fact that inefficient HVAC systems are responsible for 60 per cent of power usage.

There is a definite trend in the HVAC industry towards smarter, more sophisticated, products. It’s true that equipment using electronic controls has been around for many years, and many residential and commercial buildings have much more integrated systems as a result. However, manufacturers are taking those controls even further by introducing new products, including systems that diagnose themselves, variable-speed air handlers with electronic controls, and equipment that adjusts itself based on space conditions.

Daikin’s new split system-inverter AC wall-mounted unit, for instance, has a built-in motion sensor that detects whether the room is occupied. If no motion is sensed in a 20-minute period, the temperature automatically sets back. Once motion is sensed, the unit automatically reverts to normal operation. This function can provide energy savings of up to 30 per cent of regular operation.
Passive dehumidification, a proven technology used in commercial spaces, is now making way in residential projects too. Shah says, “In very high-end projects, architects have begun using the passive dehumidification technology. It works by using a system of three evaporator coils. In the first coil, the air is moved over a coil filled with cooled refrigerant, just like a regular air-conditioner. Condensation forms and drains  to the outside.”

Spectacular stainless steel facade of Suites Avenue, Barcelona.

The heated refrigerant is sent to a reservoir for use in the last part of the system. In the second set of coils, the air is passed over coils filled with super-cooled refrigerant. Condensation forms a second time. The air is dry, but entirely Spectacular stainless steel facade of Suites Avenue, Barcelona. too cold to go into the house. In the third part of the system, the air passes over the last coils
filled with the warmed refrigerant from the first part. The heat warms the air to the desired temperature. Since the air is dry, the thermostat can be set higher. Ceiling fans also help to circulate
the air, which feels cooler still. Besides sustainability issues, most of HVAC’s technological advancements over the last decade have involved equipment, processes and systems that help reduce the
running cost per unit of performance.

In some ways, India has managed to shave off about 30 to 40 per cent from the cost of chilling and heating. The Indian air conditioning market, in fact, has evolved to include environmentally-responsible and cost-effective units in both residential and commercial segments.  Like in HVAC, so in all other segments of architecture and design, technology continues to be trained on making our built spaces as sustainable as possible.

Author : Deepali Nandwani

- Thanks to technological innovations, the future of architecture and design in India will be centred on ingenious engineering and cutting-edge products,

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