Back to the future
Humming Tree uses a rustic template with industrual elements to create a futuristic automobile display space in Kerala
It’s not what you would expect a car showroom to look like – in fact, PADDOCK far exceeds any expectations. Created by Humming Tree, this automobile display space in Kannur, Kerala, stands apart on many fronts. Unlike typical car showrooms that are all about the glitz and glamour – using ample artificial lights, towering glass façades and completely air-conditioned interiors, this space takes the exact opposite approach. At a time when electric vehicles are making their grand appearance on India’s automobile scene, here is a car exhibition outlet that gives sustainable design a big thumbs up. And it is all thanks to Humming Tree’s vision – one born of research and observations made over time.
“Usually, the process starts with an architect designing a building form that relates to its context and accommodates the client’s programme, then progresses through increasingly detailed design phases. In thinking about climate-responsive buildings, we began to question how we could expect different results if we kept doing things the same way. The answer, for us, was to rethink the traditional design process by not starting with architecture. To move this concept forward, we began approaching our work from a genuinely sustainable perspective, striving to create buildings that respond directly to their unique place,” says Arun Shekar, principal architect, Humming Tree.
“The most crucial lesson we’ve learned so far is the importance of developing a deep understanding of the climate metrics before the pencil ever hits the paper,” adds Mohammed Afnan, principal architect, Humming Tree.
In keeping with this philosophy, the duo does not start with building massing or an architectural form, instead first answering questions about the building’s location, like: “What is the sun’s position in the sky at a given time and season?”, “What effect will the wind have on occupant comfort surrounding the building?” and “How much rain falls on the site each season?” Beginning with climate data rather than architectural sketches has turned the typical design process upside down, and yielded surprising results.
With this project, for instance, Afnan and Shekar have reused 90-year-old laterite stone from a local factory in the design of the car exhibition centre and workplace for Pete’s Automotive Products. Laterite, known as a ‘green’ or environmentally-friendly construction material can easily be recycled, has low energy consumption and low toxicity in both its production and application. It is cleverly juxtaposed with unpretentious black metals to create warren-like interiors, thus lending a contemporary appeal to the space.
In the same manner, while a similar sized showroom would be air-conditioned, using a high energy central unit to cool and circulate the air, this site uses low level ventilation louvers around the edge of the showroom and high level, chimney-style ventilation terminals mounted on the roof of the building to do the job. Wind pressure then draws the air through the showroom and up through the roof terminals using a ‘stack effect’, cooling the air using less carbon emissions. “Climate-responsive design is not only more sustainable from an environmental perspective, but it also increases occupant comfort and place satisfaction. Designing within the climatic envelope means the building will be quieter because it doesn’t need as many noisy mechanical systems, will be more comfortably lit with appropriate daylighting rather than electric lighting, and will be healthier due to the presence of fresh rather than recycled air,” believes Afnan. Also, by recycling rainwater, as well as using ground source pumps and solar power to heat water, PADDOCK claims to use around 30% less energy than a standard car showroom.
Lighting the way
In addition, 68% natural and low-wattage luminaires (both fluorescent and compact fluorescent lamps) are used in the main areas of the dealership. Standard high base 400-watt lamps are replaced with four 54-watt lamps, providing the necessary light, but using less energy. Occupancy sensors have been installed in most areas of the building; if no movement is sensed for a few minutes, they automatically turn off the lights in that area.
Built using exposed laterite, the building comprises two open-plan floors. As far as the functions go, one floor houses the space to display cars, while the other accommodates the manager’s cabin and back office. “The client sought a large space for displaying cars downstairs and a similar large space for a collective back office upstairs,” explains Shekar. Both of these spaces are separated by a tall wall, creating personalised function areas for showcase and service. This arrangement satisfied the client’s need for a large, flexible space for the business, yet also created volume.
Humming Tree chose to lime plaster the laterite stone in certain portions to add to the feel of the space. “We designed in a way that could harmonise the architectural space with the metallic car by minutely adjusting the visual hardness of the materials used. Mixing in lime plaster with the laterite, we obtained an intermediate half-stone, half-earth finish,” states Afnan.
Shekar further confesses that: “Using exposed walls enhances the building’s strength and improves its economic efficiency, unlike the typical air-conditioned car showroom.” The black metal straight flight staircase set into the laterite walls of the showroom lends texture and contrast. In fact, the architects decided to pair the two materials in order to merge the hard lines of a typical car showroom with the more tactile milieu of a home.
In addition to the large internal openings, expanses of Saint Gobain glazing around the perimeter of the space offer views of the surrounding urbanscape. External openings also align to create a lane down to the cement floor. At ground level, this provides an access route for cars. At the rear part of the showroom – reserved for service, there are parking bays for some cars. On the other hand, the flight of internal black metal stairs provides direct access to the manager’s cabin, which is designed using steel mesh. Different materials have been used to help give each space its own character. A wooden geometric reception table sits against the stark white, double height wall, while the triangle flexi light ceiling breaks the set lines of a rectangular interior plan, even as delicately textured cement flooring covers the expansive space.
With PADDOCK, bringing together a unique material palette and a climate-responsive approach has certainly paid off, as the end result is a warm and inviting, albeit modern, retail space.