Vertical Limit – Pace at a premium, buildings are exploiting the vertical axis, ablY supported by the latest technology, engineering and design
There’s nowhere else to go but up’ has become the mantra of connoisseurs of tall structures as they push the limits of building technology and innovation. This pursuit has meant that today an urban city, the world over, is distinguished by its tall repertoire. Whether it’s a need for privacy or luxury of living at the highest level, the urban rich are inching closer and closer to the sky in their quest for a better life. The appeal of residential supertall buildings and the exploration of its design schemes is a study in itself.
Behind the seemingly effortless tall structure is an intensive framework that enables architects, engineers and developers to reach new heights. Each year, expert solution providers are addressing the need for robust technology to realise the tall dream, whether it is through super-fast, highly-efficient elevators, engineering marvels that resist wind at great heights, the use of lighter but stronger doors and windows, or advancements in concrete and other building materials.
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When we look into the Indian context and the ground reality, we find that while technology offers limitless possibilities, adopting the best practices and making most of what’s available is a real challenge here. “The modern construction methods/technologies are generally available in India or can be relatively easily sourced from across the globe. However, there is yet to be a general acceptance that these new methods are more cost-effective than the old methods. There is a need to train personnel so as to use the equipment and achieve the best advantage. Since the new methods have a higher initial capital expense, there is a need for developers to be willing to apply the same in the sector,” shares John Guest, president, Construction, Piramal Realty.
A great deal of expertise needs to be accessible, since designing tall structures is nothing short of an engineering marvel. Take the wind tunnel test, for instance. It is one of the most advanced and a reliable way of finding out realistic wind-induced loads acting on building façades. As an architect, Manit Rastogi, founder partner of Morphogenesis, shares that such expertise – mainly Advanced Wind Tunneling Testing and Façade Engineering – is missing in India. For most high-rises here, these tests are currently conducted in countries such as Canada, Australia, etc.
Through this intensive test, the wind loads and motions of tall buildings is determined by subjecting scaled models of the building to extreme wind speeds in a controlled set-up. “The construction industry in India has gradually begun to understand the need for wind engineered buildings. Time and money are secondary to safety and accuracy while designing a building’s façade system for wind and vortex shedding. On the other hand, optimisation of the building façade system could also result in substantial savings,” Rastogi explains.
If being able to conduct such elaborate tests right here is one pressing need, another major challenge faced by architects and engineers, according to Rastogi, is working with better construction material that is best suited to skyscrapers. “While steel and concrete have always been the materials of choice, they are also quite heavy. Today, one of the most promising materials for the future of building construction is carbon fibre composites,” says Rastogi, who believes this new material, being lighter than steel, five times stronger and twice as firm, can improve the way tall structures are imagined and designed.
Carbon fibre is a polymer comprising long, thin strands of carbon atoms bound together in a crystalline formation – each strand thinner than a human hair. Composite structures can be erected quickly and do not require much in terms of specialised labour and work flows – another challenge that is peculiar to our country.
This inherent advantage can enable the industry to build and deliver the project faster; the amount of material required is also considerably reduced. “Currently used to build fancy bikes and airplanes, the only downside to this material is the high procurement and manufacturing costs. However, if efforts are made to economically develop methods of producing carbon fibre composites, we shall be able to take advantage of this unique material for rapid fabrication and customisation,” adds Rastogi.
Even for architect Vivek Bhole, exploring the materiality of tall structures is the most intriguing aspect of this segment. Principal architect at Vivek Bhole Architects, he works primarily with jump form shuttering with aluminium formwork in high-rise projects – but it is steel and concrete composite that “fascinate” him the most. He believes that steel structures are more flexible in terms of design and construction. “Across the world, the iconic commercial and mixed-use towers are designed and executed with steel structural skin and central shear core. The diagrid and exoskeleton structures are missing in our urban skylines. Although I don’t believe that we cannot execute these structures, or that we lack any expertise for the same.”
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Owing to their very stature, towers can be “cold places to stay in, not too friendly,” admits Guest. Along with the necessary technology and expertise, experts agree that there is a need for a better design mechanism too. The higher you go, the greater the challenge to give residential buildings a homely vibe. “At Piramal, we are driven to connect people to nature and give them an exceptional living experience. We believe in common lobbies for people to interact, [conduct] social gatherings, and exchange ideas. Apartments designed with cross ventilation not only connect you to nature, but also reduce the need for air-conditioning. Mindful designing techniques are quintessential,” explains Guest.
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Piramal Realty addresses this challenge by designing high-rises on the principles of Biophilia, mainly by integrating natural elements such as daylight and ventilation to create a harmonious work environment that promotes well-being and efficiency. State-of-the-art façade systems, efficient MEP design, water-saving initiatives and other features – designed and envisioned in 3D BIM – also play a key role in the design scheme. “While 3D BIM is relatively common in India, it is our experience that it is not used in an optimal way. Rather, the design is carried out in 2D and converted later intro 3D by other technicians. It is inevitable that there is some loss of design intent when this process is used. Here in Piramal, we are leading designers to truly design in 3D. In addition, we are looking at introducing 5D BIM (3D + cost + time) across our projects,” notes Guest.
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Building vertical is getting more convenient than spreading horizontally – but Rastogi, too, reiterates the need to foster “indoor-outdoor living and demonstrate a positive contribution to the surrounding environment by bringing low-rise living to a vertical format” using digital tools at optimal levels. Architects want to create safe and habitable spaces, and they recognise that the impact of a tall building is far wider than just the building itself and should make significant contribution to the urban realm. “By adding to the social sustainability of both their immediate and wider settings and representing design influenced by context, both environmentally and culturally, we can make significant headway in designing sustainable skyscrapers,” adds the Delhi-based architect.
With Prius Vision Towers in Gurgaon, Morphogenesis focused on creating a high-rise template that tackles the socio-cultural need for proximity to open spaces. “The form of the skyscraper in this project was generated using a computer optimisation program, where the primary design generators were an optimal floor plate size suitable for office usage, an appropriate ratio between the floor plan and the height of the building and, most importantly, the need for break-out spaces on each floor…” explains Rastogi.
The towers work on a three-floor low-rise office typology that is stacked vertically to achieve a highly sculptural form and a variety of spaces in the form of terraces. Every third office floor plate has a dedicated double-height terrace, thus encouraging engagement with the immediate environment. This project won the GRIHA Exemplary Practice Recognition for its passive architectural features.
Visually connecting individual floor spaces to nature in a tower is no small feat. Architect Bhole can also testify to the kind of design ingenuity it requires. For the project, One Avighna Park, the architect and his team designed the 54 residential floors tower which houses 278 apartments, three apartments on each floor. To enjoy the breathtaking sea view from the East and West, the towers are strategically oriented with cross-ventilated apartments of 3BHK, 4BHK and 5BHK, topped with a crown of duplexes and triplexes. The floor plates, designed as odd and even floors, were mirror images of each other – which formed the double and single-height eco-decks and plunge pools. These served to break the conformity of a linear singular mass and added to the aesthetic of the curvilinear shape.
The 54-storey One Avighna Park is designed by Vivek Bhole Architects with double- and single-height eco-decks and plunge pools that break the monotony of a linear singular mass.
“In [the] near future, we will witness rapid growth in urbanisation and, with sustainability, longevity and maintenance on prime focus, we will see a lot of composite structures with new modern materials for envelope of the high-rise towers,” explains Bhole, who is also designing one of the tallest steel buildings in India.
The 58-storeyed commercial building for a government project in Mumbai has a central core with 35
high-speed elevators and envelope of exoskeleton diagrid tubular steel truss which is also a part of the façade system.
From composite materials to nature-centric designs, vertical development in the country has been promising. In a world busy pursuing supertall structures, we commend developers and architects who are giving high-rises the much-needed social and sustainable context. In the coming years, we can expect even more impressive templates that assert the importance of developing vertically – but in a contextual manner.