Studio Lotus creates an integrated factory that follows the highest tenets of sustainable design
By Mitalee Kurdekar
When thinking of manufacturing units, the first thought that crosses one’s mind is a staid-looking building that guzzles energy. And if that facility sits in Uttar Pradesh, which owns the infamous tag of having some of the most polluted cities in the country, one is convinced that the picture will not be pretty. However, turning this notion on its head is the latest product from Studio Lotus. The firm, which had been tasked with designing an integrated production facility for wellness brand Organic India, in Lucknow, has delivered a stunning, LEED Platinum-rated development through the extensive use of local as well as recycled materials, passive cooling strategies, and on-site resource management. In fact, this set of interventions has won the development 87 points in its LEED assessment, the highest in the country for a production facility.
Set amid barley fields, the sprawling 1,20,000 sq-ft campus is characterised by expansive open spaces, a minimalist brick-and-concrete built envelope, and a focus on community and introspection. The block has been designed to support the manufacturing, processing, and administrative functions for the holistic wellness company.
“The architectural and planning intent of the campus prioritises the physical and psychological wellbeing of the campus’ occupants above all else – creating a complex that will now serve as an architectural template for all future properties for the company,” states Sidhartha Talwar, who helmed this project and is design principal at Studio Lotus.
Situated in Chinhat, an upcoming industrial area on the outskirts of Uttar Pradesh’s state capital, the site surroundings include low-rise developments and small manufacturing plants interspersed with small fields of barley and legumes. Against this verdant backdrop, the facility stands out with its striking brick structure. The unit’s design capitalises on the abundant open space surrounding the campus, thus providing an atypical work environment for the factory workers and administrators that work there.
When it comes to the structure itself, two sets of intersecting axes distinguish the building footprint of the facility; the resulting interstitial spaces emerge as courtyards, light-wells and lawns that provide space for interaction as well as relaxation to the staff. In an interesting play of textures, the built vocabulary of the facility has been articulated in brick and concrete, with sleek lines and planar symmetry defining the façade design.
“The axes conceptualised for the facility’s design have been staggered to lay at an angle to the site boundaries – the resulting footprint creating large open spaces along the periphery to accommodate staff parking, heavy vehicle manoeuvring and off-loading, and recreational zones towards the East, West and North sides; the Southern side of the site has been reserved for services, in tune with Vastu recommendations,” explains Talwar.
In addition, to segregate worker and visitor traffic as well as pedestrian and vehicular access, the entrance to the production wing has been provided from the western side. This relatively private access provides workers the opportunity to assemble before starting work, while also clearing the driveway for incoming trucks. Preceded by a large lawn, the entrance along the western flank further opens into a set of decontamination chambers for the workers, which allows them to systematically execute hygiene procedures before entering the production wing and subsequently the raw materials section.
As far as the production wing is concerned, it ensures seamless transfer of raw materials to individual processing units, and the subsequent movement of finished goods to the packaging department. The raw materials section is a triple-height space, with a sophisticated pulley system installed to move goods to the top floor. From here, they are moved laterally to the processing units, which are housed in modular rooms that are each 3m wide, and designed to specification for the machinery housed within. The goods are then moved through a top-down processing system, with preliminary steps like sorting and drying executed at the topmost floor, and more sophisticated secondary functions executed on the ground and first floor.
The goods, having moved down the production line, are then loaded onto a conveyor belt connecting the production wing to the finished goods section, which is located towards the Northern end of the site. It is here that the processed goods are inspected, packaged and readied for dispatch. The finished goods block – which is aptly placed adjacent to the quality control department – opens into a driveway with restricted access, allowing approved goods to be moved off-site without disturbing the functions of the rest of the facility. “This movement of goods from the Eastern to Western side of the site marks the production line, forming the functional spine of the facility,” Talwar points out.
Complementing this functional spine are the areas that support the administrative functions of Organic India. These can be found extending from the finished goods block to the drop-off for the raw materials section. The built vocabulary of these blocks is porous and composite, when compared with the monolithic appearance of the processing wings. To the Eastern end is the company’s experience centre, a two-storey space wrapped in a tessellated brick screen. Before this centre, one finds the facility’s amphitheatre and temple – the combination of these three marks the visitors’ zone. The office spaces – housing the finance, HR and sales departments – are expressed in a similar vein, bordering the experience centre and extending towards the West in a linear configuration.
Ancillary functions for the administrative staff are located towards the end of the administrative block, and comprise of meetings rooms, a gym, and the cafeteria. The administrative spaces of the facility wrap around a large lawn, facing North. A huge tree that was retained on site stands in this lawn, and has been christened the Bodhi Tree, as a means for the campus to pay homage to Organic India’s commitment to mindfulness for the self and for the community. The administrative spaces, by way of numerous balconies and box windows, overlook this lawn. Also, the provision of nooks and perches along the building envelope lends a meditative quality to the workspaces.
Most interestingly, the design scheme that has been followed imbibes local influences to create a sustainable built environment. Primary among these is the use of bricks as the principal infill material. “Left exposed, the facility’s brick shell harkens to the regency structures of colonial Lucknow,” says Talwar. He adds that bricks are also locally available due to abundance of labour-intensive kilns and availability of pliable clay, lowering the carbon footprint of the campus. The fenestration strategy, in tune, has been devised to provide the optimal wall-window ratio to each zone: the processing blocks have limited ingress of light, facilitated through skylights and north lights, to prevent spoilage of goods. On the other hand, natural light access has been enabled in the administrative blocks in order to help lower dependence on artificial means of lighting.
Furthermore, the interstitial open spaces on campus aid climate control in multiple ways, predominantly by enabling passive cooling of the blocks through stack effect. The abundance of open spaces and limited hardscaping also increases the potential for recharging the ground water table. The design also ensures the channelling of surface run-off for reuse, as well as recycling of greywater discharge – the result has been the reduction of potable water consumption by more than half of the initial demand. Over one-tenth of the material used in the construction of the facility is recycled. Additionally, a gamut of passive cooling techniques – such as terracotta filler slabs in the large-span spaces, and recessed openings to cut out solar glare – have been employed.
As a result of these methods, Talwar and his team have been able to create a campus that could well be a prototype for sustainable development in the future. Whether it is the vast, undeveloped spaces, permeable built fabric, emphasis on community and introspection, or the prioritisation of workers’ safety and comfort over all else, this site serves as an ideal template for how production facilities should be designed. Above all, it underscores the fact that factories of the future could well benefit from the use of architectural principles of the past.