Thursday, September 22, 2011

Buildings that twist, bend and scream perfection

OMG! How does one build like this... 
The pictures above show the twisted, bent and warped facades of the stainless steel clad Frank Gehry's Beekman Towers, Frank Gehry's IAC Headquarters, Jean Nouvel's 100 11th Ave, and Thom Mayne's new Academic Building at Cooper Union, all in New York.

The question I ask is not how one thinks of these buildings, dreams them up at night or during a drunken creative breakthrough. The key question for me is how does one take these magnificent forms from paper to reality. Maybe I am jaded. But the quest to understand design to execution has dictated my professional journey, where I started as an architect who believed that design was supreme and then went on to studying and practicing as a city planner and real estate professional in an attempt to unravel the processes that translate design dreams to reality. I still think that design is supreme but really it can be so much more if implemented correctly on budget and on time. My architect friends may hate me for saying this but in a way I am their biggest proponent. I think that architects are supremely talented, way ahead of the times, and therefore I believe that their creations need to be built so the world can be a better place.

Renderings showing the proposed Barclays Center in Brooklyn, New York
So going back to the question of 'How does one build like this?'. The above rendering shows the new Barclays Center under construction in Brooklyn, New York. The project is being built by developer Forest City Ratner as part of the very controversial Atlantic Yards project in Brooklyn, New York. Interestingly, I had the opportunity to work with their parent company Forest City Enterprises in 2008-09 on mill redevelopment projects as part of the development team. Forest City Ratner is also the developer for the stately Beekman Towers (image on top).
Detail of the facade at Barclays Center made with pre-weathered metal lattice
Last week, I attended a talk by Jonathan Mallie from SHoP Architects and Construction who are the architects on the job and are facilitating the construction.

The building's external form is designed with concentric helical bands that are superimposed on each other. To mask this snaking form, the building will be skinned with a weathering steel latticework system. The lattice system goes over a glass curtain wall. Before installation, the metal lattice panels are pre-weathered to obtain a patina that makes them look older (weathered) in a design attempt to resemble the historic brownstones of Brooklyn.

And here is the kicker in the whole story, the proposed skin is comprised of 12,000 uniquely designed mega panels; each unique in size, shape, and individual pattern of folds and bends. Yes, I know....CRAZY ! Imagine implementing something like this. Imagine manufacturing each panel individually, imagine producing 12,000 individual drawings for each panel and then imagine coordinating the whole process, managing delivery and installation....

Photo of the lattice panels being installed on-site at Barclays Center
How does one go about a challenge like this? In this case, SHoP Architects have a sister company called SHoP Construction who played the key role of coordinating all design and construction efforts. They employed technology and created a Catia based 3-dimensional model that integrated all the building components with a back end database that recorded the details of each component (so size, individual design and special characteristics). As an example of attention to detail, SHoP actually analyzed the optimum size of panels and optimum stacking for road transportation (panels are being manufactured in Indianapolis and the project is in New York, 700 miles away from each other). After this exercise, they actually modified the design of the lattice panels to ensure efficient transportation. This is also an example of how an entity like ShoP Construction was critical to project implementation that allowed for communication between designers, manufacturers and contractors, who in spite of being in the same industry generally speak different languages, meaning have very different roles, scope of work and motivations.

The centralized model and database was also used to generate the 12,000 unique drawings for individual panels. And then they did another cool thing, implemented another idea that has probably never been done before.. Each panel was assigned and identified by a bar code. So each drawing had a bar code that was repeated to tag the panel once manufactured, was scanned when the panel was put on the truck to be transported to site, again scanned when it reached site and then again once it was installed. Taking it all the way, this electronic information was then made available real-time through a project website that kept all team members from the owner, architect, manufacturer, contractor up to date on where each of the 12,000 panels were at any given point in time. All this is so cool, that I just can't type fast enough to tell you all about it... just thinking about it makes me jittery with excitement...Oh and of course, the electronic tracking system was also available to the project team as an IPhone application... 

Learning about these wonderful stimulating innovations in design and implementation left me wanting more...The mantra to successful project implementation is seamless communication between all parties. With technology this communication can improve by leaps and bounds. For our project, we rely on digital photographs, skype calls and in-person meetings with all project leaders. It works well for now, but I will end the post hoping that in the future we will endevour to design and build more complex buildings and embrace cutting edge technology to do the same.

Read more about,

Read New York Times architectural review of,
Jean Nouvel's 100 11th Ave

Thursday, September 15, 2011

New York Spring and Fall Collection

Page from Anthropologie India Spring Catalog
I am back in New York after a four month sojourn in Goa. If you read my last post, then you know that the project in Goa is progressing on-track and it was (somewhat) safe for me to travel across continents and get my seasonal dose of inspiration, motivation and aggression from New York. More than anything New York makes me push myself. New Yorkers are super-beings, who manage high paced jobs, families, friends while looking great all the time and being in the know on everything... it is a lot of pressure to be all that but New Yorkers do it so effortlessly and I love them for it. When I am in New York, I feel that anything is possible.. It empowers me and gives me another tiny push to continue to follow my passion.

For the past year now, I have been spending around 3-4 months in Goa working on a pilot development project and then a month or so back in New York. Lines are beginning to get blurred now about where home is, what I expect to find in my fridge, friends and conversations...

When in New York, my main agenda (apart from continuing to micro-manage the Goa project) is to see, hear and learn so I continue to get inspired, find ways to put new ideas to work and not let the little things bring me down. The idea is to think big picture, learn from innovations from around the world and absorb the energy from my favorite city.

Interestingly, in Spring I was in New York for the Festival of Ideas and this time around my trip coincides with the Urban Design Week and Climate Week but I narrowly miss the Architecture and Design month...

On my last trip in Spring, I was struck by the focus on India in several places where I typically look for inspiration. I found that more people are looking towards India with hope, attempting to unravel its complexities, blend in with India's treasures in culture, design, history and diversity. Here are a few notable encounters:

Poster for 'Jugaad Urbanism', an exhibition at Center for Architecture in New York
1. 'Jugaad Urbanism', an exhibition at the Center for Architecture. As the name suggests the exhibition and related programs highlighted the innovation in urban design, architecture and building material found in unlikely places in India often without assistance from design and construction professionals or public funding. The exhibition was interesting; I particularly remember a study on the Chawls in Mumbai, with an extensive report and a detailed graphic documentation. More here.

But to tell you honestly, I have very little patience for long studies of problems and solutions that are merely theoretical, snazzy difficult to understand design solutions, and solutions with no implementation plans. Not sure why but solutions from design professionals in India often lack thought on implementation. Most people actually do not care about that aspect at all. I am not saying that theoretical exercises are wrong but only that I have little patience for them as I feel that the time to take action is NOW.

2. Anthropologie May fashion catalog on India. Anthropologie which is on of my favourite stores picked India as the location and inspiration for their Spring catalog and I have to tell you, the design, photography and fashion blew me away. It made me so proud of being Indian. After looking at that catalog, I bet everyone in the world wanted to be that girl in India. It was a skewed version of reality. But design is for dreamers and the Anthropologie catalog urged us to dream on. Sadly, I can’t seem to find the catalog anywhere online, but you can see some more pictures here
Cover Page of Wallpaper Magazine June 2011
3. 'Reborn in India', June issue of the Wallpaper magazine. Wallpaper did an entire issue solely looking at design in India. It highlighted fashion, furniture and architectural design. It was great to get the focus on an international platform but for me the compilation left a lot more to be desired. I felt that they took the easy route and covered all the established big names in the industry. I agree that the big names in the industry have earned it. But I would have personally liked to see a bit more from the new, emerging designers who are either innovating new ways of thinking, or resurrecting traditional techniques and design while working with local craftsman and artists. See more here.

Excerpt from book, 'To India with Love: From New York to Mumbai'
4. Finally, came across the book 'To India with Love: From New York to Mumbai' at a cafe in the Village. Another dreamy collection of India experiences and inspirations from global designers, travellers and revellers presented with great kitschy style. I loved reading through it. You can find some excerpts here. 

The agenda for this trip is to: WATCH Spiderman on Broadway; LISTEN to speakers about Leveraging technology in the design process, Governance in Hyderabad and alleviating poverty; VISIT the Brooklyn Flea market and New Dekalb market (built with shipping containers); and SEE Public art by Sol Lewitt.

Hopefully, I will be able to blog about at least a few of these, so stay tuned.

Friday, September 9, 2011

Week 32: The joy of turning 60 !

View of the entrance courtyard, part of deck and pool pavilion
We have a small milestone to celebrate this week. We are completing 32 weeks into construction at our project site. With a projected total of 12-14 months as our construction timeline, we are close to the 60% milestone. The real reason to celebrate is that we have completed 60% of construction on-site and are almost on-track to finish within our projected schedule. For anyone who has built in India, this is quite a considerable feat. Projects in India are ridden with unexpected and often unexplained delays mainly due to the unorganized construction industry, loose legal frameworks and maybe skewed priorities among builders and contractors. While design is all glamorous and intellectual, the construction process is where one needs to get down and dirty with all kinds of details of sourcing the right materials, controlling quality on-site, meeting deadlines and coordinating with the various professionals involved. Our team deserves a lot of credit, they are working hard and have a common unique trait (that is central to our hiring process but sadly not that easy to find), they all "take pride in their work".

Last month, we had the privilege of a visit from two prominent architects from Delhi to our site. They left with two comments. First - "Finishing a project in India in 12 months is only possible if it is regular building, it is very difficult to finish a project in that time while building the way you are building". I guess they were referring to our load bearing stone wall structure that require much longer to build than a typical concrete structure, plus the large size of our rooms with high ceilings and possibly to the fact that we have very large openings and not little pigeon hole windows and doors. Their second comment was, "If the talent exists then how come we do not see buildings in Goa built in even half as conscientious manner as you are building." This is the best compliment we have received so far and I was joyous to hear this observation.

At our 60% milestone, we have completed nearly 90% of our civil works, electrical and internal plaster. Civil works for external landscaping is almost 50% complete. We are now busying ourselves with the internal and external door frames, plumbing and flooring.
Sketch rendering of our elevations and opening design
Since, we keep talking about our extra large openings, it is clearly evident that they are critical to our design proposition. We have gone back to our drawing boards many times in order to perfect the design of the fixed and movable doors and windows. The final design looks like the rendering above. All openings will comprise of fixed glass windows on top with wood louvers and movable sliding door panels below. The movable panels will all have a fixed shutter on one corner with wood louvers. All the remaining sliding doors when opened will stack behind this fixed frame. The louvers are designed such that they provide an interesting play of light and shadow within the room at different times of day. Louvers reduce direct sunlight and glare into the rooms. On the other hand, louvers also reduce the visibility to the outside. Keeping this in mind, the openings have been carefully designed with a balance of louvered panels and ones with clear glass.

Sample of a fixed louvered section of the opening built on-site for review
Another interesting functional design feature in our external opening design is that the fixed louver panels will actually be fitted with mosquito nets and have a sliding glass door behind them. This is our proposed solution after various design iterations to address the following conflicting factors that influence living in Goa:
- the ability to keep the doors open for as long as one can to connect with nature
- the insurgence of mosquitoes at dusk specially during monsoons
- the ability to allow for cross ventilation at all times of day even when there are mosquitoes, or if it is raining, or for any other reason the doors need to be kept closed
- the need to make the space air-tight if the use of mechanical air-conditioning is needed

Attention to details such as this comes only from living in a place through the seasons to know peculiarities in climate and livability. Trust me, I wish I had mosquito nets in the openings in my house that allowed cross ventilation, did not block my view, were easy to clean, not stuck with velcro, did not obstruct my ability to open and close my windows and most importantly kept the mosquitoes out but the breeze in.

Another key success of adding nets to the openings is enabling cross ventilation at all times and reducing the need for mechanical air-conditioning at all times of the day throughout the year. This reduces the energy requirement of the house and the pressure of added development on the land.

As a result of our opening design, 100% of our living spaces are daylit. This is based on the math that shows that 100% of our living area has a daylight factor of at least 2%. (Daylight Factor = Window Area/ Floor Area X Actual Visible Transmittance X Constant)

In addition, 100% of our living spaces have access to fresh air ventilation. This calculation is based on the area of openable windows as a proportion of the living area of each room.

Both these statistics far exceed the standards for Indoor Air Quality as mandated by leading green guidelines as being critical to healthy living.

So far so good. looking forward to more happy discoveries and experiments in the remaining 40%. 

Read more about us and our team.

Friday, September 2, 2011

Red, Yellow, Blue and shades in between

These are pictures from my recent walk through Panjim's historic Fontainhas district. Love the colors, textures, and feel of tiny bylanes that are a reminder of the Portuguese era in Goa.


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