Haute property: Modern architecture strives to synergize styles of the past and the present
While flexibility and sustainability are the key words when it comes to buildings of the future, there is also a movement to attain synergies in styles of the past and the present
Modern-day architecture is designed as per the current or future needs of society. Like the pandemic-influenced functions in real estate, re-prioritising building design, space management and shifting the spotlight to health and safety has become more important than ever. “Over the past two years, there has been an increase in demand for offices with open plans, multi-functional rooms, larger open spaces and flexible furniture layouts. Similarly, in the residential segment, homebuyers are now opting for larger (and flexible) spaces to cater to their growing need for home offices—and to establish a healthy indoor-outdoor connection for mental and physical wellness,” says Delhi-based Gurjot Bhatia, managing director, project management, CBRE India, Middle East & North Africa, a global commercial real estate services company.
Architects today give equal preference to form, design and space. According to Delhi-based architect Gautam Sachdeva of Pradeep Sachdeva Design Associates (PSDA), a design studio with diverse portfolio encompassing architecture, urban design and landscape, the use of material with its original visual qualities and without any superficial finish is a prominent aesthetic. “In terms of commercial and residential buildings, architects constantly value engineering and try to reduce the footprint of built-up area to achieve more space for each unit. I think equal importance is given to both design and functionality while beginning any project, regardless of the scale of the building,” he adds.
Design and function cannot be separated from each other. A well-designed space addresses all the basic functions demanded in the most successful way. “In relation to the built environment, the term ‘function’ refers to the purpose of a building or structure. It can also relate to its operation, process or performance of something and how it works, such as plants, tools, lifts and building services,” says Shaleen Sharma, dean, school of architecture at the World University of Design, Sonepat.
From functional residential buildings or ones that emulate different architectural styles, offices or workplaces that are significantly inspired by modern-day shopping centres, the functionality of contemporary buildings varies. An example can be that of an armed forces education project—Sainik School in Gorakhpur, Uttar Pradesh—where the architectural style is colonial but there is emphasis on outdoor landscape built in the style of Mughal Gardens.
“This dimension adds a traditional narrative to the design. The administrative and academic blocks have ornamental green passages on the lines of Mughal Gardens in Delhi and the Nishat Bagh in Kashmir, characterised by their ornamental nature in addition to symmetry and clean lines symbolic of the order and precision that is paramount in the armed forces. The landscape is dotted with memorabilia such as plaques and sculptures celebrating the forces’ victories and conquests,” says Anand Sharma, founder and partner, Design Forum International, an architectural firm with expertise in architecture, engineering, and construction of various large-scale commercial projects such as the Select City Walk in Delhi, Guwahati City Centre—the largest retail mall in Guwahati in Assam, besides projects in transport infrastructure such as Dakshineswar Skywalk in Kolkata, and the upcoming multi-modal logistics and transport hub in Dadri.
Sustainability is not an add-on feature applied to the building to make it function in a particular manner but is a practice that holistically enables it to be a unit rather than a sum of parts. “Many elements of traditional architecture can be easily reinterpreted and incorporated in the design of new homes making them sustainable, such as by using local and natural materials (stone, bricks, wood, mud, lime etc), having an internal courtyard and verandah, building jaalis and chhajjas, arches and sloping roofs for ventilation. These elements can address the cultural landscape and context through design,” says Sharma of World University of Design. He shares three steps of approach towards design— documentation, which includes observing, recording, archiving, socio-economic surveying and mapping; analysis, which deals with programming, climatology, structuring and prospects; and application, which includes form, function, details, materials and structural feasibility.
Features for green buildings and eco-friendly designs include sanitary and storm water drainage system, energy-saving equipment, well-networked water supply line with storage tanks, solar-powered lighting or timer-based lighting control adapted to reduce energy consumption and cycling zones with smart mobility features, among others.
Today, buildings can be made sustainable by using low-cost passive methods or being ethical in terms of using local materials, alternative energy and other passive HVAC (heating, ventilation, and air conditioning) methods, a technology of indoor and vehicular environmental comfort. “HVAC system design is based on the principles of thermodynamics, fluid mechanics and heat transfer for a low carbon footprint,” says architect Sachdeva.
Thus, sustainability continues to be a growing concern in architecture. The buildings can be future-proof to enhance an occupant’s physical, mental, and social health. “Designed to maximise building lifecycle and overall value in the face of unprecedented events, sustainable buildings focus on bridging the gap between the traditional short-term outlook and the need for resilient and flexible design in the long term. People have become conscious of the damaging effects of real estate infrastructure on the environment and their communities. Governments across the globe are working to combat climate change through net-zero construction. Similarly, with the potential hike in fossil fuel prices and traditional construction materials, there’s a growing focus on alternative construction techniques that are to be not just sustainable but also cost-effective,” says Bhatia of CBRE.
Revival of art deco
Chrysler Building, Empire State Building, Rockefeller Center and Waldorf-Astoria have a distinct commonality in design. These landmark buildings have not only adorned the skyline of New York City in the US but are also identified for their strong and bold geometries, rich materials and decadent detail work inspired from the art deco style, short for ‘arts décoratif’. Art deco is a style of aesthetics in visual arts, architecture and design that remind us of the dazzling decades of 1920s’ France.
In the present-day concept of architecture, art deco structures are being given a new lease of life in terms of revival in design and form to conserve the cultural identity and to preserve such historic creations. For instance, Chrysler building, a landmark that has maintained its status as the world’s tallest steel-supported brick building since its construction in 1930, if undergoes renovation in the near future, could recapture some of its old glory and at the same time include revamped detailing. The new construction is expected to not only restore the building to its former glory but also include an observation deck, revamped glass panels, instead of metal handrails, besides other detailing in soon to be released timelines.
Similarly, Bjarke Ingels Group, often referred to as BIG, a Copenhagen- and New York-based group of architects, has created a hybrid retail model to host fashion shows, brand events and other activities for French department store Galeries Lafayette on Paris’s iconic Avenue des Champs-Élysées, the historic art deco bank building from 1932. The project was completed in 2019 and celebrates the history of the 1930s’ building, matching its original art-deco details with opulent displays.
Today, when smart living conditions have permeated our lives, the question remains whether such archaic styles remain part of the preservation process or come under advanced living conditions. “Art deco style was aimed at creating novel buildings. It’s a style of architecture that has come and gone. Modern-day citizens may not always like certain design features associated with this style,” says Delhi-based architect, urban planner, and conservation consultant AG Krishna Menon.
But experts also feel that the revival of art deco in the modern-day context does not mean bringing back the elements into contemporary buildings but preserving the historic buildings to ensure their presence as part of the city’s skyline and historic-cultural identity. They form an important part of our modern living heritage and can be retained as permanent features. The clean lines in interesting patterns, zigzags, chevron patterns, and repetitive offset lines in building faces can never go out of style and can be used in various design elements. Delhi-based architect Gautam Sachdeva says, “We can use elements of designs in the form of smaller architectural details such as doors, windows, grills and railings, and can be easily integrated into contemporary looking buildings—commercial and residential.”
Usually, art deco is characterised by the local flavour of the place. Kolkata art deco will be different from Mumbai and Delhi. Like Hyderabad art deco saw sliding windows, Mumbai had dense ornamentation or Delhi had different form and style of writing fonts on buildings. “It was a style that was adorned by industrial engineers with geometric angles, even surfaces, plain glass, or strong colours. By the 1930s, the predominance of new building materials like cement enhanced the style and designs of architects in Bombay which saw highly ornamental architectural style in cinema houses like Eros, Metro or commercial buildings. The decorative style is represented in exteriors, walls, gates, or lobbies, stairwells of apartments till today,” claims an art deco researcher, specialist cum architect on account of anonymity.
Major cities around the world are known for iconic art deco buildings: the UNESCO protected street of Marine Drive in Mumbai, the colourful rows of buildings in a district named for the style in Miami besides Chennai, Ahmedabad, Hyderabad, Delhi, Kolkata and most of them are still working in documentation and revival of buildings. For instance, the Backbay Reclamation Scheme in the early 20th-century Bombay expanded from the Oval Maidan (East) to Marine Drive (West) with art deco residential, commercial and entertainment buildings along the sea front. The Oval Maidan presents a composition of a spectacular ensemble of Victorian Gothic buildings on its eastern side, and another spectacular ensemble of art deco buildings on its western side, a testimony to the modernisation phases that Mumbai went through during the 19th and 20th centuries leading to a modern independent India in 1947.
The national capital territory of Delhi is also home to some historic art deco landmarks. These include The Imperial hotel, Union Public Service Commission (UPSC) building on Shahjahan Road, National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) building on Copernicus Marg, Golcha cinema, Moti Mahal and Delite theatres in Daryaganj and Liberty Cinema in Karol Bagh.
Modern tenets of architecture
Clean lines in interesting patterns, zigzags, chevron patterns, and repetitive offset lines in building face can be used in design elements.
Open-plan offices, multi-functional rooms and flexible furniture layouts are preferred.
In residential segment, homebuyers are opting for larger (and flexible) spaces to cater to their growing need for home offices and to establish a healthy indoor-outdoor connection for mental and physical wellness.
Sustainability is seen in the design of new homes by using local and natural materials, having an internal courtyard and verandah, building jaalis and chhajjas, arches and sloping roofs for ventilation.
Features for green buildings and eco-friendly designs include sanitary and storm water drainage system, energy-saving equipment, a well-networked water supply line with storage tanks, solar-powered lighting, cycling zones with smart mobility, etc.
Buildings can be made sustainable by using low-cost passive methods or being ethical in terms of using local materials, alternative energy and other passive HVAC (heating, ventilation, and air conditioning) methods.
There is a growing focus on alternative construction techniques to tackle heat waves or floods through green and natural urban spaces, community gardens, etc. Concrete can be replaced with the use of alternative construction materials like hempcrete or hemplime, a mixture of hemp hurds and lime, a lightweight insulating material ideal for most climates as it combines insulation and thermal mass.
Sustainable buildings focus on bridging the gap between the traditional short-term outlook and the need for resilient and flexible design in the long term— Gurjot Bhatia, MD, project management, CBRE India, Middle East & N Africa
Design and function cannot be separated from each other. A well-designed space addresses all the basic functions demanded in the most successful way— Shaleen Sharma, dean, school of architecture, World University of Design, Sonepat