Buildings are not very different from films, as they depict stories of various sorts. From birth to age to decay, these stories take multiple known and unknown turns… but one thing that remains eternal to their form is the domination of their belonging era.
Each era has its aura, a kind of style that reflects certain sets of ideologies and notions, where buildings and films become a structural form of representation. The domination of today’s era in buildings is evident through its better reflecting material(s), a typology that represents an ideology of aspirations. The aspiration of globalization and modernity, where the essential aim becomes to be a part of the world-class culture.
Even so, there exist structures and ideologies which stand beyond these typologies and break the boundaries of these popular notions. The KMC Corporate Office, Hyderabad becomes one such example that works against what Architect Rahul Mehrotra describes, as an “impatient capital” and the binaries of local and global
According to him, capitalism becomes an impatient factor that results in a very particular kind of Architecture. Our desires and gestures for what a corporate building looks and feels like, are driven by a certain set of ideal images that signal globalization. He being someone who has surveyed contemporary architecture, calls this typology to be more prevalent as a form of landscape, after the liberalism of the Indian economy in the 1990s.
Buildings which were a part of the repertoire of ensuring representation images, that in his view impulses to make Architecture more component. The impatience in this particular Architecture becomes pretty evident, from its materials and style. It is informed both by a need to release, build and spread very quickly to be part of other such quick capital global investment. This affects the discipline of Architecture not only as a product but as a process and additionally in terms of production.
In the interest of speed, local practices such as wet construction are either eliminated or otherwise minimized to a patent extent. Since these techniques have a natural curing time and thus, take longer, they are scarcely appreciated. Materials and techniques which require less time and hence, showing a visible speed is the demand of super modernity. So, curtain walls in reflective glass able to be assembled rapidly, which additionally eliminates the involvement of labour, becomes the popular mode of the construction industry.
Design services are most often assigned to Western firms, which are well-versed, aware, and experienced in this particular form of representation. It becomes an unusual business for these firms to work with the materials of modernity and make surfaces that represent the desired image. Mehrotra believes that these results are not only evident in “usual business”, but it also implies predictability and detachment of the built form from its ambient environment. What he states as- “divorce from place and community” and “an in deference to the imperatives of tectonic innovation and material resources”.
To him, the boundaries of “global-local” and “formal-informal” are unproductive for designers, because they don’t dissolve the issue but instead, force one to reside and align i.e., choose and become part of one world. This categorization becomes a problematic root of these binaries and the very nature in which they happen.
He believes in the contemporary world, Architecture can be used as a tool to exacerbate these binaries. Therefore the challenge for designers at hand becomes to soften the threshold between these binaries- “the disparate world that exists in our built environment”. By redefining the conventional corporate typology, the KMC building goes beyond the ordinary gestures of these boundaries and binaries and even the usual green design schemes.
Constraints as Opportunity
For the KMC building, an adequate amount of time was spent in discussions between the client and designers to negotiate the identity of the building. The client cautiously embraced the idea that global programs, such as a corporate office need to be localized to be more effective. The intentions were clear- to make the project rooted and invested in the locality, its people as well as the material climate, the social and economic culture so as to signify the ‘Made in India’ approach of the client.
Designers, on the other hand, were driven by the views as factors for the strategy. Typical ideology and typology were not accepted as facts but were questioned and analyzed. They became the basis on which the design would further take shape. The most prominent question that Rahul Mehrotra and his team worked around was- “how can they make the capital more patient”, to make the environment less vulnerable, and to also neutralize the design relevance of a corporate office. Significant thought was paid to the epitomizing image of the building.
The idea was to spatially build a structure that negotiates the impatient instinct of the capital world and serves value to the environment (with considerations to LEED clarification), with a balance between mass-produced and labour-intensive operations in the entire process of construction. Thus, the central idea revolves around making a potential structure that goes beyond the notion of a foreign implant corporate building, and instead, something which is more local and climate-responsive but still fulfils the aspiration of its users and owners.
The issue of time sensibilities was addressed by working on the overall building as two different layers. The inner container layer of the building is detached from its outer skin layer or facade. The facade was inspired by the principle that allows the modulation of light and air through the building. The Trellis had an integrated misting system to passively cool the building and cleanse the facade of dust in the hot and windy summer months of Hyderabad. By that, the facade does not only serve an aesthetic purpose but is also functionally performative, as it serves the principle of a green wall that also humidifies the air entering the building.
The inner layer is a reinforced concrete frame with a standard aluminium window; there is an accustomed cast aluminium trellis which is integrated with both- the misting system, as well as hydroponic trays and drip irrigation for the plants so that the water is used efficiently and is different from the water that is used in plants. The detachment of the inner layer from the façade gives the luxury to borrow more time for making it, on the other hand, the container was worked and completed within a quick schedule which made the building occupational and functional, with interiors and functioning offices.
The facade was instead separately made in twenty-four months at the local factory of Patnam, a small village in Coimbatore. It was made with a combination of 4 components which created 16 unique patterns. These patterns could be produced with the help of unskilled labor, though complex variations are fashioned by their arrangement on the façade.
In total, there exist 675 such panels which were crafted, bought, and assembled at the site. The growth of the plants became the final development phase in the building’s façade, which took about twelve months to complete and is a never-ending process. The assorted species of climbing plants while serving an aesthetic purpose also bring to light various elements of the building-through changing seasons with their blooming patterns.
Eminently, the building draws relevance to traditional cooling systems of humidified surfaces used through time, in the hot and dry climate of South Asia. The building achieved a balance between the need of the corporation, the environment to get going efficiently, but also the visual of local handcrafted images and its representation.
The building was also central to the social dimension- that is the usage pattern that has to be followed, but also an acknowledgment of the diversity in the participants of the building. So as to speak, the facade with the plant screen is a clear visual statement but also, a stimulating life support system.
The company employs around 20 gardeners who can access the facade through a system of catwalks on all five levels. So, the interaction of the building, with people from diverse economic groups also adds a social context to the building and its design. That’s how Ar. Sanjay Prakash described the KMC building as a good example in terms of “green jobs”, which Ar. Mehrotra and his team had thought about it.
The KMC building extends beyond the obvious gestures of its era, as it breaks the boundaries that define a particular typology and a particular approach to Architecture. The building takes into account various socio-economic and socio-environmental aspects as a central factor to the design and sets an example for the required shift from global to local (no binaries intended).