Sustainability happens as a whole – architect Akshat Bhatt demonstrates this notion in a building in Gurgaon, where every brick plays a role in the live architecture.
What is a modern structure? Is it a steel shell? Does it have to scrape the sky? Is it decided simply by appearance? Or also by how it works in its entirety? And does its location play a part?
Gurgaon is one of the fastest growing cities of India, with many glass skyscrapers dotting its landscaping and heralding the advent of modern architecture. But this is also a fact, that most of the said modern structures, are in fact just steel shells that have been masked with a glass veneer or an Alucobond skin, playing no role whatsoever in the architecture.
53 Silver Oaks, a corporate guest house designed by New Delhi based multi-disciplinary firm Architecture Discipline, is another of the many modular steel structures in the Gurgaon foot print, but one where every part of the structure has an architectural function. In this steel monolith, the glass envelope is not just a mask, but a cover whose transparency has been specifically engineered for the building.
Says Akshat Bhatt, principal architect at Architecture Discipline, “53 Silver Oaks has all the unique qualities of mid-century modernism that put post-independent Indian architecture on the global map.”
The rectilinear site condition did not allow for windows to open on either of the longer sides, hence the client’s simple brief asking for a building that could house a large public space with many different types of guest rooms, became a spatial challenge. In response, the design team conceived the structure as a self-contained box that opened inwards into a triple height public space, ‘a home away from home’, just as the client desired.
We enter at the basement level, where the kitchen and the main common area of the building are situated. Explains Akshat Bahtt, “As a unique parti, we decided to create the main public areas below ground level. Hence, the principal entrance leads to a large subterranean space.” The guest rooms are placed on the upper floors organised around a vertical movement core, whose geometry is emphasised by the staircase.
Having limited concrete to the basement retaining walls and roof slabs, and instead using structural steel, the team has deftly reduced the dead load. This also warrants the maximum use of recyclable and locally sourced materials, thereby making the building sustainable in its life cycle.
For the vertical surfaces at the higher levels, double insulated glass units, which effectively control the noise and provide insulation as well, have been used.
But the highlight of 53 Silver Oaks is the perforated pattern on its external façade, which is borrowed from traditional Indian Jaalis and expressed in a modern context. This perforated skin, acts as a sun glare and temperature moderator, whilst splaying the interiors with uniform and subtle light.
A usual recurrence in most of their designs, the Architecture Discipline team points out that the objective was “to wrap the structure in a thin, light, perforated screen so that the structure itself could be lighter and free from supporting the weight of unnecessary heavy interior and exterior partitions.”
Reduction of the dead weight in the structure is also contributed by the steel frame that has been designed for maximum lightness, with diagonal members acting as bracing units. Not only is the need for repeated painting negated, but there is also maximum structural flexibility attained. There is a beauty in the way external architecture and interiors have been integrated, without concealing any of the columns or beams.
Their geometry becomes a beautiful and irreplaceable part of the spartan aesthetic. Services were also ingrained in the design in its embryonic stage, as the team knew that “it was imperative to design the services to take decades of wear and tear without needing costly maintenance or routine supervision.” They re-examined every mundane decision for efficiency and durability.
Intelligence in design is showcased in how the spaces have been designed and executed in materials that not only reduce thermal footprint and solar impact, but also contradict the requirement of unnecessary energy during day time. Further helping the cause is the roof that is made from a material that has a high solar reflective index; this establishes a situation where one could walk barefoot on the roof top even during hot summers.
53 Silver Oaks is a building that breathes new life into the banal concrete jungle of Gurgaon. If in the morning it looks like a perforated box, in the night it shines like a simple lamp. The structure is not just about positioning materials according to the plan, but about the symbiotic interrelation amongst every element.
Akshat Bhatt and his team have always believed in exploring all possibilities and advancements in the built environment; this has ensured that 53 Silver Oaks will sustain the passage of time with consummate ease.
Text By K Parvathy Menon
Photographs Courtesy Architecture Discipline