Friday, November 30, 2007

Thursday, September 27, 2007

Courtyard revival, the modern way

Call it a passage, foyer space, patio or open courtyard... this open-to-the-sky room provides a cool link to every other area of the house, especially with modern materials.

ALL IN ONE: Unlike bedrooms or living rooms, the central courtyards can be designed as multipurpose utilitarian spaces.
The nostalgia and aroma of our past is so strong... there is a desire to relive it. Can we ever forget the central courtyard in the old village house, and the smell of the earth there after a mild shower? Yes, it's the central courtyard that we are going to look into this week. It is a revival of the old theme central courts with a touch of modern materials and security systems for an easier blend with our life styles.

Connecting spaces

Living rooms, dining rooms, family halls, pantries, kitchens, bedrooms, home-theatres, gymnasiums and more for a house... all these have got to be linked with an `anti' space or a residual space — this can be a passage, a foyer space, a patio or an open courtyard. The courtyard, simply put, is a room open to the sky. It helps throw light into the adjoining rooms, while one can look from say the living room to the family hall or dining room.

Unlike the bedrooms or the living rooms, the central courtyards can be designed as multipurpose utilitarian spaces serving for activities like prayer, may be with a tulsi plant too.

An atrium space for family gathering (similar to the one at Spencers Plaza)

A good study area for the sun-lit mornings, early evenings, and for later hours too.

A hang-out space for a get-together... and maybe even a barbeque.

A small landscaped court with a light water body. The sound of flowing water is scientifically proved to be soothing.

The mural wall in the central court, featured in the photo, which helps one relax, is also an art work on the wall. It has been done with granite pieces, Kota and polished granite. The small landscaped areas have been carefully planned to keep the insects away and also prevent growth.

These aspects may definitely be worth the try to add in novelty to an open court. It also links the floors vertically, i.e., one can actually hear the sounds happening in the living room right at the first floor room level.This light court is a powerful torch, throwing the sunlight into the house with a controlled `aperture'.

Maintenance aspect

Careful planning has to be done to maintain the light court and the small landscaped pockets. So a 10' dm pipe, either stone ware or heavy duty PVC pipes, have to be filled below the floor level for the draining of rain water and landscaped irrigation water.
The landscaping also may cause mosquitoes to hang around the landscaped areas, so it is important that windows and doors be provided with glass. Since we may be opting for a pergola roof cover above, the internal windows can be planned without grills and mostly with transparent glass.

Although these modern ideas prevail, the inner urge to have a home that is binding together is always present. Similarly, it is also the spaces and the way the architect articulates these spaces that would help define the lifestyles of the family. If the only gathering space is the living room, it most often would be around the TV set. Certainly, a family would interact better if it happens in a natural space like a central court or a landscaped sit-out.

The author is the Chief Architect of Murali Architects, Chennai

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

The right lessons for building schools

Institutions of learning have a lot to be looked into for designing the right spaces. School buildings are more challenging, for, the brick and mortar here should facilitate the growth of learning.

SCHOOL RULES: Exposed brickwork could be an effective option as it is maintenance free. Picture shows a renovated school structure for a tsunami affected area in Andaman and Nicobar islands. — Photo: By Special Arrangement

A CHILD spends one third of his time sleeping and an equal time studying at school. The school is a place of thought development with new inputs. The building will be buzzing with activity with people moving around, so the building has to evolve a sense of cheer; a spirited atmosphere has to be created for the activities of the young. Hence the architecture of schools is different from that of private residential buildings.

The site planning in schools give scope for all the drama one can build up.

Since the schools have large open areas in the form of playgrounds, the existing trees and the natural terrain have to be maintained to the maximum extent. We should also look at zoning the various areas according to the usage pattern.

Play areas should be divided into active (for moving activities) and passive where you relax and watch an activity happening.

The canopy of the trees could be used for outdoor play activity and group discussions.

Since the child's mindset is formed in the schooling days, right directions are required at this stage itself. So concepts such as rainwater harvesting, water management systems and distinctive care for nature can be nurtured here by having small pockets of courtyards defining the zones.

More interactive techniques like having a small water body filled by the storm water run-off could help children be more creative.

Even a solar water heating plant could be created to give practical working experience.

Children and environment

Since the school buildings are meant to be rugged and most rooms are naturally ventilated, the building can make use of natural materials, with natural heating and ventilation.
Exposed brickwork could be an effective option as it is maintenance-free.
Stone finish at the window sill level and shelves would be necessary to prevent stains. Care should be taken to round the corners to prevent accidents and the windows sills can be furnished with some economical natural stone material. This not only keeps it clean but also cool throughout the day.

The mind rooms

The classrooms are places where the child spends most of the time in school. There could be more drama to the classroom itself. The furniture size and proportion are maintained according to the age of the children but the anthropometrics (study of human body geometry) of the door and window and roof height also create the right atmosphere.

The classroom activities can be bifurcated by means of carefully planned levels. Large windows with sill level for windows should be maintained at 2'6" to get maximum lighting and ventilation.

Similarly, the colours and themes add joy to the atmosphere. The learning centre that is featured in the photo was designed for children below 10 years of age. These are primarily planned for the tsunami-affected areas in the Andaman and Nicobar islands. These primary schools have play areas, an interactive dining area and a first-aid room meant to cater for village levels.

This multi-activity also helps reduce the fear of going to `school'. The sloped roof architecture also reflects the local character.
The connecting corridors and staircases are by themselves important in maintaining the merry mood.

Corridors have to be a minimum 6'0" wide.
Corridor parapets have to be 3'6" high (against the conventional 3'0") with no middle horizontal members.


In the city, but still green

Think of institutions and it conjures up images of buildings nestled in large open spaces and foliage away from city limits. But you can still design greenery right in your buildings staying in the heart of the city.

GOING GREEN: The MERF building in R. A. Puram has landscape at various levels, and a sense of detailing is given to medical and research activities.

The smaller the land, the bigger are the challenges of building structures, commercial or the like. From the early days, the basic idea of an institution was a large space with buildings scattered at a distance to each other and long paths with trees around, all these located in a serene atmosphere away from the city.

With technological advances, the institutions are built very much inside the city. If we are speaking of vast nature that has helped several men in their intellectual flashes, it cannot be forgotten that Newton got his brainwave lying under a tree. It is also said that Aristotle always had deep thoughts lying under the open natural sky. Building good complexes for research institutions in a small property is a challenge to the designer. Various features are to be considered for building research institutes in smaller-sized land than larger areas where they are usually built.

Landscape at various levels

Parking in every building demands its own space. This reduces the plants and landscape in the ground area. Provisions can be made by providing an alternative plant-space on compound walls and huge blank walls.
The courtyards of the building can be well furnished with landscape at various levels. This concept is applied at the MRF building on Greames Road.
Terrace gardens and the flat areas of every floor create a relaxed environment with the right choice of plants for both the staff and the visitor to that floor.
Nature can be brought in right from the compound wall by bringing in natural stone and boulders.
Natural stones can be used in lower portico with a pleasant water cascade bringing the waiting area much closer to nature.
Double-glazing the exterior fa├žade reduces noise and pollution providing clean air and quiet surroundings in the building.

Green endeavour

A similar endeavour was undertaken for Madras ENT Research Foundation that aims to integrate all outpatients, diagnostic, surgical, teaching and training activities under one roof. Located in a small urban property right at the centre of Raja Annamalaipuram, it caters to the enormous city-based regular patients. Dr. Mohan Kameswaran is a pioneer, not only in cochlear implant procedure but has also integrated a welcome landscape urban presence with a small plaza in front for patients, attendants and the young cochlear implant children.

Some features

The building is a functional one with greater sense of detailing given to medical and research activities.
The ramp flooring is of flamed finished granite which has a tooth-edged finish for accident proof movement.
Separate entry is provided for pedestrian and car park for easy traffic control.
The phosphor lamp fittings are used as energy-saving external light features.
Photo voltaic cells are being employed to convert the solar charges for the light in the exterior.
The maintenance of the exterior is reduced because of granite extension up to a sill height of 7'0"
The AC service boxes are grouped on the terrace to avoid the ugly projections on the wall.
Floor ducts are provided along all sides to cover the electrical and plumbing lines.
The double and triple height in some areas helps sense a proximity amongst people in all floors.
The plumbing ducts are easily serviceable because of larger capacity .
The toilets are organised one above the other to minimise duct core and plumbing lines.
Proper planning of services is done by providing treatment plants, water recycling systems and sullage sump.
The UG sump has discharge point on the outside so that lorry need not move into the campus.
The cable entry provision for telephone, internet, broadband, cable TV and more are provided invisible in the exterior.
Exterior handrails are made of stainless steel for easy cleaning and good finish that lasts longer.

The author is the chief architect of Murali Architects

Office design perspectives

What are the vital factors that distinguish the designing for production centres and research wings?

From the day Frank Lloyd Wright designed and built the Johnson's wax factory, office building spaces are seen with a different terminology.

Though the work culture has changed over a period of time, from custom-made products to large-scale production, it is now followed with customisation too. So, it is development and research all the way.

Research and development are very important, though the number of scientists and research scholars has dwindled.

The production of goods, be it software cars or fast moving consumer goods, has increased and so has the production department.


These production departments need upgradation every year with good economics that help the speedy working of the production line, in turn helping the R and D department look into newer perspectives.

A production and R and D building combination is an example of a unique campus which facilitates production like a factory campus and provides educational facility like an institutional campus.

So, the character of the campus should reflect the strength of a factory building by means of a strong brick and mortar form, and also bring in an institutional character of a college building with lots of landscape and terrace areas.

Though production units may differ in the way they produce the finished goods, the sequencing is similar in most office buildings.

Easy movement

The main entries need to be multi-focal to enhance easy movement, allowing the spaces accessed by the visitors to lead to the lounge. The entries to be used only by the office staff have to be separate.
Car parking area can be cordoned off with a green buffer and there can be a quick change-room close to the space.

It has to be planned conceptually, since production facilities have the tendency to grow in size. There has to be enough room for future expansion, either horizontally or vertically.

The R & D block needs to have a good support library and maximum sterile atmosphere. This will definitely go a long way in helping the staff members do their creative working effectively.

The proximity to the quality control department and the production wing is important as well.

A noise buffer in the form of landscape or a blank wall is important. This buffering is critical when the blocks are close by and have a high noise index.


Designing roofs that do not leak

What are the precautions to be taken to prevent rainwater seepage in buildings?

BUILDING LEAKAGES: Walls damaged due to water leakage and weathering.
Heavy rain has taken a toll in most rugged houses leaving behind leaking roofs.

Exterior surfaces

The most exposed surface of the building is the top surface or the roof slab, mostly a reinforced concrete surface. Any concrete or brick material is porous. When it rains heavily, water tends to penetrate the roof slab, drip inside the house or run down the wall causing the paint to peel off, and short-circuiting electric wires.

Any surface exposed to high rainfall needs to be designed keeping in mind these important points to avoid seepage:

A good slope is required to drain off all the rain water. Only when the water stagnates, it seeps into the roof slabs and walls. The rain water pipe too can be made wider (6" dia) instead of the conventional 4" dia.

The tiling material has to be of a non-porous surface. All the joints have to be properly sealed and the edges properly rounded

A polymer coating (which is cement based) has to be used for all junctions between walls and floors and applied in two coats in a criss-cross direction.

Avoid levels in terrace because varying levels will lead to more number of joints and hence more chances of leakage.

Plaster cracks can also lead to dampness in walls. These cracks can be avoided if the plastering thickness is maintained around 20 mm and Pozzalona Portland cement is used for the same.

The ideal mix

Anti-corrosive epoxy coated steel rods are also an expensive option. This option may be suitable for long-term projects but for small residential buildings, it may be not be viable. Graded concrete mixes (in the ratio 1:2:4 or 1:1½:3) can be proportioned with 20 mm and 12 mm blue metal instead of just using 20 mm graded blue metal. Also for sloped roofs the concreting mix needs to be in ideal proportionsto avoid honey-comb formation (it is the small holes that are formed during concreting and can be seen after removing the shuttering). Extra care has to be taken for sloped roofs and may be avoided preferably for coastal cities like Chennai. Proper care has to be taken to avoid re-rolled steel bars and a tensile strength test may be performed before starting work.

Architectural detailing

Careful architectural detailing is also important to avoid seepages and cracks. Any punctures in the roof slab in the form of fan hooks and ceiling lights are vulnerable locations. Proper cover blocks and good specification hooks may help avoid leakages through the ceiling. Roof slab cut outs and box type sun shades (which may be avoided as well) essentially need to have an aluminium spout for draining the stagnant water. Some times even the AC conduits may cause sweating, leading to dampness in the wall. A sunshade also needs to have a drip groove so that it arrests the water trickling into the rooms.

Grooves in the elevations need to be properly water-proofed and plaster bands at parapet level need to have coping materials like natural stone to avoid water seepage

For low lying areas in the building which may have an external opening directly, it would be wise to provide a floor sump or collection sump where in all the seepage water flows into one area which can easily be pumped out.

Also the walls and roof can be subject to the weather tests like rain and sunshine before plastering.

The author is the Chief Architect of Murali Architects, Chennai

IT demands special space designing

IT companies are multiplying by the day and their office construction planning demands working out buildings in a jiffy. Here are some ways to do it.

DESIGN DEMANDS: Cognizant Technology Office in Chennai.
The rapid growth in the information technology industry has set off a large demand for quality office space. Given the pace of growth in the industry, IT offices are required to be built in a very short time.
Traditional system of construction involved only smaller spanning slabs, 10'0" x 10'0" or 16'0" x 16'0" grids. But modern construction techniques have changed the way the planning grid is designed in office buildings. For larger span structures with freer room space, the conventional framed structure cannot be used. Some available systems of construction are:

a) Pre-stressed slab and beams: These allow for large spans up to 40' x 40' that are technologically very advanced but also relatively a very expensive technique. (Rs. 150 to Rs. 200 / cft)

b) Verendeel RCC girders: In this system the internal column can be almost eliminated. It is an exceptionally good system of construction for large span halls. They are very expensive(Rs. 150 to Rs. 200 / Cft).

c) Flat slabs: A structural system in which the beams are totally eliminated and the columns are designed to transfer the load effectively. For places with height restrictions, this system can be employed as the clear heights are improved due to the absence of roof beams. (Rs. 225 / Cft)

d) Grid slabs: A system in which large column free spaces can be designed, wherein the roof beams are much closely placed to transfer the load to the periphery column. (Rs. 225/ Cft)

Another important element in large multi-storeyed buildings is the vertical movement system like the elevators and the staircases. The staircase and lift core can be combined to house the toilets and pantries wherein pipeline shafts can be provided easily. Ideally a core efficiency of 15 per cent to 20 per cent would be optimum. More practically speaking, a combination of two to three lifts can be provided so that the waiting time is reduced and even in case of failure of one lift, there would be no major problem. Barrier free environment wherein people of all ages and also the physically challenged can move around freely without any help are increasingly the standard. The additional features required to facilitate the same are ramps at entry level. Also, the doors should be at least 4'0" wide to allow for wheelchair movement. Even in the parking bays, there needs to be a reserved space for the physically challenged.

As for the other mandatory services, the fire safety standards are becoming increasingly relevant. Since many of the modern IT buildings have a plush finish with wooden flooring, gypsum board false ceiling and a whole lot of electronics, if there are fire accidents, the damages could prove to be costly. So the planning should allow for the control panels to be within easy access range, so that power supply can be cut off and a fire alarm can be set off.

Automated water sprinklers or even a smoke detector may help prevent the fire from spreading. The clear roof height has to be 12'0" so that all the AC ducts and the electrical wiring can be concealed inside a 3'0" service shaft, ensuring a good crawl space above the false ceiling
For exterior finishes we have aluminium composite panel finish, (costing Rs. 85/- to Rs. 300/- per sft) and structural glazing (Rs. 250 to Rs. 350/- per sft). Aluminium composite panels (Alcom Panels) are large 2'0" x 5'0" metal sheets which are clad over a metal framework. Alcom panels are available in a wide range of colours and are easily maintainable and the metallic finish is highly dust-resistant and durable.

The author is the chief architect of Murali Architects, Chennai

Delicate as petal, strong as steel!

Wall, roof, flooring, fitting, we can have them all in glass today. Read on to know more on the material that brings in natural light in abundance.

BREAKING NEWS: Not just for elevation, glass mosaics for flooring and blocks for walls are also used in corporate buildings. PHOTO: V. GANESAN

Glass as a building material can be as delicate as a flower petal or as strong as steel, depending on the variety chosen. Also, given that glass is one of the few materials that allows light to pass through it can be used in buildings in many ways... for walls, roofs, counter, fittings and more.

Forms of glass

Glass is normally available in the form of sheets varying in thickness from 3mm to 4mm (for windows) to 6 inches (for special openings in submarines). They are also available in the form of blocks, tiles and crystals for various applications. They can be easily moulded during the manufacturing itself as well.

Treatment of glass surface

Glass known in its common form is transparent in nature. It can be manufactured in translucent and opaque finishes too. Glass can be treated at surface level by means of frosting at Rs. 40 to Rs.300 (a process by which the glass surface is brushed to create texture) or by etching at Rs. 80 to Rs.400 (depending on the depth of the etching). Stained glass, which has been around for many years now, is very decorative and can be used in doors and windows near the entryway. Stained glass can be created in lead or glass (Rs.1500) or given plastic treatment (Rs.1500). It can be made stronger as well by "toughening the glass."

Glass in walls

Glass partitions are very common these days as they are quite affordable. The maximum size of a single sheet of glass available has also increased. For large curtain walls without any 12' x 8' in the middle, special techniques like `Patch Fittings' are available, which is a small metal clip between the glass panes. Also, glass bricks are a good alternative to the age-old aluminium and glass partitions. Glass bricks are available in sizes from 7.5" x 7.5" x 7.5" to 12" x 12" x 12" (ranging from Rs.80 to Rs.350 per brick) German coloured bricks are nowadays more preferred than the Ceylon white blocks.

Glass in flooring

Thick glass of around 12 mm to 19mm can be used for the flooring, with proper supports by steel wood frames. These glass floors are ideal for commercial spaces but they can be used in residential areas where the children's play area is far away. Then flooring glass has to be specifically toughened and made stronger, while they still are transparent.

Glass in roofing

Wired glass can be combined with shading devices like pergolas to provide an interacting roofing system above courts or even in some double height areas. Care has to be taken in sealing the joints between two glass panes, while they still provide a good view of the sky from below.

Fittings and furniture

Glass nowadays can be used anywhere including washbasin, washbasin counters to fully moulded tea tables. This can be attributed to advanced moulding and better fixing details. Corner treatments like bevelling and rounding of edges are also done easily.

Alternatives to glass

Polycarbonate, fibreglass and acrylic are some of the available alternatives for glass. Polycarbonates are expensive but they are also highly transparent and can be used over large areas, for pyramid-like roofs.
They are so clear that you can look at the stars from below at night and you will realise they help in keeping the interiors cool. Fibreglass, on the other hand, is a cheaper alternative to polycarbonates and is easily mouldable.
They can be used for domes of sizes from 3'0" to 10'0" diameter. Acrylic is another material that has high strength and a good transparency. They are being extensively used in staircase hand-rails, steps, storage and shelters.
If not for security and privacy reasons, glass could easily be an alternative for the brick walls. And for those who can afford and accept it, glass walls could still be possible with a combination of state-of-art burglar alarms fitted to it with proper battery back ups.

The author is the Chief Architect of Murali Architects, Chennai

Energy saving IT buildings

Information Technology buildings demand a different style in construction.

MODERN THINK: If information is high-tech business, the buildings that house them have to follow suit. — Pic. above shows a building in Hyderabad's Hi-Tech City.

Information technology has changed the way of life and also the way the office buildings are built. The IT buildings, Call Centres and BPO's differ from the other office buildings for the following reasons:

* The working hours are not fixed and the building may need to function for even 24 hours a day.
* A number of people use the same space at various parts of the day, depending on the type of projects the office handles.
* Electronics rules, and hence also a lot of wiring, subject to frequent changes.
* Monotonous work environment wherein one needs to look at the computer monitor all the time.
* Open work stations, subjected to changes all the time.

Some breakthrough concepts that could help IT offices improve their efficiency and performance.

* Access flooring
* Occupancy sensors
* Airtight commercial constructions
* Spectrally selective glazing
* Bright and trendy colours.

Just as the air conditioning and HVAC ( Heating Ventilation and Air Conditioning) system need a service shaft at the ceiling level, the wiring system also needs to have a provision at the floor level known as Access flooring. Access flooring consists of a steel or aluminium structure that supports removable floor panels. Floor panels consist of steel pan filled with thin cement or wood, secondary structure and floor finish.

Access flooring is used primarily in office buildings for IT, Call Centres, BPOs and commercially rented office spaces and heights may vary from 6 cm (cabling only) to at least 30 cm ( for cabling and ventilation purpose). The increased cost (around Rs.150 / sq.ft) of construction facilities enables easier adaptability to change, making the expenditure, worthwhile.

Access flooring helps save energy by reducing the required fan energy, and permitting displacement ventilation at the floor level. In fact, energy can also be saved in other ways. One could turn off the gadgets manually or use energy efficient devices. Occupancy sensors detect the presence of human activity and turn on or off the electrical lighting or ventilation system. Occupancy sensors are of two types- passive infra-red and ultrasonic. The sensors cost as much as Rs. 2,200 to Rs. 6000 each but the payback on the investment is usually less then two years.

Since space has always been a constraint and vertical growth the ideal choice, the system of construction cannot be traditional as well.

Airtight commercial construction can minimise air leakage and reduce consumption for heating and cooling. As there is no leakage of air in this system, there is no condensation on the envelope of the building and this reduces the repair cost and increases building durability.

There are many other things that contribute to building-energy efficiency and also the automation systems. Spectrally selective glazing, though not very common, is just simply special glass that allow the right amount of light and radiation into the rooms and also helps save the air conditioning cost.

Current trends in office interiors have seen the use of lot of colours to open up the mind and provide a floating imaginative environment that helps in the reduction of mental fatigue. Bright yellow, orange and blue in a limited manner is being used to generate this electric environment.

(The author is the chief architect of Murali Architects, Chennai)

Good roof builds in a character

Michealangelo's painting on the ceiling in the Sistine Chapel is an example of classic roofing. Catching up with the era now, we have to explore the options available that consider roofing to be more than just a protective shield.

EVERY HOUSE has four walls, floor and a roof, all acting as protective shields against nature and harmful elements. Good architecture is the play of all the six planes to create forms that are interesting and appealing. Roof is an essential element of the six planes and is as important an element as the other five planes.

Michelangelo's painting on the ceiling in the "Sistine Chapel" is a classic example of how important roofing has been. But of late it has not been explored well. With ample options available, the choice of the roof depends on the cost factor, the climate and the kind of aesthetics one is looking at. For a hot and humid climate like that of India, a proper roofing system demands to have a good insulation from heat and it can lend a strong character to any building for the aesthetics part of the roofing choice.

Reinforced Cement Concrete (RCC) has become the most preferred material for all structural works in building and for roofing as well. RCC flat roofs are the most commonly used system in south-eastern India. Due to its simple form, and the ease of execution, the flat slabs are easy to fabricate and can be quickly cast as well. The flat slabs usually rest on roof beams and load bearing walls. Their thickness varies from 4" to 5" depending upon the size of the room.

Flat slabs can be classified as one-way slabs and the two-way slabs. One-way slabs, as the name suggests, can be used for narrow rooms with a maximum width of 10' to 12' and have steel reinforcement designed to be spanned one way only making them more economical.
On the other hand, two-way slab can be spanned both ways. The steel usage is more but large column-free rooms (16' x 20', 18' x 18' etc) are possible. Other means of achieving large span roof slab is to provide grid slabs or coffered slabs. In such roofing systems, large span halls (say 30' x 70') are possible.

The spatial feel inside a room can be well articulated by the height of the roof plane, its shape and its slope. The Structural Engineering Research Centre (SERC) and the IIT have developed cost effective RCC funicular shell roofing, and brick funicular shell roofing, which have a hemi-cylindrical shape giving a sense of continuity and newness to a space as against the conventional flat roofs. These brick funicular shell-roofing systems cost 70 per cent of a conventional RCC slab. Parabolic or hyper parabolic shell roofs are exciting roof forms but can be executed by a good engineering team with the architects supervision. These shell roofs can be traced back to the medieval domes and vaults, which were worked on in a detailed manner with painters and artwork .

Skylighting an internal space can also be done by puncturing the roof slab. This puncture can be sealed with fibre-glass or poly carbon sheets or wired glass. This proves vital in continuous development zones like Triplicane, Mylapore, George Town and Purusawalkam.
Sloped roofs are the next option. They have become a part of the south Indian culture through the British contribution during their reign.
Improvising on the sloped roof system, Mangalore tile on the top with a combination of decorative handmade tiles in the inside laid over MS flat, this technique helps achieve a roof cover that breathes and hence keeps the room cool.

Thinking of some futuristic material, aluminium or metal sheet roofing over metal trusses can be tried for some modern and bold roofing system just as in the Ford and Hyundai factory.

The author is the chief architect of Murali Architects, Chennai

Steps that matter

To facilitate an easy movement from one level to another, the location of staircases should be carefully considered, especially in vertical buildings.

A good design and comfortable ergonomics of staircase is mandatory

STAIRCASES OCCUPY an important position in the design of a structure. Especially in small plots with buildings designed vertically, easy movement from one level to another depends on the location of staircases. So a good design and comfortable ergonomics of staircase is mandatory. Let us take a look at what would be an ideal location for stairways, the various types and the materials to be used.

The inner part of the house, which shall not be seen or accessed by visitors from the verandah or the front living areas, is one ideal location. To give a fancy impression, sometimes the staircases are provided in the living room. This arrangement lacks privacy and does not provide security. Ideally, the staircase could be in the dining room or in the family room depending on its central location.

The types of staircase can be classified according to usage and form — a main staircase, a service staircase and a fire escape staircase. A main staircase would be the primary one, to be centrally located and used by the residents. Service staircases can be located outside the house. They could be used by the service staff and housekeepers for terrace access and other services. Fire escape staircases are more important in multi-storey buildings. These are made mostly of steel or fire retardant materials.

In the olden days, staircases were made with mud and straw. Over the years, the craftsmanship and engineering have evolved remarkably. So has the structural system. From the simple waist slab type to the folded plate, to the free-standing type, staircase structures have really come of age. A circular folded plate type staircase in concrete cast in plywood would cost about Rs. 30,000 per flight. A similar staircase with RCC slab and a brick step would cost Rs. 10,000 per flight.

For ergonomics and safety reasons, the staircase tread has to be 10" wide and the risers 5.5" to 6" high. There has to be sufficient mid-landings for a pause between two flights.

To match the architectural style and interior ambience, staircase can have a similar material and colour scheme. Wood has been the preferred material as it gives warmth to the space and lends itself to work and style. The finishes can be varnish, enamel, wax, and so on. Hard woods such as teak and oak, and exotic woods have a longer life but need to be constantly maintained in case of heavy usage.

Handrails made of wood can be very expensive, whereas a hollow circular metal handrail along with wooden balusters might be a good solution as well. Contemporary materials such as glass and metal are being increasingly used for both staircases and handrails as the primary material or a cladding material.

Lighting in staircases has to be considered in depth as it is crucial for safety. It is best to opt for lighting that remains constant from one end of the staircase to the other. Skylight over the top of the staircase can be a good solution, as the sunlight will illuminate the whole staircase to an equal degree.

(The author is Chief Architect, Murali Architects, Chennai.)

Planning a room for your aged parents

Windows, bathrooms, floor, fittings, electric gadgets — every aspect should be planned meticulously while designing a room for elders.

SAFE AND SECURE: Creation of a barrier-free space environment is the primary consideration in the design.

Every house has a good living, a good dining, a comfortable kitchen and toilet but rarely does a house have a comfortable or designer space for the parents, who are aged and are going to spend most of the time in their rooms. Bedrooms for our parents are far more than "Just any other bedroom"; they are a token of our gratitude to them , and need to be treated similar to that of a living room. To ensure that this is not just "any other bedroom," the total experience of this living space must be similar to that of a living room. The volume of the living space contributes greatly to the character of the spatial experience. Even the slightest increase in room dimensions/size would increase the comfort level. However, a room of gigantic scale would lead to lack of intimacy and also give a sense of insecurity. The ideal dimensions for a bedroom of this kind would be 16'0" x 11'0". The room can have a separate entry and also a separate EB meter so that they get to live a more independent life. A small pantry can be provided inside the room in an additional 5'0"x6'0" area.

An alcove space

Changes in floor levels such as elevated or sunken platforms should be avoided in such spaces. A uniform floor is preferred for safety reasons. Activity stimulating spaces (such as an alcove for meditation) would help in creating a sense of belonging for the users,just like the one shown in the image where the light is spiritual and provides a real private space.
Creation of a barrier-free space environment is the primary consideration in the design of room for the aged. Carefully avoid sharp edges for safety reasons.

Washroom safety

Safety is just as important in the design of the toilet. It is essential that the tile drop is very minimal (it's the level difference between the room and the toilet floor, ideally around one inch). Grab rods can be provided one at 2'0" level and at 5'0" level preferably near a water closet for an easy wheel chair transfer. Wall hung water closets with a low seat height of about 1'6" from the finished floor level help in making the toilet safe for usage. Doors that open outwards are advisable as that helps in breaking the door open easily. Glass partitions, transportation cubicles and use of glass blocks should be avoided as they would hinder the privacy. Seated bathing area can also be planned with enough space for an attender, hence a toilet size of 5'0"X8'0" or 5'0"X10'0" is minimum required.

Windows and furnishing

Entry of natural light through large windows with low sills will help in creating a healthy environment. On the contrary, windows are to be avoided in the eastern and western walls thus preventing harsh direct sun. An external west-facing wall is to be avoided as this can transmit enormous quantities of heat into the living space. If there is no other option, that western wall can be constructed as a double wall as this will help in reducing the heat transmission considerably. The choice of finishing material is critical. The floor is to be finished with non-slippery tiles or slabs. The toilet and bathroom floors are to be finished with anti-skid tiles in order to prevent accidents. The vertical surfaces can be finished with a good emulsion or smooth wall paint. The use of fire-retardant materials will increase or elevate the safety standards of the living space.
Easy-to-use plumbing / sanitary fittings, good and safe electrical wiring are all means to achieve better and safe living conditions. Paying attention to each minor architectural detail such as rounding off the edges of furniture would not only mean better comfort but also better safety. Easily reachable A/C control switch and a calling bell are a must in this room. Focus lights are to be provided at the reading area, ensuring better vision. Provision for a concealed safe deposit locker becomes essential in a special room of this kind.

Access from outside

Visual access from outside will help in easy monitoring of the activities of the inhabitants of the room. Additional space or a provision for another member or attender is to be provided within the room space. Calling bell noise penetration into the room is to be avoided and essentially the room has to be away from the kitchen. Physical and visual access to an exterior garden or a landscaped balcony from the bedroom makes it more pleasant. Cutting off undesirable noises from road traffic is important. This can be achieved by buffering the space between the road and the room by effective landscaping.

(The author is the chief architect of Murali Architects, Chennai)

Site requirements

Does your site meet all the requirements needed for a proper construction of a building? Get an insight into the essentials.

LEVELS OF PERFECTION: A good construction demands road, site and building harmony. Image Courtesy: The New Asian Houses

If the building can be compared to the processor of a computer, the site is the motherboard and the other services are like the accessories and the peripherals.
We have mentioned it earlier as well that the road levels raise by about 3" once in every two to three years, so the finished floor level has to be raised by 3'0" minimum from the highest point on the road level. Along with the building, the site also has to sufficiently keep clear from the raising road levels. Some of the aspects of the site, which are essential and important for the proper working of a building are discussed below:

Under Ground Sump (UG Sump): An under ground sump is a temporary storage place, before the water is moved to the overhead tank for usage. The water to be stored in the UG sump is usually from water tanker lorries (which come in modules of 4000lts/8000lts/12000lts) or from the metro water supply. The metro water supply pipelines are usually laid 4'0" below the road level, hence the sump has to have a storage capacity below the inlet pipe level.
A hand pump can also be introduced at the metro water entry point with a valve arrangement that facilitates one to check whether the sewage gets mixed with drinking water. This helps prevent the little sewage contaminating the whole of the sump water. As for the construction of the sump itself, in clayey soil conditions an RCC sump with the raft foundation may be ideal, but if you wish to reduce the cost the sump can be built with a 9" brickwork and lined with a 3" thick RCC mesh work, which would avoid cracks. As an additional feature the sump top slab can be provided with a small peep hole 6" in diameter with a wooden cover and a small hooking rod for easy opening.

Bore Well: Water scarcity has driven many to the bore well option but in Chennai bore wells are about 60'0" to 100'0" deep, and many areas need to be deeper as the water bed sinks deeper in summer. The side setbacks where the bore well is to be proposed needs to be planned so that the boring equipment can be moved if it is necessary to <243>deepen the borewell at a later date. Simultaneously, providing rainwater-harvesting pits near the bore well recharges them as well.

Electrical cabling: While doing the electrical cabling conduiting at least 3 nos. PVC pipes should be planned at the entrance below the ground level to facilitate the inlet for electrical cable entry, telephone cable, broadband internet lines and TV cable entry.

Earthing Pits: Several electrical gadgets/ fixtures are being used but unfortunately proper earthing pits are not provided in most of the buildings.
For ideal earthing, the pit has to be filled with blue metal or coal, salt and sand, approximately 600mmx 600mm and has to be a minimum of 2 m and an ideal 3 m deep.
Sewage lines and inspection chamber: Similarly the planning of the sewer lines requires a detailed study and a lot of experience.
The height of the manhole over the inspection chamber are to be worked out because during the rainy days many of the sewers get clogged and there would be a chance of a reverse flow of sewage water and waste. Proper chamber levels would ensure this does not happen.

Overhead tank: The overhead tank should have a separate partition for bore well and corporation water, because in most cases the corporation water quality and the bore water quality do not match. In case the bore well water has a high iron content (which discolours the ceramic tiles and fixtures) then a slow sand filter or even a small treatment plant can be opted for at a nominal cost.

The author is the chief architect of Murali Architects, Chennai

How good is your living room?

Your living room is an area for family congregations. What are the ideal space formulas one can follow?

LIVING ROOM COMFORTS: The high-ceiling and the bay-window overlooking the landscaped courtyard are features that contribute to a spacious feel.

Living rooms are generally happening areas of a house. Be it time spent with relatives, interaction with guests or cozy family get-togethers, the space you structure at living rooms determine the taste of the people living in every household.
The family living space we are talking about is not the `put-on', pretentious, showcased rooms but the actual living space where things are happening. It's a space where you interact and share with the family. So the positioning of living rooms is significant. In that, the angle and placement should allow for freedom and privacy to the residents of the house. The living room shouldn't overlook the dining lest you feel uncomfortable eating in the presence of guests waiting in the living room. Preferably a buffer space in the form of a foyer or a verandah (100 sq. ft) before the living room would do well to cater for entertaining all the casual guests. Even a drawing room (say around 120 sq. ft) provision in the front would help interaction with the more official and formal guests. The living can further lead to or be aligned to the dining room with a wall in between, as many prefer to segregate the living and the dining.

Don't bring in television

Usually there is a tendency to make living rooms the TV viewing area too, where one gets hooked to the `idiot box'. Eliminating this activity would certainly improve family values. Also, these lively spaces themselves should help you change your mood and charge you up. The living rooms are areas where one can actually have some dramatic double/triple heights (20 ft or even 30ft high ceiling). The lighting can be amply provided through large window openings and most of the other spaces like the bedrooms and the study rooms can overlook the living.

Along the courtyard...

In continuation with the last weeks article on `courtyards concept' the combination of a courtyard along the living room would help heighten the spacious feel. Bringing in the double heights would also help the sound travel and reverberate inside the house helping the people in upper floors hear what's happening below and not be left alone.

Split level

Living rooms could also be demarcated by means of level difference in the flooring. The living feels better if it is lowered by 1'6" from the adjoining areas making it look more spacious. This helps in eliminating the wall put up to partition the living room. But care has to be taken if there are `special' people in the house for whom a ramp access at the changing levels would be ideal (1 in 8 gradient minimum).The living could be located at one side of the house, again not so aloof as to lose touch with the movements of your dear ones.

Seating comforts

As for seating, trends these days point to only the formal sofa sets with posh upholstery. But they are not interaction-friendly and comfortable either for seating. In addition we could look at a bay window with seating at 1'6" height with some storage space below. The photo shows a similar bay-window overlooking a landscaped court outside. The in-built seater in the fore throws in an informal definition to the living area.
Materials like marble, kotah, cuddapah, shahbad; the yellow Jaisalmer or Italian marbles are ideal choices for the flooring material. The in-built furniture and the bay-window ledges could also be built with brick and mortar. Small display niches could be provided for artworksto increase the sense of belonging.
(The author is the Chief Architect of Murali Architects, Chennai)

Setting your sites right

Site conditions are an important part in the planning process. There are linear sites, continuous sites and irregular geometry sites. An architect has to look at factors applicable to particular needs, site conditions and its location.

WISHES, desires and dreams become a concrete reality only if there is perfect coordination of minds. Exclusive designer homes call for an analysis of different factors peculiar to them. Every house has a theme, a character attached to it, defined by many factors such as the user's needs, site conditions, location and climate.
The site conditions are an important factor in the planning process. They are defined by the shape of the site, orientation of the site, and the frontage, to name a few. The shape of the site can be classified into linear sites, continuous sites, irregular geometry sites and normal sites.
Continuous sites are continuous building areas as in Purasawalkam, George Town, Ayanavaram, and so on where the Corporation itself allows you to build houses without leaving setbacks. Areas of the economically weaker sections in Ayanavaram and artisan plots in Anna Nagar are also some examples. In such cases, allowing wind tunnels, creating one or more sun courts, letting direct sunlight into the house is suggested. Front facade opening into the street is vital, allowing for breeze and light to enter. They will have more openings and sliding wooden windows. The inner rooms shall not be of the conventional brick walls, and have enough openings to allow the wind to flow. It will be ideal if there are open areas providing for air flowing through the building.
Staircases could be used effectively to get sunlight and air, through natural air draft. Bigger rooms in the front and the rear could be a more efficient planning option.
In linear sites, the sites have a large length-to-breadth ratio. They are similar to the continuous sites but for the factor that setbacks could be provided. The other design parameters are similar.
In irregular sites, all sides are at varied angles. In such cases, the plan should follow the outline of the site, rather than a rectilinear form. But the internal areas will have odd-shaped rooms. Shelves, niches and wardrobes can give a clear shape to the rooms. Irregular pockets can be used for store room, service room, prayer room. In the first floor, irregularity can be controlled by means of `cantilevering' the building.
In all the above cases, we are looking at achieving well-lit spaces with ample greenery and good views. Courtyards could serve this purpose. In most cases, people just prefer the landscape near the front entry. We should rather be looking at fore courts, as courts have been more relevant in city planning. As a general trend, the master bedroom is on first floor, which does not have any contact with any form of greenery. The landscape on the ground level is only a visual delight, but one can never feel it and be close to it. Rather provision of part courts/terraces could be an option. Similarly, small sit-outs cannot be used for family get-togethers; a larger sit-out with plenty of landscaping is needed. Now to the different categories — a courtyard house, a split-level or a multi-level house, an organic or natural form house or a futuristic house.In courtyard houses, there is a central court that provides light and ventilation for all the rooms around it. Most of the activities happen around the central court. By multi-level or split-level houses, we mean a ground floor, a mezanine floor and a first floor arrangement where the mid-landing of the staircase leads you to a mezanine level and the top landing to the first floor. Organic or natural form houses have a free-flowing plan form, just as in nature.
(The author is chief architect, Murali Architects, Chennai)

Limited space, maximum function

With limitations of space in small urban houses, what is the option for a buyer who wants to have different rooms for different purposes?

A designer house... judicious use of space

IN URBAN settings, thanks to planning restrictions, space is often limited in apartments and small residential properties. This presents its own set of challenges for owners, design professionals and builders.
One important reason people want larger homes is that they would like to have separate rooms for different purposes. But if you look carefully at how you really use space in your house, you will find that much of it goes unused.
A house need not be too big if it is composed of adaptable spaces, each designed to cater for various functions every day.
The theme of a new small urban home shall be "a house with inter-connected living, dining, cooking and sleeping functions, which are physically and visibly open to each other; which are shared by family and friends."
Generally, the living or the drawing room is conceived as a large open hall, with many formal sofas. More often than not, it will have large windows, which will be closed with thick, heavy screens, not allowing light and air to come in. There will be huge shelves filled with assorted `art' objects, unused encyclopaedias and bound books.
These superfluous large areas can be replaced by tangible and more meaningful aspects of design that are about beauty and self-expression. We can create a light and well-ventilated informal living space where it is comfortable to watch the TV in a relaxed manner (without having to worry about dirtying the formal sofas), a place to enjoy interaction with family and friends, a place for children to do home work, a place to browse the computer, a place to play chess or scrabble.
All these can be achieved by re-thinking the whole concept of living room design and the use of furniture. A series of alcoves or smaller spaces, each offering a shelter around an activity, and surrounding a central sitting area may be a good model instead of the seating arrangement around periphery walls and the need to focus from there towards the `idiot' box.
The concept of creating a `multi-functional dining room and kitchen' can enhance the family's togetherness. The modern dining can have a low diwan, a computer table for children to do home work and browse under the supervision of the mother, a television which can be watched from the dining room as well as from the kitchen, a prayer shelf, a dining table, and chairs so designed and located to allow for eating and homework and to act as an informal `friends-meet' corner.
`Open kitchen' is also a welcome concept.
The home office attached to the master bedroom or the guest bedroom; or the home office and the children's study room combined with family dining spaces can also be tried out to save space and allow for better family interaction.
The bathroom has undergone its own evolution — from water closet to luxury sites. New age homes are associated with at least one bathroom attached to every bedroom. Yet, bathrooms are one of the most expensive areas in the house per square foot. If you eliminate unnecessary bathrooms, you will save money and space.
While storage in many houses takes the form of a closet or a cabinet, in a small house it is a strategic defence against clutter.
"Do not keep anything in the house that is not useful or beautiful," is the principle behind storage in small houses.
Drawers in window seats and benches are a more practical solution than a lift-up lid, which is difficult to raise when cushions are set on top.
As against the earlier system of construction, the modern techniques using a column and beam structure enables thinner walls and an opportunity to explore newer materials that not only serves the purpose of space separators, but also adds aesthetic appeal.
Space could additionally be generated by utilising unexplored areas such as the attics and the space below the stairs.
In smaller plots, vertical space could be generated by having higher ceilings, giving a sense of large voluminous space. Using lighter colours in an imaginative way can also enhance the living spaces.
A clear and planned design of every element in the house could fill the void between a `concrete mass' and a comfortable living space.
(The writer is the chief architect of Murali Architects, Chennai.)

Styles of architecture

Deconstructivism is the latest in architectural styles. What exactly is it?

IN A world of change where plasma television is replacing the cathode ray television, where outsourced jobs are more popular than the old economy jobs, where cell/camera/PC phones are replacing the land lines, it is probably time to rethink the way one looks at different options in building houses. This change can be attributed to human nature, which is automatically accustomed to novelty and newness. Hence, in the field of architecture, classical architecture has seen its doomsday and the winds of change have brought in "deconstructivism"(It is not about demolishing buildings but all about thinking as to why a building has to be built the way it used to be), a new style evolved, thanks to Jacques Deorida, a French Philosopher.
The plethora of sub-styles and `isms' that we come across today can mostly be traced to the moment when the modern movement was conveniently declared deceased by critics in the mid 1960's. Even before this era, the classical style was prevalent.

Classical style

The buildings in the classical age of architecture were more artistic and hence were very decorative, adorned with well-worked column heads and decorative wall motifs. This style had fixed form and proportion and hence did not address individual needs. The Rippon Bulding and the GPO building in Chennai are standing examples of classical architecture.

Modern architecture

Modern architecture is free of the fixed forms and decorative elements that characterise classical architecture. Buildings were designed to address the individual needs and did not have the character of the region or aspects of religion taking precedence. The MRF corporate office on Greames Road and the Tidel Park at Taramani are examples of modern architecture.

Post modernist style

Just as the other styles, the modernist style was further enhanced and named the post modernist style. The harmony and simplicity of modern style is amalgamated with more decoration and detailing. The Raja Muthiah Hall at Egmore and the Chettiar Marriage Hall at MRC Nagar are examples of post modernist styles.

Deconstruction style

But each time a new movement is isolated and a name coined for it, the length of the cycle becomes shorter and shorter. This is largely due to the low tolerance for stability in the world that has got accustomed to novelty and change. Now when post-modernism has become increasingly commercialised, a new style called deconstruction has made its way. This movement breaks all the classical rules of composition, the balance, hierarchy and rigid geometry. The NIFT campus at Taramani and the L& T office at Chennai are good example of deconstructivism.. Free flowing organic forms and modern lines are the ways of deconstructivism.
In both modernism and deconstructivism, new shapes are explored. Some of the key aspects of modernisation and deconstruction are:
The clarity of form and structure is highlighted and the structural elements are made architectural elements.
The forms are made simple wherein it is helpful in maintaining the building and it also does not become outdated in a short time-span.
New colour combinations are tried out, wherein each element of the building gets highlighted and also reflects the character of the people living inside.
It is easy and simple to enhance the form of the building rather than creating ornamental details and carvings.
The sanitary, electrical and air-conditioning service lines are well planned and concealed. But in some cases, the service lines are exposed like in the Pompidur Center in Paris.
Integration of futuristic materials for easy maintenance, like some residences in Bangalore have wooden balconies with metal handrails and supports. These elements make the building look not only futuristic but also minimalistic.
Integration of landscaping and built forms are encouraged, making it all an outdoor experience to help get away from the city congestions.
All these aspects of styles are ideal for the new generation, providing for some conducive environment for healthy living and an active mind.

(The author is the Chief Architect of Murali Architects, Chennai)