Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Elegance of elevation

The exterior look or the add-ons for elevation are critical in making a building look contemporary and stylish.

ARCHITECT'S SKILL: Buildings have to be elevated to a piece of art, and elevations have a key role to play. Image Courtesy: The New Asian Houses

What looks good, tastes good — this may sound clichéd, but definitely holds good with respect to buildings too. An architect is employed to construct a building, not just to make it more usable or comfortable, but also to make the it a piece of art or a prized possession. The exterior massing proportions, fenestrations, colour and texture are very critical in making a building contemporary and stylish.
Since the human mind gets bored of what it keeps seeing, creating newer concepts in elevation is very important. But also elements like a false or pseudo column, say with a Doric column head, is a time-bound element, which tend to fade away in a short duration. New order contemporary architecture is more reality-bound which is the true depiction of the actual structural members like the column or beams. The elevations of a building can be sterilised by treating the following features in a contemporary manner:
* Walls and windows
* Wall and column
* Wall and materials.
* Special element
* Exterior space and volume
Walls and windows
According to the situation, climate or site condition, the style of the building can be made naturalistic, modernistic, futuristic, grand, humble or earthy. Walls and the openings in the form of windows and niches form an important part in defining the same. The standards say the minimum opening size with respect to the floor area should be 12.5 per cent of the floor area. Say for a room of 150 sq. ft, we would need 19 sq. ft of opening, but experience shows that proper lighting and cross ventilation would be possible only if the openings are 1/3rd the floor area. Windows, decorative elements that add a human touch, especially large ones, with a lot of wood, spell grandeur, whereas windows of unknown proportions with different materials add a modernistic feel.
Double-height windows, up to the roof, certainly make a dramatic statement. But when you intend to have large window openings for the Chennai climate, this may also mean large amount of radiation and some rain-water splashing in. To avoid this, instead of 2 feet wide sunshades, 6 feet to 7 feet of trellies or pergolas (RCC or wooden) can be provided, which not only provide shade but also air circulation. The light-and-shade effect of the pergolas also lends a unique character, just as the glass used for the windows would serve as a designer element. The various options available are:
* Plain glass - Rs. 30 per sq. ft
* Pin head glass - Rs. 20 Per Sq.ft
* Tinted glass - Rs. 50 per Sq.ft
* Frosted glass or etched glass - Rs. 50 to Rs. 350 per sq.ft
* Wall and column
We have the fortresses of North India and we have seen the Pantheon and Parthenon of Rome. All these structures have a massive presence. The structural members would be revealed and be a part of the exterior elevation. Similarly columns can be brought out of the wall to give more depth to the façade. Column shapes can be modulated from level to level to give a visual dynamism.
Walls and materials
Wall surfaces can be treated to give height and proportion to the building. This can be achieved through the provision of plaster grooves, by application of different wall finishes like painted surfaces, stuco plastering and blasted finishes. Stone facing helps in separating continuous wall surfaces where there are no windows and can also be used throughout to help get a character to the building. Stone facing can be done in two ways:
a) Dry fixing: In this technique that is long lasting, the stone slabs are fixed to the wall by means of metal clamps glued to the stone surface. This eliminates awkward white cement mortar joint marks.
b) Wet fixing: This is done only with cement mortar and hence may tend to be weak. It is cheaper than the dry fixing techniques.
Special elements
Plain facades initially may be simple and neat but over a period of time you would see the novelty wearing off. Hence, a long-lasting interest has to be created.
This can be done by means of "Cascading terraces", or "Double height entrance canopies". Deep projections that shade the balconies while using stone for walls facing some special elements like a column, beam or a free-standing wall, can be highlighted by stone facing done on all the exposed surfaces to replicate a stone pillar or stonewall. The detailing also has to be done skilfully, so that it does not look weak by exposing one of its painted surface.
The author is the chief architect of Murali Architects, Chennai

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