The World of New Possibilities

The technology has geared up in every possible niche domain that humans are acquainted with. Architecture and construction industry are not maiden to it. But this–– needs to be boosted to reach out to the public.
Ar. Sushant Verma from rat[LAB] makes an intense discourse on this subject in a brief conversation with Apoorva Nandish

What, according to you, is the role of digital architecture in the Indian construction industry?
‘Digital Architecture’ is an obsolete term which is thoughtfully replaced by more specific and rational terms such as ‘Computational Design’ and ‘’, among others. If we talk about construction specifically, within the vast domain of computation, the role of ‘Digital Fabrication’ would be at the forefront of the discourse. It is a gradually evolving field in India when it comes to large-scale implementation. However, I believe that digital fabrication can be smartly used in small-scale as well as large-scale constructions without hindering the deeply embedded manual processes– undertaken at some of the hierarchies of construction workflow.For instance, we are parametrically designing a part of the façade to create an aesthetically dramatic effect while optimizing building performance and fabrication cost. A differentiation among members of façade is being parametrized through an that calculates the running length and cost of various building members. This allows us to change the base parameters (such as angular variation, dimensional shifts, etc.) and study its changing effect on fabrication cost and environmental performance. We integrate multiple platforms to evaluate the results in real-time, as we change the influencing parameters and create a range of designs– allows to choose an optimum design for the façade.

Parametric design is a way of approaching sensitively towards the ecosystem. What’s its longevity in the Indian scenario?
Parametric Design is a methodology of designing where all elements of design are mutually dependent and variable in nature. Its relationship with the environment is same as of any non-parametrically designed entity. How we use parametric design techniques (and other subsets of computational design) with respect to environmental factors is dependent on designer’s intent and conscience. An emerging practice in the Indian context and a deeply embedded practice in the global scenario, I see it as a way forward if we need to design and build rationally. Once students and professionals become truly aware of the potentials of this design methodology, it is likely to last as long as any logical methodology. And with constantly changing environmental conditionals, locally and globally, one has to resort to smart ways of designing where our build environment is adaptive to changes.

What are the complexities in executing these works in India, compared to the same abroad?
India, being a rapidly developing nation, has its own set of challenges. The biggest challenge of executing such works in India is the resistance to ‘new’ or ‘alternative’ techniques and methodologies. There is no strong educational setup that teaches a rational use of state-of-the-art design technologies. Although very few in the industry are using it in practice in a rational way, things are likely to improve as more designers demonstrate their works on the larger canvas. Complexities of this nature don’t limit India alone. Even outside of India, we have our own challenges from time to time– use of computational techniques, widely used in the global market, will gradually pick up pace in India as people start to understand its true essence.

With an illustration, can you kindly brief us the works undertaken by rat[LAB]?Very recently, to demonstrate the environmental potentials of a façade system we designed, we made a demonstration on an existing high-rise in New Delhi– Gopal Das Bhawan located in Connaught Place. Since the convex shaped frontal of building faces southwest, it receives a major component of its light and heat (solar gain) from this part of the façade.

Cellular Morphology Façade, an ongoing exploration by rat[LAB], is digitally retrofitted on S-W façade of the tower and consists of multiple unique components of hexagon topology. The hexa-grid system is controlled through an algorithm that alters its density and attraction during the concept design stage. Six prominent functional zones are speculated as attractor points on the façade that become the first parameter of control and Solar insolation analysis on existing S-W façade becomes the second guiding parameter. With the new morphology of this retrofitted façade, local angular variations are introduced that can redistribute the sunlight in a differentiated manner on the building envelope. This can potentially change the way building is heated up and gets daylight in the interior spaces. Light, heat & visibility of/from interior space can now be optimized as per user requirements, adding a locally embedded intelligence in the new façade geometry. These parameters can be tied up with LEED / GRIHA factors so as to work well with the industry norms too.

Technological advancement has led to several architecture apps for one’s ease of work. This, parallelly, has affected student’s work culture. What’s your take on the educational modules in this industry?
Rapidly evolving technology is affecting design disciplines. However, education models tend to lag behind at times. This is exactly what is happening in India as it is difficult for educational models to refresh with this fast pace. There are students who like to go with the pace of the discipline at a global level, but educational models do not allow such flexibility often. This has led to a number of situations, one of it being an unguided following of parallel educational platforms. The exchange is limited even with the best of communication facilities we have today and this leads to a slight chaos in students’ work culture. To overcome this and to move with the pace of changing ‘design technologies’, new educational models need to emerge that are adaptive to changing trends.

How does rat[LAB] contribute to the changing education system?
We are launching rat[LAB] Education in India, which is an educational cell focused on encouraging an ‘open studio’ culture with its core in the domain of computational research. The platform is adaptive to changing technologies (especially in the field of computation) and encourages inter-disciplinary studio activities. Our first large-scale event emerging from this is ‘Computational Design Tour INDIA // Filling The Void’, where various organizations and institutes from the UK, USA and Europe have collaborated with us to push some novel ideas in India. If such studios form a part of the educational system in India, we are anticipating a quick change in the existing educational models too as there are a number of design institutes in the country willing to explore new domains.

How do you evaluate (potential) this technology in shaping our urban fabric?
Computation can be used in a number of ways as we move to urban scale projects. A rational approach towards urban design and planning would integrate a number of simple and complex factors. An example from one of our projects would be a Master Plan, in a highly contoured terrain close to Shimla, done in collaboration with a Delhi-based practice. We used computational spatial analysis techniques to optimize views, inter and intra-site visibility and road networks, among other parameters. This allowed the planners and other decision makers to wisely distribute project attributes across the site. Environmental factors at an urban scale also formed a part of the process to design an urban development which is optimized for various aspects. When we talk about smart cities and urban intervention, computational techniques and processes can aid in taking rational steps at a large scale as well. In years to come, it will form a common practice among urban planners, transportation planners and policy makers to yield smarter urban fabrics.

About The Architect
Sushant Verma (M.Arch. Em.Tech.– AA London, B.Arch. SSAA New Delhi, MCoA India) is an architect and computational designer, currently leading research organization rat[LAB]- Research in Architecture & Technology. Former architect at Zaha Hadid Architects, London and a Sr. Editor at Arch2O, he is involved in education for computational and parametric design through rat[LAB] EDUCATION, which he founded  as an initiative to spread the idea of computation in design profession and academia. Recipient of MAK Schindler Award from Vienna/Los Angeles and a finalist for AIA Emerging Leaders Fellowship from Chicago, his work is widely published and exhibited in London, Los Angeles, New York, San Francisco, Taipei & New Delhi, among other places. He was recently shortlisted in New Delhi among 5 architects for ’20 under 35’ Exhibition at Alliance Française de Delhi.

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