Rajan Govind, director, BES Consultants, talks about how facades or building envelops enhance the aesthetics of a building and make it more efficient

Rajan Govind, director, BES Consultants, talks about how facades or building envelops enhance the aesthetics of a building and make it more efficient

Interview, Rajan Govind, BES Consultants, Facade consultant

Q: It has only been in the past decade that facade has grown in importance and we find facade specialists becoming a part of the design team. What in your opinion has led to this emergence of facade as such an important part of infrastructure and construction so to speak?
A: I could primarily put it down to three aspects. First, the building design changed dramatically as the expectations of people, the way we live, etc. are all changing every day. Hence, the building design has also evolved very dramatically. Second, now technology is easily available and raw material is getting cheaper. So, you have lot of opportunities to build. In this kind of industry scenario, there is definitely a requirement for expertise with all the opportunities available. And third, I feel, is this big change that has come into the construction industry. The developers also want to do something new and different for ease of selling. With people focusing on what is new, what can be built and with international exposure, every aspect of the construction business has seen a positive change.

Q: In this scenario, if we were to talk percentages, how much would facade get in the overall scheme of design?
A: The cost of the facade or what can be broadly termed as building envelope, now has a significant value on the overall project. From what was only about 10% of the cost of the buildings, it has now easily gone up to 20-30%, which is a significant amount of investment. This is because there is a lot of design thought and expertise that adds value to the building. The developers are not shying away from the big investment on the facade as it has to perform for at least 30 to 40 years. 

Mondeal Square, Ahmedabad

Q: What are the emerging technologies in the recent times which have impacted the facade design and the facade selection so to speak?

A: Facade is nothing but architecture. We are just enhancing architecture and adding engineered approach to it. While earlier there were a lot of restrictions as some things were not buildable, but technology has stepped in to make the things possible. With a lot of new materials coming in, the facades have also evolved and creating forms that were hitherto deemed impossible.

Q: Now there are a lot of considerations when you are selecting facade – energy efficiency, aesthetics and of course, the budget constraints. How do you prioritise all of these when selecting a facade material?
A: I think budget is always the primary concern when finalising anything in a project. The constant endeavour is to look at things/material that are required functionally. The points of view of both eh investor/developer and the architect might differ and as facade consultants, our role is also to try and bridge that gap with what is best for the building.

Q: When it comes to new construction versus retrofitting, going forward what do you think the trends favour?
A: In the Indian scenario, we have not reached the stage of retrofitting, whereas internationally retrofitting is being done on a large scale. It will be another decade for us to reach there.

Q: How do you reach a balance between the visual transparency and reflection in glazed facades? What are the challenges faced when you are working on that?
A: It depends on the glass selection because it takes up the whole facade. But there are many things that one needs to look into to create that ‘glass facade’ that is seen by everyone. There are many kinds of glass that are available – like cloth, but you need expertise to define your criteria and then take an informed decision. Essentially, we look for performance, aesthetics and visual characteristics of the glass. We need to be balanced on all of these three for the best results.

Waverock, Hyderabad.

Q: Can you share some features of a recent project where innovations and techniques have contributed to sustainability and performance and commercial aspects or in particular any innovations that you have used?
A: I have to refer the project called Mondeal Square, it is in Ahmadabad. You could just see that there is a poster there, the end of first one. It has been completed like early last year. The project has done lot of awards and it has done a lot of innovation. There is a huge metal screen. So we put a metal screen as a double screen and then that metal screen also integrates with LED lighting. So it’s dynamic LED lighting and its interesting feature and that sun shed has played a measure role to cut the heat. So building is Ahmadabad there is heat is coming so these two things has done some innovations.

Q: What are the different green principle compliances that facades needs to follow because sustainability has suddenly become one of the most talked about things in the construction industry?
A: Sustainability in facades happens on two fronts. The first one is materials – though there are plenty of materials available, you select a material because it is sustainable. And the second factor is the design. The facade needs to be designed in such a way that the building consumes less energy.

Q: Are you also involved in the design project with the architect at various levels?
A: Of course! We give a lot of inputs on facade envelope aspects because there are a lot of credits given to that for LEED and IGBC. And the endeavour is always to try and get the maximum credit.

Mumbai International Airport

Q: What are some of the latest trends for integrating day lighting into the facade of the building?
A: It is part of the basic design process, where we do the natural daylight analysis which is shared with both the architect/designer and the client. For example, for a residential building we have to ensure that the living room always get maximum daylight. In every project, irrespective of its use, we always try to bring in lot of natural daylight.

Q: Are there any specific materials that you look at when you are working around daylight?
A: It is just glass, but you choose the right glass depending on the building design and its location. The facade requirements for a building in Hyderabad will be different from the one in Mumbai.

Q: Changing seasons also affect the way lighting will enter a building. How can facade help stabilise the right amount of lighting coming in?
A: The most important thing is the building location. So, if you have a building that is open all around and is an open terrain, we tried to maximise the daylight with as clear a glass as possible. But if you have large obstruction around the building, then you have to look at a material better suited to that circumstance.

Q: There are performance requirements for facade material. How much does that impact the selection of facade material and facade design?
A: The most important thing is, of course, the facade design. So while assessing the performance, I would say about 50% is the role played by design, 25% is the materials and the rest depends on the implementation. All of them work together to give the optimal performance for a facade.

Q: Do you think there is some aspect being overlooked that should have been incorporated in the way facades are treated across the country?
A: Building design is obviously architecture driven and each architect has his own style and preferences. For them facade might or might not be a primary focus, and this is where consultants are important. There is slow realisation that a wrong facade material will have a huge impact on the running cost of the building. Even in a simple material like glass, most architects don’t realise that their choice of the kind of glass has far reaching implications. Once this is accepted by all, thing would improve for the construction industry as a whole.

Q: In a multi-facade project, what kind of technologies are used for an overall stable performance of the material?
A: It depends on the overall design. While designing, we take care of three things in a facade. First is the engineering, make sure your basic construction system is right. Then you focus on material. One needs an in depth knowledge of the material as there are a lot of facade options coming into the market every other day, but not everything is good to use. So we need to have very good technology on material testing. And finally, we should have good knowledge of construction. How will the project get built at site? This practical knowledge is very important. A mix of these three, I feel, makes for a successful job.

Q: How does the synergy with the architects work, especially if you have to convince against the use of their recommended facade material?
A: This is interesting question because most of my earlier experience was on international projects and have started work locally only in the last 4-5 years only. Here we have interacted with two kinds of architects – one who think they know everything and another who are more open. Though the numbers in the second category are rising, it is a sensitive issue but not insurmountable. We have been working with some of the top architects and there are times when they have told the developer to get a consultant into the project as it requires an expert. For the others, we need to sit with them and explain the pros, cons and other technical details to them, for the best outcome for the project, which is the architect’s vision.
In the west, the architects are more open to suggestions and respect the expertise of a facade consultant, hence will not shoot down your suggestion. The working style is very different internationally. But you can’t blame the architects here as most of them think that there is no expertise available in India. But things are slowly changing.

Q: What are some of the challenges that you face when executing a project?
A: We face major challenges on implementation as construction is still a very conservative industry that is very slow to adapt any technologies. Also, we have a major limitation on the contractor capability. But as building design is getting advanced, the pressure is building as the technologically advanced design is expected to be implemented by the contracting industry which has not been able to catch up – implementation relies heavily on skill, contracting and infrastructure.

Q: So are you trying to say that implementation is the reason for the failure of a lot of good designs in India?
A: Not always. Sometimes design is also fundamentally wrong, especially in the case of imported design – design that was done elsewhere may not be appropriate for Indian conditions. You can’t replicate the same things as they may not work here and require changes.  But there is a lot of indigenous design that is very good but implementation is not up to the mark. Hopefully, things will change and we shall see improved implementation.

Q: Glass has been synonymous with contemporary facade design. Do you agree with this as an expert, or is there some other material which can showcase contemporary Indian architecture?
A: Glass is a very good and exciting material in architectural world, but it is not the only material. From an Indian scenario, one needs to be sensitive to where the building is located geographically. I don’t agree with making glass box buildings everywhere in the name of contemporary design. We should not copy everything that is happening in the west as for them using glass is a necessity as they are trying to maximise the daylight. However, here you have to cut the daylight.

Q: Facade design is still at a nascent stage in India. By when do you think we will be ready to accept facade experts and consultants as being a very integral part of the design process?
A: Actually we are reaching that stage – now in a lot of projects facade consultants are appointed right from the beginning, as compared to earlier when we would join the project when the building is ready. But I feel, it will be some time before the industry values what the facade consultant brings to the table, though everyone accepts that they need a consultant!

Q: On an academic level, are there any courses or something like that to be a facade consultant or expert in India?
A: Unfortunately there is none at the moment, but a lot of groundwork is happening towards that. I am also participating in a lot of institutional training, and a curriculum is being developed to be a part of professional institutes like IITs who are helping in framing the curriculum. Though it might take a couple of years, the process has already started. In fact, recently I was at an institute in Ahmadabad to give training sessions. And the audience is quite varied – right from architects and designers to students.

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