The Responsible Expression

Architect Snehal Shah from EssTeam talks about utilizing performance heavy techniques in green architecture.
The Responsible Expression


In the eighth interview of the series of Shades of green, we present to you a talk between architect Snehal Shah, Mohammed Ayazkhan, and Hiten Chavda as a panelist. This interview series is a place where we talk to various practicing architects about sustainability and its different approaches in architecture and design.

A gold medalist in his graduate and post-graduate studies at CEPT, Snehal has founded a multi-faceted practice at Surat which has multiple firms disbursing professional services in the fields of Architecture, Interior Design, Urban Design, Green Building Facilitation, Product Design, Art Integration, and Project Management. A natural affinity towards the growth of people and the planet has led the practice to get wedded to the philosophy of designing Green. In the span of about 2 decades, the firm has been well recognized through 30+ International, National, and Regional design excellence awards and nearly 30 Certified Green Buildings. Snehal is the co-founder and serving as the chairperson of the Indian Green Building Council, Surat Chapter. Snehal is also actively associated with the field of education and has been serving Department of Architecture, SCET, Surat as a Professor.

As a panelist in this interview, we also have architect Hiten Chavda. Hiten Chavda has graduated with a Bachelor in Architecture degree from CEPT University, Ahmedabad. After 5 years of practice in India, his interests in Sustainability led him to Masters in Energy Efficient and Sustainable Building from Oxford Brookes University, Oxford, UK.

His work experience at Terry Farrell in London helped him gain insight and exposure to various international projects. Few years as Principal Architect of one of the greenest developers of India in Bangalore, helped him in building practical solutions for sustainability. Currently, he is the founder and partner at Anahat architects, Vadodara along with his association with academia.

With emerging materials and technology, more and more architects and designers are realizing the importance of performance aspects of the buildings. In spite of so many tools available to measure the performance and thereby designing better-performing buildings, there seems huge inertia so as to continue designing with the conventional design processes. The interview tries to inquire into the role of such technology and tools in designing buildings that own up their responsibility towards the environment. Snehal Shah intends to share his views on this through 4 projects his practice has designed.

Snehal starts with the climate change effect that has happened in major cities in India and how almost all cities are two degrees higher than the outskirts. He explains the Urban Heat Island effect and how it affects the way we build. The high-density construction area has increased the temperature of the city. This is caused by increasing paved areas, deforestation, pollution, and the use of materials like glass that increase heat gain. He says that we can learn a lot from the past from examples like Hawa mahal in Jaipur and Stepwells in Gujarat, in terms of ventilation and water conservation.

The Responsible Expression
(Hawa mahal in Jaipur, having natural ventilation through elements in facade)

“We don’t need to look forward, we just need to look backward. This building in Jaipur is a masterpiece that creates very cool and reduces energy and was not built by any architect or MEP engineer. “

He introduces us to four projects in the presentation most of which have Platinum ratings by IGBC, each of them having a different typology, a residence, an office building, an institution, and an industrial building. In this presentation, he focuses mainly on the facade of the buildings and design strategies that drive the form and performance of the building.

The Responsible Expression
(Section through the Engineers house)
The Responsible Expression
(Louvered walls in the engineer’s house)

The engineer’s house is a small construction of 7500 on a large site. The house has louvered walls on the north and south. The system of the louvers was specifically designed by the client, who is a mechanical engineer. The living areas’ louvered walls open up and give the room an openness, where you almost feel like it’s an otla. The organization of the house has separated the private and public core differently, also the more public spaces like living and dining have no walls on the north and south side, which allows for cross ventilation through the louvers. These louvers were designed in such a manner that their orientation can be changed, or they can open the louvers using a simple mechanism, and the beauty of having such a space in the context of Surat is that even in the months of peak summer, the place does not require air conditioning.

The Responsible Expression
(Jainam house, facade design)

Jainam House is a stock broking company. The site was an unusual shape, so the form of the building is two blocks, one wrapping the other. The concept of the space was to have an adaptive workspace, where the services would be fixed in order to have a large floor plan which is flexible and open to change. A building that is green is inclusive of the potential changes in the future.

The design process was an interactive one where the client was provided a lot of options for the layout, the idea was that any layout organization would be possible, as the design could incorporate it without tearing down the walls. The facade was an east-facing one, the design team compared six options with various studies with tools about the amount of daylight, maintenance, and performance. The final option had a tensile fabric that stretched across the vertical of the building, this fabric facade elements would protect the building from direct sun. The calculation here was that if the face takes care of heat and glare from 9:30-11 am the rest of the time would easily be taken care of.

The Responsible Expression
(Hills nursery, Daylight and facade elements)
The Responsible Expression
(Hills nursery, West facade and ventilation)
The Responsible Expression
(Classrooms at Hills nursery)

Hills Nursery is a premium nursery for children. The volume on the west is left empty, to capture the winds and the service block is placed in the south.

The screen on the west has a layer of plants that creates a green screen, this allows the wind to pass through to the classrooms, which have low partitions 3ft high, designed specifically to let the wind in from below and keeping child anthropometry in mind.The classrooms here have an almost open plan layout. The building is completely daylit for all the functions and the facade consists of vertical fins all around the building which protects it from heat and glare and adds an element of color.

The Responsible Expression
(Ankit gems, viewing facade and landscape)
The Responsible Expression
(An interior view of executive lounge)

Ankit gems is a platinum-certified building and a net-zero building. The building is subcontracted to other owners hence it requires the floor plan to be open. The services are organized in such a manner that they can occupy double volumes too. The facade was designed in consideration of the natural light that is needed in the space. The activities in the building require a specific task light, which needs to be artificial, the design of the facade incorporates controlled daylight while giving the workers an outdoor view. From the various face options, one of them was finalized where the facade is made of screens with varying porosity in the form of criss-cross lines.

In an example of how an architect can strategize the services to the benefit of the client, Snehal introduces to us how he saved energy on the air conditioning unit of this industrial-scale building. In such cases, the air condition makes up 60 percent of the electricity bill. They gathered some data for the building which showed the night tariff of electricity is lower in this area, and the occupancy of the building increases gradually from 8-12 in the morning. Hence they built a thermal storage water tank, which would strategically be cooled and run in a way that could conserve energy and would be economical too.

“With all this data in mind…These 10 lakh units of water are being chilled by the thermal chiller at night, using the night tariff to our advantage. In the day as this tank is insulated we turn on the chillers and use this water in AHU. Practically in winter, we don’t need to turn on the chiller in the day, and in summer it is only around 3-4 pm that we turn on the chiller. All this data is well documented by the building management, and this itself is saving the building 8-9 lakh rupees per month. This translates to about 1 crore savings in a year and the building cost of the tank is 2.5 crores, which means the client will recover the cost of the tank in 2.5 years itself and this chiller has a life of 25 years.”

The Responsible Expression
(Energy conservation techniques)

After bringing down the cost of electricity, Snehal’s team further questioned on how to recover this minimum cost of the monthly electric bill. To answer this Snehal comes up with an interesting solution to make this intensive energy building a net-zero building.

“We calculated the cost of building a basement for the building, which was 1000 rupees per sq.ft. whereas the adjacent plot was 900 rupees per sq.ft. So we suggested the client buy the adjacent plot and we built the parking there, with a solar roof that brought down the electricity bill furthermore. The client invested in a wind project which further saved energy, and eventually bringing the entire running cost of this project to zero.”

In conversation with Hiten and Ayaz, we see how Snehal’s work has been different in comparison to other architects in this series as it includes an alternative pragmatism in sustainability for buildings at different scales. In questions with Hiten, we see the discussion recognizing how parts of the engineers’ house act as a heat sink, and how in other buildings like the Hills nursery and Ankit gems, the stress is on the envelope of the building and ventilating it while making sure that the heat gain from the roof is minimal. They discuss how concrete is a green building material as it reduces the requirement of paint and its maintenance. Although the heat gain from the concrete is high, in a humid climate like Surat cross-ventilation can easily take care of the problem; unless you are going for air-conditioning.

“ I always feel concrete is a green material, contrary to the common understanding. There are a few reasons…it has high embodied energy. The other thing is that the buildings that have concrete facade have only 30 percent more concrete, your slabs, columns, beams, and windows are concrete, so what’ left is only 30 percent …but by adding 30 percent more, the amount of paint and maintenance we are able to avoid in such buildings is huge. Additionally, especially for natural ventilated buildings, the heat gain of concrete will be swept away with the wind. It’s only in the air-conditioned buildings that we need to find other ways.”

The panel discusses how the use of software has benefited the process of designing, as it helps to gain insights in the designing stages and also to demonstrate to the client about the strategies applied for sustainability.

Snehal talks about the advantages of having a team in-house that is actively participating in the decision making of the facade, instead of having a consultant on board. The process offers a lot of opportunities to enhance the performance of facade elements, and to make decisions that widely affect the sustainability of the project too. Facade consultant, he says can be very helpful in the building and construction phase of the project but he prefers the designing aspect of it to be in-house.

As an office, Essteam is based on the philosophy of doing green in all the projects. This also reflects in the employees, as all the architects have to undergo IGBC certification exam within the office.

“This is my humble request to all architects or students, you should go through at least one green building certification process. We assume a lot of things, but through this process will teach you a lot of things which we don’t usually take into consideration…the simplest things like where to place your dustbins, or how many types of dustbins you should have, these are simple things you go through and once you learn them, they will be a part of all your projects.”

Snehal says that this is the opportunity to educate the clients as well. In the process of working with the client’s team we are able to make them a little more aware about the environmental issues than they were before the project.

“We give a client the choice, that going for certification or not is your choice, but we will only build sustainably. We are 40 of us in the office and we work with 400 stakeholders and clients, so the practice of using things sustainably and awareness about environmental issues spreads, little by little, someone will learn 5 percent, someone else will learn 10 percent from the process but they start getting interested.”

With Snehal’ work we see a different perspective of sustainability, one where the performance of the building is highly curated by the architect. His use of materials and green building techniques give us an insight into a more precise way of practising, which can be beneficial to both the client and the environment. The discussion between Ayaz, Snehal and Hiten is a power packed one full of lessons on how to tackle issues from a greener perspective. His spirit in “There is not much resistance when you want to do the right things” leaves us more motivated to streamline our efforts towards the environment.

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