A growing awareness of ecology, economics and sustainability in building led to the idea of developing a centre for innovative materials, systems and processes. It was commissioned by the Confederation of Indian Industry (CII), an industrial association that wanted a so-called technology centre for exhibition purposes, an auditorium, conference rooms and library for discussion and the exchange of ideas, and an office area. Karan Grover and Associates had to tackle the far from simple task of applying this entirely new building industry approach to a structure that addressed all these key points. Of course ecological and economic building methods were to be used, but also the building itself should communicate the new approach when one simply looked at it, thus drawing attention to itself by signalling its intentions. The building was to set new standards for the future in sustainable ecological building, and thus acquire model character. The outcome was the Green Business Center, a place for new ideas for the new user, the Green Building Council. To convey this message was one challenge for the architects, but the shape of the building of course also depended on the specific conditions imposed by the client, the place and the situation.
The architects’ key idea was to create a structure whose characteristics expressed the “energy aesthetic,” an organism that tries to benefit from the efficiency of natural structures without imitating them. This building was intended as an attractive advertisement for the Green movement, which is slowly gaining a hold in India, loudly proclaiming the messageneeded for the future. A generous building plot made it possible to realise the idea of a structure circling around a centre without too much difficulty, with the structure itself consisting of different circle radii. The actual centre remains empty: this is the energy centre, also the communication centre, an open courtyard, the axis mundi, the axis of creation. The centre creates a centrifugal effect, parts of the design spring apart, try to escape from the centre, but are caught and held together again by a bracket, a round canopy over the connecting route. Opposing forces create a kind of dynamic tension, ultimately the sense of drifting apart is held in check. It is quite clear that the components of the design can be distinguished in terms of function and presented as individual parts: the auditorium and the technology centre face each other as large circle radii smaller conference rooms attempt to forge a connection, and the office and service sections stand as special bodies outside these radii but remain fixed components of the composition. The centre collects and binds within this exploded geometry, while the periphery softens, a finding of form based on nature phenomena. The heterogeneous nature of the sub-figures is interestingly relativised here: everything acquires rounded edges, soft forms, and thus forms a closer association again. There is also no split between inside and outside, the centre is definitely connected to the area outside.
This constellation of the various parts produces aspects that do justice to the building’s ecological claims: the circular form minimises the surface of the walls, which are exposed to enormous heat; this also minimises the floor area figure, guaranteeing maximum retention of open and green areas.
The roof areas are covered with soil and greenery, a relatively simple way of keeping out heat, as no elaborate insulation is needed. It was important to retain the natural soil base and to avoid soil erosion through a correct response to the nature of the subsoil, thus local flora and fauna were retained and encouraged as soil-enriching factors. For example, it was important to examine the soil for water content, as the way it runs is important, and not just for Hindus, but as well in terms of supply and for the underground flow of forces. The land has often been dried up by improper building measures as a result of lack of attention, and is a significant mistake in this heat-tormented country. A natural sculptural feature, the existence of rock in the subsoil, became an attractive component of the complex and was included in the green planning. Water use in the toilets was optimised so that water was handled with due care; the urinals do not use water, for example. Soiled water is filtered through natural systems and can partially be re-used. Construction materials were chosen after making careful comparisons: insulation values for different masonry types and roof coverings were examined and optimised, windows were given double glazing with an argon filling, largely a novelty in India, and the position and dimensions of the windows was calculated very thoroughly in terms of need and points of the compass. Even the rubbish reduction in the manufacturing process for the windows was a calculated part of the ecological process. Dazzling light, which usually also contributes to overheating in sections of a building, was avoided by the use of grille-like brick walls. These create a screening effect as walls in front of a building or as boundaries in a courtyard. They create dazzle-free light very simply and also last for a long time. Of course natural lighting was to play the principal part in lighting the interior, despite all the other considerations. In isolated cases it was complemented with additional skylights, but was also achieved by lavish glazing on the north side of the auditorium foyer. The complex has 90% natural light controlled by sensors, enormously reducing the electrical energy requirements arising from artificial light. Avoiding atmospheric pollution was another priority; even air pollution by machines like photocopiers was dealt with by filter systems. CO2 sensors were installed and the whole area declared a smoke-free zone. Absolutely no toxic materials were to be used, particularly inside the building, so that the climate in the rooms would not be compromised in any way. A high proportion of material re-use was also taken into consideration when planning the building. Materials were not to be brought in from further afar than 500 km, to keep the transport costs down. Solar energy is central to the energy supply, and photovoltaic cells were installed over almost the full area of the technology centre roof. But another natural element that was very important on the spot here was to be used successfully as well: wind energy, not to supply electricity, but to save it when cooling the rooms. Wind towers introduce the natural high air currents into the rooms, thus keeping the interior climate comfortable at almost no cost.
The Green Business Center is one of the first consistent attempts in India to take advantage of the natural features of a location for the building work, and to make effective and efficient energy use in the building part of the design. These efforts were rewarded with a “Platinum Classification,” the highest award of the US Green Building Council, based on international standards. The building’s self-confident, extraordinary form embues it with a symbolic power to radiate and become a stimulus and support for the Indian Green movement across as wide a field as possible.
Klaus-Peter Gast Contemporary Architecture in India Modern Traditions