Changing Skins

Envelope System in India Projects: From Static To Smart
by Thiyagarajan R & Ashwin Kulkami

Mies van der Rohe’s minimalistic approach towards designing clear glass façades was influential in the evolution of modern façades, wherein the material and details shaped the future of façades with projects like the Seagram Building. By the 1950s, the modern curtain-wall system was manufactured to relatively precise tolerances in the factory, easily shipped, and efficiently installed and maintainable. Before long, it gained wide acceptance as a means of enclosing structures, and the extensive use of modern glazed curtain wall system became vogue.
Its quick adoption by designers, however, soon led to problems for the indoor environment. The extensive use of glass traps heat inside the building, causing great discomfort during warmer months and over-consumption of energy to condition the space. Simultaneously, the introduction of spandrel glass panels and the invention of performance glasses with double-glazed units of Low-E coatings led to the reduction of fenestration areas. Safety and acoustic concerns also emerged as a result.

Shift in façade system design
In India, the unsuitability of glass façades in tropical countries prompted a serious inquiry into the roots of Indian architectural styles so as to derive a more sustainable approach. Over a period of time, façade fabrication developed from a simple exposed-frame, full-glass approach to increasingly sophisticated unitised systems with pressure-equalised joints and point supports, that utilise various metal, stone or artificial panels.

Façade as skin should respond to the climate, act as a filter for its indoor environment and be designed with socio-economic and cultural relevance in mind. As a system, it should succinctly narrate these nuances in form and function.

This shift in façade system design was also driven by the liberalisation of the Indian economy in 1991. Investment opportunities attracted MNCs and saw the boom of industries like Information Technology. By the end of the 1990s, the requirement for IT-related office, retail and residential spaces called for large-scale integrated townships and campuses, which placed the building industry on a rapid growth trajectory. Investors and developers began to seek international expertise, paving the way for the entry of international consultants into the Indian real estate market in a big way. This necessitated quality built environments on par with international standards.
In 2001, authorities enacted the Energy Conservation (EC) Act with the primary objective of providing a necessary legal framework for ensuring energy conservation measures. The EC Act then led to the development of the Energy Conservation Building Code of India, which mandates energy conservation measures through the use of passive-design features and details, and the restructuring of materials used in the envelope system. In the wake of these new policies and codes, the design approach and development of façades became more energy-conscious and diverse.
The DP approach
DPA Consultants, the India branch of DP Architects, was among the early adopters of energy-efficient envelope systems. Some of its early projects, including RMZ Ecospace and RMZ Infinity in 2006 and 2008 respectively, were examples of contextually relevant contemporary architecture designs driven by passive-design strategies.  
Bringing together traditional and unconventional ideas, we have continued to hone our design approach over the years. This is evident from the recently completed RMZ Ecoworld and The Skyview Hyderabad, where the carefully composed facade design and optimal proportion of glass and solid surfaces bring thermal comfort to occupants and add richness to the built landscape of these cities.
Embracing the new developments in building technology, our upcoming projects, one of which is Nexity Hyderabad,  feature façade designs that include integrated green wall systems and BVIP panels.

The future of envelope systems
The emerging trend is the Dynamic Automated Building Envelope (DABE) system, as opposed to a static envelope system which is unable to respond to the continuous environmental changes. Still at the exploration stage, the DABE, when integrated with Building Management System (BMS), features solutions that allow a development to adapt to changes in its external environment. BMS-augmented envelope systems, incorporating kinetic building components such as electronically controlled and mechanically activated shading and ventilation systems, enhance thermal and visual performance. Future façades may even employ electro-chromatic glass, which can be programmed to alter the Visual Light Transformation (VLT) through sensors.

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