Globally, industrial buildings came in prominence with the industrial revolution and were some of the pioneering structures of modern architecture. In India, industrial architecture is slowly and steadily gaining momentum. Architect Sujay Ghorpadkar, Founder and Principal Architect, Opus Architects explains.
In the late 1700s, the initial industrial buildings of Europe were constructed with sole aim of utility and even today when it comes to industrial architecture, functionality trumps aesthetics.
The term ‘Industrial Architecture’ itself is very broad, since it encompasses a very wide range of buildings right from flatted factories to mills, refineries to warehouses. Basically, industrial buildings are designed with a view to accommodate industrial processes and not surprisingly, architectural quality in artistic terms sees much lesser emphasis.
However, just like architects try to understand a residential client’s personality, a thorough understanding of the industry, its product and production processes is absolutely critical. Given the complexities, understanding the functionality and processes is crucial before designing and requires an in-depth knowledge of mechanical, electrical, and plumbing (MEP) services right from the planning stage.
Any effort to force-fit the industrial process into a ready-made design shell rather than creating a design that keeps the utility at the forefront, is bound to affect efficiency and productivity. The production process is what dictates material flow through the building, and in turn influences design.
Factors Influencing Industrial Architecture
Manufacturing process: What is the raw material used? In what quantity does it need to be stored? Are there any special storage considerations? What are the various steps involved in production. How does the raw material travel from one stage to another? How much manpower is involved in each stage? These are all the questions that need to be answered before we embark on the designing process.
Machinery required: The volume and weight of the machines needs to be known in advance. Also, factors such as the amount of heat generated by each machine, cooling requirements, ventilation needed, recommended air flow, power supply needed, all these factors affect design.
Waste management: Typically, most industrial processes entail the management of waste, by-products and effluents within the shop-floor area. So, for efficient design of a manufacturing unit, one needs to consider the flow of these materials, storage and finally treatment at the site level. For instance, we need to plan for the location of dust collectors, carefully design the network of drainpipes to process effluent water, place biological waste collectors etc. All of these needs to be incorporated during the planning stage only.
Safety: In any industrial building, safety is a prime concern given the several inherent risks that an industrial process contains. While India still lacks international standards of safety, the situation has started to improve, with companies giving more consideration to safety than ever before. Therefore, provisions for fire protection, evacuation planning during emergencies need to be incorporated right at the design stage. Specific considerations such as providing ergonomically correct working heights for platforms for various production activities, for example, play a big role in improving safety considerations.
Lighting and ventilation: Natural light not only impacts productivity, but also plays a role in energy costs. As a result, use of natural light inside the shop floor is critical. The planning of proper location and sizes of fenestration can play an important role. Extensive use of skylights and roof ventilation systems is an important factor in industrial design.
Indian vis-à-vis Global Practices
The concept of industrial architecture first came to India with the British, when they felt the need to manufacture in India. Since the, there have been a few improvisations, but no drastic changes in the sensibility of the buildings. The economic liberalisation brought in some significant changes, mainly due to the proliferation of multinational organisations that came with a paradigm shift in thinking.
On a broader level, though, Indian factories and business houses lack design sensibility. The tendency is to rely on “shed building companies” to work out the layouts. These companies take a cookie cutter approach to design, with little respect or consideration for design and aesthetics.
Globally, standards also play an important role, since there are stringent bylaws that govern aspects of stability, safety and specification in factory designs. In India, cost saving is often a greater consideration than good design and construction quality.
This is a rather short-sighted approach. A well-designed industrial building not only boosts productivity and efficiencies, it also helps create a positive image with customers, other stakeholders and the society at large. As India works towards claiming a spot on the global manufacturing stage through initiatives such as “Make in India”, organisations need to wake up to the need for good industrial architecture as a strong competitive differentiator.
A Factory that doesn’t look like a factory
Mersen is a French manufacturing company with expertise in electrical power and advanced materials. It approached Bangalore-based Opus Architects, when it was looking to upgrade its seven-acre campus to meet current requirements.
The company designs innovative solutions to address its clients’ specific needs to enable them to optimize their manufacturing performance in sectors such as energy, transportation, electronics, chemicals, pharmaceuticals and process industries. It established its presence in Bangalore, India, three decades ago and started growing in 1995 with an industrial acquisition.
The project scope included work on a total of seven blocks including the Raw Material Block, Employee and Security Block, Metal Building block, Chemical Equipment Division (CED), Block making plant as well as extensions for High Temperature (HT) and Brush Plant blocks. Additionally, the architects worked on the entire Infrastructure planning in terms of power distribution, roads, drainage system, rainwater harvesting system, water supply, fire fighting etc. for the entire campus.
One of the tasks at hand was to upgrade its existing 40- year old factory building into an advanced production facility for the block making plant. The old building could barely house existing machinery, let alone accommodate new additions. With the addition of new machinery in the offing, there was a need for a bigger space, which could facilitate the new added machinery with easy production making the production environment a very healthy space.
Mr. Perumal, Managing Director, Mersen India was clear about one thing. He wasn’t looking for the functional box structures that are so typical of factories. Instead, he was keen on a structure that would reflect Mersen’s strong focus on innovation and learning. He was looking for a ‘campus’ feel rather than a ‘factory’ feel.
Stopping production for an extended period of time during the construction was not a viable option. The architects had to ensure that the entire construction process wouldn’t hinder ongoing production on the site. The design had to accommodate this requirement.
The only way to build with the production happening simultaneously was to construct around the existing building rather than demolishing it completely. Needless to say, this threw up myriad challenges in construction. The standard approach of using truss work was not a viable, and the common practice of the roof panels being installed by cranes that stand at the center of the proposed building was also not an option.
Building around the challenge
The roof panels installed by a crane standing in the centre of the proposed building enable placing them with precision on the two edge girders. At Mersen, since the old functioning building stood in the middle, the cranes had to do the same installation across 32 meters of span with the cranes operating on the sides of the building. This was achieved by using heavy duty cranes with an additional boom attached for extra height.
The façade treatment using self-supporting technology is also rare and possibly it was the first time that it was used in India. The curved roof acted as the prime focus with the front facade as a continuation to it all the way till the ground. The end result was a unique modernistic form that was functional yet creative.