In the new normal, many organisations have redesigned their offices to meet new social distancing requirements and respond to the health and wellness concerns of their workforce. We talk to Ricardo Bofill and Manit Rastogi—two architects whose firms have undertaken the development of our campuses—to gain insights into how organisations can ensure a safe return of employees to the workplace.
We are always redefining the workplace and creating places that are experiential destinations for our partners, tenants and employees. Moreover, we continue to explore ideas and thoughts on how design can play an important role in making the workplace not just a workplace but a larger built environment.
In the new normal, we have been forced to rethink the way we work. So, what does the future of workplace design look like? How can organisations ensure a safe work experience for their employees at work? Ricardo Bofill and Manit Rastogi, two leading architects whose firms are busy developing some of our campuses across India, give us their views.
Q & A WITH RICARDO BOFILL, PRINCIPAL CHIEF ARCHITECT, RICARDO BOFILL TALLER DE ARQUITECTURA:
Excerpts from the interview:
FOR EMPLOYERS, IT IS A CHALLENGE TO REDESIGN THEIR WORKPLACES AS PER THE NEW NORMAL. WHAT ARE YOUR THOUGHTS ON IT?
It is definitely a big challenge. Designing offices more like the outdoors with filtered air and good ventilation will be a priority post the pandemic. In offices that are dependent on clean air-conditioning systems running on full-blast, the full blast can still make the particles travel for longer distances.
As architects, one of the issues we grapple with is creating workspaces that not only depend on central air conditioning systems but also use natural cross ventilation. But believe it or not, we are building an office tower for Brookfield Properties, which, instead of having a core in the centre like many other buildings, has a courtyard for ample cross ventilation.
Also, when it comes to a building with large floor plates, it is particularly challenging to develop a natural ventilation solution for the office. But at our development projects in Candor TechSpace, Sector 135, Noida, we have done a large floor plate with Multi-Level Car Parking (MLCP) completely crossventilated. Combined with the MLCP, for easy access from the vehicle to the working places, we decided to build on top a unique office space, with a courtyard in the centre of the floor plate, which is a new concept for office spaces, and it is designed to be perfectly cross-ventilated.
HOW ARE YOU HELPING BROOKFIELD PROPERTIES GET READY FOR THE NEW NORMAL VIA ITS UPCOMING PROJECTS?
Tower 11 is a landmark office building with a prime location at the end of the central axis at Candor TechSpace, Sector 135, Noida. It has on one side a beautiful reflecting water feature that we call ‘black mirror’ because it reflects the building, creating a feeling that we all love about the iconic water features and gardens like those of the Taj Mahal. So the building naturally has a lot of cross ventilation by capturing the prevailing winds in Noida, and funnelling them through windows every 10 metres (of a 1-metre square area) that allow air to naturally and quickly flow, supported with state-of-the-art mechanical systems that clean air with special filters and also propels the air across the spaces to further push for natural cross ventilation.
Multiple vertical transportation systems and stairs, well-separated from each other, allow the people in the building to practise social distancing. The stair cores are always on the edge of the façades and naturally ventilated, as well as protected from the outside with a jali, a ventilated wall that allows for such cross ventilation. The ceremonial lobby is a grand, white marble space that welcomes the visitors with that kind of clean, elegant and minimalistic look that talks about cleanliness and less-is-more elegance.
Orientation through the building is always straightforward with no dark corners, no notches and no wasted corridors. On the campus side, on the ground floor of Tower 11, an imposing arcade shaped like a smooth crescent, functions as a spectacular food and beverage space overlooking the black mirror lake. This creates a freshly-ventilated interior space with an exterior alfresco expansive terrace with a perspective towards the campus, providing a place-making experience rarely seen before in an office building.
WHAT ARE THE NEW DESIGN UPGRADES AND ARCHITECTURAL CHANGES THAT YOU ARE WORKING ON AT BROOKFIELD PROPERTIES?
The whole design strategy for the new buildings in Candor TechSpace, Sector 135, Noida, revolves around climate and cross ventilation. For example, in a normal passenger plane, the air is renewed 30 times per minute. This means that the number of COVID-19 cases detected in planes has been close to zero. This is the idea for the new buildings.
Much like Tower 11 and Tower 11 A, done systematically as part of the design and build methodology, with mechanical and natural systems that allow for airflow, as much as possible, ideally at least one time per minute. We are also working with biological nano filters (with herbal and curative properties) to potentially improve the air quality.
Q & A WITH MANIT RASTOGI, FOUNDING PARTNER, MORPHOGENESIS:
Excerpts from the interview:
TODAY, ORGANISATIONS WANT TO ENSURE A SAFER WORKPLACE AND RETURN TO NORMALCY. WHAT ARE THE DOS AND DON’ TS FOR CORPORATES TO MAKE THIS HAPPEN?
The immediate priority for organisations is to bring people back to work as swiftly and safely as possible while making spaces humane and safer. There is a significant need for re-evaluation of spaces and developments, both design and policy wise. However, before we examine and re-imagine spaces, it is important to understand that work is a 24-hour process and not just limited to the workspace. It entails various modes and levels of transportation involved in commuting to the office. Corporates should reconsider their office interiors and also the safety of employees from the moment they leave their house, come to the office, and go back home.
The return to the workplace will be accompanied by challenges of navigation within the offices and will require measures to optimise entry and exit routes. Furthermore, the number of passengers in a lift will be 1/4th their capacity i.e. 6 pax instead of 24 pax to ensure adequate distance between passengers. Hence, even if waiting lobbies are made larger, a bottleneck shall always remain at the core, i.e. the lifts. However, a simple design intervention can help mitigate this. Consider a typical 60,000 sf office tower which is 12 storeys high and has a typical floorplate of 5,00,000 sf. This office tower can be treated as four distinct zones, each consisting of 1,500 people, which are serviced by dedicated lifts and lobbies that are accessed from different parking levels. This allows one building to function as four separate vertically stacked offices without any overlap in movement. This approach will not only cater to physical distancing norms, but will also help optimise waiting times and avoid bottlenecks. Further, this should be integrated with intelligent security systems that allow people to navigate in and out in less than two minutes, instead of the half hour it would take at peak time.
The IT and ITeS sectors employ approximately 5,000-6,000 people in each building, and several hundred more people handling housekeeping, security, etc. In such buildings, there will always be workmen coming in and going out. There must be protocols and sanitisation procedures in place at all entrance and exit points. All office buildings must have basic medical facilities where employees suffering from fever, etc., can be taken to, with direct access to an ambulance van.
The common areas within an office such as cafeterias and gyms must also undergo transformation. Typically, cafeterias have employees having lunch in a one-hour span, sitting next to each other. Today, one must re-look at all the outdoor spaces in and around the office building, such as rooftops, gardens, etc. Using simple passive techniques such as tensile roof shading, landscaping and dry misting, outdoor spaces can be made useable throughout the year as meeting spaces, cafeterias and exhibition spaces.
The air-conditioning design for hermetically sealed buildings will undergo significant re-engineering so that a zone-wise separation of the air distribution system will become the new norm. In a typical air-conditioning system, the air supply comes from the top, and the recycled air comes from the bottom. Thus, what should have been a one-way flow, gets mixed up. Instead, supply should come from below because hot air rises naturally due to stack effect. This simple act of reversing the flow and supply can make the air as hygienic as a hospital’s air-conditioning system. Another way to dilute airborne contaminants and toxins from within the office is to conduct a ‘night purge’. By simply reversing the mechanical air conditioning systems during non-working hours, the indoor space within is flushed with fresh external air thereby mimicking a natural ventilation system. The night purge is a simple and inexpensive intervention that enhances the health and wellness factors of the users.
WHAT ARE THE CHALLENGES THAT ARCHITECTS ARE DEALING WITH, WHEN IT COMES TO DESIGNING WORKPLACES IN THE NEW NORMAL?
The pandemic has given us an opportunity today to use our technological abilities to design spaces in a more democratic and accessible manner. Architects are now designing for the primary purpose of providing safety, well-being, hygiene and comfort to people. By keeping the end-user at the centre of the design process and considering the issues of mobility, health and well-being, facility management and disaster readiness, we can provide spaces that are resilient.
WHAT ELSE HAS THIS NEW NORMAL FORCED YOU TO THINK ABOUT, ESPECIALLY WHEN IT COMES TO SUSTAINABLE DESIGN?
Sustainability is not just about saving the planet; it is also about saving mankind. India is a rapidly developing nation with the urbanised population said to grow from 30% to 50% over the next two decades. This is a daunting proposition considering our cities are confronted with an urban and environmental emergency. Issues of urban homelessness and migration, outdated infrastructure, depleted resources, hazardous pollution and climate change have resulted in 14 Indian cities featuring in the top 20 most polluted cities in the world. Also, at least 21 Indian cities are moving towards groundwater depletion. I have often found myself tracing raindrops that are led to the outskirts of the city through a network of drains. Instead, the rainwater must be directed towards open green spaces with water reservoirs, bioswales and natural wetlands. Using relatively simple and inexpensive solutions such as these can help replenish underground water tables.
New urban and public projects need to be viewed as global exemplars for modern Indian architecture and urbanism. Environmental sensitivity and a greener world are core issues that need to be assimilated in our thinking and consciousness and need to be addressed today. Sustainable architecture is imperative and can mitigate environmental impacts as long as it is conceived with economic adequacy. Resource optimisation is as crucial to sustainable urbanism, as is environmental protection and socio-cultural sustainability. One thing this pandemic has taught us is that it is time to do a lot more with a lot less.
Sustainability is not just about saving the planet; it is also about saving mankind.