Creating a green building is not an extraordinary feat, it is a necessity and every architect has to make an effort to make the building design that is in harmony with nature, says Ar. Sunil Patil. Being the architect behind the 5 Star GRIHA rated project of Circuit House, his words carry a lot of weight and also help us peek inside his brilliant design philosophy.
Every architectural design by his firm, Sunil Patil and Associates, carries his unique, visible signature of embracing the nature. May it be residences or commercial buildings or government offices, the elements of nature can be seen entwined with the elements of the building and joining hands to serve the purpose more effectively.
It is because of this fascinating reason when the new building of Pune’s Collector Office was finished, we decided to meet him, the principal architect of the project and understand his vision behind this project and how it led to the innovative design that we are able to see today.
As it can be clearly seen, gone are the days when government buildings were perceived as drab. The grand 34-meter wide plaza greets us as we enter from the main gate. The other striking features at first glance include the skywalks connecting the two wings of the collector office, the exteriors adorned with louvres and heritage structure erected in the middle of the plaza as a tribute/memento of the earlier Collector office.
The ground floor walls display the stones from the earlier existing buildings; a good example of material reuse.
However, the real achievement of this design isn’t one of these elements. It is the placement of the building itself.
At the beginning, when the building was at the conceptualisation stage, the real dilemma faced was what to do about the trees that were present in the area. The entire campus around the old collector office building was densely populated with nearly 200 trees, of which some were over 50 years old.
The earlier thought was to cut down almost 90% of the trees from the campus to make space for the building, but Ar. Sunil Patil decided to handle the issue of the space with a novel approach.
His team began the conceptualisation process by isolating the areas with the lowest number of trees present.
Upon locating them, they expanded the concept further to fixate the placements of the buildings and their respective areas.
This whole process, the team was able to save 170 trees out of 197; making it a truly remarkable feat.
Once the initial concept was finalised the real set of challenges presented itself in the form of approvals. Following up with the Green norms wasn’t as difficult as getting the required materials and the designs approved by the government. A lot of materials and design concepts that were to be implemented for Green ratings weren’t part of the standard inventory registry and the design protocols used by PWD and had to be individually authorised from higher authorities, which sometimes included the Chief Minister as well.
The majestic plaza and the skywalks are 2 of the prominent cases of that struggle. The plaza had been envisioned with this grandness in order to make the building better ventilated and better lit with natural light; while the skywalks were a means to provide better connectivity and accessibility across 2 wings. As per the structural designing norms of PWD, it would have been mandatory to introduce columns in the middle of those skywalks. It was after a lot of meetings, debates and convincing that the PWD gave permission to these signature elements.
In a dry climate like Pune, the wind flows from the south-west direction and that is the same direction from where the maximum sunlight comes in. That is why the louvres were used as sun-breakers. It helped in letting the light and breeze travel inside the offices without increasing the temperatures of the building interiors. These louvres used in the collector office are one of a kind and are made of Galvanised Iron are hollow in the middle. They had to be innovated in order to fit them in the budget while being sleek and with an ability to support themselves for 4 meters.
The opaque sunroof on the 5th floor helps the natural light enter inside without the heat and helps in creating a central source of light.
The 3 storied parking is designed to provide effective connectivity to the floors of Collector office building as every parking floor connects with the subsequent floor of the office building. This design helps in automatically distributing the vehicles across the parking floors and avoids overcrowding of at the ground floor.
The building is equipped with photovoltaic solar panels to generate the electricity required for the office facilities. Even though the building is expected to generate only 1% of the electricity it consumes, it currently generates a surplus amount of electricity than its entire consumption. To reduce the consumption of electricity, the Air-conditioners are installed only at the top office floor which hosts offices of the top officers.
The campus also hosts sewage treatment plant to recycle the water used by the public. This recycled water is then used for toilet flushing as well as watering the plants in the office campus. To conserve water usage, low-flow fixtures are installed in all the restrooms and other places.
The courtyards in the 2 wings are utilised for the sitting areas for the visitors. With sunroofs above them, these areas are well-lit without any artificial light. The shrubs spread over the area help maintain the freshness of the air.
Collector Office is the district head office has to largely cater to the people from rural areas of the district. On many occasions, there is a possibility that they may have to spend the entire day in the office and hence they tend to carry their lunch boxes with them. Taking this factor into account, the design is focused towards creating a lot of public spaces in the form of the central plaza, garden benches and even the kattas around the trees.
As you wander around the campus and the building, it becomes very evident that there was a lot of thought that has gone into designing these premises. The project had to follow a steep list of norms in order to get the ‘Green Building’ rating but the originality of the design is plainly visible everywhere one looks. With this innovative design, Ar. Sunil Patil is definitely changing the age-old belief about government offices being dull and we would love to see more public buildings with such designs in the coming future.