Global influence, local response
In his first interview with Indian media, Ian Simpson, the India practice head of Broadway Malyan tells Niranjan Mudholkar the suitability of high-rise buildings is dependent on the social, economic and environmental constraints of a place, but also the spatial. Excerpts
Architecture and urban design are becoming more global than ever due to several reasons today. How does this influence the work of an international firm like Broadway Malyan? Also, while globalisation is a fact, what about retaining the regional or local architectural identity?
Globalisation has been made possible by the advent of technology. This has seen cultural and social ideals implanted from one place to another, the predominant culture becoming globalised through popular demand, and the gradual eradication of local culture.
We see this in the built environment, and particularly in developing countries that seek to embrace western building typologies, and practices as an expression of economic development.
However, a more sustainable approach is to pay respect to local cultural traditions and social practices, and reinterpret the essence of traditional building practices to deliver innovative architecture that is responsive to the region.
The end result is architecture with an identity that can retain a modernity, whilst resisting becoming ‘disneyfied’. This is something that is core to the process of sustainable design, and something that we excel in.
There are people who build high-rises to show off their wealth and there are those who build to address issues related to rapid urbanisation. How do you look at it?
Tall buildings have always been a symbol of power and prestige of an individual, group, corporation of association, as there are more sustainable means of creating high density urban environments – a physical example is Dharavi in Mumbai, while theoretical examples can be seen in the density studies of Martin and March at Cambridge during the 1970s.
Nevertheless, the tall building as a typology does optimise rates of return on a site that may be spatially compromised, and it is for this reason that it is here to stay until alternative, more sustainable structures, that do not constitute a third more in construction costs, can be created.
This means that we need to ensure we can mitigate the adverse and non-sustainable effects of tall buildings, for instance significant energy consumption in moving water and electricity up and through the building, and increased structural tonnage given dynamic wind loading or the environmental consequences of wind.
Tell us about some of the key high-rise projects that Broadway has done globally (you may also mention about ongoing or immediately upcoming projects).
We have delivered many of the high-profile and iconic structures that grace the skylines of some of the most cosmopolitan and technologically advanced cities in the world.
One project, London’s tallest residential-only tower, has started to rise out of the ground on the banks of the River Thames in London’s Vauxhall district. ‘The Tower, One St George Wharf’ has been designed by the practice and is being developed by St George South London, and the shell and core element is being built by contractor Brookfield Multiplex.
Completion is anticipated from Winter 2013, and the 320,000 sq ft, residential tower will stand at just over 180 metres, making it one of Europe’s tallest wholly residential buildings. It will provide 223 luxury apartments over 50 floors, and will create a distinctive architectural addition to London’s skyline.
It features pioneering green and sustainable technologies that showcase the design team and developer’s commitment to sustainable development by reducing the building’s environmental impact. Despite its glassy appearance, ‘The Tower’ will require only one third of the gas or electrical energy for heating, cooling, lighting and ventilation than that of a conventional tall building, with consequent reductions in CO2 over its life span.
Energy savings will be made using a sophisticated, triple glazed façade with interstitial blinds, low ‘e’ coating and sky gardens that will act as a thermal buffer and opening windows which provide habitable rooms with fresh air to lessen resident’s reliance on air conditioning. Much of the building’s energy savings will be obtained from renewable sources.
A ten metre high, vertical axis wind turbine at the top of the tower will generate an estimated 20,000kWh of energy per year, sufficient to power lighting in all the common parts of the tower. The building will also draw water from London’s aquifer deep below ground and utilise ‘heat exchange technology’ for heating and cooling the building.
In Asia, where the tallest structures over the last five years have been completed, we have been instrumental in creating a range of towers in Kuala Lumpur, Manila and Jakarta that embrace the green agenda. This has also seen the celebration of another closely linked phenomenon: that of ‘brand’.
This is best expressed in ‘The Milano Residences’, which is Asia’s first fashion-branded condo. The upmarket residential project in Manila is being developed by one of the largest real estate firms in Asia, Century properties, and has now commenced on site.
Designed by the practice and with public space interiors by renowned luxury brand Versace Home, the towering structure will be a notable landmark within the award winning developer’s Century City masterplan, with completion scheduled for 2015. The 53-storey tower will boast 340 flexible one to three bedrooms apartments, with prime units including penthouses, town houses and Italian-inspired ‘loggia’ lofts that feature private plunge pools and skygardens.
Milano Residences has been designed to embody the character of traditional Italian spaces by fostering ‘indoor-outdoor’ living through the use of sky loggias, sky piazzas and sky terraces that are reinterpreted through a series of vertical skycourts and gardens that punctuate the tower. The Italianate references compliment the Versace-branded interiors, while ensuring the building retains a grounded and timeless quality.
Sustainability has been a key driver in the design, with a passive design approach that employs narrow floor plates and high ceilings optimise daylight penetration and further opportunities for natural ventilation. The design also includes a green roof and an abundance of densely foliated vertical open spaces to help collect excess rainwater, irrigate planting within the building and reduce ambient temperatures. Meanwhile, materials have been selected on the basis of their environmental credentials as well as aesthetics.
Objectively speaking, how would you analyse the high-rise architecture in this country? What value can Broadway Malyan add to this field in India?
The suitability of high-rise buildings is dependent on the social, economic and environmental constraints of a place, but also the spatial. Tall buildings attract significant traffic and footfall, and therefore necessitate significant infrastructure in order to provide an ease of movement.
Therefore, a starting point is to explore what currently works socially, and how the urban fabric may respond to such everyday cultural practices, and what the impacts of including tall buildings are.
The next challenge is to see how such social and spatial mechanisms can be translated vertically without it compromising the sense of community on the ground, and to see how buildings can enhance the city, and foster a greater sense of community.
Finally, the ability to incorporate social spaces, as a series of skycourts and skygardens that are densely foliated, should be considered to enhance the socio-physiological well-being of the community.
Our global practice is distinguished by an unrivalled diversity and we boast over five hundred, multi-disciplinary sector design experts, and our team’s skills, expertise and experience means that we’re well-placed to deliver tall buildings that are fully integrated within the urban habitat.
While high-rises are energy guzzlers, there are also claims of green towers. Is it really possible to build a green high-rise? Please justify.
Tall buildings can be gas guzzlers when designed without due consideration of the basic principles of good sustainable design, that is form matching climate, orientation, appropriate site planning, the preservation of natural resources, water and energy efficiency, modularity and an ease of construction, post occupancy management and monitoring. These are just some of the principles on which we base our designs, to deliver increasingly sustainable tall buildings.
Thankfully, the traditional, hermetically sealed air-conditioned box of the twentieth century has given way to more hybrid forms that start to interlink towers with skycourts and skygardens, and seek to use those spaces as opportunities for natural light and natural ventilation.
What do you think are the key challenges in building green high-rises, particularly in India?
The key challenge is legislative. One should assume that the tall building is not a default position for density, as there are more economic ways of delivering sustainable solutions. If tall buildings are necessary, planning guidance and legislation must ensure that appropriate social spaces are incorporated.
The tall building is a high-density typology, of which one tower may have hundreds if not thousands of occupants, and it is important to foster community as one finds within the street and the square. Developers should be incentivised to incorporate such social spaces in order to allow for greater gross floor area, thus providing economic opportunities for the developer, and enabling them to satisfy corporate social responsibilities.
Ian Simpson has been a design leader at Broadway Malyan since 1996, and became a Board member of the firm in 2006. He has a passion for place-making with diverse expertise in a wide range of project types and scales of projects. In London and the Middle East, Ian was the chief designer for various mixed-use and regeneration projects, including Mina Zayed, an 860 acres waterfront masterplan in the east of Abu Dhabi. He also completed two major waterfront residential schemes, the award winning Battersea Reach in the UK and Al Bandar in Abu Dhabi. Ian relocated from London in 2008 to establish the firm’s Singapore office, and subsequently opened its Mumbai office in 2011. In India, Ian has already grown the firm’s hospitality sector to deliver the interiors for two Novotel hotels.
About Broadway Malyan
Broadway Malyan is a global architecture, urbanism and design practice distinguished by its global reach, unrivalled diversity and distinctive client focus. It has global reach with 500+ sector experts across 15 world centres, from Sao Paulo to Shanghai. It has delivered award-winning projects including the Casa do Governador Resort Hotel (Sao Paulo), East Village Calgary (Calgary), The Tower (London), Mann Island (Liverpool), Marina de Vilamoura Super Marina (the Algarve), Double Tree Hilton hotel (Hyderabad), ADEC schools and Yas Island (UAE), ‘10X10’ project (Iraq), National Heart Centre (Singapore) and Kanas Lake Performance Theatre (China)