One of the few eco-friendly labs which produces biodegradable cleaning chemicals, Schevaran Laboratories needed a research and innovation centre as part of their expansion programme. In response, Mysore/Bengaluru-based Dr. B Shashi Bhooshan, Director, BSB Architects designed a modest, low-key, single-storied structure in contrast to the generally accepted steel and glass modern Indian building.
The Scheveran Innovation centre at Hebbal Industrial area in Mysore in the midst of the industrial environment is an oasis of greenery. The 400sqm building with a distinct identity situated in a 1.65 acres campus is eco-friendly and cost effective yet integrates technology seamlessly. Founder and MD of Schevaran Laboratories, Sam Cherian Kumbukattu explaining his vision for the project said, “While I wanted the building to blend with and support the green culture of Schevaran, I also emphasized the requirements of a central courtyard, a view of the greenery from all the rooms and the usage of tiles in the roof. The light and ventilation along with the presence of water body in the central courtyard would give a feeling of comfort to think and work.”
The highlight of the scheme is its informal and unpretentious atmosphere and the skilful assimilation of natural light and green areas within the built zones. Conceived as a homely place with abundant natural light and ventilation with open to sky convivial places for interaction, the facility is designed around a watered central open to sky space. The entrance also is through an outer court which can double as an interaction space. From the entrance court with a mango tree, the entry to the lab is through clear glass door on a glass wall. There is a merge of inside and outside as nature pervades the building. A stone wall separates this facility from the rest with a pivoted wicket gate. Security is more symbolic with seclusion from general movement around the factory. While, transparency makes it difficult for unauthorised persons to move around.
The building is a low key single storied structure having load bearing walls made of hollow clay blocks that reduces the heat transfer from outside as well. The openings are just adequate to let the light and ventilation for a working environment. The walls with warm terra cotta blocks and raw bamboo mat at ceiling avoid any synthetic look.
Only parts of the labs are air-conditioned for technical requirement of equipment, microbiology labs and discussion areas. Also, the natural northern light is diffused with plywood louvers inside the lab as well as the conference room and staff room.
The roof is made of monier concrete tiles on steel rafters and purlins. The roof spans of varying widths are designed similar to the north light roof of adjoining factory with A-frame rafter-trusses of round steel tubes and rectangular reapers and concrete tiles of grey colour. This arrangement provides for a false ceiling of thin plywood pasted with hand woven bamboo mat on lower side in between the rafters, thereby reducing the heat transfer through the roof.
Natural light, ventilation and a haptic experience of simple building materials is the hall mark of design. The materiality of the centre is its sense of nature and warmth with the indoors seeping through outdoor courts and vice versa. No pretext of any kind is used to hype up the spaces.
The approach to design as explained by Dr. B Shashi Bhooshan
Architecture as a profession always served humanity in different ways – as a service, a profession, a social practice, a political statement, a showpiece, as an artistic product, an object of desire & vanity and many more. But architecture was always appreciated , valued and detested as well by many on many grounds; more so the profession.
Buildings and habitat has always been essential aspect of every civilisation. Most of them, even today is produced and made by unself-conscious processes in the society with socially available methods and most often we call them vernacular. Though a term of derogatory origin, it means those things not produced by the so called modern professionals.
A tradition changes with adaptation of new ideas and technology to fit into new circumstances or changing reality and environment
The professionalism, as it evolved in history has been in response to the need of not just a utilitarian unselfconscious production, but by self-conscious or partially self-conscious production process where the values beyond utility, like aesthetics, political purpose or status etc. has intervened like any aspect of culture. That tradition called high design tradition, often tends to be elitist yet has a great contribution in the evolution of the world and influences the vernacular folk tradition as well. It has been so in the past and continues at present as well.
Architecture and its profession is not an autonomous one as it is influenced by many factors and actors – the clients, the technology, the climate, the available skills the economy and current understanding and the value of it in the society. Most people look at architecture as a background to their work and living and not as a work of art to be experienced on its own.
To that extend, unlike arts, architectural experience is subliminal. And past experiences and projected values play a big part in feeling good about the ambience architecture creates on people. That is why the contradiction exists between architectural explorations by professionals. On one side are those who take more cerebral and experimental stance or works to satisfy needs of people who look for novelty and so called contemporaneity as well as even a related vanity and on the other side are those who are nostalgic and sentimental about experienced and sometimes, even manufactured past and tradition.
Traditional practices & Green mantra
It is also common to find many arguing sentimentally that traditional and past wisdom that created good fit for the past times and context are still suitable. Often they also tend to result in architecture which imitated the past in form only. The claims that traditional ways of building in the contemporary reality of population, skills and resource situation also is as sustainable as before, is often debatable if not questionable. The resources, like timber or lime, for example is not available locally in most cities to meet the escalating demands. There are yet many principles like climate response and simplicity that could still be emulated.
As the green mantra has caught on today, green rating emerged as a common fad. The rating systems could be meaningful if they are developed for the specific regions. But many systems hardly address the real questions of environment. Some are developed without much baseline studies in our contexts. They create another set of professionals and additional cost without proven benefits.
A really sustainable building is no building. Not to build at all. Closer to that is to build as less as possible. Moderation is the most sustainable way, perhaps. Making use of some recycled materials, reducing the heat lead of air-conditioning by double glazing or to invest in capital equipment and gadgets are one way that is promoted by most rating systems.
The effect is that it fits only in a professional building environment and skills. Standardisation of building practices and materiality is the result. In addition, a slow but sure over- dependence on capital intensive building sector. That kind of dependence looks savvy to begin with but may not lead to a healthy future. As we know today that architecture alone cannot guarantee a sustainable future. Architecture is to be then reflection of sustainable way of living and sustainable cities and villages.
What we have to realise is that there is great limitation of what we can do as sustainable builders. Sustainable building is an oxymoron. At best we can only limit damages and try to be eco conscious. It often so happens that a conscious attempt to reduce cost both capital and running leads to a more sustainable building.
Making of Scheveran innovation centre
In the design of the centre, we took a middle path. We did not start doing a green rated building, nor do we claim all aspects like water usage and services up to date as per the green ratings. The building having a large footprint and being within an existing industrial area, we had a brief which wanted a homely ambience and atmosphere and not a cold commercial one.
The centre is to have less than ten people working at a time including scientists and lab technicians. The ambience that it demanded then was informal areas of interaction and some areas for formal discussions as well. Therefore, the design revolved around an open to sky central court and not so clearly defined access spaces which double also as a reception area at one end of the court and even a cafe cum pantry on the other end. This along with a shallow water body and green patches would make the air circulation natural and keep the ambient air more comfortable in summer months. The winter in Mysore is not too harsh, but pleasant. The design also incorporated the existing trees and built open to sky discussion spaces like an entrance court that create a homely feeling.
The contemporary trend of making glass boxes and false facades of glass or aluminium and then air-conditioning the place to keep inside cool was discarded from the beginning of the concept. It was also decided to make low profile building, not a showy one. Further being an innovation centre, it should not try not to imitate a design of a traditional house in any way as it was not one. Only space adapted was the universal court-yard for the purpose of controlled light and informality.