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Going Beyond Aesthetics

Suspended ceilings are a classic example of contemporary construction and architecture. It serve so many functions beyond aesthetics that selecting the correct ceiling for a space can be a challenge. At a panel discussion organized this month by Buildotech & Knauf AMF, the expert architects and designers got together to deliberate upon the purpose, benefits and design elements of suspended ceilings in interiors.

The discussion held in the city of Ahmedabad comprised a panel of eminent building industry professionals including Ahmedabad based architect & academician Yatin Pandya of Footprints, Earth and award winning architect Hiren Gandhi from Hiren A. Gandhi & Associates. As also, veteran architect Prem Nath from Mumbai based design firm Premnath & Associates, and Teddy D’souza, Director Operations, Knauf AMF India.

Emphasizing the fact that suspended ceilings are meant to serve purposes beyond aesthetics, Stefan Bloechl, Sales Manager, Asia-Pacific & Gulf of Knauf AMF set off the event by introducing company’s high performance ceiling products and systems used worldwide. In his presentation, he highlighted the advanced ceiling materials that are made from bio-soluble mineral wool, perlite, clay and starch with excellent acoustic, non-combustion and fire resistance properties. He said, “AMF offers a diverse choice of products in terms of material, tile size, grid system, face- pattern and performance levels. Ceilings in more than 38 surface designs like metal, timber and motif textures & patterns provide aesthetics and flexibility of design. There are available, exposed and concealed grids, tiles, panels and planks and high specification products with optimal acoustic performance like sound mosaic and tiles suitable for clean room application. Under the corporate brand Knauf AMF we have various product names. Thermatex ceiling tiles are made from specially perforated mineral board with an acoustic fleece facing. The perforations provide excellent sound absorption while the fleece offers a smooth, elegant surface finish. The Ventatec grid system is a high performance exposed grid ceiling available in both 24mm and 15mm widths. Whereas, recently acquired Heradesign and Donn offers a diverse choice of surface design including wood, metal, leather and other textures.”

Architect Premnath, moderating the discussion gave examples of historical architecture from decorative ceilings of Michelangelo, European churches, Indian palaces, mosques and temples to British colonial buildings and modern structures where the structural roof itself provided function of acoustics and aesthetics. He stated, “Globally, architecture is becoming lighter, easier and more functional. The new generation thinks differently. Free forms, free flowing concepts are the new trend. Ornamentation, minimalism, and creating moods are the new design briefs. While design is going experimental, construction is getting fast paced. And these changes are being ably supported by the building material & system providers who can bring architects vision to reality.

A fine example of designers thinking ahead of time is Terminal 2 at Mumbai airport which takes inspiration from peacock feather. However, the design execution was possible only because system providers were able to provide modular and customized products to implement it.” – Premnath

Architect Gandhi agreeing with Premnath said, “Earlier buildings did not need interior ceilings as the acoustics was inbuilt and being concrete structure was more fire safe. In India, larger volume is a boon that clients generally don’t want to cut down. But for certain types of buildings and applications such as for high acoustic requirement, air-conditioning efficiency and other purposes suspended ceilings maybe required. The idea is, if the desired objective can be served by the structure itself, dropped, suspended or what’s popularly known as false ceilings, can be avoided.”

 

Today, we want to build quickly and achieve results fast. Clients do not have the patience nor do we have dedicated craftsmen like earlier. Still, many of the modern buildings have been able to combine functionality and aesthetics successfully. In a country like India where resources are limited, it is imperative architects use materials discreetly with emphasis on function & safety. – Hiren Gandhi

Architect Pandya was of the opinion that design is not about good or bad and beautiful or ugly but being appropriate or inappropriate in a given space. According to him, designing is not a quest for single answer to a single question but finding many solutions to one design challenge and then selecting the best way forward. He said, “In the context of false ceilings, the question is how to improve falseness of false and how it can become integral to design ethos. Function and aesthetics are not in mutual conflict. An architect might have the liberty to modulate a space, but when neutral spaces are created from mass produced elements, customization is required. For this, if the designer relies on element like ceiling it needs to be more than just an added aesthetic layer. This is where the bridge between the manufacturer and designer need to be built, so that the discussion does not limit to curved or straight surfaces but extend to product manipulability and adaptability as per design application needs. In other words, if ceiling is a spatial element than it is no more farcical.” He gave an example that if the utilities and services instead of being supported from structure can be offloaded in the space between structure and ceiling, making structure lighter than the ceilings go beyond aesthetics serving the functional need. He added, “Ceiling is one plane that has a very metaphoric overtone, Floor is pragmatic as we can touch and feel it. Walls give sentiment of enclosure while, roof or ceilings give a sense of volume to complete spatial drama. The exploration of multiple possibilities is the whole reason of creating a dialogue between the manufacturer and the designer. Going beyond demand & supply and need & production, flexibility as a generic idea that is to be discovered.”

The platform provided by Buildotech can help facilitate the sharing of views between the design community and product manufacturers. The system provider gets a chance to put forth their product and explain them while, designer can make the providers aware of their needs and requirements. It will enable all stakeholders to understand the demand, expectations and application needs as well as how to make false ceilings an integral dimension of space making and therefore creating a not so false ceiling.
– Yatin Pandya

Taking cue from the references of historical architecture made by the architects, D’souza concurred that probably interior acoustics was handled much better and in a far simpler manner than today when we are using more complex systems to achieve the same results. He said, “The two important points made by the architects were – the duplication of resources and fast paced construction. In Europe we have seen the resurgence of concrete as bare design element but it creates the problem of acoustics that needs addressing in a certain way. Similarly, in schools, acoustics is still not considered important in spite of research pointing out that noise disturbance impacts students learning. Many a times, teachers cannot be heard in the class which again is due to lack of acoustic design. So to address wasting of materials, we now have modern ceiling systems like clouds, baffles and rafts that can be installed where required instead of installing ceiling in the entire space. They do not interfere with the sightlines, give feeling of minimalism yet offer required acoustic value. In terms of fast track construction, apart from 600mmx600mm ceiling tiles we now provide 1200x300mm, 1500x300mm and 1800x300mm planks for freedom of design, quick installation and easy maintenance. AMF ceilings are not limited by size, colour, shape or design and in function.”

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