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How does one define Industrial Architecture?

There has always been this dilemma, when it comes to designing large industrial project. The question asked is, what should be the guideline? Is it the architectural sensibility that should come first or the engineering requirements that should take over the design parameters and guide the architectural design? According to S. K. Nandi, Partner & Principal Consultant, C P Kukreja Associates, a leading multidiscipline architectural practice, the answer lies somewhere in between or perhaps more in the second.

As a designer Nandi has been involved in several large landmark industrial projects for major national and international clients in different parts of the country. In a two part authored article series, Nandi attempts to break the myth that industrial projects are just about designing steel sheds. Drawing upon his four decade of experience, he explains the entire spectrum of design parameters for a modern industrial project starting from site selection, to functional requirements, material selection, construction techniques and cost & time factors.

The first article of the series gives the background of industrial projects in pre-independent & the periods immediately after independence in India. With the dawning of Industrial era in 1970’s & subsequent years and with the onslaught of multinationals into the country he explains how the design language of industrial projects went through a sea change.

The Early Days

The British, to sustain their mobility within their Indian Empire started the Railways in mid nineteenth century. Almost at the same period, jute and textile mills sprung up at various locations in Greater Bengal (adjacent to river Hooghly) and near erstwhile Bombay City.

The construction material for railways as well as the other works were mainly in structural steel and imported from England. Even the galvanized roofing sheets came from England. As the British expanded their empire in India through nineteenth & early part of twentieth century more railways warehouses and mills were required. It become rather expensive and time consuming for the British to import construction materials like steel from England. This shortage or the absence of construction related materials lead to the birth of Indian entrepreneurs like the Tata and Birla to setup industrial units in various parts of India under British patronage.

These industrials unit, with Indian ownership had humble beginning with minimalistic architecture. They were simple ‘sheds’ in the true sense with a structural framed shell made of steel coloumns and trusses. The walls were made of thick brick walls with lime plaster and roof had galvanised sheeting. They were simple enclosures to function as production units. The owners never bothered about the quality of daylight/ventilation coming through inadequate windows. The quality of shop floor was never considered important. The workers inside these dimly lit and badly ventilated factories had to sweat day in and out to meet the ever increasing demands of the owners. As the production demands went up, additional factory sheds sprung up in haphazard manner all round, without a care for the architectural aesthetics or harmony in the layout of the complex as a whole. This is quite obvious when one steps into an old industrial units of Tata or the Birla even today.

Industrial Architecture in Modern India

The growth of industrial architecture has been remarkable in post independent India. When the British left India in 1947 we hardly had any modern industrial unit. Literally every consumer good starting from needle to a refrigerator, bicycle to automobiles had to be imported. At the same time the country was newly independent with practically no foreign currency reserves and it could ill afford to import goods at high cost to meet the burgeoning demand of its young population.

The government under Pandit Nehru, country’s first Prime Minister quickly realized this and brought in some relaxation in industrial policy and import regulations. What followed was a mini industrial revolution. Young Indian entrepreneurs were allowed to start new industries with technical tie-ups with companies from developed western countries.

These collaborations saw many new industries springing up in various part of emerging India. The colonial old factory buildings constructed in pre-independent era were no longer accepted. With the technical collaborations the new factories brought in new technologies and modern methodology of factory construction and industrial architecture. For the first time the clients began to hire architects and consultants to act as their advisors and to understand the building construction requirement of their factory complexes within budgeted cost, time and technical specifications. This is the beginning of modern era of industrial architecture in post independent India.

Site Selection

Based on the availability of site an industrial project can fall into one of the two following categories:-

a. Brownfield Project

b. Greenfield Project

Brownfield industry is one where the factory complex is already existing and is being expanded in subsequent years with the construction of new units on the available land. It can also mean remodeling or retrofitting of the existing buildings into modern industrial units. A recent example of this is ITC Saharanpur Complex. The complex was first built in the fifties. The factory units are currently undergoing extensive retrofitting and modernization.

The second category of work, particularly the retrofitting involves complex architectural and engineering since in most cases drawings and technical details of existing buildings are not available.

For a new Greenfield industrial project one of the following can be the site selection criteria:

Designated industrial plots specified in zonal plans/master plan of a city: These plots are generally at the periphery of large cities like Mumbai, Delhi, Chennai and Kolkata. With some exceptions these plots are small to medium in size and are meant for construction of at the most medium size factory units. Udyog Vihar in Gurgaon and Okhla Industrial Complex in Delhi are examples of these industrial zones. Stringent rules of building byelaws such as ground coverages FAR, maximum heights, setbacks are applicable and are exercised by the local authorities while granting approval of design for industrial units in these designated areas. Therefore, the architect has to strictly follow the statutory regulations and byelaws while developing the building architecture and design.

Government designated and developed industrial zones outside the city urban limits: To encourage industrial development within its boundary, each state has been developing large tracts of land for the exclusive purpose of setting up of industrial units. To facilitate interaction between the various government departments and the factory owners, the state government has set up apex body called the State Industrial Development Corporation. These apex bodies also act as regulatory bodies for formulating guidelines of factory construction and also act as nodal agency for approval of building plans submitted by the architect. Thus, MSIDC – Maharashtra State Industrial Development Corporation regulates the construction and functioning of all industries built on plots in industrial zones in the state of Maharashtra. Similarly, RIICO is the apex regulating authority for industry in Rajasthan, HSIDC for Haryana and so on.

Industrial Parks: These are large designated areas usually located in the peripheral areas of big cities like Delhi, Mumbai, Pune and Chennai, developed either by the individual state industrial authority or private enterprises for the sole purpose of setting up small and large industrial units. By definition, Industrial Parks possess large tracts of fully owned land within their limits, often in thousands of acres and have fully developed infrastructure in terms of site development, road net works, centralized power generation system, communication and wireless connectivity, security system and fully maintained water supply, drainage and sewerage system. Even common facilities such as banks, post offices etc. are provided for individual users. Manesar near Delhi, Mahindra World City in the outskirts of cities of Chennai and Jaipur are examples of successful and thriving industrial parks.

Industrial parks are usually managed professionally by a constituted authority set up for the purpose either by the state or the private enterprising authority owning the park. Each Industrial Park has an approved master plan with zoning of plots of various sizes for specific industries. They also have stringent planning guidelines according to which architect engaged by the individual owner must design the industrial unit. Planning guidelines such as permissible ground coverage and FAR, maximum permissible height of buildings, set back limits, entry and exit points, all have to be adhered to by their architects in the design of the factory.

Some Industrial parks are partially or fully dedicated to export oriented manufacturing units. That is, all products coming out of the manufacturing units are earmarked for export. These Industrial Parks are called SEZ or Special Economic Zones. The manufacturing units, setup in SEZ enjoy special status like exemption of taxes and duties, export incentives right from construction stage to production. The architectural guidelines of Industrial Units built in SEZ are often generous and follow international building standards and specifications. The factories normally are high end industrial units similar to be found in developed countries like Japan, Germany and so on. The architect must take this into account and design the project accordingly.

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