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Not building as usual

Himanshu Burte  |  New Delhi 

Himanshu Burte visits the new Agilent Technologies office in Manesar near New Delhi, which offers hope that corporate architecture can be ecologically progressive

Agilent Technologies, an international measurements company, moved into its new 1,800-workstation facility in Manesar near Gurgaon in March this year. The staff there provide administrative support services to the company’s international operations.

The 25,000 sq metre facility designed by New Delhi-based Sanjay Prakash & Associates combines rigorous attention to basics of climate response in design with fairly sophisticated technological solutions to reduce the running energy consumption. Many of these techniques have been tried out separately in other projects but they are rarely harmonised together as here. A number of ecologically beneficial such as daylighting show that what is good for the planet is often better for people, too.

Interestingly, Agilent was only interested in the actual ecological sustainability of the building solution for its own sake. It chose not to apply for any ratings like LEED or GRIHA. The building could easily have got the highest ratings, but the demands of rating systems would have pushed them to provide unnecessary, extra due to external pressure and not due to their internal needs.

A comparison of how this project’s approach and design compare with the business-as-usual approach to building large office facilities

OWNERSHIP

Normal practice
Developer builds and leases a building to user, thereby discouraging interest in systems that have durable value and long-term returns.

Agilent
Agilent has decided to own the land and building (one of the first for a MNC in north India), and to use of long-term value even with slightly higher initial capital investment.

FOOTPRINT ON SITE

Normal practice

Building covers as much area as allowed for commercial interest, compromising on-site parking, recreation, views, rainwater percolation and daylight.

Agilent
Site developed as a campus covering only 28 per cent of the maximum permissible floor area; the rest of the site is open, landscaped green with hardy local plants, which supports local biodiversity.

CAR PARKING

Normal practice
Most of the parking is usually provided on open ground with hardscaping. Often the parking space provided is inadequate and the road space outside the site gets appropriated to support the parking load.

Agilent
Basement parking has been provided for 400 cars, restricting surface parking to 200. This is enough to provide for all cars visiting the campus and should prevent any overflow outside the site. The basement car parking has freed up space for soft landscaping as well as for recreation areas, while the surface parking is finished in ‘grass pavers’ that have gaps to allow grass to grow through and water to percolate, reducing surface run off. Moreover, there is provision for fixing recharging sockets for electric vehicles when the demand arises in the future. Buses, meanwhile, are designed to come into the building to drop off staff, making it a secure and responsible transport solution.

DAYLIGHTING

Normal practice
Buildings of this kind are normally designed with spaces that extend too deep inwards from the windows for daylight to reach all the way in. Even so, paradoxically, there is often too much glare near the windows — and glare gives daylighting a bad name!

Agilent
The building is designed to have shallow ‘wings’ that allow shaded sunlight to reach deep into offices. A higher floor height of 3.2 metres extends the depth to which light can penetrate. Unfortunately, vertical blinds have been fixed on the glazing, going against the intitial design intent, which reduces the effectiveness of daylighting to some extent.

HEAT AND GLASS

Normal practice
No attention is usually paid to orienting the building right to reduce unwanted heat gain. Also, windows and glazing are not shaded from the harsh sun correctly. Curtain glazing covers a building on all sides, allowing in harsh sun especially from the west.

Agilent
The main glazed facades only have 60 per cent glass area and face north or south. Since the sharpest low-angle sun comes in from the east and west, this avoids the entry of uncontrollable heat. The east and west walls have also been insulated from inside for reduced heat gain. The harsh sun is further controlled with planters that shade the glazing to the south.

AIR CONDITIONING

Normal practice
The needs are just left to the tenant to address and no feature is provided in the building for accommodating, say, a displacement ventilation system. Demand is at best met by chiller systems feeding cool air overhead, or more often by low-initial-cost AC packages or even split AC units and window units! Normal airconditioning demand is calculated at 16 square metres per tonne, with inefficient examples being as low as 10 sq metres per tonne.

Agilent
Simple steps in shading and orienting the building have been followed with sophisticated airconditioning design. An extremely low-energy, hybrid AC system (VAV, or variable air volume type with cooling by chilled water) has been used here. Ducts travel through the hollow under the false floor and throw cold air up rather than down. This creates a mushroom cloud of cold air within the habitable height of the room rather than cooling all the volume, which allows for higher floor heights (helping daylight enter). Further, waste heat captured from the exhaust gases of the captive DG set for electrical supply has been used to chill the water. By investing in this high quality design and plant, the AC demand has been brought down by half than normal (to 32 sq metre per tonne). Most of the energy for chilling the water is supplied by waste heat. Hence, the overall system is also very low on running cost, one fourth the normal cost, at Rs40 per sq metre per month.

POWER

Normal practice
Demand for power is rarely reduced through design in normal office spaces. Usually power is taken from the grid, which is unreliable, requiring a major dependence on diesel generator backup.

Agilent
The power required for the facility has been reduced by 40 per cent compared to normal demand, mainly by innovations in lighting and air-conditioning, and is currently provided by captive diesel generators (whose waste heat powers the airconditioning). However, the system has been designed to be powered by gas-based generators, beginning in 2011. These are more economical in operation and also have lower CO2 emissions than the national power grid.

WATER

Normal practice
Water conservation and recycling is rarely a part of building as usual. This can be an operational headache because of water shortages and malpractices in private supply of water through other means like tankers.

Agilent
Despite selecting water-cooled chillers, fresh (or ‘white’) water consumption has been reduced to 60 kilolitres per day (a fourth of normal consumption), by rainwater harvesting (mainly for air-conditioning needs of soft water) and double recycling of waste (greywater for flushing, black water for irrigation). Hundred per cent rainfall runoff collection and storage in a massive tank nearly 5 million litres in size satisfies water needs for 60 days which is a major step, given the water supply problems locally. A three-step water recycling system is in place, using normal water dosed with rainwater for hand wash, then treated hand wash water for flushing, and the treated flushed water for irrigation of the landscaped gardens through a drip irrigation system, reducing the losses to air.

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First Published: Sat, November 27 2010. 00:00 IST
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