Sunday, 27 January 2013

Obscenity makes me turn green

I am planning a quick trip to Mumbai in three weeks to take part in teaching a short course on conservation.  It prompted me to get an update on what should be the most morbidly fascinating building in the world.

The Antilla is a $1 billion family home built for India’s richest man Mukesh Ambani, his wife, and three children.It is 27 storeys, but really the equivalent of a conventional 56 storey building approximately 170 m high, because of the owner's ambitious ceiling heights.

Well, apparently the building was completed in late 2010.   writing for Inhabitat to mark the occasion, rightly comments:
Constructed within a country estimated to have one-third of the world’s poorest population, the Antilia truly exemplifies the disease of excessive consumption, extreme wastefulness, and unsustainable living that is permeating today’s society.
My question is: How come in the nearly five years since the original renderings by architecture firms Perkins+Will and Hirsch Bedner Associates represented this obscenity as the 'Greenest of All Buildings', it hasn't been the subject of much more critical comment and deservedly strident condemnation in architectural discourse?  Even in those early rhetorical images, the proposal was typical greenwash covered in gratuitous airborn vegetation, which has clearly been dispensed with in the final steel and glass fantasy.

There is another way of looking at it.  The building employs a staff of 600, and you could say it isn't a bad way to ensure a trickle-down effect, a form of social sustainability. A version of this argument crops up almost every time I get involved in conversations about conservation or sustainability in India.  I am not suggesting that this is a definitive balancing argument, but it does highlight the need to engage in much more vigourous, but also much more subtle discussions of just what we are trying to achieve in the name of sustainability.


Anonymous said...

I certainly agree that the Antilia is a portrayal of unsustainable living. Being deceptively categorized as a green building, the fact is that it actually isn’t ‘green’ in any way except for a few features the that translates green in a direct, literal manner, namely the hanging garden, green rooftop and the proposed green wall which ended up not existing in the completed building as seen today. If we compare, the final end-product just happens to be way too different what’s proposed in the initial rendered images by the architect.

This building in Mumbai to me spells money and power so much louder than the term ‘sustainable’. With the amount of wealth and money invested to build a building like Antilia in a place like Mumbai, I can’t help but to think if having a house this astounding will really give the family a better life. Only if the same amount of money is used to more wisely and effectively to re-build or at least improve the city into one that lives up to the standard of being really sustainable, a place as dense as Mumbai could have benefited in so many ways than how it was designed for.

Too often clients are too keen on flaunting their wealth and designers are keen on designing buildings that stands out. Most importantly it seems as though there is a trend of creating ‘green’ and ‘sustainable’ buildings just for the sake of jumping into the same line as what other designers are doing, without understanding what ‘sustainable’ meant for real. It really does take more than literally having green features on and around the building to be sustainable, but apparently that’s what many designers assume of to be ‘sustainable’ these days. Instead, designers should really at least consider the site surroundings, whether or not the building fits into its surrounding context, the workability of a proposed design and the impact of the design to its surrounding before labeling their designs as one that is ‘sustainable’. With sustainable ignorance being relatively common among designers in the first place, it would be quite some while before we could ensure ‘sustainable’ buildings are being really ‘sustainable’.

Below are some links on sustainable ignorance:

Winnie Neo said...

I share the same sentiments for the Antilia being an example of unsustainable living. This is clearly unnecessary and a less than adequate example of a sustainable building, if it even should be classified as one at all. A green building is not only exemplified by the use of greenery throughout the building. The main goal in green architecture is an approach to building that reduces detrimental effects on human health and the environment and it factors in many other characteristics like being energy efficient, being spatially efficient, and collaborating the use of eco-friendly building materials and construction methods. In a way I think it’s a humbler and modest approach to architectural design with working with the environment as a main focus. The Antilia is a building designed for everything else but that, I feel that it just showcases wealth and power. For a building that

From a social sustainability point of view, I think it’s still irrational economically to justify the purpose of the building even though it provides jobs for 600 people in context like India. I think it is a waste of resources from an architectural point of view, which opposes the values of a sustainable building. Moreover, most of the aspects of the tower are displaying the client’s frivolous wants over the intention of achieving a green design. With a building height that would typically accommodate 60 stories instead of the 27 that was being built, it displays spatial inefficiency, which just highlights excessive consumption and extreme wastefulness as quoted in the article.

The Antilia is a building expresses commercial architecture in an age that is obsessed with celebrity, the glitz of starchitects, with the need to dominate headlines. It is a pity of what architecture is becoming today.


Anonymous said...

Like Steve King and the comments have alluded to, I’m also dumbfounded as to how a building that has had so much money thrown at it can look as bad as it does. It seems common these days that architects feel the need to design a building with the intent of generating ‘shock’, in order to stand above the rest. Why do we give praise and publicity to a building that looks like a scrunched-up brown paper bag, or a stack of books? Meanwhile, architects who are designing buildings that are benefiting the sustainability of our planet go unnoticed.

This leads me back to the article and the use of the label ‘green’ when describing architecture. It was amusing to see that in the initial renderings of the Antilla building, the walls are draped in vertical gardens – but are deprived from the real life construction. The Ambani family clearly have too much money, but it makes you wonder why they use this cash to hurt the planet rather than improving it.

Ancient architects, such as Vitruvius, believed that a building should transcend through time with a focus on durability, functionality and beauty – and as such, modern day architects should acknowledge that successful sustainable approaches are required to transcend through time in the modern era. Perhaps a greater international focus on educating architects and the wider population on sustainable methodology, beginning in universities and extending to professional development programs, is required to make sure buildings like the Antilla are never seen again.

David Watkin, A History of Western Architecture (4th ed.) London: Laurence King, 2005

Anonymous said...

The building has been described as the most greenest building in the world, however, it is a deception that except the environmental elements hanging on the four facades any the green rooftop, nothing about the materials or construct elements in this 27-storey building is sustainable. How come could it be a sustainable architecture with 35,000 square feet of its building area is be the residential quarters belong to a 6-people family, especially in the city which has the highest population density in the world. Even though it is covered with the dynamic hanging gardens on the walls, they could not present it as one has the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.

On the other side, it has something to be highlighted, 90% of the materials were sourced from India, it reduced the pollution caused during the transportation. In addition, it is not totally unsustainable, for example, the plants could be regarded as an natural air condition, could cooling the interior space in summer and warming in winter by absorbing sunlight, then defecting it from the living spaces.

Even the Antilia has some environmental principles within its design, it is still a big waste to spend so much time, labours, luxury materials and the most important is the valuable space to built a not necessary building.