Giving Buildings - a New Lease of Life

Restoration of an old or decrepit building that is still strong enough to last a few more decades, will give it a new identity and breathe fresh life into it, writes Ar. Harish Gupta, who is engaged in designing and constructing new facades and retrofitting old structures. We shape our buildings thereafter they shape us, he quotes Winston Churchill

WX Centre before retrofit of Facade with simple plastered surface
A building can get old, or its design may become obsolete as architecture is evolving every few years with new ideas and new technologies. Over the years cracks can appear in concrete; there can be leaks due to damaged silicone joints and glazing gaskets, metals may rust, and building maintenance can become more expensive due to rising operating costs and poor energy efficiency of outdated systems. The same can be said for older glazing that may be monolithic or have insulating glass without high performance low-e coatings. These are enough reasons for building owners to consider options for facade replacement or complete demolition of the building. There is also the pressure to attract new tenants or to increase rent through modernization of an antiquated looking exterior.

And yet, sometimes, a building becomes a representation of its time. Such heritage architecture is about conservation of the traditional architectural style, which has to be maintained the way the building was originally built, and may involve restoration of the elements that have been destroyed or damaged by time.

Sometimes, even relatively new structures that no longer appeal to the occupants, or buildings that have to undergo a functional change, may need an uplift. In both cases, we have to design a new façade for the building and retrofit it over the old structure, giving it a brand-new look, and improving its energy efficiency. With the current spate of fires in buildings, it becomes all the more important to retrofit old facades, using fire-proof and fire-retardant technology.

WX Center fire rated
Facade retrofit option for WX Center with fire rated Facade and CNC cut perforated mesh for light and ventilation and integration of advertisement space

The following projects have been retrofitted with a new façade and show how the change can bring about a complete reversal of the building's image and result in an overall well-being of the occupants.

WX center at Mumbai city center

Sezal headquarters
Sezal headquarters under construction with protective waterproof enclosure
The building designed with plaster finished surface and punch windows resembled most buildings in the city that are purely functional and offering little by way of an enhanced experience of a modern architecture. The client wanted to change the look of the building so that it would have a certain character and the occupants could relate to with pride. With the compulsion to retain the old structure without breaking any element or changing the windows, it was a challenge to give the building a new look while retaining the outer shell. A few concepts were discarded as they compromised the function or maintenance issues of the building. Cost was another issue that had to be kept within feasible limits.

Finally, two concepts were shortlisted, keeping the building's function intact and with minimum maintenance and cost.

Both options are similar in many ways except that the treatment of the front façade was designed to allow free flow of air and light into the windows and at the same time create a visual barrier to the simple window elevation that existed before. The USP of both designs is the economics of the front façade, which is metal screens cut on CNC laser machines and fixed on MS grids, keeping it simple to maintain and at the same time providing a design that is unique in the area.

Before After retrofit

Extension and Facade Retrofit of Corporate HQ in Mumbai

The second project is in Mumbai suburbs, which was done about 6 years ago. The three-floor corporate headquarter needed an extension of floors. The challenge was to extend 4 new floors on the existing building and finish it while keeping the business running. The building already had a glass and aluminum façade, but it could not be integrated with the additional floors as it was in a bad shape, and the new façade merging with the old would have been a total misfit.

WX Center Sezal

The entire façade had to be removed and the ground + 7 structure had to be given a new façade and a new identity that would meet the functional as well as the aspirations of the owners.

The construction was done by covering the building from all sides in a weatherproof enclosure as we were to hit monsoons in 3 months and finish the entire building while keeping the safety of the occupants as a primary concern. Post completion, the entire old building was removed and a new faççade was retrofitted on the 8-floor structure. The highlight was its façade's integrated green wall – a first in the country – and designed to function without manual interface for daily watering and drainage.

Harish Gupta
Ar. Harish Gupta
What's more, the offices and showrooms did not have a single shutdown during the 12- month construction and retrofitting process. Not a single drop of water entered the premises in spite of the open slabs and removal of the protective façade outer skin.

Benefits of facade retrofit

Retrofitting can provide new life to a building, as shown in the before and after photos of the building above. In most cases, fixing the current facade is not an option. The systems are obsolete and beyond repair. The building may have air and moisture leakage issues and may not have acceptable thermal or acoustical performance that meets today's standards. This could cost more money in operating/maintenance costs to the owner and tenants. A re-clad will not only fix these problems, but also allow the building to still be fully operational with minimal disruption to tenants. This ensures that the owner can still keep the space occupied, bringing in revenue while the update is taking place, and without having to shut down for a long period of time, if at all needed.
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