The idea of quantifying a design participation in an engineered infrastructural solution expresses the lack of understanding of the same. One needs to promote collaborative design solutions between engineers and architects to bring this faculty of design to its logical position, write Sourabh Gupta and Mridu Sahai.
Landscape is a key element to infrastructure as it not only ensures a visual relief, but also counters the non-green essence of infrastructure itself. The hardscapes with its utility and softscapes with its renderings are critical elements of the design fraternity. Lighting takes the role of illuminating the infra¡structure to lend a strong visual identity to the structure. One needs to keep this as an integral of the entire design. Thus, urban design needs to possess optimum visual and experiential life with complete technical competence. One cannot work without the other in isolation and still claim to be a 'state-of-the-art infrastructure design.
The potential of infrastructure to please the eye and to uplift the soul is not lacking in historical precedent. Some of the greatest monuments to the genius of ancient architects remain those that served as essential infrastructure; one of the most notable examples is the aqua ducts constructed by the Romans. From the days of the modern dictum 'form follows function' to the current times, functionality and its form in infrastructure design needs to leave a timeless imprint on the city and the society.
Engineering these urban bridges to bring in secured structural and functional systems in the city, a detailed design approach needs to be undertaken at the next level. Fundamentally, one should understand the challenges and the opportunities. It is an element that is seen by the citizens daily. An element, that interacts and connects with the city. Thus, its capability to become the image of the city at the micro level and the landmark to the city at the macro one is impressive. The upper deck offers the riding experience where one starts experiencing the city from the bird's eye view: An image that never fails to excite, while making the smooth transition over a dense knot, or facilitate a pleasant experience. The lower surface area has the junction and the speed of traffic that has a larger time span to talk to the structures. Thus, the design intervention needs an understanding of this audience and the rate and scale of their experience and interaction to bring out the optimal solutions and artistic expressions. Each element of the structure needs further resolution and detail. The basic pier shape hits the human eye for the entire surface traffic. Shaping the pier to receive the structure above is a fairly sensitive issue of a functional form. Aligning the lines and curves of the underbelly and diffusing the structure to the ground through the pier needs an elaborate study of the structure.
Last but not least, the texture of the entire structure, weather to avoid sticking of bills or to exaggerate the lighting effects, brings in a complete graphic layer to this city structure. This is even more elaborate and relevant for the retaining earth walls as these large concrete panels form a large tapered wall in the middle of the city. The underbelly also needs to state the time it has been built as today's technologies and materials allow multiple opportunities of sleek and simple solutions that are visually powerful. The upper deck's crash barrier treatment and design is an obligation to enhance the entire driving experience. The various junctions and nodes, terminations and connections need architectural resolution to ensure a final designed product.
Englishman Norman Foster's southern France via duct and innumerable projects by Spanish Santiago Calatrava support the above argument to perfection. Their sense of shape, proportion, scale and the level of detail make these 'city structures as urban sculptures'. One of the notable attempts of an aesthetical structural solution is the approach to the Wazirabad cable stay bridge in the National Capital Region. These have an ambitious structural system with precast concrete fins that can be seen in the underbelly that defines the evolving engineering practices.
The lighting forms a very powerful part of the design tool in infrastructure. During the day, they form a strong visual vocabulary that characterises the city. Streetlights are large and repetitive elements that bring in a visual guidance to the vehicles from a distance due to their sheer height. They form the strongest icons on flat road and bring in the first signals on sight as one approaches nodes with flyovers along or against its direction of flow. These 'sticks' bring a certain rhythmic and playful imagery.
An interesting example of this is the various roads and junctions of Putrajaya, the new capital sister city to Kuala Lumpur. Each street light design almost lent itself as a signage system to the city structure. In this scheme, primary, secondary and tertiary roads have different lighting solutions, technically and visually. Therefore, even without the 'bulbs' the energy lighting systems dissipate to an urban structure is interesting.
And at night, lights up the relevant spaces with different design solutions. They highlight themselves, their own structural and landscape assets. They light the surrounding areas to ensure a safe and secured traffic transit. They also become points of high energy and character for the city at night to attract people and practices. From the Indian street food to studying under the streetlight, cultural stories and stigmas get associated with this urban element. The lux levels and vertical illuminations are no longer the only critical lighting variables for a solution. One clearly has graduated to the next level of design for the contemporary city.
The Delhi-Gurgaon Toll Plaza is apt example for experimental lighting. It is an urban design project that attempts to capture the experience of driving through an urban zone of the city, via a dedicated expressway. The project is one of the largest toll plazas of the country with state-of- the-art lighting, landscape and signage punctuating this international facility. The lighting of this expressway is iconic and interesting with colourful gestures and angles.
Landscape design always tends to take a back seat in architectural projects. At the urban level though, their role reversal is seen. Setting a background to a building translates to building a foreground to the infrastructure facility. The approaches to a junction see a large open city space that needs a strong intervention with hard and soft landscapes to diffuse the driving in transition and enhance the driver sensibilities to the same. A difference in typography is almost a reason enough to attract attention and provide relief as one comes out of dense city structures to these large expansive greener pastures.
Hardscapes prepare a ground from which the structures grow, seeming almost natural. The footpaths for pedestrian routes are the most tangible element of design in the entire facility that literally 'touches' the city dweller. The blank large non-green expanses are either functional in their scope or answer the need for a maintenance-free rendition. These surfaces are opportunities of interacting with the city with signage for literal messages and punctuations of colour for more abstract messages. Softscapes play a very loud role in this.
These are the literal breathing grounds for the city. They provide the much-required green to the city. They bring in softness to the concrete and tar of the structure. The play of loops and lines of sights at a junction also lends clues to the nature and number of trees. The character and property of each typology of tree renders a balance to the city's concrete jungle.
Mukerba Chowk is the largest cloverleaf junction of the city; it is a complex exercise of stratifying and streamlining the vehicular and the pedestrian movement through this junction. The landscaped greens form a complementary dialogue with its cloverleaf shaped infrastructure.
Other notable structures
The Moolchand underpass is an urban gesture that influences large pedestrian and vehicular traffic. A concept of a circular tube to organise the junction was evolved. The suspended bridge and fins as well as the caterpillar like structures over the underpass lend a new identity to this famous junction.
Prembari underpass junction in north Delhi is an interesting experiment of a metal framework holding up a membrane net structure to cut the light at the junction of the underpass and thereby enhancing a comfortable transition. Also, the walls treatment is done as a bright relief.
In India, aesthetics are treated as a top up, thereby, a non-obligation to structure. The intent of provisioning a mandatory 'one per cent' of the construction budget of infrastructure for aesthetics belittles the entire effort itself. The idea of quantifying a design participation in an engineered infrastructural solution expresses the lack of understanding of the same. One needs to promote collaborative design solutions between engin¡eers and architects to bring this faculty of design to its logical position.
The Indian Institute of Architects, for the first time in its history, has introduced a design award for infrastructure in 2012. This has been an interesting step for architects to have accepted and identified their role in this built vocabulary.