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Designing for the future: Adaptability in building spaces

Designing for the future: Adaptability in building spaces

by Mitu Mathur, GPM Architects and Planners

Urban areas today necessitate the need for constant growth and change. With the increase in social and economic demands, our buildings have not been able to respond to this change effectively. Generally, buildings are designed with the intention of serving specific functions and user groups, and not experience any significant change in their lifetime. Today, the true luxury that we seek is through the spaces we occupy – from our homes to our workspaces. Hence, each space has to be carefully designed to accommodate the changing requirements while ensuring physical and mental wellbeing. For instance, during the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic, adaptability and innovation have become the new buzzwords in the construction industry, especially with numerous commercial centers, hotels, stadiums and parking lots being adapted into makeshift healthcare facilities for the affected Covid patients. This has brought a considerable shift in the way we view our built environment and the need to re-evaluate them to come up with solutions that can cater to these ever-changing circumstances. This has led designers to rethink their design practices and integrate new ideas to ensure a better, safer and sustainable living environment.  

What is adaptability of spaces?

The concept of flexibility and adaptability in architecture emerged with modernism and has been rooted in design ever since, particularly with the application of open plan design in building forms. With ever-changing human needs, architecture has to challenge to meet the needs of all user groups. Traditional approach to design needs to be replaced with innovative ideas and experimentation of spaces. As spaces have the ability to be used in multiple ways without any actual physical alterations, it becomes the key aspect of an adaptable and flexible design.

Adaptability refers to the ability of buildings to accommodate significant changes over the course of their lifetime without compromising the needs and safety of the users. The continuous reimagination of the layout of building spaces and their structure to the evolving needs of humans and the environment is an indicator of an adaptable design. In fact, the future of our built environment depends on such easy modifications according to the present requirements and can be assessed on the basis of its flexibility, adaptability and sustainability. Adaptable buildings have the potential to use the same amount of space more efficiently than regular buildings. This means that occupants are able to use the floor areas more effectively with changing needs and situations. Adaptability is also a considerable strategy for extending the lifetime of buildings without causing any significant environmental impacts associated with demolition and rebuilding, and significantly reducing the overall cost. It is also an effective way to incorporate new technologies and design innovations as they become available.

Solution for the future

To create adaptable designs, new practices need to be integrated, which lay down the various measures that we, as architects and designers, can take into account while designing buildings for the future. Especially in the housing segment, innovative features, like a small study area for study/work from home, have now become imperative. In addition, a lot of importance is being given to introducing sizable balconies and open areas within the residential towers, which facilitate an extension of the homes in a more recreational way and enhance the experience of vertical living for the residents. For instance, one of our new projects, the Amaryllis in Delhi, is well equipped with such flexible spaces to cater to the changing needs of the occupants.

A significant shift in the design strategy for large-scale spaces is also needed to adapt to multiple functions. Large-scale commercial and corporate complexes with column-free spaces offer us a chance to introduce flexibility into the design. Efficient design of structural grid and functional modules of built forms allows for an open floor plan that can be freely transformed as per need. For instance, the flexible design of NID Madhya Pradesh makes the spaces extremely adaptable to use. The needs and requirements of our educational spaces keep changing based on the nature and method of learning. Thus, flexibility was at the forefront of the design, with modular classrooms that can be combined or segregated as per need. The design also responds to the needs of students, post-pandemic with its flexible spaces and multiple open areas that promote a social yet safe environment.

Designing a modular and standardized structure creates the provision for further extension. Planning the location of fixed elements in buildings like circulation cores, duct shafts, etc. ensures that the use of space is as flexible as possible. One of our recently completed projects, the office building at KG Marg, was converted into housing for defense personnel during the pandemic, thus giving an example of how spaces can be multi-functional and converted according to present needs of user groups. In addition, all future office and commercial spaces should be designed in such ways that they can be adapted into healthcare facilities in case of emergencies. Similarly, for hotels to be used as healthcare centers, they should be designed to have maintainable interiors with fewer carpet coverings, surfaces with antimicrobial finishes that can be washed and sanitized easily, and false ceilings and wall panels for better acoustics but out of reach of the guests.

Today, with the unpredictability of future needs and lifestyle there is constant anticipation of how building spaces will be designed. With new innovations and increasing levels of comfort, transformation in the way of living has become very common. Hence, buildings should be designed to adapt, evolve and change with time. The future of livability and accessibility have to be accounted for by architects and all aspects of adaptability have to be imbibed within the design philosophy.


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