Synergy Lifestyles Crafted Workspace
Industrial Architecture I Karur, Tamil Nadu
Client Synergy Lifestyles Pvt. Ltd.
Area 30,000 Sq. ft
Status Completed 2004
Photographer Pallon Daruwala
Team Shimul Javeri Kadri, Vaishali Mangalvedhekar, Rubel Dhuna, Sonali Bhargava
The attempt has been to build locally for a global context, using local materials, labour, and technology to create a very much part of a global market, functionally and aesthetically.
Craft and sustainability in the architecture for a factory at Karur, Tamil Nadu
Nestled in the heart of Karur, the Synergy Lifestyles Workspace is a manifestation of the town's unique blend of tradition and progress. In Karur’s climatic and socio-cultural context, the Synergy Textile Workspace Architecture is presented as a conscious confluence of the local /global and traditional/modern. The architecture boasts rugged black basalt, gracefully curved vaults, and light-filled inner courts, forming an unconventional and refreshing factory space. Integrated with built spaces, a series of courtyards punctuating the plan invite winds and patches of sky into the factory’s experience.
A cocoon of courtyards and clerestory windows protects the workspace from harsh environmental conditions. The building showcases 18” thick random rubble masonry walls, enhancing thermal insulation and displaying their natural form. The innovative roofing system employs hollow terracotta blocks, reducing heat gain while welcoming shaded light. Courtyards, slender columns, and open corridors harmonize functionality with well-being, offering pauses amidst work, mitigating heat gain and creating a serene environment. Cultural cues are interwoven to craft a global workspace rooted in the local language.
The site and its environment
Synergy Lifestyles is a home textile industry which exports indigenous, homegrown products from in and around Karur village to global markets. The dyeing of colored yarn, weaving and stitching of fabric, cushions and table linen, is a home industry conducted in the courtyard of village homes in Karur. The products from the village are gathered and transported, often by the traditional bullock cart, to temples of modernity – the checking and packaging factories, from which the product is shipped out to the international retail markets – setting interconnections between the local and the global. Synergy Lifestyles required a factory and processing workspace to efficiently pack and process local products. The client’s brief outlined a factory which resonated with the rich culture and built-environment of Karur – a town known for its age-old home industry of dyeing, weaving, and stitching textiles. Despite the hot-dry climate and deeply historic and religious character of this town, Karur’s factories flaunt glass facades and Doric columns - supposed sentinels of globalization. In this climatic and socio-cultural context, the Synergy Textile Workspace Architecture set in the outskirts of Karur encompassess 30, 000 sq. ft built up area to effectively and efficiently cater to the factory’s functioning. Responding to the client's request for a comfortable environment for their workers, the design strategy sought a solution at the intersection of climate, context and culture. The factory workflow is divided into primary production spaces, and accessory or service spaces, both of which are integral to the unit’s functioning. With an aim to maximize well being and efficiency, the programmatic components were overlaid with climatic considerations. Unlike a conventionally industrial set-up, the Synergy Textile Workspace architecture was imagined as a crafted workspace, fusing local craft and sustainability in form as well as functional values. Integrated with built spaces, a series of courtyards punctuating the plan invite winds and patches of sky into the factory’s experience.
Integrated with built spaces, a series of courtyards punctuating the plan invite winds and patches of sky into the factory’s experience.
Spaces oriented towards functions and environmental well being
The design challenge for the project lay in successfully combining functional efficiency in the layout, while manifesting a refreshing look and feel within each space. The entrance is set on a high plinth of steps, to counter the slope of the site shaded by a cantilevered canopy. The factory is a linear progression of stepwise processes, from goods receiving, to unloading, checking, packing, loading and dispatch, with vacuumizing and allied specialized processes happening simultaneously. Upon entering, one encounters administrative work and other accessory functions, with its own courtyard. The cafeteria & toilets are also equipped with their own courtyards.
A climatically comfortable, naturally lit and ventilated factory
For Synergy Lifestyles, the design evolution was rooted in local wisdom, craftsmanship and materials to create a climatically comfortable naturally lit and ventilated factory. The comfort for factory workers in the oppressively hot climate of Karur was of utmost importance. As a calculated and appropriate climate response, the architectural design was derived from planning the orientation, material use and a cocooned architectural shell to protect the micro environment from harsh environmental conditions. Integrated with the structure, a system of barrel vaulted roofing over clerestory windows was devised, allowing in shaded north-south light. After careful consideration, the system of vaults, openings and the composite section together works to dissipate heat and bring in light into the workspace. The roof was built using hollow terracotta blocks which were fitted within a grid of precast RCC ribs, spanned between semi-circular beams of steel. A thin cement screed with a china mosaic finish over it completed the roof construction, making it economical, light-weight, and cutting out several degrees of heat gain. The composite system of vaults with clerestory windows not only emphasize passive cooling and protect from heat and glare, but also create a design language rooted in context. Cross ventilation from east-west openings allows less dependence on artificial cooling tools.
The composite system of vaults with clerestory windows not only emphasize passive cooling and protect from heat and glare, but also create a design language rooted in context.
Multiple courtyards for thermal insulation, ventilation and rainwater harvesting
A study of the local architecture and climate led to a building that is linked with small and large courtyards and enforced with passive energy-saving building technologies. Across the length of the factory floor, courtyards are carved out as spaces of pause, rendering breath and light into the everyday work experience. Different spaces, traversed by open corridors brings a sense of ease and discovery, washing away the tiredness and monotony of industrial work. The layout consists of four courtyards, of varying sizes, proportions and functional treatments, interspersed within it. Presented as various prototypes within the formal factory setting, each courtyard extends from either its immediately adjacent functions, or quietly takes on a primary role of infusing informality in the space. For instance, the courtyard adjacent to the dining area has a series of steps and harvests rainwater and brings coolness. Similarly, a smaller, oblong court between two processing spaces serves as a point of pause, with steps clad in black stone , inviting workers and visitors to sit, relax and converse. Coursed by cooling winds and adorned with vegetation, these spaces mitigate heat gain and create a peaceful environment for workers.
Appropriate technology to keep capital and operational cost low
Moreover, the building is constructed using a ‘cocoon’ of 18” thick random rubble masonry walls, for effective thermal insulation while also presented in their natural, unpainted form. The use of this appropriate technology has not only kept the building cost low, but also allowed a local feel to the workspace. The built-environment around Karur exhibits an interesting history of gable walls, a local stone quarry and many other traditions of country-wood joinery for doors. The village also specializes in metal hardware for locks and hinges, and nearby towns like Dindigul continue to hold traditional wood craftspersons. These cultural cues were used to create layers and hints of craft-based elements, to enrich and enliven the spatial experience. The choice of materials and finishes also kept the project cost low and truly embodied the spirit of reduce-reuse-recycle. Even the flooring, the terracotta cement tiles, come from the local Chettinad area, as did the wonderful carved wooden main door. Complementing the earthy, low-maintenance cement tile flooring and terracotta roof tiles, the doors and windows are crafted from local wood planks. With the ingenuity of local metal-smiths, the doors and windows are fitted with pivoted shutters and handcrafted hardware. Within this design canvas, the almost negligible use of concrete points to the conscious, contextual use of local materials and building craft techniques.
Complementing the earthy, low-maintenance cement tile flooring and terracotta roof tiles, the doors and windows are crafted from local wood planks.
Humane and conducive environments : A space of and for the workers
The attempt has been to build locally for a global context, using local materials, labour, and technology to create a very much part of a global market, functionally and aesthetically. Over time, workers have made the factory their own, embracing the functional and accessory spaces in their own unique ways. In an industry reputed for its sweatshops, the Synergy Lifestyles Workspace is an example of a humane, conducive work environment. With this positive response, production has doubled and efficiency has truly been enhanced – a testament to a successful, sensitive design!
Tucker Award for the use of stone
IIA Awards for Excellence in Architecture
By Claus Peter Gast