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Home > Business > Special

The man who makes 'sensible' buildings

Gargi Gupta in New Delhi | May 05, 2007

A Pune-based architect, along with his team, has worked with new-age materials to provide a cutting-edge look for Infosys' new building in Pune.

The new Infosys building in Hinjewadi, Pune, is extraordinary in every way. A gigantic ellipsoid in glass and metal encases the 1,50,000 sq ft building, giving the structure a resemblance to a spaceship that's about to take off. In design and construction, this building embodies the gung-ho spirit of India's most successful IT company.

It is also a testimony to the conceptual genius of architect Hafeez Contractor, and the engineering skills of Dhananjay Dhake, the Pune-based architectural engineer who executed it.

Besides, it also provides a glimpse of the wonderful things that Dhake and his band of architects, engineers and designers at Construction Catalysers, the firm he set up 20 years ago, have been doing with lightweight, new-age building materials like steel, aluminium, glass and fabric.

Take, for instance, the 40,000 sq ft, three-storeyed IBM food court in Bangalore which Dhake executed last year and for which he got the INSDAG steel building award. A cylindrical structure, it has few walls of the conventional brick-and-mortar variety; sheets of glass and metal mesh, punctuated with strips of PVC fabric and held together by a steel frame, keep out the sun and rain, while bringing in natural light and fresh air.

Not only is it a pleasing sight (somewhat like a giant cup-cake), it is also environment-friendly -  the ventilation precludes, to a large extent, the need for air-conditioning while the single-membrane roof, tied down at the centre, helps harvest rainwater.

Among Dhake's other interesting, cutting-edge work is the huge atrium dome of the IL&FS office in Mumbai which displays an interesting contrast between the solidity of huge steel girders and the transparency of the glass-fibre membrane covering them.

The Atria Mall in Mumbai with its two-way curved glass facade, funky designs and innovative contours of MTP railway stations in Chennai also carry Dhake's signature - a combination of good aesthetics, functionality and environment-friendliness, underpinned by technological innovation and sound engineering principles.

A mechanical engineer by training, Dhake turned to architectural engineering as a way of combining his education with his love for art. "Our buildings," says Dhake, "are made of recyclable materials. Our motto is to make sensible buildings, to remain or to demolish buildings that address today's grave issues of environment degradation, depleting resources and are also contextual to our climate."

Not too long ago, Dhake's "sensible" buildings would have made little sense to builders in India, most of whom can't think beyond box structures and RCC. But that's changing.

"Earlier, clients came to us with specific needs - a cap for their building or a nose on it. But now they seem to have gauged the benefits of lightweight, prefabricated structures and we're being given the responsibility of devising complete solutions."

His firm, Construction Catalysers, has grown to become one of the leaders in the area of space structure design and architectural realisation. With 200 employees on its rolls, a state-of-the-art design and analysis tools, and specialised machinery for processing steel and membranes, the company recently came up with a new facility.

Spread over seven acres in Kasurdi near Pune, it will now shift its existing two workshops. Looks like we're set to see many more of Dhake's showpiece structures.

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