Industrial architecture has a propensity to fade into the background. Its design language is often banal at best — and at worst, an eye sore. But what if this critical infrastructure was designed with intention, and built for efficiency without sacrificing ambiance? In the industrial hub of Sanand, Studio Saar has embraced this challenge in their design for local electronics manufacturer Secure Meters.
The project brief was twofold: the clients needed a well-planned, energy-efficient facility that would also serve as an inclusive and collaborative work environment and prioritize staff wellbeing. Secure Meters wanted the architects to take a human-centred approach and create a space that would democratize the typical rigid hierarchy that governs most manufacturing work environments.
Built on a former lakebed, the ten-hectare site was prone to flooding, particularly during the heavy rainfalls during monsoon season. Studio Saar lined the entire site in groundwater recharge wells, which can hold up to triple their size in rainwater — both mitigating the risk of flooding and allowing for rainwater harvesting.
With their focus on sustainability, Studio Saar also took measures to protect the integrity of the site as a thriving habitat for the indigenous weaver birds. All of the existing trees on site were carefully retained throughout the construction process and 600 trees were newly-planted as part of the project. Trees line the entrance and exit routes to foster a daily encounter for staff with nature. Honouring the client’s commitment to ongoing reforestation, the site’s masterplan specifies the planting of an additional 2,000 trees throughout the complex in the coming years.
The architects take a similarly thoughtful approach to the project’s minimal material palette. The cement, sand and steel used in the project were all locally sourced. Not only do these design decisions contribute to reducing the project’s overall carbon footprint, they create a visual effect across the site: white-coloured structural elements and surfaces lend a light and airy quality to the complex.
The state-of-the-art facility has been systematically divided into three programmatic zones: manufacturing, recreation, and visiting. The complex includes typical programmatic functions such as meeting spaces, training areas, locker rooms and a medical centre in separate pods. The pods were intentionally designed to be independent of the structure, allowing the client and staff to easily reconfigure and repurpose the spaces as their needs evolve.
Sheltered walkways shaded by white fabric canopies guide users through the site. The manufacturing facility is designed with a graphic sawtooth façade — a nod to early industrial architecture. The angular roof draws light into the open-plan space and is outfitted with solar panels that can provide as much as 50% of the plant’s total energy needs. A floor-cooling system and efficient thermal envelope help keep indoor temperatures manageable, while a bespoke ventilation system ensures optimal air quality for workers.
Adjacent to the plant, is an awe-inspiring rotunda that houses a recreation hub for Secure Meters employees. Distinct from the rest of the complex, the rotunda has a corten steel entrance canopy, materially and visually separating spaces for work and pleasure. Inside, are a gym, canteen, kitchen and flexible leisure spaces — all with sweeping panoramic views of the site.
This adaptable open-plan pavilion has been especially critical in keeping the plant running throughout the COVID-19 pandemic. For four months at the height of the pandemic, the canteen was outfitted with beds, storage units, and charging stations. Employees were able to stay in these temporary accommodations while continuing to work to support themselves and their families.
For a sector that always requires the on-site presence of its staff, a well-designed and welcoming work environment is all the more important. “Architecture is really about well-being,” explains Secure Meters’ COO, Sridhar Radhakrishan. “People want to feel good in the spaces where they spend a significant amount of time each day.”
In many ways, Studio Saar has exceeded these expectations. “For me, working at the Sanand plant is a total pleasure,” says Nitin Thatte, Secure Meters’ Site Head. “The team is motivated and likes working in such an amazing atmosphere. This site is, truly, a world-class facility, and we want to ensure that it remains so, always.”
Studio Saar’s design approach brings a newfound humanity to the oft-austere industrial typology.