As the first project built by MVRDV in India in a rapidly growing city called Pune, the Future Towers provide 1,068 apartments for a diverse section of the rising population, a true vertical village that can house around 5,000 people in one building. A critical deviation from the norm - for the architects - was to make the entire development more vibrant with a mix of different units (with respect to typologies and size) in order to ensure that users from the full spectrum of India’s exploding middle class could mingle together. Apartments ranging from 45sqm to 450sqm come at one place, a diversity enabled by the building’s mountainous shape and the shifting floor plans that it generates.
The slabs form a hexagonal grid, which allows for wide views from the apartments, and leaves large open public courtyards at ground level. The ‘peaks’ allow for optimised daylight conditions and the resulting inclined roofs allow for a number of exterior terraces, both private and communal. Recessed balconies on the main facades of the residential slabs themselves hint at the diversity of the homes behind, with a mixture of normal size, double-height, double-width and even some L-shaped balconies. The courtyards below are linked by four-storey-high triangular gates, creating a 500-metre-long walk, and also feature different uses, with some designated for play, and others for sport, garden spaces, and more. This impressive list of amenities is made possible due to the scale of the development - with 1,068 houses in one project, luxury features such as a 50m lap pool only add a fraction to the overall cost.
STIR spoke to Jacob van Rijs, one of the founding members of MVRDV and the principal-in-charge for this project, about the design journey and its development, and here are his heartfelt and honest answers:
Meghna Mehta (MM): What was the client’s brief for the Future Towers?
Jacob van Rijs (JvR): Future Towers is part of Amanora Park Town, a new and fast expanding township on the outskirts of Pune. So, the original brief, really, was not significantly different from the briefs for other projects that are getting built across India. Amanora Park Town already has more of a focus on design quality and diversity than a typical township, with a mixture of apartment buildings and single-family villas – but even so, the original masterplan for the township included 16 apartment towers occupying the site for Future Towers, replicating the building typology that is making these townships so homogeneous.
Our brief was to design a project that stood out from other projects, like a Vertical City, while still housing the required number of people, and remaining low-cost like other township projects, or else the development would not be competitive in the market. In short, a big ambition with a modest budget.
MM: And what was your initial design approach to achieve these ambitions?
JvR: People might be surprised to hear that our initial approach was very pragmatic! We knew (that) in order to afford high-quality amenities and many of the things that make good architecture, we would have to save money elsewhere in the project. So, our design approach started with research into economics.
Usually architects are advised not to design long corridors in their housing projects, because corridors are spaces that require materials and labour to create, but cannot be rented or sold by the developer. That is where the tower apartment building comes from, because it only needs really short corridors around a stair and elevator core. But through our research, we realised that because construction labour is relatively cheap in India, and because elevators are relatively expensive, we could save costs by minimising the number of stair cores and using longer corridors instead. Therefore, Future Towers became a single building with over 1,000 apartments inside, and only four main stair and elevator cores. From there, a lot of our design decisions were simply logical steps based on that starting point.
MM: Did the design philosophy evolve or change over time?
JvR: One thing that is remarkable about this project is, actually, how little it changed. Of course, there are always some changes, but for a project that took a long time to construct – almost eight years passed between completing the initial design and finishing the construction – the important aspects of the project hardly changed at all. You see this clearly if you compare photos of the building to the renders we produced in 2010.
MM: What was the core idea behind the planning and zoning of the space?
JvR: One thing we worked hard on was to create multiple scales of community within the project. Let’s go through them from the largest to the smallest. Of course, Amanora Park Town is in itself a community, then you have within that three phases of Future Towers – what is built so far is only phase one and we are working on phase two now, so in the end there will be three buildings, all of similar sizes. Each building will be like its own community, the size of a large village. Then the next step below that is the shape of the buildings - based on a hexagonal grid, with courtyards in between. Each courtyard is given its own colour and contains its different amenities, so a type of community will build up around the courtyard, which people share with their neighbours.
Once you get inside the buildings, you also find ‘scoops’ at intervals along the corridors - large openings in the sides of the building hosting various activities. These were required by fire regulations, but we turned them into something functional for the residents, places that could be gathering spaces for residents in the apartments close by. Finally, at the smallest scale, we encouraged the idea of community through the diversity and arrangement of apartments. Rather than segregating apartments so that all the one-bedroom types are in one part of the building, all the two-bedrooms in another part, and so on, we carefully mixed them all together. That way, families with children, young couples, and both young and old people living alone can all be neighbours. This diversity makes effective communities.
MM: Are there any other salient features of this project that differentiate it from others?
JvR: Besides the size of the building, the arrangement of apartments, the focus on community etc., there are a few extra features that are special - the use of bright colours to brighten residents’ days, the slope of the roofs that allows for generous balconies for many residents, and the amenities we were able to include, such as the 50-metre pool.
MM: Are there any unique materials or construction methodologies employed here?
JvR: No! Due to the budget, it was important that we use simple and economic materials. Future Towers is really a case study in showing what you can do with everyday techniques and outside-the-box design thinking.
MM: If you could alter or revise any one aspect of the project, what would that be?
JvR: There are a few small details in the final finishing of the project that we would have liked to do better. Both in the design and completion of some of the public spaces, and in some of the materials chosen late in the construction, we could have spent more time and coordinated the construction a little better. However, issues are quite small compared to the size of the whole project, and things happen in architecture, especially on a project of this complexity. We are still really proud of the finished result. As we still have two more phases to go; we plan to learn from the first building and do it even better next time!
While much of MVRDV’s approach focused on rethinking Indian housing, the design also recognises which features should one carry over from typical housing developments. A simple yet effective natural ventilation system, which both cools the apartments and helps extract air from kitchens, helps to make personal air conditioning units optional for residents. The floor plans also incorporate the principles of Vastu Shastra, a traditional Indian science of space planning (often described as India’s answer to Feng Shui) that has long been expected of new developments in India.
Buildings in densely populated cities in India go intimidatingly higher without giving any breathers. The Amanora Park project certainly breaks the generic mental image of the Indian skyscraper code in the social and visual perspective, opening up numerous possibilities to work around with the developer, the municipal authorities rule book, fire norms and various other invisible restraints to create comfort for the users and bring a fresh breeze of innovation to an otherwise restricted space of developing real estate. This project stands as a huge lesson for the Indian real estate as an onlooker’s fresh perspective can be a game changer to create something out-of-the box and impactful.
Project DetailsName of the project: Future Towers
Name of architects: MVRDV
Client: CCL Amanora Park Town
Location: Pune, India
Principal-in-charge: Jacob van Rijs
Design team: Stefan de Koning, Oana Rades, Saimon Idiakez, Doris Strauch, Maria López Calleja, Akshey Venkatesh, Wenhua Deng, Jose Ignacio Velasco Martin, Pepijn Bakker, Kate Van Heusen, Ignacio Zabalo, Silke Volkert, Sara Bjelke, Nuray Karakurt, Ivo Hoppers, Emilie Koch
Project negotiation: Inger Kammeraat
Copyright: MVRDV; Winy Maas, Jacob van Rijs, Nathalie de Vries
PMC: Northcroft with Narenda Bhagwat, Nikita Oak, Satin Walla
Co-architects: Client team
C&S: CJ+W with Umesh Joshi
MEP: Client team
Year of completion: 2018
Area: 1,40,000 sqm