Shifting Paradigms in Apartment Design

Published: 15th September 2015 05:53 AM  |   Last Updated: 15th September 2015 05:53 AM   |  A+A-

Home is a very personal space, unique to its occupants. Apartment buildings are sprouting in our cities, where several families share the same design, same floor plans and same spatial experiences without being able to contribute or have a say in the design of their own dwelling. Repetitive design and anonymity define the architecture and lifestyle within.

In our times of mass manufacturing, how do we still make room for individual styles and aspirations? In a mass housing project such as an apartment building, the idea of home as a personal reflection of an individual or family is masked by an imposed uniformity and the project takes the scale of a public architecture from an intimate dwelling.

Apartment 1.jpg

The field of housing or domestic architecture embraces several disciplines – historical, social, economic, political and cultural, architectural theory and design. And its design has a direct impact on the cultural face of the society.

Penda, an architectural firm with offices in Vienna and Beijing, with its unique design approach is striving to bring the individual to the forefront in their high apartment project Vijayawada Garden Estate in Karnataka. They were given a design brief by the Indian developer that the project should be an “outside of the box design” and should offer a natural living experience to its inhabitants. Penda has used modern construction techniques as a tool to bring back a level of individualism and flexibility for the inhabitants of a high rise a kind of individualism one would have in a custom home design.

Apartment.jpgThe tower has been divided into six unique design elements: the structure, walls, façade, floors and ceilings, infrastructure, balconies and plants. The structural grid and infrastructure are the only two constant design elements.

It is this modular building system that allows residents the flexibility to design their own apartments by selecting pre-fabricated modules that will then be inserted into the tower’s frame. 

Coupled with this unique design approach, Penda endeavours to make the project green and stand tall with minimum carbon footprint. Water harvesting, collecting water from rooftops, is a step in the direction of using recycled water in the landscaped balconies.

Architecture.jpgPenda envisions that the greenery will eventually sprawl across the building as it matures, masking its structure. Landscaped balconies offer privacy to each unit while offering natural sunshade. Air-purifying plants will use the grid on the facade of the building to grow along and, eventually, nature will become the main design language of this project and the architectural design will take a back seat. This façade design not only serves as an important interface to connect the outside with the inside, but the natural elements also help control the interior climate of the building. A system of open hallways has been knitted into the design that helps reduce energy intake due to air-condition in the building as well as provide means for natural ventilation.

Spread over 6285 yards, this is indeed an ecological development providing a new approach to modern urban living.

(The author, an architect and educator, can be reached at

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