Innovation, in the context of the Indian building and construction industry - be it products, spaces or structures - is a function of a lot of factors like high quality, ease of use, functionality, spatial proportion, engineering skill, iconic value, differentiated design, uniqueness, creative skill, etc. But, does innovation provide the coveted cutting edge? Here are some interesting perspectives that emerged at the recently held CW Round Table.
Today, the impact of jugaad - an indigenous, out-of-the-box fix or a simple work around - or a term translated to mean gamble is evident across almost every area of development in countries like India, Brazil, South Africa, Indonesia and China.
"Jugaad is not an accident," stated Atul Tandan, Chairman, ASAPP Media Information Group, and the moderator of the CW round table held on June 12, 2013, at The Intercontinental in Mumbai. With that interesting thought, he opened a fascinating ground for discussion with some of the leading lights of the construction industry. Tandan spoke emphatically on how jugaad is both an innovative and a very scientifically planned way of dealing with limited resources. But what does innovation mean in the context of the Indian building and construction sector?
Does it in any way provide a cutting edge to the future development of the economy? Also, does it enhance user experience translating into sales and growth? The discussion at the round table glided between innovative products, utilisation of space and the kind of innovation adopted across structures. The primary thrust was on technology and design and how well it manages and merges with the environment. Leaders from the construction and architecture sectors exchanged their views and vision in a panel discussion which included Pratap Vijay Padode, Managing Director and Falguni Padode, Group Managing Editor, of ASAPP Media Information Group.
The result was a delightful mix of experiences and recommendations shared by the experts drawn from all areas of the construction sector.
Martin Kriegner, Country CEO, Lafarge India
I certainly see a huge potential and need for innovation in construction in India. Several things, including technology, require upgradation. Today, 90 per cent of the buildings are constructed through the conventional formula that involves a very slow process and is labour intensive. So, a more modern formula like precast and new formworks cum value-added concrete solutions can definitely bring in a big change in building systems. What is also important is that high end housing is one small segment of the market. So to be innovative and affordable, value-added products is the requirement. Lastly, the concept of green buildings may be at a very early stage in India, but there are a lot of innovative opportunities when it comes to building green. For instance, we can adopt advanced solutions that help speed up the process, reduce the usage of water, give better thermal comfort, etc. It is also striking for me that in some buildings, the heat is thrown out through air-conditioning. But, if you don't let heat in, you would have nothing to throw out. However, in the end, innovation has to be for the end user of the structures."
Jairam Panch, Managing Director, Turner Project Management India
It is integral to know as to how do we define innovation, and make it more practical ensuring that it is implemented on a daily basis. Technological innovations in the building segment - which are being used world over and can be brought to India and replicated on a larger scale - is what interests me the most. Starting with the building information model, we all talk about how virtual we need to be and make pictorial representations. This helps us identify the roadblocks at the construction stage itself and find ways to surpass it. Also, we are yet to catch up with the pre-cast technology, what is also known as pre-engineering. We know that it needs to be adopted, but there is a lot of hesitation due to several possible reasons like labour laws, taxation, availability of land and transportation, etc. However, ultimately these are core things that can facilitate construction. Lastly, everyone is aware of green buildings and what needs to be done as per the green rating systems. But as an end-user, for instance, I live in a green building and my power bill is more than the earlier apartment. So you may get a pre-certification but how do you go about implementing it? We have to ensure that the entire green concept does not just remain on paper, but is transferred.
Poorva Keskar, Director, VK:e environmental
As an architect and environmental designer, we work towards improving the performance of buildings right from the design stage. Jugaad certainly makes immense sense to us architects who are very sensitive to the resources around us. Also, somewhere in the long run, due to modernisation and globalisation, we have lost the sense of belonging and a sense of rootedness with ground realities and traditional wisdom. This is where a lot of innovation needs to be done. So this is our little contribution to jugaad because we feel that architects can make a lot of difference. So architectural design, starting with climate responsive design, can be a way to relook at and innovate new building materials and principles that are of urban nature. There is a lot of back work that needs to be done in terms of innovation and research that feeds into the architectural practice which we miss out on. Also, the architectural practice itself needs to evolve and innovate to a different level. One way is how the design or information received from the client is processed to the point where they actually come up with the final design.
Ankur Choksey, Managing Director, Choksey Chemicals
As far as innovation is concerned, today houses are available with a swimming pool, garden and can be controlled with an Ipad. These are of great convenience in a vertical city like ours. But, areas that have been ignored are dust, maintenance and a fine-looking outside view from one's home. Apparently, rehabilitation is a complete disaster. A 20 year-old building is being renovated and I have seen leading interior designers unable to handle it well. Be it the slab areas, beams or columns, there is a lot of R&D required for the entire place. There is a need to innovate ways of making a great building. For instance, how do you replace those slabs eventually when they are already corroded? To do the repair works, there are challenges like pouring concrete or micro-concrete from an upper floor to the lower floor. Apart from R&D, what is missing is the infrastructure. Dubai and Singapore have a clear code for repair and construction. However, India has nothing of the sort. Instead, builders have a per square feet budget constraint and hence, they hesitate further to adopt new technologies.
V Suresh, Director, HIRCO Project Companies
The most important thing is the way in which the consumer perceives the final product. One idea that India can put in place, is the CONQUAS rating system - Construction Quality Assessment System. It is used in Singapore, where all buildings, public or private, are rated on structural elements, non-structural elements, finishing and survey systems. It includes every aspect of the building - air-conditioning, plumbing, tiling, etc. Second important point is the larger issue of the lifecycle cost. Another major issue is the water related interface - leakage, soakage, blockage and chokage. Fourth area of importance is the low carbon footprint development. Fifth is the increasing urban population. We are faced with the doubling of the urban population, which contributes 75 per cent of GDP but occupies only 3 per cent of the country's total land mass. So where are the cities going to house this population? Doubling the urban land footprint and halving the urban space is a fantastic concept emerging by which we will have housing that will be sustainable and affordable. Lastly, innovation is easy and you can come up with bright ideas, but the biggest challenge lies in changing the conservative mindset, and for that, awareness needs to be brought in.
Abhin Alimchandani, Director Architecture, Stup Design Forum
Innovation has to have a direction and by itself is not an end solution. In India, the word jugaad itself has several connotations. While for some, jugaad is innovation in the right direction, for others it is innovation in a direction we need not travel. Major architects have innovated very little because they are caught in the trap of producing large amounts of work on large projects and nobody wants to take a chance of innovating new materials. Another aspect is speed and quality. Why not try and push for an innovative regulation for prefabricated technology that will have some tax benefit? On sustainability, we are not achieving much as there is too much focus on buildings and too little focus on cities and clusters. Also, we need to do a lot of value engineering in soil mechanics. We need a good amount of research and understanding on how we deal with the foundation. Also, options like the 3D technology offer design to suit options than standardised products. This is going to change the way you conceive and build. Another important thing is algorithmic design. You type in parameters and different solutions are available. So a developer or a lean client is able to select amongst these alternatives the best solution.
Agrim Agarwal, Director, Grescasa Ceramics
The word innovation has become more of a gimmick. A building can't have a swimming pool in every apartment, and then after wasting litres of water, claim to be green. Moreover, five years ago, we had pitched for an airport project under renovation. We missed the project at about a 20 per cent difference in quoting and they opted for some domestic tiles. Today they are spending about 50 per cent more than what they had initially paid on repairs and that is the point we are trying to make. By using a better material, you are increasing the life of your end product. And we compare ourselves to Europe or Shanghai. I have been going to Europe for the last 15 years and every year I go there, the roads are just the same, without potholes. We need to focus on these aspects first.
Atul Sanghvi, COO, Cera Sanitaryware
In the Indian context, there has been a big change in the consumers' approach. Earlier, the first question that came from the consumer was to do with price - what is the discount? Today, the question has changed to - what's new? This shows a level of interest to be informed, and then it is up to the marketer to educate. It took about five years for our industry to convince consumers that by paying just Rs 100 more they can save 6 litres of water in one flush.
Considering the problem of water shortage faced in the country, today technology has made things much easier. Also, the customer is easily able to calculate the cost in terms of usage. This way, even if your products are priced high, it will definitely translate to higher sales and growth. Also, today, we try to use locally available resources against what we used to import earlier. For instance, after a lot of R&D, we have started using materials from and around Gujarat, which has saved us a lot of money.
Satish Parakh, Managing Director, Ashoka Buildcon
We must encourage mixed-use developments right from low cost to high end cities. Ultimately, these are the end solutions. Any innovation must ultimately address durability issues and be cost effective. In our country, where the interest rates are very high, we can have good solutions only if hurdles like taxation are eliminated. We talk about automation, but what is required is viability in any project. Our company is doing PPP projects and in the last five years, the government has given us design flexibility with which, a lot of innovation has come in. For instance, recently we built a bridge which was left half done in Kolkata. However, against 30 months, we completed this bridge in one year. This was possible because we have been given the design flexibility and have been allowed to adopt international codes and regulations.
Anil S Mathur, COO, Godrej Interio
Fundamentally, innovation depends on how you apply the information that your client gives you with your imagination to create something magnificent. Without the three æI's - information, imagination and implementation - innovation will remain a theoretical aspect in life. Secondly, how can innovation offer different values from same resources? For instance, we realised one such need that is not fulfilled by readymade furniture is to co-create without hassles. So, we introduced a 3D model to understand the consumer's taste and preference: whether he likes straight lines or curves, for instance and accordingly co-create the product. This is a small initiative we took in terms of a deceptive innovation because someone who would come to buy readymade furniture would prefer customising and creating over Godrej Interiors. With the resources being the same - carpenters, materials, fabric, laminate - we used it to create one specific need of the consumer, which is co-creation.
Vikram Sharma, Managing Director, BP Ergo
We think of innovating in a way that will help improve the overall efficiency in cost, quality and speed for the end user. We are working along the dimensions of how a building can be converted into a usable interior space, and a number of ideas have been applied along the value chain. So as soon as the design is created, the cost is determined. Along with capital cost, the operating cost is equally important. Project management is also crucial as jugaad can have several connotations. I have been to many sites where interiors are done in the name of jugaad. We have been asked to place the furniture when the lighting and ceiling work is yet to be done. The labourers then stand on our furniture to put the lighting, which is disrupted in the name of improving efficiency. We need to find breakthroughs for such things and not let it be dictated by jugaad.
Tilak Raj Seth, Executive Vice President-Infrastructure & Cities Sector Cluster Lead, IC Sector, South Asia, Siemens Ltd
Nature is a great teacher and it can teach us to innovate. If we look at the five elements, which in India are used as a philosophy of life, we can draw important lessons in innovation. The first element is light or prakash. How do you ensure light within a building? Second is wind - what a human being needs is movement of air and not 10o less. The third element is earth - space utilisation, which has not attained the innovative level that is needed in cities. Next element is water - in the context of vertical living, rainwater harvesting in a city like Mumbai where good monsoons make a building water neutral. However, we are not water neutral even in a place that experiences water logging. From the fifth element, that is fire, a parallel of building security access control, which is a big concern in a country like India, can be drawn. One needs to find and offer innovative solutions on the lines of these five elements.
Indeed, innovation is a critical parameter, and while many emphasised on value for money, Tandan stressed on a reverse concept - money for value. "One may want to spend more money in the short run considering the returns in the long run." So there seems to be a wide acceptance for the lowest cost, not realising that there is a reverse concept.
Also, some stalwarts across the table had their own differences. One such was perceived in Keskar's response to Panch's stance on user experience. "Innovation in the way we market a concept makes it different in terms of creating awareness amongst the users. If you are going to market your property saying that this flat is sold as premium due to its good view, you must also be able to effectively market the flat as having more comfort hours over a premium cost." Also, commenting on Agarwal's views on home automation not being the actual need of a consumer in low cost housing was Seth. As he averred, "Home automation has a luxury connotation to it. However, in a middle class home, if you spend Rs 7,000 on electricity, but this is being brought down to Rs 3,000 by adopting home automation, it is certainly what a consumer wants."
Post the intense debate, Tandan highlighted two distinguishing aspects, "innovation and invention." He proposed a thought, "By innovation, are we trying to say that one should do something that has not been done before as opposed to innovation that can be through adaption or constantly improving what is being practiced." He also looked at innovation from the point of view of hardware and software, where software involves processes, systems, experiences, legislation, etc. "To an extent, hardware is manageable, but managing the software entirely is not an easy task." So how can both these aspects effectively come together? While Tandan was hopeful of future industry associations merging the hardware and software aspects, there was also a mutual agreement that such an amalgam could certainly lead to a fulfilled consumer experience, conservation of resources, and use of new materials and technology, which is truly innovative and will ultimately provide the cutting edge.