The Indian architectural landscape is currently witnessing unprecedented changes and remarkable transformations. Evolving living patterns and lifestyle changes, the continued adoption of minimalist designs, and the quest to embrace sustainability are pushing developers and architects to rethink their design methods and strategies, while influencing the tastes and preferences of the people. However, there is a need to also focus on designs that cater to communities and improve the overall environment in many ways.
Atri Joshi, CEO and Director, Enia Architects
One of such architectural innovations is Augmented Metro, a concept largely being popularised by ENIA Architects. Hinged on in-depth research and strong collaborations, ENIA has been involved in architectural and construction planning projects for many years. Their urban research project, Augmented Metro, is looking at practical ways to integrate infrastructure projects like cityscape elevated metros to see how they can impact their surroundings and local communities. In the end, it is about using unused spaces for purposes that benefit communities while enhancing the overall value derived from the metro.
Augmented Metro (Representational Image)
“It is true that many people have concerns about how elevated metro viaducts are somewhat challenging to urbanism. Where you have some places with the conceived ideals of urban metropolitanism including subways and underground tunnels, there are places where the government has gone the way of actual elevated viaducts because they are faster and cheaper to build. This tends to create a divide. What we’re doing is to bridge that divide by urbanising these massive structures and adding value beyond transportation, such as installing vertical wind turbines for power generation and so much more.”
“You cannot be that large and just serve a single purpose,” says Atri Joshi, CEO and Director, ENIA Architects.
Augmenting elevated metro viaducts for public good
A study conducted on a metro viaduct in Pune in 2018 was aimed at evaluating the benefits that can be derived from developing the underused spaces in elevated transport structures like bridges. From providing shelter and places of learning for underprivileged children, to building electric car charging stations, no space should go to waste in a country that adds 13 million more people to its population every year. While the concern for many has been the sight of such large, elevated structures in a period when most urban cities are investing in underground metros, ENIA is looking to make the most of it.
One of the very innovative applications of such underused spaces by the ENIA team is the construction of charging stations for electric vehicles. The world is slowly moving into an era of renewable energy as the call to do away with fossil fuels intensifies. While the transition would take time, many countries have already rolled out a series of electric cars with designated charging stations. Already, Tata and Kia have released some versions of electric cars in India even as the central and state governments continue to support the move.
The spaces left by elevated viaducts can be converted to charging stations. Furthermore, solar panels, wind turbines, and other power equipment can be installed on the viaducts as demonstrated by ENIA’s project and the system designed by the team can produce electricity, distribute the same and use the renewable energy for street lighting, two-wheeler charging points, e-rickshaw stations, etc. “It’s a bundle of benefits if you consider the endless opportunities. We have tested it out and it is possible to replicate in different cities across India,” says Joshi.
Another very practical application is the provision of care centres for vulnerable children. One good thing about these elevated viaducts is that they run for several kilometers through several communities, and each section can be enhanced and developed to suit the specific needs of each community. This could be temporary or permanent, instructive or recreational, and so on. It can be in the form of makeshift classrooms, social centres, health centres etc. The ENIA research team has produced a prototype which has shown that such spaces can offer various services to underprivileged societies.
There are several other conceived uses of such viaducts. These spaces can serve as platforms for cultural events, in a manner that takes these urban centres closer to nature. The project in Pune by ENIA already proposes a river front near Sambhaji Park. The aim is to create a link between the city and the Mutha River using vegetated decks that can be used as a venue for leisure and festivities. There’s also the idea of art zones where cultural and social awareness can be offered to the public. Metro spaces are a low-hanging fruit and they offer a ready-made platform for various uses. The Augmented Metro project has certainly put all the cards on the table.
ENIA’s research in Pune brings to light the unexplored urban, social and architectural potential of a typical Augmented Metro system. While talks are ongoing with stakeholders and potential sponsors for a pilot project in Pune, this research work further reiterates the possibility of doing more with less, as well as how research can provide solutions for communities in the most unlikely places. Modern architecture should be about building communities and ENIA is certainly showing the world how this is done.