A Conversation with Sushant Verma-Co- Founder of rat [LAB]

Sushant Verma is an architect & computational designer, currently leading research organization rat[LAB] - Research in Architecture & Technology.
 Ar. Sushant Verma Co-Founder, rat[LAB], New Delhi

Sushant Verma is an architect & computational designer, currently leading research organization rat[LAB] - Research in Architecture & Technology. He Co-founded rat[LAB] with partner Pradeep Devadass in 2012 who currently leads the research cell as the Head of Research & Business Development, operating in India. The Interior Design Team is led by Partner Anchal Chaudhary.

rat[LAB] is operated as a cloud-based organization with an international network of researchers & computational designers spread across UK, USA, Europe & Asia, and a studio in New Delhi. Former architect at Zaha Hadid Architects, London, & a Sr. Editor at Arch2O, Sushant has held teaching positions at a number of universities internationally. Recipient of MAK Schindler Award from Vienna / Los Angeles and a finalist for AIA Emerging Leaders Fellowship from Chicago, in 2015, he was acknowledged for his works among 5 architects in New Delhi for ‘20 under 35’ Exhibition at Alliance Francaise de Delhi.

Surfaces Reporter got an opportunity to talk with the co-Founder of rat[LAB]- Sushant Verma. Here are excerpts from the conversation:


Q) It's great to be having this conversation with you Sushant. What led to the idea of being more research-based architectural practice?

It was the summer of 2012 at Architectural Association (AA), London when me & Pradeep were working on our Master’s Thesis Research and were candidly discussing about need of research in design practices and lack of use of technologies. We were developing our work on adaptive[skins] project at that time, where the aim was to build an architectural system that can respond to changing environment and physically transform over time, with self-generated energy. Due to complexity of the problem, a lot of research was required; something that AA inculcates in you right from
the beginning.

It was during those days that we started rat[LAB] in order to expand our understanding of ‘Research’, ‘Architecture’ & ‘Technology’ that helped us acronize the organization name. What followed that conversation is years of efforts to formalize ourselves into a design practice that strongly believes in research with design. Going ahead with our core ideology of connecting ‘Design’ & ‘Technology’ through ‘Research’ & ‘Computation’, we are now happy to establish ourselves as computational experts to collaboratively work with designers across all creative domains. The Research part, however, is not limited to theoretical research but more focussed on advanced computational methods that can catalyze a design workflow or optimize the
project in one or many ways.

architect & computational designer

Q) What has defined your thought process?

Design is an amalgamation of strong ideas, extensive research and solving simple & complex problems for a smart output. The process itself can be complex as it is a non-linear process with real-time feedback at all steps. In my limited experience of working on a multitude of projects and design problems, two things I have realised and keep telling myself are: “Anything is possible- you need to solve problems smartly” and “Best design solutions are the simplest ones”.

Q) You have researched extensively on ‘Material Intelligence’. What are the various findings?

Material Intelligence was a major part of our research from project adaptive[skins], carried out in London, followed by adaptive[systems] Installation exhibited in Los Angeles. As designers, we sometimes miss out on potentials of materials themselves and start to use them as a secondary layer. It is in these materials and their materiality that potentials can be explored, analyzed & put to a smart use. This is exactly where technology helps in complex studies of a material. For instance, we used SMA (Shape Memory Alloys) made of Nickel & Titanium as actuators in a project to make dynamic & moving elements. Structural studies of the material could only be possible using digital simulations (computation) and physical experiments. If we start to use potentials of various materials to outgrow their conventional potentials, we can possibly develop smarter design systems.
 Research is such an integral part of work, however, not every firm is able to do research in-house. As you are applying research in your firm, is it possible to extend the services to other firms?
That is something we have been doing in the last few years as we work collaboratively with other designers from various streams. The methods and techniques that we develop at rat[LAB] can aid in achieving complex designs in simple ways. We facilitate designers by catalyzing projects and helping them optimize cost, time, structure, etc. among other aspects and it is possible only by spreading a collaborative culture in the design industry. Very often, we do get commissioned for part-projects that require specialized skills, techniques or methods for realization. Some of them include facade systems, art installations or highlight feature elements in the interior or exterior spaces. This also helps other firms/designers to get exposed to novel design methods through a collaborative workflow.

architect & computational designer

Q) Any suggestion or comment about Surfaces Reporter magazine?

SR is doing a great job by pioneering in design journalism in a smart and elegant way. The quality of features and coverage is smart enough to make the platform unique and authentic. I hope that SR continues to evolve in this manner and would gently advice to take the unconventional paths by extending its role beyond the print platform. Creating unique & collaborative avenues with designers would be something I would like to see in near future.

Q) What is your Vision for 2020-25?

It is too early to predict where we would be by that time. If we start to analyze our evolution & growth, it has certainly been a roller-coaster ride for the entire team, which continues to evolve with our methods. Since we use technology at the core of our practice, and like to evolve rapidly with changing technologies, it is quite certain that we would continue the same approach and would potentially have tech-embedded design environments in near future. Our work should ideally follow the same pace and we hope to be able to demonstrate this through built as well as unbuilt projects that form the plethora of design research we nurture in the practice. Computation and other tech-tools and methods would certainly be a part of the work that we aim to do in future. We are hopeful that scale of work should increase to be able to make larger global impacts. We look forward to a very exciting and collaborative future!

“As designers, we sometimes miss out on potentials of materials themselves, and start to use them as a secondary layer. It is in these materials and their materiality that potentials can be explored, analyzed & put to a smart use.”

Some Projects By rat[LAB]

STONE RETAIL SHOWROOM, NOIDA

The store is housed as a multi-functional space within an office-cum-factory premise in Noida and the architect has tried to re-define the concept of a retail space by culling the idea of display units and replacing it with a surface treatment that envelopes the inner surfaces of this space.

Four surfaces (three walls and a ceiling) are mathematically sub-divided into triangles of varied sizes and angles through computational methods that allow optimization of material and construction time. CNC (Computer  Numerically controlled) milling is carried out on large slabs of Marble to generate 3-dimensional surfaces clad on to surfaces at different angles. Each marble stone, as an individual triangle, is further subdivided to form smaller fractals leading to ridges and valleys, where valleys allow light to pass through with the thickness of stone. Rational use of technology at design stage, coupled with a balance of digital and non-digital fabrication processes has lead to novel spatial tectonics in an optimized method.

Architect

 

SEEDS OF REMEMBRANCE

The Indian Armed Forces, sub-categorized into Infantry Regiments, Armoured Regiments, Units of Regiment of Artillery, Paramilitary Regiments, Squadrons of the Indian Air Force, Squadrons of the Indian Navy, Army Aviation Corps, Border Security Force, Indian Naval Units and Indian Coast Guard Divisions form about 215 units, all of which have been denoted as Seeds of India.

architect & computational designer

In this museum, stories and details about these seeds are embedded into 215 spires that rise from a part-excavated ground as structural columns of gradually variable sizes. These hold 15 inter-connected building blocks that are fragmented from the site attributes (Geometry; 7 vertices) through 7 predominant directional axes representing 7 major wars & missions.

The site is divided primarily into two parts – North Block and South Block where South Block is an agglomeration of building blocks suspended on triangular-column grid in a large sized pit. These blocks form an urbanscape made of multiple roofs (hardscape & softscape) interconnected by a series of Steps & Ramps for public usage. These areas, along with vertical spires, give an installation-type character to the Museum. The North Block comprises of three primary museum blocks – Indian Army, Indian Navy, Indian Air Force, along with a multi-level car park block that connects to the South Block at 3 different horizontal levels – Base Level (-30m.), Auditorium Level (-22m.) & Ground Plane Level (+0m.)

DATA DRIVEN BUILDING FACADE

The façade project in Gurgaon for an industrial building specializing in manufacturing of machinery rubber parts was commissioned to rat[LAB]-Research in Architecture & Technology, New Delhi while architectural design of the building was undertaken by Design Plus, New Delhi.

Project brief was inclined towards designing of a highlight element in the 1500sq.ft. frontal for visibility, tightly bound by project cost and time constraints. Use of non-standardized systems was discouraged due to anticipated costs and unavailability of skilled contractors and fabricators. This was taken as the primary challenge by rat[LAB] to use computational design and data-driven techniques for overcoming the tight constraints to design a simple, yet impactful façade system to draw more visibility to the building.

architect computational designer

A triangulated panel system with about 350 flat triangular parts was designed as a singular parametric system based on a surface division method for the east and south facing facades. Preliminary environmental analyses were carried out with a focus on solar radiation studies within the parametric framework using Grasshopper3D (David Rutten, Robert McNeel & Associates) and its extension plugin Geco (uto) with Autodesk Ecotect & Rhinoceros3D tools.

A series of iterations were created parametrically with variations in angles, number of triangles, division count, dimensional shifts, each of which were guided by the environmental analysis carried out within the parametric model. First hierarchy of fabrication data, viz. material surface area, structural member lengths and weights were extracted as data to calculate fabrication and material cost based on market surveys carried out in parallel. This structured the workflow in order to create a multitude of iterations using the design system or code taking cost and environmental factors into consideration. Angular variation of panels, opening up as vertical fins was based on climatic data of Gurgaon considering the solar insolation on façade, simultaneously responding to programmatic configuration of the building.

Cost was primarily being affected by number of angular joints or structural nodes as well as weight of steel going into making the structural frames for panels. This could be controlled and brought down to an optimized design that negotiated between the design aesthetic, environmental response and cost by reducing the number of triangular facets to 111 with a limited angular differentiation.

Adaptive[systems]

rat[LAB] started the project adaptive[systems] with a sole vision of challenging the static built environment against the dynamic natural environment, where numerous layers of architecture have to come together to make a building function in negotiation with changing environmental parameters such as sun, rain & wind. Initiated as an academic thesis project at The Architectural Association (AA) School of Architecture, London, the research has taken a series of iterations from 2012 to 2014, with the latest developments shaping up in Los Angeles, CA at The MAK Center.

computational designer

Sushant Verma & Pradeep Devadass designed a dynamic façade system as a proposal for MAK’s Exhibition Space at the site of Mackey Apartments, which was designed by one of the pioneers of Modernism – Rudolph Schindler in 1939. The project adaptive[systems]_V3.0 questions the static nature of architectural spaces, encouraging dynamism and motion in architecture via movable building skins.

Designed - Sushant Verma, Pradeep Devadass
Fabrication Collaborator - Oliver Hess (Aperiodic Industries)
Electrical Design Support - Howard Chen (Hsin-Hao Chen)
Volunteer Support - Richard Ruiz, John Whitcomb

Cellular Morphology Façade System

‘Cellular Morphology Façade’ is a building skin system that can adapt to multiple climatic contexts and building conditions. The façade is currently in proposal stage and a large scale prototype of the same was exhibited at Alliance Francaise de Delhi as a part of ‘20 under 35’ Exhibition in February 2015. To demonstrate the environmental potentials of the façade system, rat[LAB] has made a demonstration on an existing high-rise in New Delhi – Gopal Das Bhawan located in Connaught Place. Since the convex shaped frontal of building faces south-west, it receives a major component of its light and heat (solar gain) from this part of the façade.

architect & computational designer

CMF System (Cellular Morphology Façade) is digitally retrofitted on S-W façade of the tower and consists of multiple unique components of hexagon topology. The hexa-grid system is controlled through an algorithm that alters its density and attraction during the concept design stage. Six prominent functional zones are speculated as attractor points on the façade that become the first parameter of control and Solar insolation analysis on existing S-W façade becomes the second guiding parameter.

Local angular variations are introduced that can redistribute the sunlight in a differentiated manner on the building envelope. This can potentially change the way building is heated up and gets daylight in the interior spaces. 

Design & Computation - Sushant Verma
Assembly - Apoorva Soni, Mohan Nath, Anand Gawali, Abhishek Singh, Swati Gautam
Visualization- Marco Danesi, Alessandra Peroni

Amorphous Surfaces

‘Amorphous Surfaces’ emerged as an idea to morph a single object to multiple uses with a conscious use of computational design, digital fabrication methods & integrated lighting systems for a locally-interactive spatial artefact. The design collection of ‘Amorphous Surfaces’ represents a method, technique and idea designed through mathematically driven algorithms. These algorithms are further used on materials like wood, acrylic, metal or other sheet materials to produce fluid surfaces for interior & exterior spaces. Parametric Design Methods are used to drive elegance to form double-curved surfaces through sectioned components that can potentially be highlighted for feature walls, ceilings, wall art and stand-alone installations.

Amorphous Surfaces

Sensors and Lighting systems have been well connected in the digital era, especially in the realm of using Occupancy and Vacancy sensors. On similar lines, ‘Amorphous Surfaces’ being a multi-functional furniture piece, is integrated with Piezoelectric (pressure) sensors at specific identified points of activity and usage (seating area & table). These pressure-responsive sensors (PZT ceramic/PMN-PT crystals) are further connected to piezo-transducer. Responding to active pressures, like a person sitting on it, sensors feed data to the transducer. Thus, electrical energy converts into light energy (i.e. concealed lighting). These lights are further calibrated by the light dimmer and light colour changer, for the desired effect in accordance with various situations and scales of pressures exerted on the piece.

LED ribbon flex on a dimmable circuit are used to produce concealed lighting from within the alternative sections of MDF boards. To achieve optimum curvilinear aesthetics, LED-lights are added in-between each of its sectioned faces (of wood, acrylic, metal or sheet materials alike).

Project Type- Installation, Furniture, Lighting, Product, Surface Treatment
Location- India Design 2016,
NSIC Grounds, Okhla         
Design & Conceptualization-
Sushant Verma, Anchal Chaudhary
Assembly & Execution -
Prannay Dhingra,
Sadhika Baveja, Visaghan

About Surfaces Reporter

Surfaces Reporter is India’s 1st magazine specialized on “products & materials” for architecture & Interiors! The prime objective of Surfaces Reporter magazine is to contribute positively to the Indian material industry, with unbiased information & awareness initiatives.

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