Grocon International is one of Australia’s premier construction and development companies. With an international presence since 2002, the organisation has contributed to the modern skylines of Sydney and Melbourne with office spaces, residential and hotel buildings in the two cities, as well as in the Middle East, India and Asia. Jeremy Lester, in this conversation with Maunesh Dhuri, highlights innovations like carbon neutral buildings, Jumpform technique and other sustainable building aspects that Grocon has pioneered through the years.
What does Urban Sustainability encompass?
The essence of urban sustainability lies not just in building 15–30 storey identical towers, but in creating a sustainable community, that is attractive, has a long service life and has efficient community facilities, such as schools, health and retail centres, among others. The area needs to be sustainable, both in terms of desirability and the opportunity to use the wider area for a largescale master development plan. It should be able to contribute to the overall reduction of per capita use of energy, use of water and creation of waste. However, there is no point in building a technically sophisticated community, if it is not attractive and a desirable place to live.
What role does smart designing play in green construction? How important is smart designing principle in the Indian scenario?
A huge amount of achievable sustainability comes from the design, significantly, around the design of the aspect, orientation and the mix of building technologies. One can build using all sets of smart technologies, the impact is exponentially improved if that building is part of a broader and more sustainable community. There is an unwavering imperative for economic growth in India; it is the economic growth that drives and satisfies the ambitions of its young aspiring population. The difficulties in achieving the economic growth are the issues around the availability, the current per capita consumption of power and water, and the creation and management of waste. Some of the smart thinking that comes from Australia, North America and the advanced European countries is driving green standards due to the environmental and the climatic awareness. At today’s consumption levels, India faces infrastructure concerns, power shortages, water shortages, inadequate ways of treating waste, sanitation issues, and sewage capacity issue, among others.
How successful are standards such as GOLD LEED or GREEN STAR in boosting green construction?
The sustainability movement is a combination of educated users on the demand side, smart thinking on the supply side and smartly enforced regulations. This would eventually lead to a more coordinated approach towards the demand, supply and regulation related to sustainability. If any of these links are missing, then you get a significantly sub-optimal result. A lot is achievable with the right aspect and orientation—from harvesting rainwater, to use of low energy fixtures and fittings and recycling waste, among others.
What are the challenges and opportunities associated with prefab construction systems in India?
Pre-fabrication is not utilised on huge scale in India, because of the difficulty of getting any large-scale pre-fabricated units delivered to a site. There are also limitations concerning infrastructure, which is changing over the course of time. Also, in case of materials used in prefabrication, the amount of wastage is important, since you have a specific design or module that you are building. The concern is to make sure that you are not bringing it to the site and doing lots of rework. Since, the material consumption is much low, you can do prefabrication in factory style environment, which by its nature is less energy consuming. All these factors contribute to a more sustainable, environment friendly solution. If you take prefabrication to its limit, you can source complete free fitted, tiled and decorated hotel bathroom in a module that is constructed and assembled in a most efficient way. There is very little damage or rework done. Prefabricated materials need volumes in order to get the right efficiency and economies of scale, and it is difficult to find strategic locations throughout the country where you can satisfy the needs of many markets. There is always an issue with the supply chain management; quality and consistency of the supply chain is critical when you are dealing with the pre-fabricated materials. Prefabrication takes a certain amount of education on behalf of the labour; more precisely, it requires skilled labour.
Can you tell us more about the technology that goes into the construction of carbon neutral buildings like Pixel?
Pixel is a real building; it is the world’s first carbon neutral office building in downtown Melbourne. When you do carbon neutral work, the building has to generate enough surplus energy that is fed back into the national grid. The construction material and processes by their nature consume power and resources. In addition, there are efforts to equalise the carbon footprints that the building materials have in the Jumpform operation of the building. Eventually, the building generates power from solar, wind, geothermal energy and recycles its consumption via harvesting rainwater, and capturing all the water from the washroom, the shower, wash-basins and treating the water so that it can be recycled, purified and reused again. It also manages the waste that comes out from the toilets, to be able to extract the methane and to re-process the methane to fire up the boilers. So it is a variety of different technologies, each contributing its element. Pixel has collected smart technologies from all over the world, to find out whether they can work in a commercial environment.
Can you elaborate on the selfclimbing Jumpform construction system and its application?
This is something that the company has developed in the last ten years. It is a very safe, precise, and an efficient way of construction. The technology enables you to reduce the cycle time it takes to construct one floor to the next. Using the current traditional method in India, this takes 14 to 18 days, compared to the time taken in Australia, which is about 2–3 days. The benefit of using Jumpform is that we completely enclose the structure of the building, so that it creates a safe working environment for all the labourers. There is great precision, so the finish on the concrete, in terms of the features, carved outs, doorways is right the first time. Traditional ways of building in India, include using aluminium shuttering, which is propped with bamboo canes. However, this technique is not convenient, dangerous, and quite labour intensive; the finished product is also very vulnerable. In Jumpform, there is mechanisation of the product and the floor structure is completed in one third the time.
How does Grocon plan to expand its presence in the Indian market?
We are focusing on Mumbai as our current market, particularly given our expertise in tall buildings. For the long term, we have invested in this market, and we would like to do multiple projects here and expand them to other parts of the country. We are not hugely interested in involving ourselves with the opportunists, what we are interested is in working with the leaders.
Are there any policy expectations from the Indian Government with regard to this sector?
Governments are involved in the construction industry, right from the land title, to the permits, to the design sign off, to the structural components, to the increasing focus on sustainable and green building criteria. A foreign company would find it difficult to navigate unless clear regulations are enforced.