Steel is still not a very popular choice when it comes to building structures and that is one area where there is definitely a lot of scope for progress and Abhijit Shah, Principal and Managing Director, Walter P Moore India, hopes to be a part of the revolution.  Excerpts from the interview…

Q Working overseas has given you a whole new cultural perspective. What are the differences at the outset, between the work ethic in India and overseas?
One of the main differences that I see is the fact that Walter P Moore as a company, is an organization which is not only focused on clients, but, also on our employees. We started hiring here in India about two and a half years ago, and I believe that is one of the things that separates us from other companies. Having the flexibility of work hours, access to recreational facilities like a table tennis, etc. – basically a work culture where people have fun while working is what attracts a lot of talented people to our firm as well.

Q Having the flexibility to interact is yet another area that differs between here and the west?
From what I have heard, in a typical Indian company setup, there are restrictions and issues of propriety when it comes to addressing seniors and managers, while at Walter P Moore we call each other by first name. Everybody calls me Abhijit and I like it that way. Likewise, we call our seniors by name, which makes interaction a little bit more personal and “human.” Also, everybody has the freedom to come up with different ideas, not just on the engineering side, but, for anything that they want done differently in the office. I think it makes a better work environment that is free, enjoyable, and more innovative as well.

Q Your stint in Dallas has enriched your experience. How do you translate that in your work in India?
One advantage that I have is that I am working for the same company, so the culture definitely remains the same. In fact, I believe one of my main jobs is to ensure that the Walter P Moore India office is just like any other Walter P Moore office. We do not want this to be like a backend office, but a fully functioning partner.

My 13-year stint in Dallas has definitely helped me gain ample experience. As a project manager, I had the opportunity to work on several projects, small and large – from high-rise buildings to performing arts centers and stadiums. My work has definitely helped me get the overall picture; so when we have engineers working on international projects, I can share my experiences on similar projects.

Q In structures like stadiums, the roof offers quite a challenge. As a structural engineer, how do you overcome it?
Stadium structures are inherently challenging to execute, especially the roof because of the long spans. As structural engineers, we try to make a lot of column-free spaces and fortunately that is a specialty of Walter P Moore. We have a wealth of experience when it comes to handling long-span structures, as we have designed over 100 stadiums. We have created an internal group of sports design experts and enthusiasts, which we call the ‘Sports Community of Practice’ that harvests information and best practices from all of our sports projects from across different offices. They are also up-to-date with all new products and technologies that are available.

Bringing efficiency to work is just second nature for us as a firm because we have a competent research and development team that is technically strong and can easily counter any challenges that crop up. If I don’t know an answer, I know where to go and whom to ask to solve the issue. Once again, this kind of freedom is company-wide and goes a long way in making working easier. On most of our big projects we don’t stop at design; we also provide erection engineering and connection design services. We have a separate team of engineers and Tekla modelers, called the Construction Engineering Group that is specialized in these services. We have this team in the India office as well.

Q What is Walter P Moore’s strategy when approaching the Indian market?
We started India operations about three years ago and initially, the strategy was to work on projects in India. We did not want to be the brand that has been around for 80+ years and bring all the experience only from the U.S. team. To supplement that in India, we began hiring from the top schools like IITs and other Indian institutions of repute; then we trained the entire team of engineers and Revit technicians.

We are working on several U.S.-based projects that include everything from buildings, stadiums, and airports. We now have a staff of 40 well-trained professionals that include young, enthusiastic people along with a few senior engineers. Currently, we are looking for projects in India which are in line with our area of specialization and have already started working on a few. At Walter P Moore, we do not believe in accepting every project opportunity that comes our way. We instead focus on those projects to which we can add value. So for 2015, we are looking for big projects such as airports, arenas, convention centers, and the like as we definitely enjoy working in India.

Q How much potential does steel construction have in India, taking recent and future trends into consideration?
The steel construction scenario in India is only recently on the rise. If you compare the steel industry in India versus any other developed nation, I believe we have a lot of potential to develop. Currently the use of steel is restricted to industrial structures and to some extent on the infrastructural side. However, steel is still not a very popular choice when it comes to building structures and that is one area where we definitely see a lot of area for progress, which I hope that Walter P Moore is a part of.

Q Could you elaborate on the grey areas when it comes to steel construction in the Indian scenario?
Fire proofing remains one of the main challenges, and the market still needs some educating on the topic. Despite manufacturers doing their bit, there is also the issue of not having enough sections; we still do not have the freedom of having structure-specific sections. In building structures where the use of composite steel is felt, we are not quite there, in terms of technology.

Even in engineering colleges across India, there is not enough training imparted for the use of steel. There are certain steel structures in India that seem over-designed because I feel that we do not train our engineers enough to handle steel in design. There seems to be a slight deficit in the propagation of awareness and with steel, a lot of knowledge comes from experience.

Understanding the stresses due to restraint conditions and temperature effects, the erection tolerances, the effect of erection sequencing on the structure, and other such parameters are a few areas where we are still lacking in India due to less experience in steel. I believe that with the wealth of experience that we bring, Walter P Moore can help overcome these challenges and make steel a preferred choice of material in India.



Q What does architecture mean to you and what is your philosophy when creating a design?
A The thing that drives me the most about architecture and creating something new is to come up with something that’s very beautiful and functional, but, has a unique reason for being that particular building based on the requirements that you’re given. Sometimes the requirements are very specific while at others, they are extremely vague. In the latter situation you have to dig and figure it out what is it that the owner or the client wants and from that you proceed to design.

The things that come to the surface are manifold, it is not one or two things; it’s what you bring as an individual designer to the table, it’s what your colleagues bring along with them and then the whole process starts. In today’s world it’s become a much more dynamic process where you cannot do it alone, in fact you almost shouldn’t want to do it alone. This is because there are many players, not just the traditional ones but there are sociologists, biologists, etc. In the broadest scope of design, the challenge is in a world that’s globally much more sensitive. So, you’re always part of a bigger whole in the design process. However, even so someone has to say, well I don’t think we’re going down the right road, so those judgement calls still remain in the hands of individuals. I’m a big believer in the fact that you’ve got to be a strong designer, you’ve got to know what the big picture is and keep that and the spirit of the project alive.

Q As far as working with materials is concerned, which ones are your favorites and why?
A Yes and no. There are many ways to hold things up. We’re fighting gravity all the time as designers. It is a challenge based on the particular application. If there is the need for an expression that is both functional and otherwise solid and heavy, you would use masonry for something that comes from the ground and goes up. If you want something light, you’d probably be inclined to opt for wood or steel where the expression of using sticks to support things is commonplace among our profession. So, I do not have favorite materials, I try to figure out what needs to be used for the purpose.

Q Steel construction has several advantages over conventional methods. Could you highlight the same from your experience?
A I’ve used steel for quite a bit of my projects. I think steel is the answer when you want to use something that is light, if you want to do something that can be erected quickly, something where the tracery of exposed steel is of benefit. In terms of solving challenges, we have used steel in my work in the States. Oftentimes, we’d do additions to buildings, renovations of old warehouse buildings; typically where you want to engage a new building to something that’s already been there, we tend to use steel. Very often, our design attitude was not to bang up the addition against the existing building, but to separate it. The separation could be something like a passage or a light giver or an entry and typically we use very lightweight steel to make that engagement happen. There are some really nice interventions that you can do in steel which would be more restrictive in other materials.

Q The acceptance of steel as a go-to material for construction is not very popular in India. What according to you are the reasons for this?
A I think a lot of this hesitation comes with the culture and tradition. If you drive through the city, country or small village and you can see small concrete structures coming up everywhere; it’s almost like masonry. The use of concrete is sort of second nature and I think it’s going to be a while before the acceptance of something that’s made in a factory and brought to the site in a precise dimension, that could either be welded or bolted together using heavy machinery – I think those are the restrictions. People take a long time to switch to something new from what you’ve done that works, it’s just a fact of nature. Steel can do different things, but concrete is a very strong competitor just in terms of how it has been used. So, I think it is going to take some time and evolve. Tall buildings, for example, which are done in concrete but are typically done much more successfully and quicker in steel would help. As more and more tall buildings in steel are made in India, probably that will drive in a change.

Q What measures, according to you, should be undertaken to create an impetus for steel based constructions in the Indian scenario?
A I think more of conventions, conferences that talk about the current and probable use of steel, more conversations about the challenges of construction that steel can better solve than say, concrete. Basically, more exposition, more evolution of demonstrating ideas, showing that steel works at all levels be it the tall, mega level structures or the more poetic expressions when it comes to smaller projects, at the artists’ level by way of sculptures instead of engaging with materials like wood. Propagating the whole notion of strength, utility, beauty, flexibility in being able to use small sections versus big timbers; everything has its place. It’s a question of selection and evolution and putting it out together.

Q What advice would you give to young architects who are starting out?
A To them I’d say, just spread your wings and be informed. Use anything and everything that makes sense, but, more than anything, do it studiously, and I think steel falls in that category.



M. P. Naidu, Project Director, L&T Metro Rail (Hyderabad) Ltd. is of the opinion that steel’s inherent adaptability and flexibility also means that future changes or extensions – even vertically – can be carried out with minimal disruption and cost. Read more for the full interview…

Q Why was the need to opt for the metro mode of transportation?
A About 40 per cent of the population of 600 million people are expected to live in cities by 2031, with about 30 cities having a population of 2 million. Having said this, growing cities, growing population and traffic, with each passing day, has invariably called for a shift from private modes of commute to public. The metro is the preferred choice of Mass Transport System for cities worldwide, offering a viable solution to the infrastructure challenges that accompany urban expansion. Hyderabad’s Metro Rail will feature several commuter-friendly advantages. Hyderabad’s transformation into an infotech hub provides the setting for another hi-tech initiative – the unique Hyderabad Metro Rail Project. The project integrates multi-modal public transportation with urban spaces, and undertakes infrastructure development of Hyderabad. The metro is an urban rejuvenation and redesign effort to transform Hyderabad into a people-friendly ‘green’ city.

Q According to you what are the distinct advantages of a metro rail?
A To begin with, the Metro Rail System has proven to be most efficient in terms of energy consumption, space occupancy and numbers transported. Such MRTS, if appropriately developed, would carry as much traffic as 7 lanes of bus traffic or 24 lanes of car traffic with reduced journey time by 50 per cent to 75 per cent. More so, such mode of transport causes no air pollution, much less sound pollution and reduces energy consumption – 20 per cent per passenger km in comparison to road-based systems. Metro rail systems are the mark of the new urban landscape. They speed commuters to their destination and add a distinctive element of style to a city. High-speed, high-capacity and hi-tech metros are here to stay.

Q What benefits does structural steel give to the designers involved in metro station structures?
A The versatility of steel gives architects the freedom to achieve their most ambitious visions. Steel structures can be erected speedily with accuracy. In fact, speed of erection is often one of the main criteria for selecting steel. In linear projects like Metro Rail, it also reduces disruption to nearby buildings and roads. Time related savings can easily amount to between 3 per cent and 5 per cent of the overall project value, reducing the client’s requirements for working capital and improving cash flow.

Steel-framed structures are highly durable, and do not age or decay as quickly as other construction materials, thereby, lasting longer before refurbishment is required. Steel’s inherent adaptability and flexibility also means that future changes or extensions – even vertically – can be carried out with minimal disruption and cost.

Q Being one of the largest infrastructure projects undertaken in the state, what are the real challenges faced by you during construction and how do you surmount those?
A Construction of elevated metro rail viaduct over 80 road junctions on three metro corridors is like building a number of flyovers over the busy traffic junctions without disrupting the vehicular traffic at the saturated junctions. However, junctions which have more than 34 metre of span length will have to be bridged through ‘in situ’ construction i.e. on-the-spot construction method. For allowing the traffic to pass through these junctions, a gap of about 50 feet will be left between the temporary supports, thereby, giving about three lanes on each side for movement of traffic.

Q Which are the other areas of construction in a metro project wherein steel can be used in a higher proportion for producing better results?
A Rail over bridges and viaduct over critical junctions is one area where steel is particularly important. The prefabrication of components means that construction time on site in hostile environments is minimized. The speed of steel bridge construction reduces the durations of rail possessions and road closures, which minimizes disruption to the public using those networks. The light-weight nature of steel permits the erection of large components, and in special circumstances complete bridges may be installed overnight.

Q What kind of safety measures are being adhered in the Hyderabad Metro?
A Hyderabad Metro, probably the world’s largest Metro Rail Project in PPP (public-private partnership), is in secant operational model. It is being implemented entirely on PPP basis, with the state government holding a minority equity stake. It has elevated world-class station buildings at approximately every kilometer. The advanced signaling and train control technology, communication based train control (CBTC), is adopted for Hyderabad Metro to control the trains. Hyderabad Metro would be first in India to claim train control by CBTC technology. The trains can run with headway of 90 seconds to meet commuters demand during office peak hours in morning and in evening.

The trains shall run on Automatic Train Operation (ATO) mode which is the normal mode of operation of trains. The Automatic Train Protection (ATP) system continuously monitors safe train operation and initiates necessary action, if a train doesn’t perform as desired. All vital train borne equipment’s are highly safe and redundant to avoid any unwanted interruption of train service. The station equipments e.g. computer based interlocking (CBI), wayside ATP etc. are vital signaling equipments, and redundantly arranged to ensure safe and uninterrupted train operation. Passenger emergency stop plungers are provided on each platform and in station control room (SCR) to stop a train immediately in case of emergency.

Q How do you assess the future of Metro Rail in our country?
A Every city is unique in terms of its history, design, architecture, transportation character and layout. A city has to grow and evolve through a coordinated effort aimed at progress, while conserving its history and heritage. Progress will become structurally purposeful, ethically meaningful and economically sustainable only when it is achieved through a people-partnered process.

Creating a world-class Metro rail infrastructure in a congested and regulation-heavy city like Delhi was a daunting task. With 2 million people hitching a ride every day, Delhi Metro Rail has become a new way of life. As the Delhi Metro covers more ground, more and more people have shifted to this mode of transport. Some 200 trains cover 70,000 km everyday on 190-km-long metro corridors in Delhi. The numbers can only increase once another 140 km in new lines are added by 2016. The Delhi Metro saves 2 million barrels every year by taking petrol and diesel vehicles off the roads. Given that the oil price averaged around $100 per barrel until a few months ago, this means an annual saving of $200 million or Rs 1,200 crore.

The Namma Metro is a truly global service. Everything about it is international class; the air-conditioned coaches, the stations and the lush green stretches through which it passes in gentle curves. Trains run from 6 am in the morning till 10 pm in the night. The trains run at a frequency of 15 minutes from 6 am to 8 am in the morning, and 8 pm to 10 pm in night, and with frequency of 10 minutes from 8 am to 8 pm.

Mumbai Metro can carry around 280-300 passengers per coach as opposed to the Monorail which has a capacity of 145-160 passengers per coach. It will initially run with 4 coaches, but, would later boast of 6 coaches. The Versova-Andheri-Ghatkopar stretch has 12 stations and the trains will travel at an average speed of 60-80 kmph.

The metro fever is catching up in smaller cities, thanks largely to the success of Delhi Metro. Cities like Chandigarh, Ludhiana and Bhopal are making a case for metro, even though they don’t qualify because of the population cut-off.