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Redesigning India's skyline
Sangeeta Singh | March 25, 2006
Oru Bose, founder of Bose International Planning and Architecture, has his headquarters in New Mexico, USA. He travels once a month to India to take care of the half dozen projects he's doing with India's leading developers, such as the Ansals and Unitech.
At 62, despite travelling constantly from the West Coast to his projects in Noida, Gurgaon, Chandigarh, Amritsar and Patiala, Bose shows no signs of tiredness. He says the excitement of doing so many different projects in India is what motivates him.
His current projects include designing and planning a 150- acre amusement park (with multiple themes) in a prime location opposite Sector 18 market in Noida, Uni Tech World in Gurgaon and townships in Chandigarh, Amritsar and Panipat. He cannot wait for the completion of the 60-acre shopping component of an amusement park in Rohini, which, according to him, is only couple of months away.
A true globetrotter with businesses in Hungary, Poland and Bulgaria, Bose first set foot in India as a businessman in 1998 to design the Global Business Park in Gurgaon, which is a landmark even today. Bose says he's amazed at the speed with which malls and residential areas are being developed nowadays.
Bose is not alone. Indian architects like Hafeez Conractor, Mohit Gujral, Dikshu Kukreja and Shekhar Patki are all busy meeting developers during the day and designing their projects at night. Yes, the real estate boom has brought about a sea change in the leisurely pace at which these architects used to work.
Says Contractor: "Except manufacturing, real estate development is happening in all sectors. Retail particularly offers immense opportunities, and architects have more work than ever before."
According to Gujral, it's time now for architects to get recognition for their work, because the bandwidth has been created and timely delivery has become the buzzword.
Does that suggest that architects are now in a position to negotiate higher fees? "The demand for good architects is far outstripping supply and therefore those handling large and presitigious projects can easily command a premium in their fees. Besides, like any other business, architecture has become volumes-driven for those who do major works for 4-5 bigger clients," says Gujral.
While Contractor has just completed Infosys IT Park in Chandigarh, and begun work on projects like a 75-storeyed building in Tardeo in central Mumbai and the Mumbai airport, Gujral is busy with a five million sq ft IT park in DLF, a township in Parsvnath, retail malls in Chennai and Kolkata and a mixed-use residential and hotel complex in Goa.
However, Contractor and Shekhar Patki, director, PG Patki Associates, feel that with developers wanting jobs done overnight and with many architects ready to offer this kind of delivery, that too for far lower fees, the overall fee structure is going down.
"Because of competition, fees have come down by almost 50 per cent in 10-15 years," says Patki.
P G Patki, which has been in the business for 45 years, is associated with some of Mumbai's most prestigious projects such as the Hilton Towers, Inter Continental, The Oberoi, The Ritz, Renaissance and two Marriot hotels, the In Orbit Mall in Malad and the Phoenix Mall in Lower Parel.
The firm is also working on 20-25 malls across the country in cities like Jaipur, Pune, Jabalpur, Indore, Kolkata and so on. Patki will, therefore, not fall prey to any kind of gimmick by developers.
"We neither compromise on quality nor on our fees. As for developers, it is for them to decide whether they want a building with a solid design by a sound architect, or whether they want to pay an architect, who may not deliver on quality, less," says Patki.
Whereas earlier, architects used to charge a percentage (roughly between 4-5 per cent) of the total construction costs, these days they charge according to square foot. Sushil Sharma, consultant (Arc & Planning), Ansal Properties & Infrastructure, who has greyed his hair in the profession, says that due to anomalies in fee rates, the new norm was arrived at by the Council of Architects. "But even then, architects resort to lower fees and then also cut corners," he adds.
Shiban Ganju, senior partner, Shiban Ganju Associates, who built the Apollo Gleneagle Hospital in Kolkata, townships for the Aditya Birla Group in Gujarat and Renukoot, and is building townhouses and studio apartments for Jaypee Greens, says that good architects will always command a premium.
"We, for instance, have never worked on any project for less than 4-5 per cent of the construction cost," he says.
Sharma says a consequence of this is that developers have stopped taking architects for granted and defering payment. "Increased professionalism has led to developers respecting those designing their projects," he says.
However, one issue that must give Indian architects sleepless nights is the flocking in of foreign architects. Contractor, though, doesn't seem perturbed. "Indian architects have the advantage of understanding and adapting to the local environment. Very soon we will lead foreign architects," he says.
Dikshu C Kukreja, director, C P Kukreja Associates, feels that, even while foreign players tend to impress clients with their Powerpoint presentations, software and networking, it is the Indian architects who understand the local environment and policy norms.
"Tell me which foreign player will help get his design passed with the concerned government machinery, and which foreign player will not charge extra if the developer wants to make modifications.
Indian architects go out of their way to do all these things for clients," says Kukreja. Counters Bose: "Getting designs passed by the government is not the architects' job, and neither is lobbying, so why take pride in it?"
Nonetheless, Kukreja, who is working on a 50 lakh sq ft commercial centre in Ludhiana and another 50 lakh sq ft residential complex in Lucknow, is clear about who will dominate the market: "It's the Indian architects who will lead".
He also says that a lot of foreign architects like Bell Collins just franchise their brand names and therefore cannot guarantee quality. Contractor, on the other hand, suggests that good Indian and foreign architects can work together on large projects, and make the most out of each other's experience.
Whether Indian architects like it or not, foreign architects from the US, Australia, Thailand, Singapore and Malaysia are coming into the country in hordes, with some even charging lower fees than their Indian counterparts.
Arcob Associates, Bell Collins, Mienhardt and RSP are some of the bigger foreign architects who work in India. Bose says that the USP of a foreign, and especially multinational architect, is that he can integrate local needs into international designs, "thanks to the sheer exposure of working in different countries".
However, what these firms have done is poach younger architects, because of which, Contractor and Gujral say, there is a dearth of good staff.
"Because of competition, it is very difficult to find talented people. Besides, so many younger architects have left for better avenues in the Middle East and Europe," says Contractor.
While it may take a while for the industry to breed good entry-level architects, others are busy cashing in on the changed needs of the younger generation.
For instance, J P Agrawal, principal architect of Kolkata's Agrawal and Agrawal, says he found his experience designing Infinity IT Park in Kolkata absolutely refreshing. "I had to develop an office complex for youngsters, with a relaxed and lively atmosphere and lots of common space to facilitate better interaction," says Agrawal.Agrawal also takes pride in his other project, Forum mall, which, according to him, was the first of its kind in east India. "Architects today have better chances of showcasing their creativity thanks to the requirements of the younger generation, which has created the need for IT parks and call centres, entertainment centres and amusement parks," he says.
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