Special issue with the Sunday Magazine
URBAN SPACES : August 1, 1999
Building for a corporate culture
Anuraag Chowfla, a partner in the Stein-Mani-Chowfla team of architects, talks to Anita Joshua.
Earlier, a building used to be a product that you sold and then forgot about. Now, with multi-national companies buying office space in a big way, a building is a working product that has to be efficiently serviced round-the-clock.
Multi-national corporate houses have strict requirements and attach great importance to the efficient servicing of all their needs. They will not consider a space which does not have cent per cent power back-up with an additional stand-by facility. Communication services have to be built into the building and should cater to the needs of a computer network.
They want a fully serviced building; in effect, everything that five star hotels used to have: Uninterrupted water supply, water treatment, highest level of fire management, and modern security systems - complete with closed circuit television, electronic locks and computer controlled access to certain areas like parking. One of the reasons why Pepsi and Coke moved out of Delhi and into Gurgaon is the parking problem around most office complexes in the capital. Besides of course, the fact that office space in Connaught Place is particularly bad.
Buildings have to be pre-wired with satellite dish antennae on top. With most operations getting computerised, fibre optic cables are put in to provide a telecom backbone in new buildings. Even speculative corporate office builders - those who build office space without knowing who they are building for - want fibre optic cables in place. We have one such project in Noida.
When we plan a building today, we take into account future needs. Most buildings in Connaught Place have a couple of toilets per floor and occupants have to construct makeshift toilet and pantry space for their employees within their own premises. Now, we provide dummy water connections at various points so that future occupants can convert these spaces into a toilet/pantry without too much trouble.
A new corporate office building today has many components that used to exist only in five star hotels earlier. Now that employee welfare has become an integral part of corporate culture, it is reflected in the architecture of a building. They would want a convention centre, an exhibition hall, an information centre, an auditorium for dealer conferences, an executive dining room, a canteen, a health club for employees and a recreation centre for the staff. Some even have luxury suites for the top brass who might not want to check into a hotel.
An added advantage of having all these facilities is that a corporate house need not rent space for its various activities. For a Noida building, the owner has asked us to put in a conference facility with a pantry service.
Since image means a lot, corporate houses invest a lot in spatial arrangements outside the building, landscaping, and providing a well-maintained and expensive-look to their lobby. Ever wondered why granite is used so lavishly in corporate establishments? Granite is easy to maintain and will look new five years later. It is the same case with material like aluminium panels. Low on maintenance, these panels provide the high visibility corporate houses want.
Maintenance is something corporate houses are very particular about. Most want the owner of the building to manage its maintenance. Rental contracts these days have penalty clauses and multinationals are uncompromising if there is any lapse in the services that are to be provided by the owner. If there is a power breakdown for even an hour, MNCs are known to cut a certain amount from the rent as penalty. They will not accept slipshod service.
Property management firms used to be an alien concept. But today, with MNCs refusing to rent a building which does not have such a firm to look after its services, property management firms are gaining currency. These firms are paid to maintain every service of the building.
There is another curious aspect about corporate culture. When it comes to building a new structure, the corporates would want a steel and glass building. But they will go to any lengths to conserve old architecture while moving into a traditional space. This is because conservation is current; a modern sentiment.
A case in point are the two buildings occupied by Standard Chartered and ANZ Grindlays, in Mumbai. These bankers spent lakhs in restoring the old ambience of these turn-of-the-19th-Century buildings. Sadly, unlike Calcutta and Mumbai - which served as mercantile centres during colonial days - Delhi does not have a stock of old buildings that can still be used as office space.
The long and the short of it is that the arrival of corporate culture in India has brought about an improvement in the quality of buildings. No longer can a builder hope to build the low quality speculative office buildings that were built in Delhi in the 1970s and the 1980s and get away with it. You won't get a buyer for such buildings.
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