Founded in 1995 by ‘Great Master Architect’ award recipient, Prof. Christopher Benninger and Mr. Ramprasad Akkiseti, CCBA has become one of the most revered and idolised architectural design studio to date. Having thrived under the mentoring from the legendary master architect, CCBA has developed quite a few iconic projects and has always been looked up to by architectural fraternity.
With iconic projects such as IIM Calcutta and IIT Hyderabad, Azim Premji University in Bengaluru, Suzlon World HQ in Pune, Supreme Court of Bhutan, Forbes Marshal Industrial campus CCBA has been a prominent name in the designing of public places. That is why, when Lodha Belmondo came on the horizon as the first township project designed by this firm, it gave us a great opportunity to listen to Mr. Ramprasad Akkiseti about the perspective of CCBA that makes their every project distinctive.
Tell us about the history of this project. What was the thought behind the initiation of this particular project?
This was during the time when the large-scale projects or townships were the latest trend as the government was giving a list of leverages given that the developers were taking responsibility of developing a project with its own infrastructural facilities such as sewage management and treatment facility. So if one could provide with the things that would lessen the burden on government departments, one would get perks like increased FSI in return. It’s a fair trade.
During this period, Lodha Group was looking to enter into the Pune real estate market and they weren’t keen on launching a solitary building project. Since they are based in Mumbai, they were more interested in creating a project that would also act as a 2nd home for the residents of Mumbai. As luck would have it, they found this large land parcel near expressway which is an hour and a half journey from Mumbai. So they bought the land and that’s how it all started.
The government made major changes in the development control regulations during the design phase of this project. How did it make an impact?
After purchasing the land, Lodha Group faced a series of problems. There was a DP road planned by the development authorities of Pune that was running from the middle of the property. Also, this land stuck between the expressway on one side and a river from the other side. So as per regulations, we couldn’t build till the 100 meters from the centre of the river and we had to leave some amount of space near the expressway for the service roads.
But as they say, ‘when you are working under the worst conditions, that’s when the brilliance comes’. So rather than letting these spaces, which covered almost 50% of the whole land, we decided to use it to create an eco-system like a park, a garden or a forest, which would enhance this township. That is when Mr. Abhishek Lodha, with his sharp business acumen, told us that we should develop a golf course. This is where we got Greg Norman onboard to design the 9-hole golf course.
How did you build the concept? What were the focus points while starting the design process?
As you can understand, we had lost almost half of the land construction due to the rules and regulations. Since we could not spread out the FSI over that 50% of the land, we were forced to go vertical in order to optimally use that FSI on the remaining land. That’s why we had to build 28 towers of 22-floor height. Along with it we also built a few townhouses and row-houses, and a massive clubhouse of 50,000 sq.ft.
With 3000 residences, we estimated the number of residents to be around 15,000, when the township is fully occupied. So we needed a very large clubhouse and lots of open spaces. The tall buildings helped us free the land and keep the surroundings open. That’s how we formed the concept of building a high-rise township; not because the high-rise apartments are glamorous but because we felt that there was no other choice.
What would be the highlights of the project from your perspective?
When we decided to do high-rise apartments, Prof. Benninger rightfully pointed out that the design of any tall building should celebrate its verticality. So instead of designing balconies that interrupted the sky touching the facade of the building, we decided to create a design that would treat the whole building as a united entity. We also didn’t want it to look like it was made up just by stacking one floor on the other. Hence we painted the building shafts in terra-cotta colour to create a visuality that resonated the building’s verticality by making it look leaner. The terra-cotta colour also gave a refreshing tone to the entire facade.
With its planning, we have been able to ensure that the minute you enter in this project, you will feel as if you have entered a foreign city. Don’t get me wrong, it’s not like I have a fascination about the lifestyle of developed countries. It’s just that the cities in India are primarily so cluttered and ill-planned that they create chaos and burden your mind. You don’t experience peace, happiness and you don’t feel like pursuing the finer nuances of the human life. It is only when you enter a place that makes you feel safe, refreshed, serene, that you feel like delving deeper into creative and meaningful pursuit.
How do you imagine the community life within the project?
I think it’s very premature to speculate right now since this project had been traded off as a 2nd home to many customers. However, now, many people have started to live there permanently. But it’s still premature for the community to be formed. With occupancy and time, the community will eventually shape up.
As for the planning, we obviously have created spaces that will promote an outdoor community interaction but I myself really don’t know how people will utilise it. In the current society, we see families sitting in the living room and watching TV together instead of talking to each other. And honestly, that is the case with most of the families. So if that is how the family members interact or rather, not interact with each other, how can I imagine about how the community will react.
How was it a different experience to be working in the real estate sector?
I think the difference when it comes to real estate sector is that you are dealing with a different set of people. In our other projects, the end product is not being sold. In the real estate sector, the developer is acting as a mediator. He has to build a product and make sure that the end users will like it. So at our side, since we aren’t at all talking to the end users, we have to predict; about the lifestyle of the project’s future residents, their lifestyle, their preferences. And then we have to match the design with available funds. The equations related to demand and supply also play a major role since this is business for the developer. So the people who work on the development of the project have to be very cost efficient without hindering the aesthetics as well as the quality. Working with such teams can put quite a few restrictions but it also taught us a lot. And it was these restrictions that helped us improve the design to an optimum level.
On the other hand, working on institutes and corporates is quite different as there is a bit understanding gap. The end users are aware of their requirements but since they do not belong to the architectural field, they tend to question even the basic and obvious aspects.
Who are the targeted residents for this project? Punekars or Mumbaikars? (Since they both have different preferences towards lifestyle)
For us, at CCBA, we designed this project for the people of Pune. The project being close to Mumbai, Lodha felt that it could also act as a 2nd home for Mumbaikars but the design itself is created with a target audience of Puneites. Basically, it is aimed at a cosmopolitan crowd of those who are working in Hinjewadi IT Park, Expats in Chakan industrial area, and those who have aspirations of living a modern lifestyle.
What are the essentials that you would like the other architects of Pune to follow from this project?
Don’t include design elements if they aren’t making any real contribution to the functionality. Putting a balcony where nobody can sit isn’t good design. Don’t give such features just as a provision on behest of by-laws or the developer. I’m not saying ‘don’t follow the by-laws”, I’m saying that you should question the necessity or purpose of the elements that you are adding through the design.
Also, focus on the minor things that make a major difference; not just from the design perspective but from the usability point as well. For example, elevators are one of the most used elements in any building so ensure that they are of best possible quality. While planning car parking and walkways, make sure you have planned and installed the convex mirrors on turns and proper lights for better safety.
Apart from all of this, also make it point to use natural forces such as sunlight, wind patterns and take advantage of them in the design. The orientation of the building is very important and that orientation should be driven by the natural factors rather than the surrounding. Typically, architects tend to think about how the building facade should like on the side of the road. But that should be the least of your concern. The building is designed for its residents no the people walking on the road so you can choose to ignore them. The design should be focussed more on the end user, not the spectator.
Project: Lodha Belmondo
Pune, Maharashtra, India 2009-Ongoing
(Phase I &II: 2017 Completed, Phase III: Ongoing)
Client: Lodha Group
Built Up Area: 5.5 Million Square feet
Site area: 98 acres
Architect Team: Daraius Choksi, Rahul Sathe, Shivaji Karekar, Sachin Deo, Sundar Bommaji, Prashant Kulshreshtha, Prashant Verma, Rashida Lokhandwala, Kalpak Shah, Shreyashi Dasgupta, Swapnil Kanitkar, Sagar Shah, Supriya Krishnan and Devyani Shekhawat
Structural Design: J+W Consultants, Pune and Ramboll, Mumbai
Golf Course Designer: Greg Norman, Florida, U.S.A.