Home buyers can get ready for a world-class experience as a number of realty firms are hiring architects from abroad to add that extra edge to their products

Keeping alive the tradition started by the legendary architects like Sir Edwin Landseer Lutyens and Herbert Baker (both had designed several key buildings of New Delhi) and Le Corbusier (Chief Architect of Chandigarh), architects from abroad continue to design buildings in India. The only difference is that while earlier the government of the day used to invite them to work, now realty firms hire them to design their major projects.

The likes of Godrej Properties, Mahindra, Ansal API, Unitech, SVP, Hiranandani and many more are hiring foreign architect firms.

Who’s hired

Just a couple of months ago, Godrej hired DP Architects of Singapore to design their 50-storey residential project in Mahalaxmi area of Mumbai.

US-based Hellmuth Obata Kassabaum Inc (HOK), has already worked with Indian builders such as Unitech, Hiranandani and many other big firms. Realty experts say that it is a welcome sign that eminent architects from abroad are coming to India. They bring a global perspective and diverse expertise to a project.

Singapore-based firms like RSP Architects Planners and Architects 61 Ltd are designing projects in many big cities in India and are getting many more projects here. RSP has reportedly opened its office in Mumbai, Begaluru and Hyderabad. It has designed the International Tech Park project in Bangalore. It has also designed offices for IT giants like Wipro, Satyam and Microsoft.

The Unitech group has taken the services of great golfer Greg Norman to design the lush green golf course for their prestigious Unitech Grande project in Greater Noida. A senior official of Unitech says that the company hires Indian as well as foreign architects for its projects. “So far our experience with architects from abroad is really good”, he adds.

Emaar MGF has hired the services of a host of global architects like Singapore-based SRSS Architects, Bentel Associates of South Africa and Giorgio Armani for its various projects in India.

Some developers hire multiple design firms simultaneously for a single project. Unitech, for instance, has 10 global architecture and design consultants for the $3 billion Unitech Grande project — a super-luxury residential complex over 347 acres along the Noida expressway.

This project has experts like US-based mall designer Callison and landscape artists SWA and EDAW, as also Britain's RMJM for architecture and interiors and HOK for floor plans, besides Australian golfer Greg Norman.

Likewise, Ansal API’s 5,000-acre Sushant Golf City in Lucknow has the course villas designed by New Zealand’s Woodham Meikle Zhan Architects Ltd, golf course by Martin Hawtree and landscaping by Thailand-based KTGY.

The Mahindra group’s real estate arm Mahindra City has roped in HOK while Canadian firm Forrec, the lead architects behind Universal Studios, has tied up with Bombay Dyeing and Unitech. Lord Foster has tied up with the Neptune group to develop a 17-acre office complex called Evolution, near the Bandra-Kurla Complex (BKC).

Pros and cons

Hiring foreign designers and planners has a lot of pluses. But, the negative side of hiring them is that in some cases they don't understand the complexities of doing business in India. “This may include cultural considerations, understanding of the tax laws etc”, says Narinder Harshe, a veteran civil engineer working for Mohit Gujral's Design Plus Architects.

Sanjay Khanna, director of Kailash Nath Projects Pvt Ltd, says there is a big difference in the approach of Indian and foreign firms that undertake design jobs. He feels that international firms are more empathetic to developers’ needs and aspirations. “They find a solution which is required for a particular site, location and land. They are also more in tune with the land use demand. They are more open to new ideas. On the other hand, Indian firms have a trial and error approach to design and planning. They also try to impose their ideas on the developers”, Khanna concludes.

Competitive edge

Clearly, the Indian realty firms are taking the services of foreign firms and experts to make their projects attractive. But are the Indian architects and firms feeling the heat with this international competition?

"Not at all" was the crisp reply of noted architect Mohit Gujral. “There is enough work available in both India and abroad if you are ready to work differently. We are not bothered that some realty firms are hiring architects firms from other countries.”

Meanwhile, Sunil Jindal, CEO of NCR-based SVP builders, says that they have roped in M.Paul Friedberg Associates of America to look after the landscape part of their flagship project Gulmohur Greens in Mohan Nagar, Ghaziabad, spread over an area of 23 acres.

Limited role

Many, however, believe that the foreign architect firms have a limited role in a project in India. They usually design the master plans of the projects, while the execution part is handled by the Indian firms.

So don’t be surprised if fancy realty project names like Orchard Country, Sun City, Malibu Towne, Espace Nirvana Country and Karma Lakelands also have some top international civil engineers and architects associated with them.

And last word came from Dr Nazma Rizvi of School of Planning and Architecture, who feels that global firms are definitely good when it comes to designing projects. On many occasions, the initial designs done by them don't make any sense. Finally, Indian architects have to enter the scene to undo the damage.

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