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Asia Outlook

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Asia construction
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ACTA

Aspirational Architecture

aCTa’s ongoing success in India is epitomised by a series of award-winning architecture projects in Kolkata; each designed courtesy of unrivalled experience and expertise

Writer: Matthew Staff

Project Manager: Tom Cullum

aCTa was inaugurated as a business derived from expertise and opportunity back in 2004, at the hands of a man whose long and distinguished international career leant itself perfectly to architectural success in Asia.

The man in question is Stephen Coates whose personal journey began in London before taking him to Hong Kong as a founding Executive Director of Aedas. Subsequently securing work with the Company in China and India, aCTa proved to be a natural progression for the entrepreneur when setting up the practice in Singapore.

“India continued to grow as a more natural market than China due to its proximity to Singapore, and the language. Furthermore, Indian developer companies tend to be privately held by hands-on owners. They therefore like the fact that aCTa is owned by an architect who has experience of delivering large projects across Asia and who leads the designs personally,” Coates details the Company’s strategy. “Over time, we have developed an understanding of the unique challenges of designing and delivering projects in this fascinating but challenging market.

“Larger foreign architectural practices struggle to make inroads into India but aCTa has been working there successfully since we launched 13 years ago.”

East India in particular has been a core focus for the Company in the intervening years, and while aCTa’s skill-set and business proposition would technically facilitate projects anywhere around the world, it is the aforementioned business climate in India that remains most lucrative.

And to this challenging, yet profitable country, the Company has managed to tailor its offering to become one of the most sought-after operators in the region.

Coates continues: “Our differentiator is our ability to offer original and exciting concepts that are relevant and achievable design solutions to a given challenge; combining innovative design solutions which maximise our clients’ investment, and presented in a clear, concise and interesting way using all available technologies such as VR. This is then backed up with enhanced and properly coordinated drawing packages.”

A small practice designing large projects

To survive, and then thrive, it has been imperative for aCTa to keep abreast of all developments in the global industry, before applying them locally in order to win business, keep clients, and secure new contracts.

“As for all service industries, our clients expect best design solutions backed up with full analysis, and better presentations at each stage; with more information, more quickly, and at a competitive price,” Coates explains. “For a small practice designing large projects, we have to be up to speed with what the large practices are offering in terms of presentation techniques such as VR. With the improvement in software, we have been able to offer more services with less staff, enabling us to remain competitive.”

In turn, a plethora of high profile projects have been attained with three in particular epitomising the expertise of aCTa and its resultant appeal within the market.

Firstly, set on the Eastern Edge of Kolkata, Urbana’s Phase 1 comprises seven towers providing 1,170 units in the city’s tallest residential tower complex; also consisting of 40 detached bungalows set across 60 acres.

Coates details: “The towers overlook a beautiful landscaped garden which is large enough for two cricket fields and is actually a roof garden that disguises a huge underground car park for 2,500 cars. All apartments have optimum views away from the low sun, and enjoy the wonderful cooling south-easterly breeze that wafts in from the Bay of Bengal for nine months of the year; minimising the need for air conditioning.

“aCTa and the Urbana team are currently developing the design for Phase 2 which will feature three 50-storey residential towers designed to complete the full composition of 10 towers providing almost 2,000 apartments and 500,000 square metres of luxury accommodation.”

Awarded as Credai’s Best Luxury Project and Best Residential Project; as CNBC’s Best Project in East India; and as CMO Asia Real Estate’s Best Luxury Residential Project in India for 2017 - aCTa has received similar acclaim for Hastings Park, a 10-storey apartment development also based in Kolkata, overlooking the German Embassy.

“The architecture of the building is derived from the judicious use of beautiful, timber-effect, vertical sliding aluminium louvre panels,” Coates describes. “These simultaneously provide the owners protection against the low east and west sun and allow the apartments to be fully, naturally ventilated.

“Crucially they also provide privacy, and cover up the ugly existing structural design which could not be altered.”

Creative and technical edge

Finally, shortlisted for the World Architecture News’ Best Commercial and Eco Project categories, Unimark HQ has further set the tone for aCTa’s business opportunities moving forward; again focusing on Kolkata.

“We are particularly excited about developing the design for a 100,000 square metre headquarter office tower in the heart of the city for a major client of ours,” Coates states. “We are very fortunate that the client wants this to represent the best of 21st century office thinking and they are buying into many of the initiatives we have suggested; including aiming for a platinum green rating, and bringing a turnkey contractor on board from early in the design stage.

“Another project of note is a 1,800 unit, 150,000 square metre residential development on the outskirts of the city where the focus is on delivering high speed, high quality, low cost apartments. Our challenge is to work with the client and contractors to design and deliver this, and be proud of the final product from every aspect: best quality architecture, good homes, best price, shortest time.”

In each case, the investments into VR software, the introduction of Revit, and the adoption of management platforms such as Aconex are helping to create an unrivalled proposition to prospective clients, backed up a small but experienced and entrepreneurial workforce.

The culminating structure is a flexible and highly professional one able to respond to the varying needs of its clients, and indeed to the diverse nature of the industry itself.

“A main trend at the moment is continuing fee competition where Indian practices in particular are improving their service offer at attractive fees,” Coates says. “We therefore have to maintain our creative and technical edge, while staying focused on our market to make sure we continually improve our design solutions - and then deliver on our services - as effectively as possible.”

In the future, this will transpire in further Indian saturation, and the potential of a physical office in the country should Prime Minister, Mr Modi’s environmental FDI promises come to fruition. And aCTa will be ready and waiting to reap the rewards.