by Mitalee Kurdekar
Atul Chordia is a man of few words. The chairman of Panchshil Realty prefers to have his work do all the talking. On their part, his projects – spanning the length and breadth of Pune city – have plenty to proclaim. Whether it is long-standing edifices representing successfully completed ventures or ornate obelisks in the form of modern-day marvels, each structure bears testimony to Panchshil’s commitment to advanced technology and uncompromised excellence. That is perhaps why, even 15 years after their inception in 2002, Panchshil remains synonymous with both quality of construction and luxury.
“When we started out in 2002, there were no cutting-edge projects that could be compared to anything of international quality. That’s how we narrowed down on our niche audience, deciding to make only ultra-premium projects and sell them to the super affluent. In a sense, we created that market,” professes Chordia.
He started his journey as a real estate broker in Pune, before venturing into the construction business, a transition that explains his innate understanding of all aspects of the real estate business. From the very beginning, Chordia was sure of what his firm’s strength was going to be: to be a highly-focused engineering company.
He left no stone unturned in pursuing that goal, often going against the grain in the process. Back in 2003-04, when it was still an alien concept, the firm introduced many international architects to India, adopting a trend that has continued to this day. As of today, the brand boasts an association with marquee names such as Philippe Starck in the form of yoopune, Kelly Hoppen for yoovillas, and of course, the talk of the town, The Trump Organization with India’s first Trump Towers.
“We have always done very high-end projects with global architects, and the finishing is like you would expect anywhere else in the world,” Chordia states with apparent pride.
Working with the Best
And that has come to become the key differentiator for the company, something that is helping it stand out among competition, while also creating sustained demand for multi-crore homes and commercial spaces in an emerging metro hub like Pune.
One of their first large-scale initiatives was the International Convention Centre (ICC), way back in 2007. The mixed-use development is spread across 2.2 million sq-ft and estimated to be the largest composite trade and convention centre in South Asia. The JW Marriot Pune and Convention Centre (formerly The Pune Marriot Hotel) were constructed as part of Phase II of this project, in 2009-10. The ICC Mall of about 6,65,500 sq-ft is also within its premises. A similar project followed in the form of Business Bay. This LEED Gold-certified mixed-use development covers an area of over 14 acres, and was completed in 2014. The campus is today home to fortune 500 giants like HSBC, Deutsche Bank, Master Card and BMC Software. The property will also house the luxury hotel brand, The Ritz-Carlton, which is set be inaugurated next year and will be one among the six hotels Panchshil has built and invested in, in the city. The World Trade Center Pune (WTC Pune), a part of the global brand – World Trade Center Association, is another landmark. It is situated in Kharadi, a well-connected but underserved locality that Panchshil took the onus of transforming, by developing its infrastructure, improving connectivity and building some of India’s most luxurious projects.
“This was the first PPP (public-private partnership) model in the country, wherein we took up the development of Kharadi’s entire infrastructure to offset it against the taxes and municipal charges,” claims Chordia. Not only have they followed through on that deal, but also earned a lot of goodwill and secured a sizeable share of the city’s real estate pie, in the bargain. Today, the company is said to have almost 65% market share in Pune’s commercial real estate segment, while it leases a whopping two million sq-ft worth of grade-A commercial space each year.
“On the residential side, since we’re operating in a very niche market, we don’t have many residential projects. Yet, whatever we do build, is just enough to get absorbed quickly in the market,” declares Chordia, also suggesting that they possess almost 10 million sq-ft of commercial and seven million sq-ft of residential property. While Blackstone has invested in their commercial ventures for the past three years, luxury residential is largely driven by Panchshil.
They do, however, indulge in other collaborations for their residential developments. The much-publicised Trump Towers Pune is an alliance with the New York-based global luxury developer. Located in Kalyani Nagar, the recently-completed LEED Platinum-rated property houses two stellar jet-black towers, 23-storeys high, with a single residence on each floor. Award-winning Italian designer Matteo Nunziati conceptualised and designed the apartment finishes and common areas.
Similarly, Koregaon Park Annexe is home to yoopune, where 228 designer residences are ensconced in six majestic towers, built around a five-acre rain forest. Besides a multitude of amenities, including a concierge service by Quintessentially and Spa la Vie by L’occitane, the residents can enjoy personally crafted home accessories by Philippe Starck – from Flos lighting to Duravit and Hansgrohe bath fittings. The LEED Gold-certified project was finished last year.
Ask him which achievement he is most proud of as the founder, and Chordia is quick to offer with a smile: “On the money-making side of things, of course our commercial ventures, which have resulted in industry beating top line growth. However, on the residential side, we have managed to showcase our construction excellence and earned a lot of goodwill, since we indulged in only high-end construction activities.”
Soaring with Technology
One such project is Panchshil Towers, which is spread over 15 acres in Pune’s Kharadi area. Launched in 2013 and set to be fully occupied in the next couple of years, the LEED Platinum-rated venture has many firsts to its credit. Besides having the fastest-constructed, intelligently-engineered homes, the nine towers – at 350ft and 35-storeys each – will be the tallest luxury residential project of Pune.
In keeping with Panchshil’s inclination towards introducing cutting-edge technology, this will be the first residential project in India to use factory-fitted or pre-fabricated bathroom pod installation technology. This innovative solution uses state-of-the-art, near-ready bathroom pods, built using an assembly line process at a 2.5 acre facility – off-site – and then placed directly in the apartments. The three dimensional self-supporting structure comprises of a floor base frame, walls and a ceiling/roof. It comes complete with all architectural fittings and fixtures, while all plumbing and electrical services are pre-installed and fully tested.
In fact, the 80-member Bath Pod Unit enjoys expertise in turnkey solutions, whether it is designing, engineering, procurement or commissioning. There is stringent control when it comes to quality, including inspections with regard to waterproofing, tiling, service pipe pressure tests, bathroom leak tests and electrical continuity testing. Post this, the units are crane-lifted directly onto the particular floor plates of the building concerned (or transported on trailers for ship-out). Once in position, hook-up connections are made using flexible connections to the already provided source-points on the dry wall exterior of the units. The entire process is quick and easy, merely involving the plugging of electricity and water connections, after which the bathroom is finished and fully operational. Depending on the order size and pace of construction, one unit takes hardly one to two weeks to construct, while guaranteeing consistent quality and uniform results over time and scale.
“With the Bath Pods, we are looking at transforming the scale construction of bathrooms and washrooms for medium and large-scale premium projects. This technique will significantly reduce construction timelines for all developers,” admits Chordia, adding that this approach will ensure the fabrication of best-in-class bathrooms using the latest and best in methodology, techniques and material. Given that 1,000 apartments need to be serviced, 5,000 such Bath Pods are slated to be fitted at Panchshil Towers. Of these, the first 1,000 Bath Pods were produced in one year and the next 1,000 in six months only.
Apart from this, the project will also utilise Dry Construction Technique (DCT), another first in India. This will help reduce the use of water and improve the project’s environmental impact, also accelerating the construction process and allowing speedier completion (by up to 70%) and faster handover. Overall, dry construction necessitates the use of lightweight material, structures and systems. To quote an instance, the Panchshil Towers project requires a road network to be constructed around its development area, and since concrete roads require cement and plenty of water, Panchshil has opted for ‘paving blocks’ instead. Fixed on dry crush sand, which limits the use of water, paving blocks also allow rain-water to percolate into the ground, thus increasing the ground-water table.
As far as the apartment itself is concerned, DCT has been used for the interior walls, ceilings and floors, using plastered or microfibre board that is joint at the time of installing. In addition to the dry wall and ceiling, the façade is also done with Aluminum Composite Panels (ACP), making it easy to maintain in the long-term. In fact, this technique has been adopted in other Panchshil projects like yoopune and Tech Park One.
Strength & Sustainability
“We always aim to introduce various engineering strengths into our construction. Given that we look to produce two million sq-ft a year, we felt the need to introduce technology and processes to do it faster. As a result, we were the first to start dry construction techniques in India. For this purpose, we have set up our own factory close to Pune, where we manufacture slabs and beams,” states Chordia.
He has a great affinity for picking up globally renowned technologies and ensuring that they are introduced at his projects. “Whenever we see any good processes in construction, anywhere in the world, we usually want to adopt it. We try and send our engineers abroad for learning or we get someone from there to come teach us. It’s a continuous process of upgrading,” he proclaims. Panchshil carries out all its engineering and contracting work in house. Of the 900 people employed by the company, about 400 are project managers and engineers.
Technology may be their mainstay, but sustainability targets are not far behind. With DCT itself, one million litres of water is saved at Panchshil Towers alone. All new projects are LEED certified; with a majority of them holding a Gold or even Platinum classification. Most projects have solar heating systems, electricity generation and rainwater harvesting.
Besides the use of Mivan for the main skeleton, the non-load bearing walls at Panchshil Towers are made of gypsum boards ranging from 4mm-12mm, saving space and making it easy to renovate or customise without much hassle. Approximately 50% of the Panchshil Towers land parcel is made up of landscaped or open areas. A 40,000 sq-ft internationally-serviced club and a walk-to-work culture, with healthcare, education and entertainment avenues is another draw.
Rooted in Pune
The project has witnessed an overwhelming response, with around 70% of the current offerings already sold out, despite the floundering real estate market. Chordia attributes this to their singular market-focussed approach. “One of our strategies that has worked very well for us is not venturing out of Pune. We were focused on just one market, and only in one city. Even within Pune, our stress has been on the eastern part of the city. This guaranteed that the projects were easily accessible, and I was also personally involved on a day-to -day basis. Out-n-out focus on product excellence is one of the reasons recession did not hit us,” believes Chordia.
Of course, that cannot be the only reason. The company has managed to sustain itself rather well, in a difficult business landscape, and has three new, big ticket residential projects underway, in the form of Panchshil Towers, EON Waterfront (Phase 2) and the soon-to-be-launched yoovillas. Perhaps another explanation for this is that a significant section of Panchshil’s elite clientele happens to also include NRIs, who identify with the global standards of the product. On the commercial front too, they remain market leaders in Pune. Whatever the cause, the city’s real estate market is certainly reaping rich dividends for Panchshil, and it is therefore not surprising that Chordia is currently not too keen on exploring other markets. Upon some prodding, he confesses that if he does decide to bite the bullet, Mumbai will be his city of choice, and he is considering business opportunities there.
Whether that happens or not, the fact remains that Chordia seems to do no wrong when it comes to understanding the pulse of the Indian real estate market. With his single-minded focus on Pune, the reticent developer will continue to do what he does best – providing the erstwhile pensioner’s paradise with an enviable skyline of technologically-superior skyscrapers and, not to forget, an unending dose of luxurious living.