The Palm Springs project in Nigeria challenges all conventional perceptions about the African country, whether it is the concept itself or the use of construction technology. Kartik Punjabi, chief executive, Vijay Punjabi Consultants Pvt Ltd, who’s working on the project explains why he prefers to call it ‘dream engineering’.
When most people think of Nigeria, they usually think of a third-world African nation. I had similar thoughts until I went there for the Palm Springs project. The project came across as a refreshing revelation about the open-mindedness of this country that seems to be getting ready for an economic transformation. This particular project is the brain child of a person of Indian origin – Haresh Keswani, managing director, Palm Springs Projects Ltd (Lagos, Nigeria).
The vision behind the project is to create a paradise in Nigeria. (Incidentally, he is also looking at a tie-up with the Dutch retail giant Spar International, who’s expressed serious interest in expanding in that part of the world.) It is quite interesting that Mr Keswani prefers to call himself a manufacturer of homes rather than a developer or a builder.
And it’s not just the nomenclature that differentiates him; his approach to the construction business itself is quite unique. His line of thought runs parallel to the assembly line approach adopted by the automobile manufacturing sector.
When the client (Mr Keswani) came to us, the project had already been designed with roads constructed on site, infrastructure being put in place and building plans frozen. It seemed he was primarily looking for cosmetic surgeons – in the architectural sense – who would carry out a face lift to the diminished engineering that was already in place.
Upon our initial meetings in India and my studies of the architectural plans, it was very clear that the beginning was not on the right track. Hence I recommended that an entire re-think was necessary. The client was well aware of the limitations due to the work already done on site. He agreed to a site and design review meeting to be held in Nigeria to discuss ground realities and find a way forward.
Having travelled across developed countries, it was my first visit to an African nation. It was almost a sense of déjà vu when we approached the Lagos Airport; what I saw near the airport reminded me of the Dharavi slum area.
The touch down to the airport itself was quite dramatic with abandoned airplanes lying around the runway. The first impression was definitely not positive and I felt that it would be a big challenge to build dreams in a land ‘as backwards as this’. But it was all about to change upon reaching the project site, which was being managed quite professionally.
The actual site was spread over 83.5 acres and the drive from the entry gate to the other end took a good five minutes. We immediately brainstormed at the site and laid down some parameters that we believed were unchangeable.
The client had already sub-divided the site into plots. In fact, speaking in the Indian context, he had generated plot numbers and had even placed key stones demarcating each plot. This had been approved by the government authorities.
Thus, a redesign of the master plan in totality was ruled out. Although roads were in place, amalgamation of a few plots with variations in the road network was a possibility within acceptable limits.
Having understood the ground realities and site constraints, it was important to meet the local counterparts like structural consultants, architects and planning authorities who had already put some efforts into the project and hence had a hands-on understanding of every aspect.
We spent over three days in brainstorming all ideas and possibilities and during the journey back home, I could now relate with the vision of creating a paradise in Nigeria. The rest evolved as easily as history.
Once back, we got into concept design and design development. We envisaged the project as a mixed use development encompassing a business park, retail/mall, hotel, service apartments, row houses, semi-detached bungalows, apartment buildings and a club house.
All these mixed use structures were never envisaged in the original master plan and hence the creation of synergy between the mixed use components was the challenging part that we had to integrate into a master plan.
Design & conceptualisation
The project name has been inspired by the site landscape. The entrance drive has various species of palms and lush green landscape with a covered glass walkway. The site is integrated geographically with three axes oriented north-south.
A central oval island with an implied vision of waterfront club invites the entire township with a central spine (walkway), i.e. the club on the island which gives the residents an opportunity to interact and build relations and integrity.
Axis 1: It consists of the business park which is a plush development with a central oval recreation park. The landscape feature cohesively blends with the business centres on both sides which will house conferences and business meetings without disturbing the workspaces.
Each building is cordoned off and designed in such a way that it forms an individual complex or can be clubbed to form a business park. The ‘Park’ is built on the basis of workspaces opening up to nature. This creates a ‘park environment’ into the business spaces. The floor plates are with large column grids and modern architectural facades.
Axis 2: This includes the club house, villas, row houses, detached dwelling and semi-detached dwelling. The villas, twin bungalows and row houses are planned to apprehend a mixed culture which does not imply any segregation of classes.
Also, the facades of the above dwellings are designed to bring a flow in street elevation to avoid repetition and monotony. Each villa, twin bungalow and row house is designed with an intention of bring modern architecture in close encounter with nature. The colours are earthy and once again reinforce the ideology of living and nature being cohesive at Palm Springs.
Axis 3: The third axis primarily consists of the apartment buildings that are planned efficiently and placed along the oval axis. They overlook the plush landscapes, palm islands, children and environment parks.
The complex houses facilities from tennis courts to swimming pools thereby creating a new essence in condominium living culture.
All the three axes create a cohesive relation within themselves with an oval island in each of the axis. The development along these axes is built with an oval island in the centre, rich with palms, landscapes and water.
Once the architectural design had been visualised by in-house 3D visualisers, the client presented us with the most challenging aspect of the project – the actual construction.
Standardisation was very important in this project and hence we had a relook at it with the possibility of using pre-engineered shuttering. This would enable easy and repeated construction with high level of consistency in quality.
The architectural drawings were then sent to Wall-Ties & Forms, Inc (WTF) in the US. WTF, one of the largest manufacturers of concrete forming systems in the world, converted the drawings to aluminium building blocks that would be filled with concrete on site.
The entire structure was to be built in RCC, which meant engineering to the utmost. It was essential to ensure that each and every conduit – water supply line, drain lines, air-conditioning pipes & ducts, drain & condensing pipes – was inside the walls before the concrete was poured.
The end result was achieved at an average speed of four days per house being constructed from plinth, and in a country where we imagined construction was going to be a challenge to achieve.
Realisation of a dream
Today, the project is in a very advanced stage of construction with Phase 1 being completed. The client has already acquired some land in the Marina Bay close by, to extend the identity created by Palm Springs Residences and Resort in Lagos. We call this ‘Dreamengineering’ – after all this is the realisation of a dream through construction engineering. The result, I am sure, will be a landmark in Nigeria. The author can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org