BY JAYASHREE MENDES
When armed with a Masters degree in structural engineering Mayur R Shah returned from the US in 1987, he knew he would be joining the family business. Four years before, his elder brother, Chetan R Shah, who had also returned from the US, had already plunged himself into the business set up by their father and was eagerly waiting for the younger sibling to join him. The Marathon Group was thus complete with the entire family now involved.
By the time Mayur Shah joined the business, the company was in its 15th year of operations. At that time, Marathon Group was mainly focused on developing single four- to seven-storey buildings in Mulund, a suburb in north east Mumbai. And this is what the young man wanted to change. In 1988, the company constructed its first 18-storey tower, Antariksh, which has become a landmark in its own right even 25 years down the line.
Shah says, “Even today Antariksh commands a huge premium as compared to any neighbouring building. Resale flats are sold at `2,788 per sq. m., which is equivalent to those commanded in south Mumbai. We attribute this success to the design and construction technology we then used.” Marathon Group constructed the building with shear wall as opposed to the big columns that were highly popular. Shear wall is a rigid vertical diaphragm that offers lateral resistance to a building. Shear walls are important in high-rise buildings that are subject to lateral wind and seismic forces.
Happy with this development, Shah decided to look outside of Mulund to develop prominent properties. The company de veloped properties in Nashik and Dadar (Mumbai) but Shah was restless. His big chance came in 1997 when he learnt that the Jaibharat oil mill was closing down and was on the lookout to sell. Mill lands were in dire straits and most mill owners were bankrupt. Labourers had not been paid their dues and there was much unrest. Shah and his team called for a meeting and promised to pay the salaries and bonuses. He adds, “We then bought over the property and constructed Marathon Heights and it was the first property to get a helipad atop the 25-storey tower. There was demand from non-resident Indians (NRIs) for such an amenity and that is how we then designed it.”
By now the company had several firsts to its credit. Shah had also learnt something new. He decided to make land acquisition the company’s forte. And opportunities presented themselves as more mill land came under the hammer.
“Mill owners were thinking of selling as resurrecting them was out of the question. We took over the entire property of Piramal Weaving & Spinning mill in 2000 and entered into negotiations with 1,400 workers. The real estate sector was seeing a slowdown. However, we promised to pay the workers in instalments and requested them that over the next 36 months we would clear all dues as clearances and approvals would take up all our time,” Shah says. It was a win-win situation for all.
“While we acquired seven acres of land, the mill owners too benefitted. Stock that was selling at `2 shot up to `130 and they could gain by selling,” he adds. The land was developed into a mixed-use complex and what stands today at the site is a residential tower of 36-storey (Marathon NextGen Era), a 10-storey commercial development (Marathon NextGen Innova), and a 14-storey corporate IT park, named Marathon Icon, which is expected to be completed soon.
A distinctive feature is the creation of a two-and-a-half acre of recreational space on the fifth level podium. The company won an award for best master planning mixed-use development.
For the first time, the company decided to employ aluminium shuttering technology, Mivan. “Aluminium is not a very strong material. Here the basic elements of the formwork system are the panel which is a framework of extruded aluminium sections welded to an aluminium sheet. It consists of high strength special aluminium components.
This produces a light-weight panel with an excellent stiffness-to-weight ratio, yielding minimal deflections when subjected to the load of weight concrete,” says Shah. The panels are manufactured in standard sizes to suit the project requirements. The panels are held in position by a simple pin and wedge arrangement system that passes through holes in the outside rib of each panel.
They fit precisely, securely and require no bracing. The walls are held together with high strength wall ties, while the decks are supported by beams and props.
Since the equipment is made of aluminium, it has sections that are light enough to be handled by a single worker.
For Marathon Era, the company could complete certain slabs in four day cycles, which meant that the entire 36-storey tower was completed in a record 30 months.
That is not all. In order to make the structure aesthetically superior, Marathon Era has a concrete facade. Shah says, “We imported micro silica from Belgium to generate high performance concrete (HPC) on site.
The combination makes the facade highly durable. This also eliminates the need for the usual external plaster. Instead we used chemical polymer plaster that is ultra-violet resistant and topped it with a shiny imported paint.” This ensures negligible dust collection and savings on maintenance costs in the future.
The leap to using advanced technology in its projects was executed by the company’s in-house R&D team. Every project is sent across to the team who analyses the concrete to be used, facades and materials — all that will ensure minimum maintenance. The company also bought over a ready mix concrete plant and imported a concrete pump from Germany that would enable it to pump concrete up to 36 floors for the facade.
Shah says, “Aluminium shuttering is now a benchmark. Right from our lowcost housing project, Marathon Nagari, in Thane district to the towers we are constructing in Panvel to our premium resi dential towers — all use aluminium shuttering, façade with HPC and no plaster.” Unwilling to rest on his laurels, Shah searched for more ways to improve standards. The next step was a green building, and it must be nothing less than a gold rated one and certified by the Indian Green Building Council (IGBC). Marathon Futurex, an IT and financial business centre at Lower Parel, is one such building. “To achieve this, the process must begin right from the planning and design stage. Green buildings must use minimum resources like electricity and water and create other infrastructure that will have minimum carbon footprint,” says Shah.
A solar envelope design study identified changing thermal patterns throughout the year based on which the cooling of the building has been designed. The building façade is made of double-glazed, low-e glass that lets in the light but cuts out the heat. During the construction phase materials like fly ash, micro silicon, low volatile organic compound paints, adhesives and other recycled resources have been used to ensure minimal environment damage.
Marathon Futurex has a system to manage, maintain and secure the commercial premises through a Building Management System (BMS). BMS controls security features like CCTV, all electronic equipment, access, lift system, water and electronics management systems.
The building has more than 15 sky gardens with glass fences that act as heat barriers during the day. There is rain water harvesting system and a captive sewage-disposal-plant that aims at zero discharge of water thus helping in water conservation when the building becomes fully functional.
Meanwhile, the company is expanding its horizons across locations with its next series of homes, Next homes.
There’s Marathon NextZone, an integratedtownship at Panvel; Marathon Nextown, a 14-acre township in Dombivali; and Marathon NextWorld, a 100-acre township in Dombivali. Altogether, the company is looking at building 20,000 Next series of homes. Besides this, Shah has his hands full with the Monte series that are plush homes in the suburbs. Simultaneously, Shah is awaiting the outcome of the elections. “If we have a stable government, then the worst is over for the real estate sector.”
However, he is not anticipating housing prices to fall. “Input costs and land prices are high. Moreover, the gestation period of acquiring approvals for clearances are long and this increases costs for the developer,” he says. He’s hopeful that if the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) decides to lower interest rates, it could provide a fillip to home buyers.
Over the years, Shah has been successful in turning the tide in his favour, by leveraging the group’s goodwill, alleviating risks and making the most of available opportunities. And that’s the advantage of staying focused and running a family-oriented business, he says with a smile.