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Does investing in architecture make business sense?

Does investing in architecture make business sense?
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First Published: Thu, Jun 25 2009. 12 41 AM IST

The round building has a wedge that opens it up to the city, establishing a bond between the building and the local environment. Photograph courtesy TCS
The round building has a wedge that opens it up to the city, establishing a bond between the building and the local environment. Photograph courtesy TCS
Updated: Thu, Jun 25 2009. 12 41 AM IST
Hitec City, or Hyderabad Information Technology Engineering Consultancy City in Hyderabad, is one of the original IT townships that cemented India’s position as a global IT destination. Scattered among the rocky boulders that characterize the local terrain is a slew of gleaming buildings occupied by technology giants and start-ups, from the government-sponsored Cyber Towers to parks by private developers such as RMZ Corp. and Raheja.
A closer look at the region’s architecture throws up a curious exception to the metal and glass typeface: a round, monolithic building in red Agra stone, with an unmissable “T” anointing its front. Designed by Switzerland-based architect Mario Botta, this is deccanpark, one of Tata Consultancy Services’ largest global development centres.
Architecture as business investment
The round building has a wedge that opens it up to the city, establishing a bond between the building and the local environment. Photograph courtesy TCS
With around 140,000 employees in 42 countries, and revenues of $6 billion, around Rs28,680 crore (as of 31 March), TCS is a well-regarded global brand in IT services. Its nuanced and pragmatic approach to its brick and mortar investments is perhaps one of its less publicized qualities. The company believes in constructing purpose-built facilities, and has engaged several international architectural firms to develop its centres.
“We look at our capital investment in a similar way to our technology investments. We like to bring in technology that is a first for India and will enhance our capabilities, so we work with architects of international repute but always engage a local architect for local knowledge transfer,” explains S. Ramadorai. TCS CEO since 1996, he has been instrumental in driving the company’s 20-fold expansion in headcount over the last 13 years.
The fees associated with an international architect make up only 2-3% of the total project cost, and are justified as long as the project is completed on time and within budget, he believes. “We prefer buildings that carry our signature, and have the fundamental requirements of an IT facility, rather than adapting to an existing facility,” he adds. These requirements include a green and energy-efficient campus, with a distinct relationship to its city and a comfortable environment for its workforce—all of which make robust business sense.
Showcasing the brand
A prominent ‘T’ on the front of the stone-clad building clearly identifies its owner, and sets it apart from its peers. Photograph courtesy TCS
In the intangible world of software, buildings are often the only visible clues in a company’s work ethic and business philosophy, and can be an effective communication tool with customers. V. Rajanna, TCS’ regional head in Hyderabad, summarizes the value of deccanpark to the company: “It instils confidence in customers by showing that we have world-class infrastructure, adhere to local statutory regulations, care for the environment, monitor carbon emissions, and can assure 100% compliance to customer security.”
The numbers support his argument. Spread over 11 acres and 320,000 sq. ft, the facility can accommodate 2,200 engineers and has all the hallmarks of a cutting-edge IT campus: biometric and access-controlled data centres, video conference facilities on each floor, physical and logical separation of networks across customer workspaces and extensive training facilities. Rainwater harvesting, water recycling and an energy-efficient building management system make it environment friendly.
Enhancing employee satisfaction
Software engineers are young, upwardly mobile and notoriously demanding, and Ramadorai categorically states, “There is a definite implication of work environment on job satisfaction.” Access to natural light and adequate workspace are two critical factors determining employee comfort, and Botta has provided both. The building is voluminous, shaped like two flower petals, with a wedge between them that opens up to the city. A skylight on the top floor of each petal allows natural light to filter down to the ground floor, minimizing reliance on outside lighting. Relaxation is an important business in itself, and Rajanna says employees at deccanpark “can go for a walk in the landscaped gardens after lunch, (and) play competitive sports and use the gym at 10pm at night”.
First among equals?
The atrium on the ground floor has informal seating for employees and visitors. Photograph courtesy TCS
Located on a hill overlooking the city, the building’s ability to blend with its natural surroundings makes it stand out from its more contemporary-looking peers—and is probably its greatest irony. Although Rajanna claims that the building is a landmark in the region, local opinion is more mixed, and some observers feel that the building does not appear modern enough for an IT company.
Designed by an outsider to reflect its local environment, deccanpark, in some sense, resembles TCS’ business strategy itself: global-minded yet locally adaptable, simultaneously conservative and forward-looking. Like its steady owner, the building is best appreciated by those with an experienced aesthetic, and a preference for substance over style.
Write to us at businessoflife@livemint.com
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First Published: Thu, Jun 25 2009. 12 41 AM IST