The history of mankind has been replete with instances of magnificent architecture, and this trend has - both in the past and today - segued almost naturally into home designing concepts. In the years gone by, imposing architecture was a function of both aesthetics and need - for instance, forts and palaces had to be massive to the point of being impregnable. Merely the scale this called for was impressive in its own right - and with such large canvasses, the scope for artistic embellishments was literally unlimited. Of course, the chance of everything getting cannon-balled to smithereens was a bit of a downside.
Understandably, the richest people of our ancient cities sought to ape the opulence and grandeur that their kings and queens enjoyed in their imposing abodes. They also needed to express their relative cultural superiority and the fact that they were patrons of the fine arts - at all times an expensive persuasion. They built homes with which they intended to simultaneously reflect their cultural refinement and financial clout.
Modern times have erased royalty as a social class, though the fundamental concept of royalty lives on in the form of extremely high purchasing power. Nobody is building the classic palaces of bygone centuries anymore, because there is no longer any need for them and the whole idea of palaces itself has become more than a little distasteful. However, deep pockets continue to invest in luxurious architecture, for more or less the same time-honored reasons.
The richest still build palatial homes with their own gardens and estates; however, there is a distinct limitation on that format in modern cities where the heartbeat of economic activity that feeds wealth-creation is strongest.
Here, luxury apartment buildings and villa / bungalow projects must serve the purposes that the palaces of yesteryears did - that of exuding the class and artistic temperament that wealth is expected to bring with it. Luxury housing has made a decisive comeback in India - a country whose historic architectural marvels have already set a very high standard. More and more people can afford to buy ultra-luxurious homes where one of the differentiating factors is impressive, opulent architecture.
Palaces may be a thing of the past, but recreating the same ambiance in the exteriors and interiors of modern city apartment projects is very much 'in'. The concept of luxurious architecture may at times reflect a bygone age or even the historic ethos of another country, but it must also be coupled with ultra-modern amenities and latest technological advancements. Functionality and design must blend seamlessly, and the challenge to achieve this is keeping developers and architects of luxury abodes very busy indeed.
Here, artistic ability and expression still play a major role. For instance, simple Italian marble is no longer considered a luxury - however, it can be crafted in ways that make all the difference. Based on the target clientele of buyers, interior and exterior architecture can be designed to cater to different tastes. It is possible to replicate the grand Mughal style or bring a touch of ancient Rome or Greece to the interiors and exteriors to modern luxury homes.
Of course, nothing in this genre of homes is complete anymore without high-tech security features, massive spaces, a high-value address. However, it is the architecture that causes the first sharp intake of breath - that sense of wonder and awe which woos potential buyers.
All good? Well, not entirely.
The Downside of Architecture as a USP
Buying a home with stunning architecture is a dream and a moment of pride, but it also comes with certain disadvantages:
» One pays a much higher cost to buy such a luxury property, given the extra investment and effort put in by the developers to create something of such scale and magnificence. The cost is invariably higher than most other regular luxurious housing projects in the same vicinity
» It is not easy - or cheap - to maintain such homes. They require extra efforts and resources to ensure the ambiance endures and the high levels of functionality do not erode
» If more than two generations are living under the same roof, catering to individual tastes becomes difficult. What feels novel at the time of purchase may become an irritant over time
» Human tastes change, and one particular style of interiors can only be appealing for a specific period of time after which one wants a change. It becomes extremely expensive and in some cases almost impossible to change the entire architecture of a residence, especially in the case of apartments in a high-rise. In such cases, changing the exteriors is out of the question and making internal changes usually also calls for intense structural audits and municipal permissions
Despite such limitations, imaginative and tastefully executed architecture is and will remain a major selling point when it comes to super-luxury and even affordable luxury housing. This trend is not going to go away in a hurry.
(Ashwinder Raj Singh is the CEO of residential services, JLL India)