Shanta Holdings Ltd, a real-estate company, is helping shape the architectural landscape of Bangladesh, a country swarming with crammed buildings. In an interview with The Business Standard, Saif Khondoker, the director of Shanta Holidings, talked about the company and its footprint in the ever expanding real estate scene of Bangladesh.
Saif, a graduate of University of Toronto, believes this city needs more open spaces and greenery in both residential and commercial buildings. "We believe it's our responsibility to develop projects which are aesthetically pleasing, showcase architectural and engineering prowess and add value to the cityscape," Saif shared the company's vision.
About what motivates the design, Saif said, "Our vision has always been to develop projects which reflect modern design practices, keeping our local culture in mind."
Our vision has always been to develop projects which reflect modern design practices, keeping our local culture in mind
For Shanta, every project is unique and design considerations differ based on location, size and orientation of the plot, user requirements and the surrounding urban context. While the internal layouts and functionality get priority, exterior design or elevation of the building is also important to Shanta as it reflects their values and innovative mindset.
"We collaborate with leading consultants who share that same mindset," he added.
Shanta has some big residential and commercial projects in their pipeline. Saif mentioned Forum and Pinnacle, two megaprojects of Shanta under construction. "You may have seen Forum, the 25-storied twin towers coming up in Tejgaon. Pinnacle, the first 40-storied skyscraper of the city is also on its way to grace Dhaka's skyline," Saif said.
Both of these projects are slated to become new benchmarks not just in terms of their iconic designs, but also their high technical specifications and the shared amenities they will offer, Saif believes.
Saif said in today's world, developing an office tower is not just about providing an office space, it's also about creating an environment with multi-faceted benefits where business, lifestyle needs, convenience and service are all addressed. That is why these projects will house modern shared amenities like cafes, a gym, retail and banking outlets, a business centre, open plaza areas with landscaping features, a rooftop restaurant on the 40th floor and more.
"Having access to these amenities will provide benefits such as boosting employee morale, productivity, and well-being and in a city like ours with heavy traffic; it will undoubtedly help save time. Equipped with state-of-the-art firefighting systems, fully unitised double-glazed low-e curtain wall systems, destination elevators with access control, central building automation system, professional landscaping and lighting - we hope to establish a truly modern business hub which can hopefully be compared on the global stage."
In residential projects, Shanta has a few upscale luxury apartment projects in prime locations around Gulshan. In particular, Olympus on road 62 facing Gulshan Lake Park and Aura on road 83 facing Gulshan Ladies Park, are two projects which will offer splendid panoramic park views, a rare opportunity in our city.
Shanta's first project in Bashundhara residential area targeted towards the mid-market segment, named Shwapnoneer, is also under construction. "It will be a 48-unit apartment complex comprising all modern lifestyle amenities not yet seen in that area," Saif said.
"Our most exciting project called Utopia, is a 416-unit gated community coming up in Mirpur, with which we are taking the next step into larger scale developments," he added.
Clients can now visit the on-site Experience Centre to see the project's 3D visualisation in a theatre room, take a 360-degree panoramic tour in VR, and view the masterplan models and more. Due to the current pandemic situation, visitors must take appointment prior to their visit and maintain safety and social distancing measures.
"I think the Covid-19 pandemic is a wake-up call for society in general," Saif said about the repercussions of the pandemic in real estate business. Other than the design considerations he had already mentioned, he thinks it will also serve as a reminder to provide better facility management services to ensure safer, healthier and more hygienic environments in apartment complexes, offices and sites.
"Even if Covid-19 goes away, we should remain prepared to manage any future outbreaks. It may also be a challenge to step up our construction methodology to less labour-intensive methods and technology in order to reduce the number of personnel required on site," he added.
Shanta has a strong digital marketing presence and the company has been leveraging technologies like Augmented Reality and Virtual Reality to give clients a digital experience of their projects from before. Since physical movement is limited now, Saif mentioned the company has been well positioned to adjust to the new normal.
But at the end of the day, real estate is about investing in a physical asset. "Seeing is believing, so on-site experience will always be important," Saif said.
The idea is to provide them the space to stretch out and breathe within the boundaries of their residence
Shanta strives to create buildings where user comfort, safety, quality, functionality, natural light and ventilation are prioritised, Saif said. He credits condominium projects like Digonto, Garden and The Vantage as examples of the beautiful communal environments Shanta has created with the objective of changing people's traditional lifestyles.
With large open courtyards and landscaped lawns, children's play areas and game rooms, community lounges and rooftop swimming pools, barbeque zones and large terraces, there is an abundance of outdoor and functional spaces which can be enjoyed by the residents.
"The idea is to provide them the space to stretch out and breathe within the boundaries of their residence," Saif stressed on the importance of open spaces, which has become a diminishing luxury.
The coronavirus pandemic will catalyse changes in architecture trends to say the least. "I am not an architect, but design is influenced by users," Saif shared his thoughts about post-pandemic living spaces, referring to how users are reimagining their living spaces during the pandemic and utilising outdoor spaces more.
As human beings, we possess a natural inclination to be close to nature, known as biophilia. I think biophilic designs will be demanded more as the world shifts towards healthier and greener lifestyles
"As human beings, we possess a natural inclination to be close to nature, known as biophilia," he said. "I think biophilic designs will be demanded more as the world shifts towards healthier and greener lifestyles."
In terms of indoor environments, Saif said more concentration should be given to fresh air circulation, entry of natural light, and things like keeping service elevators and lobbies separate to minimise interaction between building residents and outsiders like maintenance staff or delivery persons. Along with improved general hygiene as a result of the pandemic, functional space planning will also help ensure some physical distancing in this way wherever possible.
"In terms of materials and technology, the use of antibacterial or antimicrobial materials for frequently touched surfaces, sensor-based faucets and other toilet fittings, touchless elevator solutions, building automation systems to reduce requirement of maintenance staff and improve the internal building environment, etc may be preferred particularly in high traffic commercial buildings," he said.
Shanta is already incorporating some of these features in their twin-tower project "Forum", which is rising fast in Tejgaon and due for completion mid next year.