Rhapsody in Brick
Concrete, cuisine and chords interest him equally. And in all three, there is only one thing he offers and seeks: authenticity. It is the leitmotif that runs through all his business ventures.
Kamal Sagar’s success story spins mainly on the finely-crafted homes he builds under the Total Environment (TE) banner. But he is equally well known among the cognoscenti for the Windmills Craftworks (a microbrewery, restaurant and music venue) and the Oota Bangalore restaurant which serves authentic Karnataka cuisine.
“Total Environment is more of an architectural design firm that prides itself on design and execution, rather than a run-of-the-mill realty firm. Our design firm, Shibanee & Kamal Architects is at the core of everything we do”, the Founder and Chairman of Total Environment Building Systems says in this interview with Aditya Mendonca. Shibanee & Kamal, started in 1996, currently has 105 designers working for it. “We are very particular that whatever we design has to get built well, that’s why we set up the construction company because we found that no contractor was able to deliver the quality that we aspired to”, explains the man who designed and built the Poonawalla Stud Farms in Pune. (He won the Young Enthused Architect award for this project from the Architecture + Design Spectrum Foundation).
Total Environment, which is now 1,000 people strong, was born out of a spat over 4 millimetres. A contractor who was building a house that Sagar had designed, bought 8mm steel bars for window grills though he had specified 12mm. When the contractor refused to stick to the gauge recommended, Sagar walked out of the project and decided that from now he would be in control of how something he had designed would be built.
The name Total Environment “came from the fact that we wanted our buildings to embrace nature, and to blend in with the environment”, reminisces Sagar. It wasn’t easy to translate this into profits and TE was in the red for the first six years of its operation, simply because the standards it set for itself were very high.
While there were compulsions to follow the market pricing, the actual costs incurred were way higher. “We used the best in the industry. For instance, our flooring mason had worked in the homes of celebrities like Amitabh Bachchan and Mukesh Ambani. His charges were exorbitantly high, but we used him because one thing we didn’t want to compromise on was quality of construction.” Slowly, as his high-quality handcrafted homes, named after Pink Floyd’s songs, began to gain recognition and appreciation, things began to turn around.
“All our innovations have centred on the basics,” explains Sagar. “For example, when you have a home, everyone wishes for garden space. Factoring this into our drawings was not rocket science, just cantilever a slab and provide proper soil, drainage, irrigation system and you get a garden. We have been able to do 1000-sq-ft gardens, 1400-sq-ft gardens in apartments on higher floors, with water bodies and decks.”
Another pain point that TE addressed was furnishing the homes. “Our factory, called Total Environment Machine Craft, makes doors and windows and furniture, all that is needed for your home. We have just started our kitchen line exclusively adapted to our unique Indian requirements. And we not only provide completely furnished homes, we offer extensive customisation for every customer.”
This bricks-and-mortar man’s passion for music resulted in craft beer enthusiast Ajay Nagarajan, joining Total Environment to create an unmatched experience called Windmills Craftworks located in Whitefield, Bengaluru’s IT hub. “There is so much beautiful music all over the world. Most of what we get to listen to is either from the UK or the US, and mostly chart-busters. But the rest of the world is producing great music which most people don’t get to hear. So, the idea was to open a venue where we are able to bring good music from different parts of the world to perform here at The Jazz Theatre, offer the best craft beer, and add a mix of traditional and exotic food from different parts of the world to complete the overall experience.” Another branch of Windmills at the Bengaluru Airport is open 24/7.
The chain just kept growing longer, he says: “We have Total Environment Building Systems, which is the real estate development firm, Machine Craft which is into the production of furniture, windows, doors, Total Environment Hospitality, which is into F&B, restaurants, and Total Environment Music Foundation, which brings down artistes from across the world to perform.”
The Oota Bangalore restaurant, which serves authentic Karnataka food, has an interesting history. The company conducted a research study for almost three years, sending a four-member team, two chefs and two food journalists, to every nook and cranny of Karnataka, to collect recipes. However, when the actual cooking began, they were dismayed to find that the dishes lacked that unique, authentic flavour that had made them special in the place of their origin. They soon realised that this was because they were using locally sourced ingredients. Oota Bangalore sources all ingredients from the place of origin of the recipe, “If you order a Dharwad dish, you can be sure that the main ingredients come from there this very morning,” assures Sagar.
Total Environment has won a clutch of awards for its projects discovers Sufia Tippu with Windmills of Your Mind in Bengaluru winning both the Best Residential Architecture – Asia Pacific Region and the Best Residential Development – India at the CNBC Arabia International Property Awards in 2009, the Sustainable Design Award from Society Interiors in 2010, the Best Luxury Residential Project – South at Zee Business-Rics Real Estate Awards in 2011.
Other awards include:
- College of Engineering Pune won the Innovation in Structural Engineering award at the Bentley – Be Inspired Awards, 2013.
- Orange Blossom Special was awarded Outstanding Concrete Structureby ICI (Pune) – Birla Super in 2011.
- Shine On was awarded Runner Up in Style Icon for Excellence in Architecture by Kansai Nerolac in 2007.
- Time received the Habitat Award for Apartment Planning from Architecture + Design Spectrum Foundation in 2005.
- The Good Earth received the Habitat Award for Apartment Planning from Architecture + Design Spectrum Foundation in 2003, and won the Best Group Housing Project at the JK Cements – Architect of the Year Awards in 2002.
- Reach for the Sky and Bougainvillea received the Habitat Award for Apartment Planning from Architecture+Design Spectrum Foundation in 2002.
- Webb India Limited received the Institutional Architecture Award from Architecture + Design Spectrum Foundation in 2002.