“A strong varied business model and multiplicity of business types helps maintain growth opportunities. With new opportunities comes diversity that helps gkkworks sail through tense economic cycles,” says Kulkarni.
Experts and the market alike agree with this outlook. A surprising array of major U.S. macro indicators—consumer spending, factory activity, corporate profits, and trade—continue to defy expectations of an economic slowdown. This strength has fueled a hefty boom in the nonresidential construction market.
Kulkarni has harnessed these advantages to tackle the burgeoning commercial real estate in growth markets like South Asia, China, and in a developed market like the United States. With an impressive assortment of projects under the belt—corporate complexes in Mauritius, versatile housing and shopping projects in Mumbai, and expansive stadiums and recreational facilities such as the cricket academy for the Mumbai Cricket Association—Kulkarni is leading gkkworks, the company he founded in 1991 as GKK Corp., on the path to becoming a global blue-chip architecture and construction company.
After graduating from IIT Kharagpur, like similar brilliant young professionals, Kulkarni looked forward to further his education in an American university with an aim to tread the path of guaranteed success in the world’s strongest economy. But facing a disappointing job market in America, Kulkarni decided to return to India and start afresh.
Liberalization, in 1991, meant different things to different Indians. For young entrepreneurs like Kulkarni, India’s open markets heralded previously unforeseen business opportunities.
Kulkarni sold two investors his vision for a business that expanded on existing norms about what constituted an architectural and construction firm. The rest, as the saying goes, is history.
To compete in a rapidly shrinking world Kulkarni and gkkworks have expanded architecture and construction to encompass all the functions and processes that go way beyond traditional drawing boards, blue chalk, and t-squares.
Information technology has transformed the business of architecture, design, and construction, bringing the three functions together into lean, flexible companies that can provide quicker turnaround. The days of blueprints, bulky t-square rulers, and minute-to-minute client updates are slowly diminishing and businesses, both large and small, are replacing their old-school tools with new-school technologies. Design businesses everywhere are turning to technology to make their work more effective and efficient.
Architectural firms can now predict the look of a completed project by inserting readings from a field location into engineering programs. Kulkarni works with his team in India by harnessing technological tools to determine exact measurements, and ensure efficient supply-chain and logistics management, while controlling the original design. He strives to ensure that the master builder and designer are truly one entity, thus providing end-to-end satisfaction in terms of form and function for gkkworks’s clients.
Is this marriage of concept and practicality a difficult one?
“You bet!” says Kulkarni. “Usually you hear people wanting either an architect or a builder. The idea that technical people are not the most creative brains is a difficult perception to overcome. But, as all preconceived notions go, the best way to dispel them is to provide evidence proving otherwise.”
And prove they do. One of gkkworks’s latest projects in Mauritius sprawls over an area of 172,000 square feet. It’s a corporate complex with a crystal-like structure of metal and glass with terraces attached to each office, an inviting atrium, transparent glass elevators, and vibrant landscaping.
And who says you cannot combine business and pleasure? Kulkarni did just that with his 84,000 sq.ft. sports club for the Mumbai Cricket Association. The aesthetically appealing structure is divided into sports, commercial, administrative, and service areas with a central lounge and spacious courtyards to bring athletes, friends, and families together.
gkkworks also provides its clients with a variety of design options keeping their specific needs and budgets in mind, so that the project is custom-tailored with a unique flair for style. Kulkarni manages his global business from his headquarters in Newport Beach, Calif., with an on-site office, management team, and task force that can talk the local talk, work with local contractors, and navigate the local bureaucracy.
The ancient Roman architect Vitruvius defined the tenets for a sound building as “Firmness, commodity, and delight.” That is, it should stand up, it should do something, and it should look good. However, this triad is not sufficient in today’s world. Architects have to design for terror attacks and energy conservation, while designing ever-higher, technologically advanced buildings. By virtue of their prominence, nearly all buildings are targets and require creative ways of ensuring the safety of their occupants without compromising their symbolic meaning.
So how do architectural and construction companies deal with these added requirements?
“Security concern is top priority these days, not just in the United States but around the world. Governments are increasingly nervous about national safety. Unfortunate as the situation is, necessity does indeed breed invention. Universities and business houses are pushing their R&D; divisions to develop and research new materials and find ways to apply them to modern architecture and design. As an engineer, I find this an exciting time to be in this industry. We are learning more about materials that can actually breathe, microprocessors that sense motion, materials that are more tensile and flexible, can weather shock, and come with advanced armoring and bullet proofing,” says Kulkarni.
For this creative engineer, shrewd businessman, and a global citizen who carries his hometown in his heart, one cannot help but wonder, is there such thing as a recipe for success?
“A dream and a vision,” says Kulkarni. “If you have a vision or a dream in your life, you should never forget it, or let it get waylaid. In MBA school we were asked to write our own epitaph to make us think about our inescapable mortality. At that age I knew I wanted to look back and view my accomplishments. I saw a vision, set a goal, and I am now following that path. Everything that comes along the way is just a bonus.”
gkkworks is headquartered in 20411 S.W. Birch Street, Suite 300, Newport Beach, CA 92660. (949) 250-1500. www.gkkworks.com
Ramya Kumaraswamy has a master’s degree in corporate communications from Boston University and works as a public relations account executive in the technology space.