It wasn’t meant to enrage the Gods like in the Tower of Babel. When Urban Development minister Kamal Nath articulated the need for Delhi to go vertical, he didn’t realise that the debate he was sparking would reach Biblical proportions.
The statement came at a time when the real estate market was inundated with a slew of skyscraper announcements. From the 117-storey World One tower in Mumbai, to the 80-storey Supernova in Noida, to the 56-storey Revanta Tower in Gurgaon, developers seemed prepared to think vertical.
A few weeks after Nath’s statement came a study prophesising doom for India and China — countries next in line to see a wave of skyscrapers after New York, Singapore and Dubai. With his Skyscrapers Index, Barclays economist Andrew Lawrence sought to establish a correlation between skyscraper construction and business cycles.
Lawrence’s provocative thesis doesn’t find favour with most experts. Linking skyscrapers with economic busts is tenuous, says Anshuman Magazine, managing director (South Asia) of consulting firm CB Richard Ellis. “The whole of India has fewer skyscrapers than Manhattan,” he points out.
Architect Hafeez Contractor, whose repertoire includes the Imperial Towers in Mumbai and the DLF Aralias in Gurgaon, calls the correlation ‘stupid’. “We need land to grow our food. The best option is to build tall buildings that house more people and occupy less land. Unless we can grow wheat on our terraces, we can’t waste space building bungalows or villas,” argues Contractor. Two sides of the story
Economist Anis Chakravarty of Deloitte Haskins India says the veracity of the Skyscraper Index hasn’t been tested. “But a correlation exists between government spending on infrastructure and growth that follows a recession. In New York and in Kuala Lumpur, it was meant to drive economies out of a downturn.”Architect Dikshu Kukreja of CP Kukreja and Associates, which is designing a 1000-feet tower near the Noida Expressway, says India is ready for vertical growth. "But the planners need to ensure we address issues regarding fire safety, earthquakes and other natural disasters."
The flip side
In their bid to emulate a Shanghai, our architects can’t ignore the ground realities in India, Professor AGK Menon of the Indian National Trust for Art and Cultural Heritage said at a lecture recently. “There are no heavy capital resources involved in low-storey buildings, one can get enough light, air and ventilation and have a good quality of life.”
There is no one size fits all answer to the debate about wheter India should go vertical, says Raj Rewal, chairman of the Delhi Urban Arts Commission. “Still, in most of India, low-rise high density has great potential.
And then there are the aesthetes. Most Indian high-rises ape American models, says architect-writer Gautam Bhatia, author of Punjabi Baroque and Other Memories of Architecture. “Coming up with skyscrapers with Indian sensibilities would mean incorporating our love for a street culture, open spaces and verandas.” As urbanisation and population density rise, the advocates of going vertical will only grow. Anurag Chowfla, partner, Urban Architecture Works that has designed India Habitat Centre, says planners who oppose skyscrapers have their heads in the sand. “In the next decade, the population in most of our cities will double. With property prices in Mumbai and Delhi touching New York levels, higher buildings are an idea whose time has come.”
Good, bad & the ugly: ground Report
‘It still doesn’t feel like home’
Vidyut Shah (35)
Stays in a high-rise project called Ashok Towers in Lalbaug, Mumbai
Vidyut Shah, 35, an independent candidate contesting the upcoming civic polls in Mumbai, moved into a swanky, 2,500 sq ft apartment in a luxury residential complex in Lalbaug last October from the overcrowded chawls. The housing complex has all the amenities. He had booked the flat at a low cost when Morarji Mills was still standing on the site that now houses the tower. But three months into the posh residence, Shah found himself growing wary of superficiality of living in a high rise. “It is very lonely up here. I don’t even know who my neighbours are. People have money, but no time for each other,” Shah says. Shah, who comes from a modest background, says the amenities provided look lucrative, but come at a cost. “I dish out about R20,000 on maintenance charges every month paying for amenities like the gym and spa, which I don’t even use,” Shah informs. For Shah, these apartments are “a safe place to raise children, but nothing more.” he says.
‘We are living the high life’
Jyotsna Kunwar (47)
Stays on the 22nd floor of the Imperial Building in Mumbai
Last December, self-proclaimed nomad Jyotsna Kunwar, 47, moved into her plush 2,500 sq ft 3BHK apartment in Tardeo after brief stays in New Delhi, Bangalore and the USA. She loves every bit of living in the 60-storied highest residential tower in India. “It could not have got better. Every need we could possibly have is taken care of, so much so that we don’t really need any support staff,” she says. From high-end security to separate servant quarters, the residents have been provided with prime luxuries.
Apart from the usual amenities such as a gym, swimming pool, table tennis and basketball courts, the residents can avail a help desk. “The other day, a gas cylinder in my kitchen was malfunctioning. When I informed the help desk, they sent a handyman to fix it up,” Kunwar says.