Should Delhi go vertical?
It should and definitely can, provided there is a robust mass transit system and Delhiites are willing to shun their cars, believes US-based structural engineer William Frazier Baker.
Sixty-year-old Baker — the man behind the world’s tallest man-made structure — Dubai’s Burj Khalifa is one of the world’s most sought-after structural engineers. Currently settled in Chicago, he is responsible for setting up ‘super tall’ buildings that are super stable as well.
“Delhi can definitely go high. All you need is to put in place the right systems,” he said. “Population density is the reason why cities need taller buildings because spreading out instead of going vertical also means that people will have to travel longer distances for which you need more highways. That in turn will lead to more use of vehicles which will add to the pollution,” he said. Baker was in the city to speak at Structural Engineers World Congress being held at the India Habitat Centre.
Going vertical would also mean Delhiites would have to depend more on mass transit systems like Metro, because if higher concentration of people leads to more cars, then the roads of the city will be clogged. “New York is a city of skyscrapers but one hardly owns a car there. Even millionaires take the subway to work,” he said. The reason is it is much easier to take a train than driving through New York’s infamous gridlock.
Delhi, however, doesn’t really need super tall buildings, he said. “Buildings that are 30 to 40 storeys high are good enough. The idea is to create livable density,” Baker said. India also has the required technology and trained manpower to go vertical, he believed.
“India has the greatest of engineers. My boss is an Indian who belongs to Bangalore,” he said. “Also, the required high quality material is available in Delhi and people should use such material to create tall buildings,” he said. “You also need good inspection and regular audits.”
Coming back to his most famous project, the 828 metres (2,716 feet) high, 163 storeyed Burj Khalifa, Baker said that the planning work for the super structure started in March 2003, with the brief that Dubai wanted the world’s tallest building, taller than the then tallest Taipei 101 (509 metres).“We initially didn’t plan such a tall building but it kept getting taller,” he said. The biggest challenges where strong winds and gravity.What does he feel about US, the pioneer of skyscrapers, falling behind in the vertical race to Southeast Asia and Middle East? “It doesn’t bother me. There was a time when there was race for taller buildings where you needed to tell the world that we have arrived. That is not required anymore,” he said.
Having engineered the world’s tallest building, how tall he thinks he can go from here? “I can go up to a mile!” Baker says.