Category Archives: Public Realm

My Building Tallest

The late 90’s and the first decade of the 21st century can be rightly called the glory years of the Skyscraper Race. Countries tried to outdo each other in claiming the tallest skyscraper status. Before this boom, the Sears Towers in Chicago, USA held the claim for nearly 3 decades.

All that went for a toss as Asian countries caught on to this craze. The Petronas became the tallest building for a few years, only to be eclipsed by Taipei 101 in Taiwan. And then came the big kahuna of tall buildings, the Burj Khalifa.

And this is just the race for the top position. Change it to the top ten and there are dozens of buildings all across Asia, North America, and Russia that try to reach for the skies.

In all this, India is prominently absent.

Monika Halan writes a very well-laid out article titled: Reaching for the Sky: How Tall is my country.

She concludes

… it does not look as if India or Indians are unduly worried about failing on another parameter of global ranking. The lack of interest or even public debate on getting India on the tall building map could mean several things. One, we are not at the stage of economic growth where having the tallest building becomes something to think about. Two, there is no massive speculative real estate bubble in the country and cheap money is certainly not an issue. Three, the argumentative Indian does not need the prop of an icon of American culture to define India’s identity or its place in the world. Or it could just be that we are so sure that a fire in the tallest building will end in disaster with the fire engines (that can reach all of 10 storeys) stuck in a traffic jam caused by a broken-down cycle on the main road. Nope, we don’t even want to go that way.

Tall buildings serve their purpose in urban areas. Contrary to popular thinking they can be more sustainable in all aspects than their height challenged counterparts. And if India takes that road and goes tall, all power to the builders. But if its just to get bragging rights, then its a waste of time, money and opportunity.

When style was substance: Mumbai in the 1930s

Urban housing these days has increasingly become a matter of “lifestyle.”

By Ashoak Upadhyay / Business Line

Builders do not erect an apartment block or two; they build cities within cities; rows upon rows of residential towers peppered with landscaped gardens, swimming pool, jogging track and clubhouse. The customer does not come home simply to four walls enclosing space; he enters arcadia.

But what about the house itself? Can the artifice of landscaped gardens and swimming pools built on the graveyards of mangrove swamps and nature’s waterways compensate for the banality of mass housing architecture? The dreariness of Mumbai’s Cuffe Parade high-rises is matched by the lifelessness uniformity of building facades or interior layouts in the newer colonies at Powai and Andheri.

Continue reading When style was substance: Mumbai in the 1930s

Goa to get Green Infrastructure.

Architects, planners and others with green caps and fingers are unveiling a plan to promote use of green principles for eco-friendly

infrastructure, necessitated by climate change.

Confederation of Indian Industry (CII, Goa) and Indian Institute of Architects (IIA) Goa chapter have initiated a joint effort towards creating a cell in Goa to promote green buildings for housing, industries and commercial sector. "We are working on the building design, incorporating the green concept and doing computer test models to ensure that the buildings are really energy-saving before we actually build them," said Dean D’Cruz, architect and former chairman of IIA (Goa chapter).

Continue reading Goa to get Green Infrastructure.

Bureaucracy and other spanners in India’s works

By DAVID LASCELLES / Business Day

THE world has become so accustomed to labelling India as one of the world’s great engines of growth — alongside China — that it comes as a bit of a shock to discover that the reality is a little less dazzling.

Concrete and chaos are the best words to describe India today, as I discovered from a visit earlier this month. The concrete is the building activity you see everywhere, the chaos is the sense you quickly get that things are barely under control.

A typical Indian scene is a large construction site, cement mixers grinding and cranes toiling, while sacred cows munch the grass alongside and a torrent of battered cars, rickshaws and filthy trucks crashes by on the pitted roads. The air is full of noise and grit, but out of it will rise the gleaming headquarters of some new Indian corporate giant.

Continue reading Bureaucracy and other spanners in India’s works

As Mumbai Spills Over, Floodwater Creeps Closer

By VIKAS BAJAJ for the New York Times.

MUMBAI, India — As this city prepared recently to inaugurate a shiny new bridge that officials promise will ease Mumbai’s chronic traffic jams, Dilip da Cunha was peering at the underbelly of the city’s waterways and drainage systems.
Taking two visitors on a tour of the busy causeway where the city’s befouled Mithi River meets the Arabian Sea near the new bridge, the Bandra-Worli Sea Link, he pointed out a small clump of trees nearby under which several men were defecating.

The trees represented one of the last remaining species of the mangroves that once dominated the ecology of Mumbai, India’s financial capital and its most populous city. Over the decades, most of the wetlands of the Mithi River estuary that were home to such trees have given way to highways, slums, office buildings and apartment towers.

While the mangroves’ retreat has provided valuable acreage for Mumbai’s growth, Mr. da Cunha, who is one half of a husband-and-wife team that recently finished an exhaustive study of the city’s landscape, said their disappearance, along with the degradation of the city’s waterways, has made the city increasingly vulnerable to flooding during the monsoons. Continue reading As Mumbai Spills Over, Floodwater Creeps Closer

Celebrating Heritage

A successful exploration of the distinctly Indianised Art Deco buildings of Bombay.

Bombay Deco — by the now-famous duo of Sharada Dwivedi and Rahul Mehrotra — is one more collaborative offering on the architectural wonders of Bombay/ Mumbai. The pair is known for consistently bringing out books on Bombay landmarks such as the High Court, the Reclamation and the Oval as well as a book on the walks in Bombay and the Banganga tank. Dwivedi, who writes also on the arts and royalty, children’s book and fashion, has a comprehensive overview of architecture and conservation issues while Mehrotra is the star of the Bombay conservation movement, having been the principal force behind the Kala Ghoda area rejuvenation movement in Mumbai.

The arrival of this book as one more addition to a deeply felt need for books on Indian architecture is truly welcome. It starts with introducing the arrival of the Art Deco movement into Bombay from the West in the 1920s and 30s and its surreptious coiling with the Modern movement entering India, especially Bombay with the princely States, businessmen as well as expatriate Westerners who stayed and worked on building and interior design.

Continue reading Celebrating Heritage

Messy Urbanism: India

By Viren Brahmbhatt

Viren Brahmbhatt is a New York-based architect and urban designer. He teaches at the Pratt Institute School of Architecture, and is the author of the forthcoming book Architecture of Disjuncture.

 

Like other megacities, the large cities of India are grappling with the conflicting logic of globalization and localization. As new networks of global trade and finance create new opportunities, developer-friendly architecture and planning are appropriating contemporary discourses, and producing urban forms hitherto unknown. Globalization and its influence are thus transforming the city as physical, social, and cultural boundaries are being renegotiated.

On the one hand, India’s booming economy has fueled a euphoric decade of development, embraced by a new generation of architects bent on transforming the traditional dynamics of practice. At the same time, the nation is plagued by a one-size-fits-all architecture created by globetrotting architects and multinational players who are more focused on singular objects and signature buildings. A land of dazzling opportunities and paradoxes; a paradise of manufactured faux cities for the nouveaux riches and a hell for slumdogs: such is the predicament of India.

Continue reading Messy Urbanism: India

Notes from the Emerging Architecture of India Conference in New York City

The Emerging Exchanges: New Architectute of India conference was held last Thursday and Friday at the New School Campus here in NYC. Jointly hosted by the New School, India China Institute, and The Architecture League it brought together a great mix of practitioners from India.

Thursday’s first session was an introduction to the theme. Kazi Ashraf gave an overview of the current state of Indian architecture which was basically paraphrasing his article for the “Made In India” AD Issue of 2007. In showing a lot of proposals for projects he tried to cover ground about the typologies of emergent Indian architecture. However as Rahul Mehrotra pointed out later in the conference, most of them were just proposals and never ever left the drawing board. And sadly this would be a constant criticism of the conference over the next two days. More of that later in the article.

Some of the outstanding presentations were:

Continue reading Notes from the Emerging Architecture of India Conference in New York City

City Water Bodies: Urban Wetlands

Sunil Laxman over at Balancing Life writes a very convincing case for Urban Wetlands. Most Indian cities have lakes or water bodies that are part of the city, but many of them are in a really bad shape.

Urban wetland management unfortunately is not much of a concept in most of India. Yet this lake is just one example of the kind of diversity and richness of life in lakes around the city. It is also a fine example of a lake that could easily be made into a city nature park. To do that, only a little needs to be done to protect the wetland. Obviously, preventing encroachment around the lake would be a priority, as would be stopping the flow of untreated sewage that is choking the lake would be an obvious other step.

In addition, the usual mismanagement of “lake development” that most city authorities eagerly embrace should be avoided. Usually, the city decides to build a big “garden” around lakes, which means manicured lawns, paved paths, lots of flowers and trees that don’t usually grow in wetlands, and a complete destruction of the wetland around lakes.

This usually ends up slowly killing the lake. Most of these birds live and nest amidst the reeds that grow in lake wetlands, nurturing a rich ecosystem that supports frogs, breeding fish, small reptiles and small insects. Unfortunately, “beautifying” or “developing” lakes by building parks only breeds mosquitoes (by killing off fish and dragonflies that eat them, and breed in the reeds). The Yediyur lake in Jayanagar was a thriving lake that was killed off by just this effort of “development”. First came some lawns, and then there were motor boats and motor scooters, and now it is just a little swamp that breeds mosquitoes.

 

Continue reading Sunil’s entire entry here.

Think of people when you develop: activists

Express News Service
A week after the state government decided to set up a committee for ‘Slumless Mumbai’, activists have called for the need to keep inclusive development at the heart of any new policy.

On Monday, at a panel discussion held by the housing rights group Ghar Banao Ghar Bhacao Andolan, several social activists highlighted the absolute lack of people-centric development in a majority of policies of the state government. The activists who were part of the panel include Urban Studies professor at Tata Institute of Social Studies Amita Bhide, architect and urban researcher Neera Adakar, transport expert Sudhir Badami and leader of National Alliance of People’s Movement Medha Patkar.

“The problem with committees like the one that has been formed for transforming Mumbai into a ‘slumless’ city as well as existing schemes like SRA, is that it is focused on increasing the Floor Space Index. No thought is given to the fact that resettling slumdwellers in tiny flats in highrises means adding more density and straining the infrastructure,” said Adarkar. She gave the example of the Dharavi Redevelopment Scheme where slumdwellers were first promised bigger homes and then the FSI was increased in a way that the developers too get to construct more flats for selling in the open market.

Continue reading Think of people when you develop: activists