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The Changing Skyline of Mumbai

Mumbai Towers by Aruna Rathod  for the BusinessLine

From mill lands to malls and from shanties to skyscrapers, Mumbai’s skyline is changing. In just a matter of months, a string of 50-plus-storey buildings will tower up in the heart of the metropolis. Take, for instance, areas like Lalbaug, Parel and Sewri, which until a few years ago were middle-class settlements housing mill workers and lower income groups, but now have apartments that cost upwards of Rs 5 crore.

Lower Parel itself is in the middle of a metamorphosis, with old dilapidated structures being pulled down to make way for sprawling malls, glossy office buildings and skyscrapers to house the well-heeled. Its newest landmark is the 65-storey Indiabulls Sky, offering ‘private residences’ with all the attendant luxuries, of course at a price. Just a stone’s throw away, the 75-storey Jupiter Mills Tower is coming up as also the 80-storey Raheja Platinum and Waves buildings in Worli, followed closely by the 65-storey Dynamix-Balwas project at Marine Lines, and the 60-storey twin towers in Tardeo. The 45-storey Shreepati Arcade at Nana Chowk, which was the tallest building in the country until a few years ago, is already way behind in the reach-for-the-sky race.

No choice but vertical?

The reason Mumbai is going vertical is that it is the only solution. Builders and architects are concentrating on skyscrapers primarily because they are convenient — you can create a lot of real estate out of a relatively small ground area. High-rises seem to be the only option for a congested city like Mumbai.

Architect Hafeez Contractor, the pioneer of superstructures in Mumbai, says, “We have to accept high-rises as fait accompli. Mumbai has a population of 18 million and the area is only 470 sq km; when you are looking at such a large population over a small area of land, vertical is the only way to go.” He predicts that the city’s population will increase to 30 million in the years to come. “How will Mumbai deal with this rise? The only answer for Mumbai is to increase the FSI (Floor Space Index), only when we do it will the city get on its own feet and earn more. Right now, there are illegal constructions and they are utilising the facilities of the city.”

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f Mumbai is growing into the sky, the suburbs are not far behind. The 33-storey Heritage building, constructed by the Hiranandani Group at Powai, happens to be the tallest in the suburbs. A staunch believer in high-rises, Surendra Hiranandi, Managing Director, Hiranandani Constructions, echoes Contractor’s view. He adds, “We have the lowest FSI in the world and it is time we get higher FSI for better development. For the housing problems in Mumbai to be solved we need to go vertical. A fairytale solution is to have one’s cottage with a vegetable garden, but that is just not possible in India. Low-rises are a luxury and perfect for rich countries while for developing countries it is high-rises. I believe that high-rises are a solution not only for Mumbai but for India.”

Interestingly though, high-rises are an expensive proposition for the builders too. Real-estate consultant Sunil Bajaj says, “As you increase the number of floors, the proportionate construction cost of the building goes up substantially. But with high-rises, residents get good ventilation and natural light, space for wide roads, open spaces, adequate parking, provision for drainage, children’s parks, while the builders get better rates for their projects.” According to Bajaj, people today are upwardly mobile and high-rises are a worldwide phenomenon.

High pressure

But much as the developers are bullish about going vertical, there are others who are sceptical about the unchecked growth. Like architect Mukesh Mehta, who believes that infrastructure is the lifeline of a city and it shouldn’t be put under pressure. “We need to go vertical but this is not a permanent solution. At some point even these spaces will be exhausted. The island city of Mumbai is already developed, now we need to develop accessibility to the mainland, concentrating on places like Borivili (western suburb of Mumbai) and Navi Mumbai (a satellite township). What needs to be done is to provide better infrastructure like transportation, as buildings, small or tall, will always come up.”

It’s not only Mumbai but also its counter-magnet satellite city across the creek — Navi Mumbai — that is going vertical with a vengeance. The entire 8-km stretch of Palm Beach Road, with mangroves on one side, is dotted with more than 100 high-rises on the other side. “Palm Beach Road is the Queen’s necklace of Navi Mumbai, and the high-rises are its sparkling jewels,” says Bajaj.

Meanwhile, Neev group has announced the construction of a 32-storey building called Ivory Tower in the centrally located Prabhadevi area.

Company head Jitendra Jain said the prime location would make it convenient for buyers to commute to the commercial hubs of the city. The project will sprawl across 2.13 lakh sq. ft.

Some of the group’s other projects include Darshan Heights — a residential tower at Elphinstone; Shree Jayant Darshan — a niche 24-storey tower at Nana Chowk; and Darshan Pride — a 19-storey residential property at Tardeo. All the projects are in the heart of Mumbai city.

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