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Vertical limit


Most large cities in India are choking on two fundamental problems: ever-increasing population and a shortage of developable space. This problem is not unique to Indian cities, but an outcome of economic development in urban areas across the world. Cities like New York, Shanghai and Hong Kong have successfully managed to expand vertically, but the situation is very different in India. Despite the demand, India does not have the high-rises it needs.

What’s stopping them?
Lack of adequate infrastructure is one of the biggest reasons behind the slow growth of high-rise buildings in the country. Sumit Rakshit, executive director of Cushman & Wakefield, says: “Almost all Indian cities do not have the necessary infrastructure, facilities and amenities to support high-rise buildings. The necessary infrastructure may be present only in certain pockets and not for the whole city. Typically, this occurs in newly developed commercial districts, like Bandra-Kurla Complex in Mumbai.”

Most infrastructure projects are stuck in lengthy approval processes and red tape. “There are over 56 clearances required for a single project, and approvals are given in bits and parts. In Mumbai, we are averaging 24-to-30-month delays on approvals. We are always planning for infrastructure on hindsight. Since the infrastructure, is not available, the government authorities keep delaying project approvals,” says Vvikas Aroraa, director of marketing at Runwal Group.

The lack of infrastructure has a direct impact on city’s development. City planners are stingy about allowing higher FSI/FAR to developers as this would further choke the already stressed urban infrastructure in metros. “In modern metro cities like New York or Tokyo, the FSI is 20 plus. In India, we have a FSI of 2.5, which is scalable to a maximum of 4,” adds Vvikas. For densely populated cities like Mumbai, lower FSI means no room for vertical expansion.

Developed countries enforce strict regulations for safety and the environment, which enables them to grant higher FAR, leading to development of high-rises.

There are other challenges too. “Unlike in developed countries, enforcing strict norms with regards to structural safety, disaster, environment and fire safety presents quite a challenge in India,” says Brotin Banerjee, MD and CEO of Tata Housing.

“Developers are handicapped by issues such as lack of necessary technology and construction expertise, availability of raw materials and high construction costs,” explains Rakshit. Strict construction regulations cause construction costs to shoot up, adding to the list of challenges.

What needs to be done?
There is an immediate need to draw up a mega plan at the macro and micro level, keeping in mind the fact that there will be tremendous pressure on limited space and critical resources, due to the ever increasing urban population.

“The government should promote higher FSI to encourage and accommodate vertical development,” says Banerjee. In cities like Mumbai, the FSI needs to be increased and must be supported by proper infrastructure in terms of supplying power and water, underground multi-level car parking, and promotion of mixed-use areas for maximum self-sufficiency of the communities that would reside in these buildings. Every city can have areas where higher FSI/FAR is permissible to encourage or accommodate growth of a certain market segment.

“The FSI regulations in our country differ from state to state. They must be rationalised depending on the density of population,” suggests Ramakrishnan P, DMD, Sobha Developers.

“Higher FSI will encourage developers to come up with high-rise developments that are self-sustainable and with amenities that are commonly shared,” says Mukesh Jaitley, COO, Ahuja Constructions.

Besides, there is a need to ease the approval process, which often results in time as well as cost over-runs on projects. “It is equally important to increase the standards of fire and safety mechanisms as they are among the most crucial elements in growing vertically,” says the spokesperson for Kalpataru.

As the cities grow vertically, the transport infrastructure will have to be developed to support the increase in population. Public transportation like metro and monorail could help in reducing traffic on the streets. City planners must take a holistic view of the impact of vertical expansion and then have proper regulations to ensure sustainable growth. Girish HR, CEO, Vakil Housing says: “Vital aspects that need immediate re-look and attention include the statutory regulations, infrastructure availability, resources, hazard-handling capability, socio-economic impact, psychological angle, environment implications, security, pressure on existing infrastructure and sustainability.”

Building faster and better
As with any construction project, the faster one can build and complete a project, the higher the profitability. Once the necessary approvals are in place, developers can use new and innovative construction methods to build swiftly and complete their projects in a short time.

Mivan, auto-lift formwork, 3-S system of precast construction are a few technologies and methods that are being used for construction of high-rises. “Some of these technologies not only facilitate faster development but also provide better quality and reduced cost of construction, which directly impact the prices and delivery timelines,” adds Kalpataru’s spokesperson.
Rapid construction of multiple floors of a repetitive type can be achieved with an assembly line production by deployment of a few semi-skilled labourers in this technology. “This reduces time for construction by 35 to 40 per cent, as compared to conventional methods,” says Shailesh Puranik, managing director of Puranik Builders.

“Developers can also move towards constructing buildings made of glass façades and steel, as they are easier to build and have a faster turnaround time as well,” suggests Ramakrishnan.

The centre core wall/shear wall can progress at a faster rate by way of using slip formwork, jump formwork, climbing formwork, etc., which can be decided, based on the nature of the structure. By adopting post-tension technology and using table and other such formwork, the peripheral slabs can be made at a much faster rate. “Jump form and precast technology is widely used all over the world to speed up the construction process of high-rise projects,” says Mohit Arora, director of Supertech.

By deploying jump formwork for shear wall and partial table formwork, Mantri Developers were able to achieve nine days per slab of plate area of 11,000 sq-ft. “It could be brought down to less than a seven-day cycle by using complete table formwork. Also, it is imperative to say that placer boom, hydrostatic pumps, localised batching plants and tower cranes are a must for high-rise structures,” adds Ranganatha RP, operations president at Mantri Developers. "Both technologies will prove to be a turning point in enhancing the skylines of India cities in the times to come,” predicts Arora.

Are high-rise projects feasible?
High-rise projects do entail several additional costs. Separate infrastructure, such as facade cleaning systems, lifts and security, is required to maintain high-rise buildings, making it all the more important to evaluate the project holistically, before going ahead.

Despite the costs, most developers find high-rise projects to be feasible. Puranik explains: “Unlike low-rise buildings, high-rise buildings have a higher number of units, which enables distribution of cost among resources, and hence makes it feasible to use high-end technology and amenities in high-rise projects.”

Amenities such as car parks, club houses, STP plants and large landscape areas make the property a self-sustaining development that ultimately helps ease the pressure on infrastructure to be provided by authorities. “Thus, the living experience becomes more fruitful as it caters for all the things required for healthy and clean living, and this makes up for the higher cost,” explains Jaitley.

“Going taller also ensures more open spaces within the complex which can be utilised for landscaping and recreation purposes, thus providing better amenities to the customers,” says Kalpataru’s spokesperson. Until recently, customers were a bit apprehensive about high-rise complexes, especially in cities like Bangalore where the predominant culture has been of low-rise bungalows. However, this has changed in recent times.

Preferences have been changing gradually over the past few years, and many urban Indians, with adequate disposable incomes are now opting for high-rises. “Most high-end customers are willing to invest in high-rise structures that offer 360 degree views, good lighting and ventilation,” states Ranganatha of Mantri Developers. “Today customers are even willing to pay a premium for higher floors, with most developers charging a floor rise in their projects,” affirms Pai.

There is a need as well as demand for high-rise projects in the country. Now it’s up to the city planners and developers to make the most of the situation.

(By Imran Mirza)

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