Why India doesn’t have many skyscrapers?

Why India doesn’t have many skyscrapers?

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Skyscrapers are not merely signs of modernism but often considered as symbols of capitalism. India with its traditional leanings towards socialism or left of the centre bias never encouraged vertical growth fearing political fallouts where large majority of the voters consisted of poor people. Thus, government’s policy always encouraged horizontal dispersion than vertical progression

India is not known for its skyscrapers but for its heritage buildings. On the world map of skyscrapers, India is almost non-existent. For example, there are hardly 10 buildings in India with a height of more than 200 meters! Of this, three were completed in 2017! Further, there were no completions (of skyscrapers) last year.

On the other hand, the tiny city-nation, Singapore has more than 30 skyscrapers with height more than 200 meters. OUE Downtown Tower 1, with 201 meters in height and 50 floors was built in 1975. There are many skyscrapers which were built in 1980s and 90s too. Dubai, the largest city in United Arab Emirates has around 70 skyscrapers with height more than 200 meters. Dubai which also holds the record for world’s tallest building in the name of Burj Khalifa saw its first skyscraper only in 1999 and all others have come up later on.

According to well-known architect, Hafeez Contractor, we need to grow vertically to overcome the problem of land scarcity in major cities.  Land should not become a constraint for our future growth if we keep growing vertically. By doing this, we also can keep a tab on surging land prices. Charles Correa, on the other hand, who had chaired the National Commission of Urbanization in 1988 had suggested low rises as the path for Indian urbanisation. Hafeez Contractor is of the opinion that low rises will result in usurping valuable agricultural land which may affect our food security in the long run. However, those who oppose his views are of the opinion that by improving the technology employed in agriculture we can more than offset the crop loss due diversion of land for construction. Also, they cite increasing popularity of roof farming which can be employed to grow more food and increase greenery.

Skyscrapers are not merely signs of modernism but often considered as symbols of capitalism. India with its traditional leanings towards socialism or left of the centre bias never encouraged vertical growth fearing political fallouts where large majority of the voters consisted of poor people. Thus, government’s policy always encouraged horizontal dispersion than vertical progression.  As a result, the concept of skyscrapers has always provoked some extreme reactions in the country in the past.

Barclays’ property analyst Andrew Lawrence has one interesting observation where he contends that a spurt in the construction of skyscrapers and other tall buildings in a country signals “an impending financial crisis.” But India had witnessed many financial crises in the past without making any attempt to touch the sky through high-rises!

Indeed, we had some inherent problems. Our cities are not well planned thus, making them unsuitable for skyscrapers. Providing basic necessities like water, waste management, electricity, etc., to these tall buildings also a problem due to our archaic technology. Further, we didn’t have access to advanced construction technologies nor do we possess required equipment to build skyscrapers. Also, foreign construction companies, till very recently were not welcome to build on our soil. Its only recently that real estate sector was opened up for foreign investment which may help to bring in more investment into the sector along with better technology in future.

Under-construction high-rises in India

Project Location Height (m) Floors
Three Sixty West Tower B Mumbai 361.2 90
Supernova Spira Noida 300 80
Lokhandwala Minerva Mumbai 296.2 90
World View Mumbai 291 82
Indiabulls Sky Suites Mumbai 291 75
Indiabulls Sky Forest Mumbai 281 80
Piramal Aranya Tower A Mumbai 280.7 69
Orchid Heights 1 Mumbai 274 63
Satellite Group Sesen Mumbai 270 67

Perhaps, one of the strongest reasons for India not having a meaningful number of skyscrapers is the insufficient and unreliable power supply in the country. Though our slogan ‘Power for All’ is more than two decades old, we are inching towards the reality only now. That may also be the reason why  most of the skyscrapers which we have in India are mostly located in the island city of Mumbai which has better electricity supply than elsewhere in the country. While low-rise consumes more land, high-rises consume more energy. With the improving power supply situation in the country we will be having one less reason for not having enough skyscrapers.

Yes, the biggest culprit for not having many high-rises is our building codes. Floor-area-ratios in various cities ranges from 2-4 which means that developers have to pay high prices to reach the sky which eventually may make the project unviable. Compare this with FAR in Manhattan which is more than 20. So, building codes need to be changed to encouraged to build high-rises which is politically a sensitive issue and also can attract the wrath of the environmentalists and over-active activists. Cities like Gurugram and Bangalore are changing their FAR rules but not to the extent to call them drastic changes. But the direction is positive from the point of view of proponents of skyscrapers.

Times are changing and with that our priorities too. Population is rising and urbanisation is taking place at a rapid pace.  Thus, in the coming days people migrating to cities will only go up with which problem of providing them with basic facilities will also increase. With our major cities already seeing their boundaries being stretched far beyond the original limits, time seems to have come to look at the skies for growth!