Apartment design -The way forward – Discussion 23

Highrises in Mumbai

What is the best way to provide a holistic build environment when one is designing high density vertical housing? How can we create environments that are more interactive, more social, and more sustainable? This was the question that was posed as a design exercise for an upcoming project in the studio.

Huge volumes of built-up spaces are being created all over the real estate segment in the country. Yet, most often these projects end up as high density slabs which are improperly designed, which do not quite address the needs of the people who will have to live there. The general mentality being to cover up as much permissible space as possible, creating buildings which are often environmental , psychological & climatological disasters, ones without even proper lighting & ventilation. Now why is this being taken as the norm & not being questioned, so as to come up with innovative solutions that are suitable for our context & way of life? Why is that we  designers unable to change the status quo, unable to foresee & be harbingers of change, to define a new vocabulary – one that is sensible to our climate, our patterns of living, our functional, social & urban needs?

These were a few of the questions that were raised in our in-house discussion. It has been generally agreed that for the promoters & the builders, most often the economic profitability is the only concern, due to which good design often takes a back seat. Yet, it is something that cannot be merely wished away by designers, in the dream of a utopian state. One of the major observations was that there was not an adequate amount of research being done to come up with relevant solutions which are acceptable to all parties concerned, including the promoters. New ways of designing may have to be developed; new materials will have to be explored, newer construction methodologies will have to be devised – and for all this, adequate and sustained research & exploration will have to be carried out. But are we really doing that, or are we just stumbling from one deadline to another?

This project and the exploration process was thus a step in that direction to address these core issues and come up with positions that are relevant to our context. Ideas were thrown back and forth and debated at length. The entire office was involved in this effort and was divided into different teams and was given specific themes to explore. After a lot of brainstorming & literature studies, certain concepts were identified, which were to be carried forward & developed. A lot of past projects were analysed to study why they worked or didn’t work. Habitat ’67 was a case in point. Though it was a revolutionary concept and heralded a unique prefabricated construction program, it has never been replicated anywhere else and similar ideas weren’t further explored. Even two additional ‘Habitats’ which were proposed in the US & Israel never materialized.

This also led us to consider the role that the clients played in defining the building program, how clients are very reluctant to pay for higher facilities & common areas which added value to a design, except for the high-end luxurious segments. An example was raised wherein a project had to be shelved because the builder had offered extra floor areas in the typologies. Clients were just unwilling to book for the said project, forcing the developers to go back to the drawing board & redesign & re-brand the entire project, to toe the line so to speak. Thus, branding & positioning of a project too had to be clearly thought out to arrive at a workable solution. At the end of the session, there was all round agreement that these initiatives & explorations had to be further carried forward so that it reaches a stage where implementation might be possible.

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