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Monday, July 27

Taller, greener, better...

There is good news just out for skyscraper buffs like me!

The Civil Aviation Ministry and the Airport Authority of India have trimmed down the height restrictions for constructions around our airports. This allows for buildings to sprout higher into the skies above our cities, almost double to what was permitted until yesterday.

I expect Kerala to significantly make use of this waive in the existing law. Kerala has been the only state outside the megapolis Mumbai, and to a lesser extent Gurgaon, to embrace the highrise culture. The trend which was kicked off in Cochin in the early 90s slowly spread to even the smaller Municipal towns of the state. Its become a fashion statement with even towns like Thiruvalla and Kottayam with just over 1 lakh population hosting 20+ structures.

Even though it may take some time for our local self Govts to adapt themselves to the law, it is certain that the Architects and builders would be licking their lips to make full use of it. Kerala is only second to West Bengal in population density; with 35 million inhabitants @ 825/sq km and severe scarcity of de-notified habitable land, it is common sense to understand that this model of urban development suits us best.

I'm a sucker for tallies, yo! I admire the style of urban development followed in North America and Australia which plots a highrise CBD, with suburbs harbouring midrises and housing estates. Each suburb is planned to be self-sufficient on its own for their shopping and entertainment needs, with residents travelling to city-center only for business and work. The CBD builds and rebuilds itself with major improvements necessary only in the transportation network.

A typical US city; Chicago seen here

European cities have taken a different route in urban planning with the CBDs not distinguishing itself from the suburbia in terms of height. Apart from a handful of cities like Frankfurt and Paris the concept of a tall central district was considered alien. But lately Moscow and even London appears to be moving towards the American way with new skyscrapers planned in their erstwhile low-rise heartlands.

Standard European cityscape; Berlin, Germany

In India there doesn't seem to be any definite pattern; haphazard has been the general rule, and Kerala has followed suit. This waiving of height restrictions means that now buildings would be allowed to rise twice as high as previously allowed. The new regulations make it possible for utilization of the land in a better, economical manner. Even though AAI primarily had Mumbai in mind while trimming the numbers, Kerala will benefit more than the megalopolis as along with the high population density we also have the highest concentration of present and planned International Airports in the country, 3 at present, 1 under serious planning and a dozen or so proposed, cough..cough..**

Kerala already has quite a few impressive records for highrise construction. Apart from the tallest u/c residential tower in South India, the Choice Paradise, there are elaborate plans for even taller apartments, hotel complexes, IT parks and so on, and this new regulations will be a shot in the arm as well.

I believe this would lead to a better utilization of land for supporting the exploding urban population. Utilization of land is a critical component of city-planning and the in-city airports, like the one in Trivandrum, did hinder its vertical rise in a big way. The major arteries of Trivandrum, especially the MG Road were shut down to highrise structures because the runway at TIA was too close. The newly developing pockets of the city along the NH Bypass also had height handicaps because it fell directly on the take-off funnel. With a cap of 60m for highrises even on NH Bypass, Akkulam, this seemed another handcuff for the builders and planners. As I understand it, structures could rise upto 50 stories on Akkulam shores where anything beyond 21 floors were not possible before.

Well, if you ask me if anyone is going to build such tall sky-kissers, Kerala cities have already breached the 30 floor mark and planning permission has been sought for 48 floored skyscrapers outside the Trivandrum city limits. A liquor baron in the city had plans for a true mixed-use skyscraper but this proposal got stuck on AAI tables. So if you ask me, I'm optimistic to see Kerala produce skyscrapers of a different breed!

Apartment developers could score some brownie points by going for true highrises because it gives an opportunity to provide more green, open spaces for the residents. I'm no fan of urban sprawl, where the city extends miles and miles into the outbacks. Expanding horizontally is inevitable for a growing city but only after it has exhausted the options for vertical growth. Sprawl will only lead to more complications in the future, like transportation, increased cost of maintaining infrastructure over a wider geographical area & encroachment into farmlands and forest-lands. If we don't want to end up as a bonsai form of Los Angeles, then we'd better check the horizontal growth of our cities. Experts are calling for more mixed-use developments to counter the sprawl, and growing taller is definitely the striking option.

And know what, taller could well be the greener option too! We've already had a beginning here in Trivandrum, SFS Grande, remember? Go green, go tall and save our poor Earth from this CO2 witch...please.

With the new AAI regulations in place, it is now upto the Govt of Kerala to get their priorities right regarding the width of the roads, policies such as FAR, utility developments and urban layouts with taller structures in mind. At least in the new developing corridors, provisions had to be made for the smooth graduation of our cities from midrise havens to highrise districts!

So let the race begin, eh? ;)

Thanks for JK and Desipundit for featuring this article.
The article also featrued in Urban Architecture

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