With the global housing market in recovery mode, developers are taking their structures to staggering new heights. The 107-storey Princess Tower in Dubai is the tallest residential building in the world; Hong Kong’s 1,588-foot International Commerce Centre has its own airport rail link, a high-end mall, offices and a five-star hotel inside the tower; and if all goes as planned, 2017 will see the Kingdom Tower in Jeddah unveiled, which at an estimated 3,280 feet, will replace Dubai’s Burj Khalifa as the world’s tallest building.
Traditionally, New York, Dubai, Hong Kong and Shanghai have offered skylines that touch the clouds, but market forces estimate that Indonesia, Vietnam and India will be the next centres of skyscraper construction.
“There appears to be no vertical limit to where India can go. Technology has never been a problem, resources are abundant and we have learnt that what we don’t have we can easily import,” says Gulam Zia, Executive Director, Advisory, Retail and Hospitality, Knight Frank India. According to Knight Frank India, 34 projects of more than 40 storeys in Mumbai are valued at close to $20 billion (about Dh73 billion) at today’s market prices.
Construction on the controversial India Tower began in 2010, developed by Dynamix Balwas (DB) Realtors. However, work was halted in May the following year after the civic building proposals department issued a stop-work notice, demanding a premium of approximately Rs2 billion (about Dh119 million) from the developer. The issue is still not resolved. The tower is planned as a mixed-use hotel, residential and retail project. Though work has been temporarily put on hold due to legal issues, when completed, India Tower will be 700 metres or 2,300-feet tall and consist of 126 floors, making it the tallest building in the country. The other contender for the title of India’s tallest is the 1,450-foot World One tower being developed by Lodha Group. Currently that title is held by the two 833-feet tall Imperial Towers in Mumbai.
Scaling new heights
Mumbai’s tryst with height is over half a century old and began when the 25-storey Usha Kiran at Carmichael Road came up in the late 1960s. In the 1970s, the government allowed the city to expand by reclaiming hundreds of acres, thus leading to the slew of high-rises at Nariman Point, creating Mumbai’s central business district. While a dearth of space in landlocked Mumbai was the primary reason for going vertical, some of the other factors include slum rehabilitation, rapid urbanisation and what Zia calls a me-too culture. But the most universal reason for the global proliferation of super-talls is demographics. By 2050, the world population will have grown to nine billion, from about seven billion today and an estimated 70 per cent of that population will live in urban areas. And these super structures appear to be the only answer to urban dwelling.
This makes sense in land-strapped cities, but today, the calling card for any metropolis appears to be an impressive skyline. “As far as living in apartments is concerned, the average Indian prefers to have his own house and not live in apartment buildings. And while Mumbai has no other recourse but to go vertical, other cities such as Noida, Gurgaon, Bangaluru, Hyderabad and Poona, where land is not scarce, have adopted this culture because it is a herd mentality — the we-want-it-too mindset,” says Zia.
Not slumming it
Of course, when it comes to Mumbai, a major factor for mushrooming high-rises was the government’s slum rehabilitation project. “Slum rehabilitation projects were undertaken to allegedly disperse high densities in certain areas and to win vote banks,” says Zia. To ensure the success of these undertakings the government incentivised builders by offering them higher Floor Space Indexes. “This did not lessen the density but only created vertical slums and put a greater load on infrastructure,” adds Zia.
On the other hand, the picture isn’t all bleak. The Imperial project has been a part of a larger slum rehabilitation scheme. It has transformed the lives of more than 10,000 residents of MP Mill Compound located at Tardeo in the heart of south Mumbai. “It has touched the lives of the residents who initially were staying in about 2,600 hutments in sub-human conditions. They now stay in multistorey apartment buildings,” says Amit Thacker, Head of SD Corporation, a joint venture between Shapoorji Pallonji and Dilip Thacker. The humanitarian angle aside, Thacker points out the commercial benefits of these projects. “The entire neighbourhood has benefited from this project as the area has been cleared of slums, with the original slum dwellers housed in hygienic living spaces. Also, due to a premium project such as The Imperial coming up, the entire neighbourhood has been upgraded as a premium area and its real estate rates reflect this. The government also benefits in terms of revenues and taxes paid by these new buildings.”
However, jaw-dropping views, the status symbol and thrill of living in the clouds are not enough to get buyers to splurge on these luxury and super-luxury apartments. “The price tag is a reflection of what the builder is offering the buyer, apart from just verticality,” says Zia.
So what will Rs500 million get you? The Imperial has apartments ranging from 2,500 square feet to 10,000 square feet, Spanish and Italian marble flooring, with oak wood engineered flooring in the master bedrooms, and bathroom fittings sourced from Italy.
The much-anticipated World One in Mumbai will offer apartments designed by Armani/Casa and seven acres of private landscape designed by New York’s famed landscape artist Ken Smith. It will also feature one of Mumbai’s largest and most luxurious clubs and spas operated by Six Senses, an 80,000 square foot elevated sports arena, 24-hour concierge services by Quintessentially and exclusive access to 1000, the world’s highest private observatory. “In addition, the development will house a two-acre public park, with boutique restaurants and cafés, luxury retail and the iconic Museum of Mumbai, that will chronicle the history of this amazing city,” says R.Karthik, CMO, Lodha Group.