Dr.S.V.Deodhar, Retired Director COE Dhule (Mah), Retd Dean Acedemic SVITS Indore (M.P.) and Consultant Indore
Population growth: The current population of India is about 1.40 billion, which is approximately more than 17.5% of the total world population. Population growth is one of the main reasons for the haphazard developments in towns and cities, which are seeing townships, apartments, multi-storey office buildings coming up, with people flocking in large numbers either for jobs or for education.
Community living is becoming popular today due to factors like facilities for walking, kids play area, club house, swimming pool, parking etc. Safety, social togetherness and security, are also important considerations.
Many old families living in the heart of a city have sold their land and old traditional houses and have shifted to the more modern multi-storey apartments. The main reason is that the so-called heart of the city has become a very crowded commercial/business area, making it difficult for families to live peacefully. This has become a predominant problem in cities having a population of 2.5 to 5.0 million, for example, cities like Indore, Nasik, Jaipur, Raipur, etc.
Studio/Micro apartments: The increasing number of people flocking to cities is driving up rent prices. Scarcity of land, lack of affordable construction, and a narrowing profit margin is leading developers to come up with a new concept – the micro or the studio apartment, which is a self-sufficient unit with a single bedroom, primarily intended for single occupancy. These micro-units are mainly found in urban areas. Their size ranges between 5.0 (with common toilet facility) to 35.0 sq.mt. Such compact apartments are well established across America, Europe and Southern Asian countries. In India, they are becoming a preferred housing choice for individual occupants and young couples who are eager to compromise on space to own a house in well located areas, rather than paying exorbitant rents or huge loans for owning a larger house. What’s more, these micro apartments, seen in multi-storey buildings, provide all the modern amenities and services, including 24-hour security, a club house, sports facilities, retail outlets, etc.
Lack of parking spaces: The International Energy Agency (IEA) findings suggest that passenger car ownership in India will grow by 775% over the next two decades with 175 cars per 1,000 people in 2040. In most of the cities in India, it can be observed that almost all the footpaths for pedestrians have become parking spaces for 2 and 4-wheelers, or storage and product display spaces for shop owners, or sitting spaces for restaurant owners. All such encroachments have made wide roads look like narrow streets or lanes.
No one is adhering to the bylaws. Unless strict measures are taken in implementing the parking norms, it will be difficult to solve this problem. Though townships and apartments are provided car parking spaces for one car, by the developer, most apartment flat owners usually have two cars or an additional two-wheeler. Illegal parking impacts road safety as it shrinks motorable space on roads, blocks pedestrian walkways, and can become a cause for accidents. Though corporations have constructed buildings for multi-parking, hardly anyone uses them. We also see entrances of many housing complexes blocked by parked cars or by vendor carts.
Today, there is a need to consider a minimum of two parking lots for each apartment in a high-rise building, for which building byelaws have to be revised. Even for small buildings, permission for construction should be granted only if provision has been made for parking one four-wheeler and one two-wheeler.
Steps need to be taken for planning proper construction of community and individual housing, and enforce norms to make provision for parking, else people will not be permitted to purchase a vehicle. Public should be forced to use public transport system, which though difficult, is very important.
Ecology and eco-friendly planning: Engineers must have the knowledge of the existing eco-system and the environment so that they can maintain an environmental balance. The eco-system includes the energy flows and material cycles on land, ocean, air and fresh water. Knowledge of the eco-system helps in maintaining its natural equilibrium. Along with this, one must consider the environment of one’s house, work place, and the neighbourhood, and also one’s social and private life, while planning/designing a house or a work place.
The greenhouse effect is another important factor during planning in order to prevent environmental degradation and make optimum use of natural sunlight and wind for thermal comfort and lighting, and use resources that are anti-polluting. Such eco-friendly planning of buildings needs proper orientation, arrangement and grouping of various elements of the building to be constructed.
Rapid construction of buildings (residences, office buildings, institutions etc) is leading to extensive cutting of trees without giving much attention to tree plantation, despite the bylaws. Even important factors like use of solar energy and water harvesting are given little attention.
However, building planners are now required to develop land without cutting trees or to plant new trees before actual construction starts, so that by the time the project is complete, the planted trees would have grown sufficiently. The concept of sustainable construction, green building, and smart building is catching up in India, but it needs to be implemented by every planner.
Daylighting and water harvesting: Day lighting in a building is not always free; even a conventional window costs more than a blank wall. But the benefits that windows provide are much more than their cost saving. When properly designed and effectively integrated with electric lighting, daylighting can offer significant energy saving by offsetting a portion of electric light load. Natural light improves the comfort level and health of the occupants and reduces the load of air conditioning. But the building should be designed such that it allows just the right amount of light and when required. Glazing system, shading devices, day light harvesting instruments and devices such as light shelves and solar sensors, right size of window openings, their location and orientation, and right screening need to be considered during planning of a multi-storey building or a township. The problem is seen more in the lower floors of a multi-storey building, mainly due to an inadequate open space between two apartment buildings. So, this is an important factor in planning and designing of a multi-storey building.
A common practice to control dust pollution is by paving with concrete blocks, which are also used in apartment housing colonies/communities for parking vehicles. However, these paved blocks prevent water percolation, so water flows into rivers or drains away; but before it drains away, it collects and creates a flood like situation in low lying areas of towns and cities. So, along with paving blocks, some water harvesting wells should be provided at certain distances apart to prevent the water from flowing away or cause waterlogging. The water will flow into the harvesting wells and recharge the water level.
Though the government has made water harvesting compulsory in all new colonies and township developments, but there is little awareness among people. Builders need to make provisions in every colony at the planning stage itself.
Fire safety and protection: Fire safety begins with the demarcation of fire zones, restriction on construction of buildings in each fire zone, classification of buildings based on occupancy, type of construction as per fire resistance of the structural and non-structural components, and other restrictions and requirements necessary to minimize danger to life from fire, smoke, fumes and panic at the time of evacuation.
It has been observed that the main cause of fire in most buildings is short circuit. Once electrification of building is done, little attention is given to its maintenance and safety, including changing of wire/cable and electrical fittings. Though electric fittings like switches, regulators, holders etc. are replaced from time to time, but wires and cables are never replaced. In due course of time they get damaged but are rarely changed. So, it is important to check the electric wire line system regularly and replace them when necessary.
When a fire occurs, the narrow streets, not following building bye laws, little control by the authorities, poor parking facilities etc. can cause damage and loss of property, and sometimes lives, since there is no quick access for firefighting vehicles. Absolute safety from fire may not be attainable, but measures can be taken to minimize the losses that are likely to occur in case of fire. Though use of fire hydrants is essential in high-rise buildings, unfortunately, they rarely work when required.
Conclusion: Proper steps need to be taken while planning community or individual housing, taking into account the above issues. Authorities are also required to revise norms and building byelaws as per the changing needs and ensure their strict implementation.