Are we well-equipped with the latest construction technologies, expertise, and advanced mechanization?
With the lifting of the ban in India on the construction of skyscrapers in June 2014, cities such as Delhi and Mumbai, which have exhausted the capacity to grow horizontally, heaved a sigh of relief. Their only way to grow for the past one decade, is to grow vertically, and that’s going to be a reality. By 2025, the Mumbai skyline might become more cohesive as an ambitious number of skyscraper projects are approaching various completion milestones.
Till date, Mumbai has the maximum number of approved or under construction high rises - around 71 buildings whose heights range between 150 metres and 450 metres, and barring only six of these, the rest are residential.
Four of Kolkata’s residential skyscrapers are completed and functional while the remaining seven are at various stages of ongoing construction. Out of these, six are structurally topped out, and the highest one goes up to 252 metres. Ahmedabad seems to be the most ambitious of the lot after Mumbai with 13 skyscrapers coming up whose heights are presumed to range between 200 and 410 metres. Hyderabad, Bangalore, and several other cities have also woken up to the race for high rises, which are in great demand among developers and end users at the moment, despite all their downsides
On the face of this increasing demand for high-rises, do we have the necessary skill and expertise, advanced products and technologies, and the new generation equipment to support vertical construction and their maintenance?
The current scenario
|"Creating any high-rise structure is about modern technology and leveraging it to ensure construction gets completed at a quicker pace – while ensuring high quality standards. Mr. Niranjan Hiranandani, CMD, Hiranandani Group|
In bustling cities’ ground space has become a constraint. The growth of cities has exploded laterally across all directions, leaving the only scope of development is to be in the vertical direction. In the time to come, this vertical growth will be the one to sustain an ever-growing need for living spaces. Mr. Niranjan Hiranandani, CMD, Hiranandani Group says, “As cities gear up to cope with the increasing population, the tall building may well become the new normal, not by choice, but by default. No large city, which has a growing population to accommodate, can afford not to go tall.”
Humans have always aspired to go tall. “Ever since the time of the pyramids, (they are) continuously discovering and inventing new methods and technologies to build buildings like Burj Khalifa (Dubai), and further embarking upon a 1-km high Jeddah Tower (Saudi Arabia),” says Mr. Mohit Kanwar, Director of Project Management, Colliers International, India, adding that high-rise residential and hotel buildings have always fascinated the minds of people in India, but the reluctance in pursuing them came from our characteristic constraints such as poor infrastructure, lack of expertise in construction technologies, and an unorganized development structure in towns and cities.
|"The new construction methods will play a vital role if India is to meet its ambitious targets for infrastructure development. Infrastructure development in India is about 50 years behind the curve. It’s time for a completely new way of thinking about it. We need to introduce automation and fabrication processes to the sector that would be more associated with the automotive industry. Speed, skill and scale are the most important factors for infrastructure development in India." Faizal Kottikollon, Chairman of KEF Holdings|
However, the scenario is changing now. “Till date, Mumbai has been the high-rise capital of India with buildings rising over 150 meters. According to the Council of Tall Building and Urban Habitat (CTBUH), in India, 37 buildings above 150 meters were completed (32 in Mumbai) while 71 buildings are at various stages of construction. India doesn’t have any building rising above 300m so far, however, seven such buildings are under construction, and five of these are in Mumbai. On the other hand, NCR is now planning buildings over 150m but nothing is operational as yet,” Mr Kanwar informs.
As the population explodes and rural to urban migration continues at faster rates, demand for commercial and residential realty is increasing, but there is only limited land available for construction. Mr. Kanwar points us towards a report by the Mckinsey Global Institute; it says that for meeting the increasing urban demand, the economy has to build between 700 million and 900 million square meters of residential and commercial spaces every year. “Also, 10% of the Indian population lives in only six cities, namely, Delhi, Mumbai, Kolkata, Bengaluru, Hyderabad, and Chennai, with the density of population exceeding 1000 persons per square meter. Therefore, there is no option but to develop high-rise buildings to offset the ever increasing land costs, thus, maximizing FSI on a given piece of land,” he adds.
|Designed by Morphogenesis and executed by Colliers International India, the morphology of GYS Vision project (comprising three towers) in Gurgaon, is an outcome of a stack of cuboidal volumes and a series of attached open spaces, translated as a series of cascading voids- forming sky gardens that spiral along the entire height of the building. Photo courtesy: Kunal Bhavdhankar.|
Expertise in executing the skyscraper projects
|"Indian contractors need to perfect their understanding of planning logistics, site surveys, and safety systems during construction and also focus on the finishing quality." Ms. Nandini Somaya Sampat, Director, SNK India|
SNK India, who were the Associate Architect to the New York-based International Design Architects - Pei, Cobb, Freed and Partners (PCF-P), during the designing phase of the World One building in Lower Parel, Mumbai, went through a steep learning curve, indicated Ms. Nandini Somaya Sampat, Director, SNK India. Their role evolved over the course of the project from assisting PCF-P around local statutory codes and general construction practices in India to ensure that the construction, documentation, and administration processes adhered to the Indian construction practices and contexts without compromising on the international quality and design intent of the principal designer. SNK also had the primary responsibility to coordinate with the highly complex MEP services and site utilities along with the structural system.
While informing that Mr. Abhijeet Patki, a senior architect at the firm, has been successfully leading this World One project so far, Ms. Sampat went on to emphasize that in India, there is no lack of expertise now. Indian architects and construction professionals are perfectly capable of independently designing and executing high-rise projects upto 200-250 meters, and with so many international structural and MEP consultants opening their offices in India, it has become easier for Indian architects to foray into tall buildings, she believes.
“However, it is in the category of the super tall buildings, classified as structures more than 300 meters, where we believe Indian architects may need to collaborate further to gain better understanding into the complex construction process that is required,” she says. “This is mainly due to lack of experience and not because of ability. It’s just a matter of time, and very soon Indian architects would be able to independently design super tall buildings. On the other hand, when it comes to the execution of these projects, Ms. Sampat opines, “Indian contractors need to perfect their understanding of planning logistics, site surveys, and safety systems during construction and also focus on the finishing quality.”
Mr. Kanwar too agrees that Indian architects and constructional professionals indeed have gained expertise in building high-rise constructions. He informs, “We have also started mirroring the expertise from the Western world and Middle East with regard to design consultants and supervision staff, as more and more design consultants and contracting fraternity have started delivering such projects now. Advanced technologies like system formworks, slip forms, pre-fab technology, high pressure equipment, are now available and are being used and constantly developed to ensure seamless execution.”
Trends in safety and security – need for stronger regulations
Although the premium and established developers are taking care of managing all the challenges in a professional manner, there is still a lacuna when it comes to promoting general awareness on the aspects of stability and safety of high-rises. This lack of awareness about safety measures during construction and post construction phases, along with the complicated technical aspects of high-rise construction lack of relevant technical personnel, and the absence of strong regulatory and monitoring authorities are making high-rise constructions in the country a risky proposition.
Mr. Kanwar concurs that such magnitude and complexity of the high-rise projects deserve a lot more attention with regard to quality and safety parameters, which can only be achieved by strengthening the regulatory framework. He also thinks that “time is now ripe for defining building codes and standards written especially for supertall and mega tall buildings in India, which is also a highly seismic zone.”
Seismic zone – How does that matter?
Buildings in Delhi and surrounding areas are susceptible to high intensity earthquakes, yet they have the lowest category of earthquake performance, which is to the effect of one-fifth of the intensity of an average earthquake that may hit the area, agree experts. Broadly, earthquake-resistant buildings can be divided into four categories: Earthquake Resistant-Operational, Earthquake Resistant-Immediate Occupancy, Earthquake Resistant-Life Safety, and Earthquake Resistant-Collapse Prevention. High-rises in most part of India adopt the last, which simply may prevent a collapse.
Although builders and construction professionals follow structural safety standards set by the government, they follow the minimum safety standards prescribed. Further, high-rises need a separate code because the manner in which an earthquake hits a 5 storey building is very different from the way it hits a 20-storey building.
The good news is that the Bureau of Indian Standards is supposedly drafting a new code for seismic standards for high-rises.
Quality and functionality
|"Advanced technologies like system formworks, slip forms, pre-fab technology, high pressure equipment, are now available and are being used and constantly developed to ensure seamless execution." Mr. Mohit Kanwar, Director of Project Management, Colliers International, India.|
Traditionally, India had developed buildings made of concrete unlike the West, which has steel as the major building material. However, there is a major shift in trend with tall buildings now being designed in steel or composite structures. Besides this, high speed elevators, sustainable glass facades, wind tunnel testing, fire safety compliant buildings are some of the features that mark high-rise buildings. As more and more of such projects are being launched, it also helps to achieve economies of scale for developers and contractors.
Mr. Kanwar says, “System formwork companies like Layher, Doka, Mivan, Peri, are present in India for helping developers achieve the schedule and quality requirements needed for super tall buildings. All type of forms such as climbing form, slip forms, tunnel forms and so on are available for use.” He explains that the concrete industry has gone a long way to achieve concrete mixes that can be pumped to great heights, aided by high-pressure pumps and other state-of-the-art construction equipment. Dry wall construction techniques also help achieve quality and speedy constructions.
Concrete is indisputably the most versatile construction material that is also sustainable. The word High Performance denotes something more than what is achieved on a routine basis. The concrete should meet several criteria to conform to a certain specification. High-Performance Concretes are essential today for optimizing the cost and getting superior performance of high-rise constructions.
|"Self-compacting concrete is gradually becoming the preferred formulation worldwide, for many applications such as foundations, floors, walls, and complex structures." Dr. Manamohan R Kalgal, Technical Advisor, UltraTech Cement Ltd. President, Indian Concrete Institute|
According to Dr Manamohan R Kalgal, Technical Advisor, UltraTech Cement Ltd. and President, Indian Concrete Institute, “Concrete has been facing several challenges continually. The challenges posed by high-rise structures are many, the most important is being able to pump the concrete to greater heights with very good flowability. Another very important issue for concrete used in high-rise structures is its deformability when subjected to heavy load in vertical members.”
Precast Gaining Popularity
The quest for delivering high quality outcome within stipulated time is being met by precast concrete construction. There are multiple benefits of precast construction which are attracting architects as well as developers. Owing to the fact that precast construction is less labour intensive and more dependent on machines, the construction turns out to be speedy with reduced uncertainties in project completion time. The use of such technology helps in saving approximately 60% of the construction time in comparison to conventional methods.
Currently, many leading construction companies and developers in India are working on high-rise Precast projects. Shapoorji Pallonji, in early 2014, put into operation the first carrousel plant in India and began producing precast concrete elements for the construction of 1,890 units under Residential Development, comprising 35 residential towers with upto 14 floors. EBAWE Anlagentechnik, a company in the PROGRESS GROUP, assisted Shapoorji Pallonji in this project and was responsible for the planning and installation of the plant.
|"The government’s focus on infrastructure development, smart cities and housing for all will surely spur the demand of Precast technology." Debashish Roy, Country Head – India, Vollert India|
According to Mr. Debashish Roy, Country Head – India, Vollert India, “In the current scenario, there are various factors which are making precast technology gain a foothold in India. The constant problem of skilled / semi-skilled labor is a major factor which is making developers go for precast technology in India. Earlier, the laborers used to move to different cities for their living, but now with the projects (Infra, residential) coming up in their own cities, they restrict themselves to their own cities for their living. Besides this, the government directives favoring buyers are forcing developers and contractors to adopt precast technology. Apart from these, the government’s focus on infrastructure development, smart cities, and housing for all, will surely spur demand of Precast technology.
Use of steel in high-rises
While engineers and architects are largely skeptical of the use of steel in high-rises because of their burgeoning cost and required craftsmanship, some industry experts and construction professionals feel the other way.
Ms. Sampat believes that “steel structures are yet to be used in India as widely as they are abroad because of the high cost of steel and of the high skill of workmanship it demands. Therefore, concrete structures are still the preferred choice for construction.”
|"Steel proves to be relevant and beneficial to several construction verticals offering longevity of structure lifespan. It is eco-friendly and recyclable. So for such obvious benefits, it has made its position stronger in the industry and has gained the mind share as well." Mr. Gautam Suri, CTO and Founder Director, Interarch Building Products.|
Mr. Gautam Suri, CTO and Founder Director, Interarch Building Products Private Ltd, believes that steel construction has found wide acceptance over conventional methods in industrial and commercial sectors because of its safety, stability, resistance, and energy efficient features. It also takes less time to build. “Steel construction offers better designs along with greater safety than that offered by conventional, construction materials.”
“Steel has proved to be relevant and beneficial to several construction verticals offering a longer lifespan to the structure. It is eco-friendly and recyclable. So for such obvious benefits, it has made its position stronger in the industry and has gained the mind share as well,” he says. He informs that Interarch is currently delivering medium tall buildings - a G+7 hospital building, two G+2 storey buildings, and collaborating with companies constructing G+10 storeys building in steel.
The biggest benefit accrued from using steel is the time benefit, feels Mr. Suri. He explains that steel frames are faster to erect as compared to reinforced concrete frames, hence, providing an overall time saving of around 40%. Steel building floors with the metal deck system are handed over faster for fit-outs as no shuttering or water curing is required; thereby, resulting in considerable time saving and early revenue generation or occupancy of the building.
Mr. Suri also advises that pre-engineered buildings are earthquake-resistant, offer more stability and safety during earthquakes as steel is ductile, and can take 18 times more deformation than concrete.
Innovation in elevators
|"As India is in a phase of rapid urbanization, it is not surprising that demand for taller, better and sophisticated buildings is going up. We need many more homes, hotels, hospitals, malls and metros and I am sure that the elevator and escalator market is only going to grow. When compared to the global elevator & escalator market, currently India stands second at approximately 50,000+units. With a CAGR of around 8 – 10%, we expect the market to grow stronger, going forward." Mr. Amit Gossain, Managing Director, KONE Elevators India|
There has been a lot of innovation in the technology used for elevators, and in security systems as buyers do expect the inclusion of such cutting-edge products in high-rises. Mr. Amit Gossain, Managing Director, KONE Elevators India, says, “With the increasing density of super-high-rise buildings in cities, demand for ultra-high-speed lifts is increasing. In response, Advanced technologies are continuously being introduced to improve elevator operation and system efficiency, contributing to some of the most energy-saving vertical transportation systems commercially available.
Mr. Gossain gives a peek into the various customer-centric innovations that have pushed KONE into the Forbes list of 100 most innovative companies, for the 6th consecutive time.
- Kone JumpLift – a construction time elevator which uses the building hoists to move upward as the construction progresses. This unique construction time elevator, uses a temporary machine room that can be shifted up or down, depending on the need. It enables safe & fast construction, reduces downtime & costs, facilitates early closing of facades, and enables safe & efficient transportation for people and materials in all weather conditions.
- KONE UltraRope® is a new hoisting technology with a super light carbon fiber core. The UltraRope® is 90% lighter than the equivalent steel cable, thereby, bringing a reduction of more than 50% in moving masses & 15% in energy consumption. It also allows the elevator to travel up to 1km in a single run, double of what’s currently possible with a steel cable.
- KONE Polaris hybrid Destination Control Systems combine the best of destination and traditional control system, which leads to increased handling capacity, shorter waiting times, fewer intermediate stops, and enhanced passenger comfort. It also brings a high-tech feel and improved security to the building.
Emphasizing on regular R&D, he says, “We have always made systematic & long-term investments in our R&D capabilities to strengthen innovation leadership in the elevator & escalator industry. One such example is the coming together of KONE & technology giant IBM – the agreement to provide cloud-based Internet of Things, technologies & services. This will benefit the customer in remote monitoring of elevators & escalators, thereby reducing downtimes.
Moreover, Indian Technology and Engineering Center (ITEC) in Chennai has been supporting KONE India’s market development and is also playing a key role in delivering “Smart People Flow Experiences.” Both the companies are working together with an aim to make the Indian cities smarter and people-centric.
Façade cladding for high-rises
The presence of international companies such as FunderMax, Saint Gobain, etc, have brought in international expertise, product quality, and aesthetics into façade technology and products, especially for high-rises. Organizations that have a global presence are able to leverage their expertise better for region-specific situations. Apart from offering high-quality and innovative products and materials, these companies share their experience of suitable sub-construction materials and also contribute in training their human resources.
|"Facade considerations begin with the aesthetic design and desired functionalities wherein the compatibility of the product to the requirement has to be met. Façade Consultants have been playing an active role in this regard to bring in the desired expertise." Dr. Prashanth Reddy, MD, FunderMaxIndia|
Dr. Reddy adds, “The considerations begin with the aesthetic design and desired functionalities wherein the compatibility of the product to the requirement has to be met. Façade Consultants have been playing an active role in this regard to bring in the desired expertise.” He informs that FunderMax in India has already delivered their products for high-rise buildings upto 150 meters and are currently working on similar projects in Sri Lanka too.
While designing high-rise buildings, it is essential that the materials used in them are lighter in weight. Glass, weighing lesser than concrete walls, achieves this purpose and provides the desirable advantage of enjoying majestic views from living spaces.
He adds “Infinity products are engineered to provide maximum/optimum daylight inside but at the same time, keeping the interiors cool by cutting out undesirable heat. Transparency, sustainability and protection from heat make Saint-Gobain Infinity an attractive option for high-rise buildings. In the near future, climate-responsive façades would be the befitting drape for a glazing landscape waiting to be transformed. Infinity range also comes with a coating that protects against the penetration of UV rays into the interiors.”
High-rise buildings are towering achievements that indicate the future of urban living. Every single day, millions of people move around these impressive structures – working, living and visiting. Users expect the best in comfort, security, and convenience. Building owners and managers want their housing projects to be completed on time, using cutting-edge technology and integrated systems that enable efficient building management. Meeting all these demands in a high-rise building is always a challenge. When existing technology and solutions can not be taken further to meet this challenge, there comes the need for innovation. The Indian scenario in high-rise construction is at the cusp of this mirroring of western technologies and developing their own.