When one looks at the Mumbai skyline it is easy to notice how the sky is being teased by the tall architectural structures with varying heights and sizes; all seeming to be competing to dominate the other.
Mumbai, the commercial capital of India, the city that apparently makes people’s dreams come true as per the Indian movie clichés, is struggling to provide roofs over the heads of all the aspirants that come to the city with hopes of success. In an area of approximately 600 square kilometers, it holds a population of 18.1 million. This, hence, rationalizes the skyline with huge vertical stretches of high-rise apartments, reflecting Mumbai’s shortcomings of lack of space for accommodation on the ground.
Mumbai has over 1500 high rise apartments at present. While high-rises apartments seem natural to any major city’s current fabric as it inches towards urbanization and commercialization, living in such units comes with various physiological and psychological effects on one’s everyday life.
The concept of apartments can be traced back to the 17th century when Paris started building houses in structures that were five to seven-story tall and later much taller buildings with iron skeletons were being constructed throughout the 1860s and 1880s in the US to accommodate the growing population in its various cities. It was soon observed how living in one of these apartments affected the lives of people socially and professionally.
As per studies, high rise buildings often cause social isolation because these individual units provided for each family/ person tend to cordon them off completely from interacting with other people. This occurs mainly because of the lack of social gathering spaces in the close proximity for the residents of these units to come together and interact. As high-rise apartments are very closely associated with commercialization, the builders and the designers often try to fit in as many units as possible in one complex. This results in a compromise on these open gathering spaces and thus, such spaces are deemed unnecessary or a luxury; something that one will have to pay for, additionally in order to avail.
This kind of social isolation due to design leads to psychological effects like stress, poor social relations, hindered child development, behavioral problems, dissatisfaction, fear and lack of helpfulness. Living in a modern world, to inculcate these effects is in a way digging one’s own grave. Also, high-rise buildings also alienate its residents from nature. The buildings might offer a picturesque view (which is highly unlikely in the densely populated Mumbai) concluding that high-rise is only catering to the visual experience of its users, while true architecture is about a comprehensive experience including both tangible and intangible elements of nature.
It is true that nowadays these high-rise building complexes, popularly called “Societies” come with a lot of facilities and provide an ease of living for families and individuals in their present-day busy and dramatic life. As humans, social interaction is essential to every aspect of our health. Research shows that having a strong network of support or strong community bonds foster both emotional and physical health.
An architect and an academic, Kerry Clare says that “sky-high living is harming a city’s urban fabric and promoting social isolation.” As per an interview with the newspaper “The Age”, she argued that “building apartments in high-rise towers meant more people were detached from street life….. Living in a high-rise building radically reduced the sort of chance encounters that lower-rise dwellings ensured were inevitable, as residents were on the street more often,” she said. She further added that “High-rises diminish people’s participation in public spaces”, citing the work of another architect, TazLooman, who has argued towers create silos – physical, social and psychological.
The Kanchanjunga Apartments by Charles Correa in Mumbai however, is an example of how a high-rise residential apartment could be designed to give its user a good social and natural experience. With cantilevered terraces that open out for social interaction between two stories and with the inclusion of vernacular elements ensuring the best experience of the Mumbai sea breeze and the sun, this built structure elucidates how a designer could alleviate social stresses and ensure nature’s proximity but also at the same time accommodate a good number of people within it.
It’s true that this poses a challenge for any designer to fulfill the need for shelters for the ever-growing population in the city, especially when there is a crunch in the amount of space available to do so. However, one as a designer should also not compromise on the kind of experiential qualities he/ she could provide them through design. The quality of community living and experience of the urban fabric are two very essential components of urban living. These two factors play a huge role in determining the livability quotient of a city. So this presents itself as a great responsibility in the hands of designers; as Winston Churchill rightly said, “We shape our buildings and later buildings shape us”.
For Michelle Thomas, architecture could be described as an afterthought decision of life. However, her fondness for writing has always been innate. A soon to be graduate of Masters of Landscape Architecture from RMIT, Melbourne, she always found writing as the most sincere medium for communication and expression to build a narrative of architecture design.