If you are considering becoming a 1M/1M premium member and would like to join our mailing list to receive ongoing information, please sign up here.

Subscribe to our Feed

India’s Real Estate Boom & Architecture

Posted on Saturday, Jan 19th 2008

And this one, since we have been talking about Government intervention and its pros and cons … city planning, including the aesthetics and architectural vision of a city, are the government’s responsibility.

In all the emerging markets, a real-estate boom is raging. Nowhere is this boom more pronounced than in India and China. You have recently read my piece, As India Builds, on India’s architectural destruction, tearing down old houses, and building new ugly ones in their places. You have also read Jorge Freyer’s piece on India’s enormous 500 Million strong consumer market. Can you imagine the housing needs of this emerging middle class?

It would be fair to assume that India will build at a furious pace over the next 30-50 years.

During my recent trip to Rome, I found myself thinking a lot about how India should build, in the context of how it has been building so far. In Rome in particular, but in Italy in general, I found a very good benchmark and example that India could follow.

Ofcourse, multi-storied apartment complexes will abound in the urban areas. But I prefer that they look more like this:


or this:


and not like this:

india buildings

If you are interested in this topic, you can read my more detailed notes alongside pictures in my Flickr set, which I prepared for discussions with an architect in India.

Hacker News
() Comments

Featured Videos


too late sramana, architecture in India is kind of moving exactly the way you said it should not go. What with high salaries and with designs from Singapore architects the so called gated communities are everywhere. why do you think we should build Rome kind of architecture instead of a hybrid Indian one? you mean like this

suresh Tuesday, May 29, 2007 at 5:08 AM PT

To me, the pictures in your link look somewhat like stacked shoeboxes with a dome on top.

I am not saying we should build Rome kind of architecture. I am saying we should build “some architecture”. What we’re building right now is non-architecture.

We are building stacked shoeboxes.

Sramana Mitra Tuesday, May 29, 2007 at 10:06 AM PT

[…] Real Estate, the Hotel industry is also booming in India. I have always felt, Heritage Hotels are a very good […]

Sramana Mitra on Strategy » Blog Archive » Heritage Hotels in India Wednesday, May 30, 2007 at 3:32 AM PT

what you saw was neoclassical in its fullest bloom as propagated by hafeez contractor, the architect. he is single handedly changing the way India looks and its pathetic. I think recent large architectural projects in India are ugly.

suresh Thursday, May 31, 2007 at 12:24 AM PT

O’ god Suresh. All i could come up with reading your message is a helpless groan.


Please, No!

Sramana Mitra Thursday, May 31, 2007 at 12:27 AM PT

It is all a matter of personal preference. Classical style, say, Renaissance style of architecture, no doubt looks great, but it is very difficult and expensive to maintain, and damn expensive to build in the first place. On top of that, everything depends upon the client – who not only needs to have loads of money, but a refined taste as well.

Surajit Sen Saturday, June 9, 2007 at 3:05 PM PT

Is it? To preserve a city, the government needs to have a policy, so that people don’t build whatever they wish to.

The problem is, India has no such inclination.

Cities that do a good job of preservation, do.

Often the city creating a master policy for architectural specs help constrain the evolution of the aesthetics.

Isn’t that what is missing, Surajit?

Sramana Mitra Sunday, June 10, 2007 at 7:35 PM PT

[…] of my extreme and unapologetic sensitivity to design and style. [Two follow-on pieces to these are, India’s Real Estate Boom and Architecture, and Heritage […]

Sramana Mitra on Strategy » Blog Archive » Design to Move Thursday, June 14, 2007 at 6:33 PM PT

I do not like the stacked housing design. Would hate to live in one of these

Mary Beth Hurtado & Elliott Lewis Monday, June 25, 2007 at 10:35 AM PT

Unfortunately we will have the developers and “certain Mumbai based architect” who only believe in few water lanes and 5 feet of open land to be shared amongst 500 homes to be the “innovation”. We are heading towards worse times – don’t even expect it.

Govind Wednesday, January 23, 2008 at 8:49 PM PT

1. How architecture should be evaluated-
a)I must stress here that the buildings above mostly emphasize a façade-treatment and embellishments(In fact, the verhandahs look rather small, too small to be useful); we should concentrate, instead, on the planning and treatment of the spaces inside- do they allow enough light inside and provide adequate space, do they enable the residents to interact, do the spaces look out into some greenery, the variation of scale, the hierarchy of the public and the private spaces etc; these are the more fundamental necessities to be addressed now. A habitation should feel comfortable and sumptuous even with the eyes shut. These concerns, I feel, are to be addressed even before the expression of traditional, artistic or stylistic values. (In fact, a post-modern tendency is to give a false façade entirely defeating the ‘honesty’ of the architecture).
b) I am trying to articulate our hatred of the ‘stacked-boxes’ a little further- Is it simply because of its distancing itself from all semblance of aesthetics? What we are irked by is the feeling that our ‘home’ has been transformed into a sort of mass-produced assembly-line architecture- where the size and the repetitiveness reduce the individual to insignificance. It could be an anthill reproduced in concrete and stone. Potential buyers are enticed by facilities on offer, rather than the quality of space offered to them.

A stark built-form- not pleasing from the exterior—but a remarkable concept in housing-

Good application of principled thought-

2. Government’s Role:
Just as a design is developed in a number of stages- all determined by a ‘concept’- so should a city-development master-plan be drawn up keeping in mind the identity the city wants to project. The Indian cities should identify an ‘urban brand’ for itself and draw up its plans accordingly. For example the Floor Area Ratio(Ratio between the building site area and the total floor area- basically an index of how ‘dense’ a construction can be), which is regulated by the government can be used to this effect. A city branding itself as a global shopping destination could have higher FARs, whereas a city emphasizing tradition and heritage would prefer less dense buildings. (The maximum FARs in India are around 3-4. Manhattan- 20)

Vaswar Wednesday, September 9, 2009 at 1:03 PM PT

Do you have knowledge of which cities have done the best job in driving an architectural vision? I am sure Paris is one of them, but don’t know the details of what they have done policy-wise. Probably Rome and Florence as well. The Europeans have a very good sense of preservation. Worth looking into.

Sramana Mitra Wednesday, September 9, 2009 at 8:25 PM PT

i agree that most modern buildings (like the one I can see in this link) are ugly. i also agree that those who buy such flats have to pay a huge amount for them. it’s not that these are cheap. but the point is south city is perhaps more expensive than similar buildings in baghuiati but still both look like the same. do customers now have an option … Read moreof getting a flat in a good-looking building if they have the money? no, i would guess.

so, yes, money is a very important concern. but still with the amount of money being spent, less ugly buildings can be built.

Bhooter Raja Thursday, September 10, 2009 at 6:00 PM PT

Paris and Urban Policies

As far as European cities go, they have been aware of the identity of their city since the 19th century, and policies to preserve and sustain them have progressed in fits and starts.
Since, however, our Indian cities resemble the European counterparts as they were two centuries back, their older policies of urban planning, preservation and sustenance are still relevant. Though most of the European cities have followed a similar patter of urban development, Paris has taken every scheme to its extreme, therefore is worth studying in more detail.

In the 19th century

The government’s procedures in urban development was characterized by the urge to maintain urban complementarity and to uphold the identity of the city’s juxtaposition of art and industry. Streets were recognized as the most important feature of the urbanscape, a means for building infrastructure, improving aesthetics and preserving the monuments of antiquity. The historic city centre had to be to be cleared up- Boulevards and avenues ripped through what were once very poor and congested neighborhoods. Cartesian ordering of streets was imposed on the narrow winding medieval streets. Building rules necessitated residences’ relationships with the state monuments, relation of façade to street, scaling of church domes, and even usage of fine stone on the façade was made mandatory.

The 20th Century onwards.

Urban development and preservation drives are now characterized by the preciousness of individual properties and their unique signatures.
High rises are now banned from the city-centre so as not to dwarf the monuments and the state buildings. From 3 million residents in Municipal Paris in 1919, the density actually fell to 2 million by the year 2000- decongesting the city center and moving residences to the periphery.
Yet Paris, of most European cities, has always been good at asserting a contemporary relevance, and not simply stagnating its architectural presence with the ancient monuments. The buildings like Pei’s Glass Pyramid and the Pompidou Centre hold up this image, despite the controversy-also showing Georges Pompidou and Mitterand’s progressive, unapologetic vision.
The 20th century also saw the Charter of Athens, wherein a manifesto for urban restoration and preservation was formulated by the leading architects of the time, and was meant to be followed by the governments in Europe. Among many suggestions, one of the most interesting suggested that every modern building should take into consideration any ancient monument nearby. This however did not mean that new buildings would embody the aesthetics of the old, but rather set up a ‘dialogue’ or ‘relationship’ with its past through form and space. A more recent consortium of architects has been brought together by President Sarkozy- to draw up plans for a ‘Great Paris’ that brings together the periphery of the city and the centre through architecture and planning, at the same time conforming with the Kyoto protocols.

Many other cities of Europe, America and recently, China are going through the same phases- like a child growing up and slowly becoming conscious.

Vaswar Sunday, September 13, 2009 at 7:36 AM PT

Good analysis, Vaswar. I think that while the I. M. Pei pyramids have been very well received in Paris, the Centre Pompidou generated significant controversy. To be candid, it does not fit in the city’s landscape at all. It is incongruous, and I think Paris doesn’t particularly want further development of that sort, which begs the question how does contemporary architectural ideas evolve in a city that decides to preserve its antique identity?

One of the best juxtapositions of contemporary and ancient architecture I have seen is in Nimes in south of France. Check this out:

With the Indian cities, development has been completely helter skelter, and no one seems to have any vision about the aesthetics of any of them. The basic existence is such a trauma in itself, that beauty and preservation seems to have no place in the consciousness of the people. “Khudhar rajye prithivi godyomoy, purnima chnad jano jhalshano ruti …” (Sukanta).

Sramana Mitra Sunday, September 13, 2009 at 9:18 AM PT

And to answer your question BR, the problem is that we are being enticed by facilities like jacuzzi, swimming pools, gyms instead of quality living spaces. So why would anyone waste their breath ensuring better terraces, courtyards, facades etc when we fall more easily for the presence of a snazzy ‘clubhouse’ in a housing complex? Once again, we are paying for ‘facilities’ not ‘quality of living space’.

Vaswar Sunday, September 13, 2009 at 7:46 AM PT

Indeed and well put. The upwardly mobile Indians are quite an unsophisticated consumer population at present. It will take several generations before they develop taste and appetite for aesthetics or quality of space. Right now, people are moving from a state of mind of not having much to suddenly experiencing a bit of a kid-in-the-candy-store phenomenon. Jacuzzi, swimming pool, gym sounds cool. Quality of living space – what’s that?

Sramana Mitra Sunday, September 13, 2009 at 9:22 AM PT

The Pompidou Center was designed with the overall impression of a European square- a plaza with a giant form rising sharply from one end. Some people do say it reminds them of some gothic cathedrals- a massive structure with infinite details over a large surface. In addition, the Centre houses mostly works of modern art, some of the most avante garde works of the time so I believe the Pompidou Centre embodies that spirit quite effectively. These are true, of course, only from a theoretical point of view.

Then I must mention too, the importance of such a structure to the Indian urbanscape. The British founded most of India’s metropolitan cities and even the most revered of buildings are crude copies of buildings in Britain. Our ailing cities need something radical like the Pompidou Center- a building that respects the heritage not through form, but by capturing the feel of the ancient space. A society that looks only at its past with reverence is decadent. Often, a building can create its own context- by influencing its environment both socially and economically in the long run.

Controversy is often a sign of a free and thinking society- and a very good indicative of change.

Vaswar Thursday, September 17, 2009 at 8:03 PM PT

True. But I have to say, I don’t particularly find the aesthetics of the Pompidou Center attractive. It may be avante garde, but it is quite ugly. Avant garde = ugly is not an acceptable principle.

On the positive side, it flows extremely well inside, and it most certainly houses one of the finest collections of modern art in the world.

Whatever India needs, I don’t believe it needs more ugly construction.

Also, in Paris, the Musee D’Orsay is a modern interpretation of an old train station. The outside is the original old architecture, but inside, it has been beautifully rendered as a museum. It is absolutely stunning.

I would argue D’Orsay is as important an architectural phenomenon as the Pompidou Center and the I. M. Pei pyramids.

Sramana Mitra Friday, September 18, 2009 at 2:23 PM PT

In most Indian cities- the urban and the rural often merge- in terms of values, cultural practices and therefore even built forms. We can see a gradient of architectural typologies changing from the urban to the rural in the same ‘urban’ agglomeration.

If we look at some of the Western cities, their first stage of preservation of urban heritage has been to decongest the city centre- and in the process relocate a large mass of people to the suburban belt, allowing the city to grow progressively ‘outwards’. The problem of dysfunctional architecture arises here, in these localities- far removed from the cultural hub of the city. We see the birth of ‘generic cities’ sapped of identity and belonging.

Reading Mr. Dey’s piece on ‘Rural Infrastructure and Services Commons’ here-
I could see some further possibilities:

· As we move towards the evolution of villages into more developed townships, then extrapolating that situation, there is a possibility of ‘conurbation’-wherein a number of growing urban townships agglomerate into one. Perhaps these new ‘seeded cities’ can act as counter magnets that decongest the mother-city.

· As Mr.Dey suggests a number of firms investing in these new cities, it would be interesting if architecture firms too pitched in. Satellite towns, far from the city-centre, become nameless places, which hardly reflect the refinement and urban texture of the metropolis. These new cities could be heaven-sent for architects who want to implement technologies indigenous to the region, and try to give the fledgling city an identity of its own. As conurbation takes place, and the smaller townships are integrated into the ‘mother city’ we can witness the development of a multi-layered city (to develop), but one that has maintained an identity, a conscious retention of its cultural values.

A recent development- the construction of a Museum of Modern Art in Calcutta is a notable occurrence. The site chosen is the new township of Rajarhat- far removed from the heritage zones of the city, areas that till a few years back have been large expanses of marshes and farmlands. This has allowed the architects to experiment with new built forms, at the same time maintaining the spirit of the old city. As development has not taken place on a very large scale in the immediate vicinity of the Museum yet, it can be expected to seed the area with a cultural identity and to an extent dictate its ‘context’- the architectural value of the space around it.

Vaswar Thursday, October 1, 2009 at 9:53 PM PT

Yes certainly, D’ Orsay is one of the finest examples of adaptive reuse. The trend has caught on in India as well. The Star Theatre in Calcutta had been gutted after a fire, and was rebuilt retaining the baroque entrance. Thankfully, the new portion did not try to imitate the facade- but is less assertive a presence.

Vaswar Friday, October 2, 2009 at 5:16 AM PT