Design is about right combination of engineering and art. Engineering improves efficiency and art adds effectiveness.
“As you enter into the apartment, to your right is kitchen and then an L shaped Living/Dining room and then two bedrooms to your left with attached toilets, one common toilet to your right and then the third bedroom”, complained my house hunting brother-in-law “ this is the nth building in Mumbai with the same 3-BHK design”.
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Being from a developer community, where “FSI efficiency” remains the KPI ( Key Performance Index) resulting in similar designs from developers, I had no genuine justification. Passing the blame to the lack of innovativeness of the designer was my only scapegoat.
High cost of land/FSI has, over the years, shifted developers’ focus on consuming every square inch of FSI within the carpet area so as to extract the maximum realization. Being a design lover, I have full sympathy for the designers but in a world where the interest paid to Private Equity funds determines the cost of the project, most developers aren’t left with the luxury of time that needs to be spent on innovative designs. A developer buying land for Rs 400 crore sees Rs 6 crore as his monthly cost for delays due to design trials. Tried and tested designs, therefore, remain safer bet for him. While developers with lands acquired in the past at low prices are slightly better off but they too have constraining regulations that prevent them from adding design elements to their projects.
Balcony, a classical design element, provides the flat look of a building with an ornamental elegancy making a visual pleasure to the street walker. For residents of the building, balconies are an escape from the boring box structured apartment. However, a recent change in regulation has made balconies a burden on the project. While the developer constructing balcony has to pay for the construction cost and also include it in FSI (in many parts of India) but yet the regulation now bars developers from including balcony area in the carpet area. Unable to charge the customer for the value added, the developer is obviously better off without balconies.
Our engineering and architecture colleges teach that thicker walls and columns are inefficiencies in building design. However, recent changes in law allow all such thick walls to be included in carpet area thus providing an easy gateway for inefficiencies to be passed on to the customer. The motivation to designers for making designs efficient with sleek walls and larger floor area is non-existent; the gap between a good and a bad design thus fades away.
There are many other such examples. Regulations in Mumbai mandate 100 car parks for guests in with 200 3-BHK apartments. While guest car parking is definitely required but in the wildest of guess, one cannot expect so many guests coming with personal cars. If designers have to allocate limited resources towards such wasteful requirements, it will definitely lead to inefficiencies in the system. While lawmakers do have constraints but if regulation does lead designers toward inefficient designs, it needs to be relooked at.
Design is about right combination of engineering and art. Engineering improves efficiency and art adds effectiveness. Art cannot prosper when it is governed by rules. An attitudinal change towards design is therefore very critical.
What makes design so critical is the fact that while design cost is a very small item in the Project Cost but it survives the longest. Any mistake in the choice of flooring, paint, doors can be changed over the lifetime of the building but a bad design is irreversible. Design, therefore, needs much larger attention than what it currently gets. We spend crores on flyovers and metro trains but do not spend that 1 percent extra required for beautification of these structures.
Costs cautiousness is definitely critical but India is no more the India of 1970s and 80s. The evolved Indian prefers quality over quantity. Further, our customers now also come from various parts of the world and our buildings and our infrastructure plays an important role in building the brand India among these global visitors to India. Also, 80 percent of the day time of our urban workforce is spent interacting with real estate and infrastructure (office, malls, homes, roads, railways etc.). Design of these structure has significant impact on the productivity of the work force. So be it about the evolving Indian or be it about Brand India or be it about the productivity of the Indian ecosystem, design of civil structures can be a game changer.
It is time that developers learn to give away their fondness for the last square inch of FSI for the cause of design. It is time that regulation provides that extra space to designers to experiment with new ideas. India achieved independence through a struggle against outsiders, here we only have fight with internal forces. Much easier….is it or is it not ?
Deepesh Salgia is director of Shapoorji Pallonji Real Estate.