Bangalore: After designing signature projects such as the Freedom Tower at the World Trade Center site in New York and the Burj Dubai, which will be the world’s tallest skyscraper when it is finished in 2009, New York-based architect firm Skidmore, Owings and Merrill Llp. (SOM) is doing something more down to earth.
It is designing homes for slum dwellers in Mumbai.
This design is part of a master plan SOM is drawing up for realty firm Unitech Ltd, which is developing a 127-acre commercial project that would include offices, retail spaces and a hotel at Mumbai’s Santacruz suburb, not far from the business district of Bandra-Kurla. Nearly 22,000 slum dwellers have to be rehabilitated for the project.
SOM director Mark Igou said that the assignment has thrown up exciting social challenges for the company, which has completed many landmark projects across the globe, but never had to reaccommodate a slum population.
Designer dreams?Projects such as the redevelopment of Dharavi, Asia’s largest shanty town, are still at the bidding stage, and facing stiff opposition from residents. (Madhu Kapparath/Mint)
“This project is very different from what we have been doing so far,” he said. “Here we are working on a master plan to create new housing prototypes for the slum dwellers along with high-end commercial space. We also want to take care of the sentiments of the huge number of people who are involved in this,” Igou added.
A team of sociologists and anthropologists is already working with the slum dwellers, who will soon be moved out of their shanties and put in high-rises.
“Around Rs1,000 crore will be spent on the slum rehab component alone. The total cost of the project, which will be completed in five years, is Rs5,000 crore,” said P.K. Magu, executive vice-president at Unitech.
This is one of two Mumbai projects of Unitech, India’s second largest listed property developer. The other is a commercial project in another suburb, Vile Parle. The company is partnering Pune-based real estate firm Rohan Group for the second project.
Implementing a slum rehab project in Mumbai is no easy task.
“There are many regulatory hurdles and one has to deal with the Slum Rehabilitation Authority (SRA) and the BrihanMumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC). Laws like the land ceiling act, which just got repealed, also makes it difficult,” Igou said.
Property developers admit slum projects in Mumbai are the most difficult to execute. Projects such as the redevelopment of Dharavi, Asia’s largest shanty town, are still at the bidding stage, and facing stiff opposition from residents.
The World Bank has said more than once that successfully developing infrastructure in Indian cities will depend on how well the lives of the displaced and the urban poor is improved.
“It’s time we adopt the bottom-up approach of the United Nations, where the entire community is involved in the designing and planning of a project because they are an integral part of it,” said Jockin Arputham, Magsaysay award winner and president of the National Slum Dwellers Federation.
Despite such challenges, Igou said it’s time international architects are roped in for such important projects. “India is coming on the world stage,” he added.
Many top developers are now bringing in global architects for projects across India. A few such as SOM are also setting up shop in the country.
“Mumbai is like New York in terms of opportunities, and we want a front office here to serve our clients better and provide long-term service, rather than single project associations,” Igou said.