Interview with Architect Hafeez Contractor
As more of the country’s population moves into cities, the results of disorganized planning are self-evident. Architect Hafeez Contractor in an exclusive interview with Sapna Srivastava made an ardent pitch for modifying antiquated urban planning rules.
Architect Hafeez Contractor office in the heart of South Mumbai started in 1982 with three people covering small area across just two floor-to-ceiling windows. Today the office stretches over double heighted space of two floors with more than 500 people working. Giving a brief about the place, Contractor said, “From the original 150 square feet space, now we have almost 15,000 square feet in the same building and have added more space in the next two inter-connected buildings.”
While, talking to the eminent architect, one thing noticeable is his quick explanations of his thoughts through sketches. Expressing his views on the transformations over the year, he responded with the graphical representation of the radical population growth and the inadequacies of urban planning. “I started working in 1968 with Ar. T. Khareghat ‘s architectural firm and in 1982 established my on practice. From there till now, the Indian economy, population and society has undergone a chemical change. Earlier 75% of the population lived in villages. They are now moving to urban areas for better prospects. Almost 60% of our population today is below 30 and joint families are converting into nuclear families. Given this scenario, we have a herculean task at hand, similar to creating one Chicago city every year.”
I am the most misunderstood architect. Many a times, termed as a rich man’s architect. The reality is I give appropriate designs for the purpose it is intended, whether a luxury residential or a rural primary school.
Apart from the commercial projects, Contractor has been researching and conceptualizing ways in which to positively impact the urban environment. He gave three critical areas of concern for the Indian urban growth. “Firstly, there is a need for housing the 1.2 billion population which soon will swell to 1.5 billion. Secondly, the farmlands are being gobbled to expand cities, seriously depleting agricultural land. Third and the most important concern is the environment change because of the chaotic urban development.”
He gives an instance of the recent Freeway built in Mumbai along coastline. Contractor had suggested that, it be made like an embankment at a higher level and 500metre green belt around it, to counter the rise in ocean levels after a few years. But the environmentalist felt, he was trying to circumvent the CRZ rules. According to him, the current freeway after 10 years will be a wasteful billion dollar infrastructure given the rising sea levels.
How to construct new cities
Ar. Contractor is passionate about social housing. He strongly advocates vertical and compact cities for judicious land use, lesser intercity travel and quality of life. “As a society we are moving away from our traditional ways of prudent use of resources. Imitating the western culture, people are wasting food, water, fuel and precious natural resources. Same trend is evident in city planning,” Contractor explained.
To maintain a balance between increasing population and limited land resources, high density urban cities are a must. He gives an instance of an industry survey according to which the land needed to cultivate food/per human being is 15 acres. Contractor cautioned that going by the survey statistics and taking in account the fast depleting cultivable land across India, feeding the future population of 1.5-2.0 billion will become extremely difficult.
“Indian cities are growing in population and geographical size. The way we are planning by limiting FSI and restricting height of structure, we are not only destroying the agricultural land but also within cities increasing commuting distances and reliance on automobiles,” said Contractor.
To be less dependent on fossil fuel, we need condensed and dense cities with underground tubes and elevated roadways.
The architect gives examples of few cities where authorities have gone wrong in their city expansion plans. Pune with an FSI of 2 will have to cater to housing for double the population soon and if FSI is not increased, the precious cultivable lands around will be encroached. Noida developed to decongest Delhi has already usurped the farmlands, Ahmedabad expansion plan includes adding ring roads but with only four storey buildings, limiting the housing density while intruding on arable land.
Apprising on what the correct approach should be, Contractor said, “We should be retrofitting the infrastructure of existing cities and developing high density areas around the cities connected to the main city via high level roads, underground tubes and public transport. Location of new cities is another fundamental consideration. The areas around India’s coast line can provide water, so new cities around Mumbai, Kolkata or Patna are more appropriate rather that Bengaluru and Hyderabad which already are facing acute water shortage.”