Name: Abdul

Bio: Abdul Bari has engaged his passion for the different design contexts of cities gaining hands-on experience in areas of Building Conservation and Public Space Urban Design, both in and outside India. In India, he has worked closely with the government sector, where he had a pivotal role as a designer in exclusive projects like the Charminar Pedestrianization in Hyderabad. His main focus remains architecture and place-making in built-up environments, with a flair for adaptive re-use projects. He is currently a consulting Architect Urban Designer at Design Atelier Urbis, New Delhi.

Posts by abdulbari:

    The Great FSI Debate : Indian Cities & the Shanghai Fascination

    April 15th, 2013

    This is emerging as a series on how Indian Cities perform and think on foreign urban solutions to local problems. While the BRT continues to draw mixed responses, there is another city-changing idea in the pipeline. This time the urban development minister ‘moots’ the idea of increasing the FAR in Delhi, on the lines of Shanghai, in order to ‘boost housing stock and revive some old commercial areas’ in the capital.

    This Shanghai fascination has been around for a while. We have heard the same FAR argument for Mumbai some years back, which drew some very interesting responses from urbanists. The PGA (Public Ground Area), BUA (Built-up Area per capita) and the Net/Gross Density were some of the factors used to analyse the interrelationships between urban densities and the quality of life (See Shirish B Patel). But the major factor emerging in the case of Delhi, as correctly pointed out by many architects and planners, are the urban infrastructure services like power, water, transportation and the likes. While all these factors are important decision making factors on the vertical growth question, there is one other perspective which might help make more sense of what the city is currently and what is best for it to become what it has to.

    Consider this illustration by Alain Bertaud.

    The City-Form Perspective

    Delhi currently has a population of around 18.2 Million spread over an area of 700/SqKm at a density of 25, 940 people/SqKm. While our city of fascination, Shanghai has a density of 30,315 people/SqKm which it achieves with an FAR of 13 as compared to 1.2 in Delhi.

    In 2021, Delhi is expected to have a population of 22 Million spread over an area of 980SqKm at a density of 22,500/SqKm. This area would be comparable to that of London which has a density of 6,240 people/SqKm!

    If seen from the perspective of an existing city form, and city-form alone, the status of Delhi isn’t anywhere remotely comparable to that of Shanghai (though in terms of urban density it is). Delhi’s city-form seems to be more on par with that of London, Berlin or New York (though not in terms of urban densities). If one is able to follow my line of facts, what we see here is a mismatch between a city-form and an urban density. And any decision on the growth of such a situation has to first accept this essential condition because ‘a city’s spatial structure significantly reduces its range of development options.’

    A high-density low-rise built-up situation cannot accommodate a uniform FAR increase. It will only densify the city beyond any acceptable limit of health, freedom or opportunity. High Density in small area is good. Low density in small area is acceptable. High Density in large area is not. Low Density is large area is bad.

    If the argument is for increasing the housing stock, then any planner living with the current times would agree that the aim should be to increase the housing options and not just the FAR. The problem with such government ‘decrees’ is that, they ultimately tend to be executed in letter than in spirit. If one were really serious about the growth of Delhi, then there are many more sensible solutions than simply increasing the FAR.

    What the city needs is a better quality of life, a range of housing options, an efficient public transportation, a sustainable and environment friendly network of urban services, and of course sincere governance. Excepting the last aspect, i believe the solution to all lies in design and technology. My focus here is to demonstrate how design can offer solutions which the government is seeking in regulation alone.

    The idea of “Blending Density” represents a critical counterpoint to the FAR syndrome. Since it advocates for a heterogeneous distribution of buildings on a lot or block basis, it replaces the homogeneity of FAR-based development with a calculated massing diversity that responds to and evolves from the desired character of its physical context. For instance, when aiming to ‘revive old commercial areas’ a uniform increase of FAR for the existing sub-parcels within a block would result in expected chaos. While the same target FAR, if it is achieved through an intelligent redistribution of the sub-parcels through consensus will result not only in an efficient use of land but also tuned to a more desirable urban form. This sort of redevelopment model also gives opportunities to the urban services which have never had a chance of upgradation due to implementation obstacles, which in turn makes them an obstacle to ‘growth’.

    Indeed we have had a start (gone bad ultimately) in Hyderabad which does not specify an FAR, but just the maximum heights of buildings. This seems to be a far better regulation methodology than the conventional FAR application because it offers more control of the city-form. If such a regulation policy were supported by context based lot-by-lot design of neighbourhoods responding to their physical, historic and cultural context we would have had a far better Hyderabad than we have now. But somehow a design intent just doesn’t find a place in regulation and planning policies in Indian cities.

    Urban Design is a very powerful tool which can give a manageable control over urban densities through form-based regulation, at the same time ensuring that the city gets what it needs at the time when it needs it. Simple land-use zoning has shown us that it can take decades for a city to understand that it is going in the wrong direction, while an urban design approach enables leaders to take informed decisions on the growth of a city.  In the words of Alain Bertaud, ‘the choice therefore is not whether the FAR should be brought in line with other large cities of the world, but how much and where should the FAR be increased and what other measures should be taken to support this increase.’  Indian cities cannot be regulated by letter anymore, they need to be regulated by context based form. Our cities today need a lot more than just zoning and regulation, they need design.

    This post is part of the “Great FSI Debate “. What’s your view? Submit your opinion to along with a bio & pic.

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