Council on Tall Buildings and Urban Habitat
CTBUH Mumbai Conference, 2010

On February 3rd - 5th, the tall building world gathered in the Indian metropolis of Mumbai for the CTBUH 2010 World Conference. An impressive 1,067 delegates, representing 490 companies and 25 countries attended the event, featuring a world-class lineup of 77 speakers from India and overseas. Organized in cooperation with the Remaking of Mumbai Federation (RoMF), the conference aimed to highlight the latest insights in sustainable urban development, while introducing international expertise into the urban context of Mumbai. Looking back, we are proud to be able to say that it was a great success!

The title of the conference was Remaking Sustainable Cities in the Vertical Age. Being part of an emerging economy, Mumbai recognizes there are great opportunities ahead. The city aspires to become a world class metropolis in Asia, seeking to find its place within the new world order. However, it is hindered in these ambitions by an already overpopulated and crumbling city, an enormous stress on infrastructure and a large influx from rural to urban of the economically challenged.

A classic solution to cope with density-related stress is to build upwards. History has shown famous examples of how tall buildings have been deployed to solve urban problems, while at the same time creating an international image for the city through a powerful skyline. RoMF aims to create a replicable model for a sustainable redevelopment of other urban areas, based on principles of modern technology, planning and engineering. Through this conference, CTBUH and RoMF hoped to gather specific knowledge of, and generate insights into, the ways tall buildings can be part of a template for new and sought-after urban habitat for the city of Mumbai.

For a number of international delegates, attending the conference involved their first visit to Mumbai. Especially to Western eyes, the city can be quite a culture shock when being exposed to the chaotic rules of the road, the overcrowded streets and the very dense construction. When confronted with this, one realizes that theories and ideas that work in another cultural or historical setting might not to do so here, or vice versa.

To get into the spirit of the conference and to introduce delegates to each other, a welcome reception was held on the lawns of the Renaissance Hotel & Convention Centre on the evening before the event. The conference program for the following three days consisted of opening plenary key note speeches each morning, followed by a triple track program of presentations in the late morning and afternoon. Five technical tours were conducted on the afternoon of the second day. People were able to visit the construction site of the 300 meter tall Palais Royale project, places of interest in the C-Ward, India’s largest slum in Dharavi, Charles Correa’s famous Kanchanjunga residential tower, or embark on a cultural tour through South Mumbai.


Opening ceremony of the conference by lighting of the candles.

Traditional Indian dance during one of the social events of the conference.

Advances in Tall Buildings
Being an annual world conference, a number of speakers presented the latest advances on the architecture, engineering and construction of tall buildings. Some of the leading names in the industry, such as Bill Baker (SOM), David Scott (Arup), Sang Dae Kim (CTBUH), Sudhir Jambhekar (FXFowle Architects), Peter Oborn (Aedas) and Joe Burns (Thornton Tomasetti), presented on the latest, the tallest and the most challenging projects from all over the world. Other topics that were presented were the latest developments on vertical transport, building codes, performance based design, facades and wind tunnel testing.

Tall versus Dense
Being an island city, Mumbai likes to make a comparison to Manhattan, including its world class skyline. Many Asian cities show that tall building complexes can be used to create space to house the many, including families. But does Mumbai need tall buildings? Looking at the crowds on the street, one would be eager to say yes.

This discussion was illustrated by the éminence grise of Mumbai architects Charles Correa. The question facing Mumbai, Correa said, was how to build dense housing for both rich and poor while making the city more livable. If density is increased without the requisite addition of amenities, existing parks, schools, and hospitals will be overwhelmed; if density is increased without making the requisite infrastructural improvements, traffic will be overwhelming and mass transit even more overcrowded. Unfortunately, this is precisely what has happened thus far during Mumbai’s current private real estate boom. While Correa did not challenge the assumptions of the conference that the density of Mumbai must be increased, he did challenge the assumption that building tall is the only way to accomplish this goal.

Correa touched on a classical debate. Tall buildings can be economical when it comes to saving space, high land prices and creating density, but at some point, the height of a building doesn’t have a rational meaning any more, but an emotional one. One could argue that the difference between a tall building and a skyscraper is vanity height.


Keynote speakers Charles Correa (left) and David Nelson.

Over 1,000 delegates assembled in the main hall.

Reality Check
This discussion also became apparent during a technical tour to the Palais Royale Tower. This is a 300 meter tall residential project located at the old Shree Ram Mill in the Worli area of Mumbai positioned at the top end of the market. The luxury tower will contain 145 apartments in between 8,700 sq ft. and 14,000 sq ft. in size and will house amenities like a cinema, spa, cricket pitch, soccer field and three swimming pools, with parking levels in the lower section of the tower. Each of the twelve largest apartments will have an in-house swimming pool, and every apartment will have its own elevator.

Although skyscrapers are not always build to solve urban problems, this is also not the type of tall building project that will contribute to good urban density, urban life, urban space nor urban amenities. As such the project will most likely not address some of the more imminent issues the city faces. This is besides the social aspect of seeing a supertall ultra-luxury skyscraper, which will cater the super-rich, to be developed in close proximity of slums, two worlds which will undoubtedly be strictly separated. This is part of a cultural context which is not ours to judge, although it is very tempting to do so.


The Palais Royale project also touched on another important topic of the conference, that of sustainability. Although the project is aiming for a Platinum LEED certificate, one cannot help thinking there is a bit of a mismatch between the sustainable ambitions and the extremely exorbitant life style the tower offers to those who can afford it. There is nothing sustainable about saving on energy through clever design and techniques if on the other hand energy is being used to transport oneself from the living room to the bedroom by elevator. Also the embodied energy per resident that goes into the building must be enormous.

The ways in which tall buildings can help creating a more sustainable urban habitat has been a vital topic within the Council for many years, and of course this conference was no exception. Tim Johnson (NBBJ), Jeff Heller (Heller Manus Architects), David Nelson (Foster & Partners) and Steve Watts (Davis Langdon) were amongst those who presented on sustainable development policies. Sustainable practices on the building level were presented by Russell Gilchrist (SOM) and Philip Oldfield (University of Nottingham).

Cathy Yang presented the ambitions of the Taipei 101 tower to become the tallest green skyscraper in the world. Many practical instruments and policies have been implemented, such as rainwater harvesting, motion sensors, a grey water system and a station for the collection, sorting and recycling of garbage. One interesting program is that of tenant education through lectures and organizing a green Christmas party. Since Taipei 101 started the program three years ago it has saved almost 2 million US$ in operation costs. The first quarter of 2011 has been set as a target date to receive LEED Certification.

Ken Yeang (TR Hamzah & Yeang), who is recognized as the granddaddy of the ecological design of tall buildings, expanded this topic in a keynote presentation in which Eco Master Planning was introduced. The leading design principle is the integration of four main types of flows or infrastructures into one network, i.e. those of nature, engineering (such as roads and sewerage) and human (buildings and social contexts). A typical planning process in which these principles are applied would start with a thorough investigation of ecological characteristics, climate and vegetation zones and determination of current natural flows of nature through the site and its surroundings. In the final plan, these flows are translated into an irregularly structured scheme and expressed through eco-bridges, green space, multi layered spaces and rows of eco-skyscrapers and greened individual building blocks.


Palais Royal, Mumbai's future tallest building

The Imperial towers, currently the tallest building in Mumbai.

The most famous skyscraper in Mumbai: the Kanchanjunga Apartments

The Mumbai Habitat
Metropolitan commissioner Shri Ratnaker Gaikwad and RoMF directors Lalit Gandhi and Mayank Gandhi introduced the ambitions and ideas for the development of Mumbai. Many others spoke of the local challenges and opportunities on topics such as urban governance and infrastructure. Contrary to what one might not expect at a tall buildings conference, the topic of slums was discussed by a number of speakers. Slums are however, part of the local urban habitat and the economical system in which tall buildings will have to find a place for themselves. One presumably obvious way of dealing with slums is to move the people out and start with a clean slate. But also the more organic, subtle and evolutionary ideas to redevelop these areas were presented. The C-Ward, a neighborhood to the East of Marina Drive in South Mumbai, is the first area in which new ideas will be tested and developed. CTBUH executive director Antony Wood presented the results of his High-Rise Studio, in which ideas for the development of the C-Ward, including tall buildings, were researched and shaped by students of the Illinois Institute of Technology. Delegates were able to visit places of interest in the C-Ward and India’s largest slum in Dharavi for themselves as part of the technical tour program.

Urban Planning
The urban framework of which tall buildings are part was discussed in detail by several speakers. Especially in Asia and the Middle East, tall buildings are often part of larger scale development. A number of case studies on planning schemes in cities like Guangzhou, Dubai and Shanghai were presented, in which multiple towers, an infrastructural system, public space and urban amenities are carefully planned and integrated.

David Nelson (Foster & Partners) made a case for attractive density by presenting Masdar City project he worked on in Abu Dhabi. Nelson stated that the typical American Dream lifestyle of the single-family house with two-car garage is environmentally unsustainable, especially in a world with a wealthy China or India. Thus, he argued, the pressing task for architects, developers, and planners is to make the city more livable to keep people in the city if they can afford not to be. The residential areas of Masdar will be in walking distance to a central core of amenities, including shopping districts and civic institutions like universities.

The Asian context of town planning and building development seems an obvious reference for the developments in Mumbai. While interesting in itself, the applicability of the vanity projects of Gulf sheikhs to impoverished nations like India, seemed dubious though. Also one must ask whether the organizational structure of governance in Mumbai can be compared to the likes of Singapore, China and Japan. It’ll be a challenge to select the experiences which can be used for the benefit of Mumbai.

Indian Vernacular
Another challenge will be to not only focus on solving problems, but also not to forget to exploit the opportunities. Current Mumbai may lack physical space, but there is a tremendous space in shaping a true Indian vernacular for the tall building, to expresses the local culture in a unique way while suiting the local needs, but also the wants. Big problems call for great, creative and sometimes unique solutions, which can be a very exciting process to be part of.

By sharing insights and examples of shaping tall buildings in the local context, Antony Wood spoke of the role and the meaning of architecture of tall buildings. What message is expressed through the design of a building? In the past decades we have seen the rise of the starchitect, which is a contraction of the words star and architect. Starchitects create very iconic and quality buildings, but also designs that can be very recognizable for their portfolio. When commissioning a starchitect, one can be sure to get an exclusive building, but what does it tell you about the city and how does it relate and contribute to its environment? These are vital question in shaping the Indian skyscraper.


Antony Wood, CTBUH

Mayank Gandhi, RoMF

"Spiderman" Alain Robert

On the last day of the conference, the famous French spiderman Alain Robert spoke of his passion for climbing skyscrapers. More than a comical note to the program, Robert showed that it takes a combination of skills and courage and also perhaps a little bit of madness in order to reach the top. It is the same passion which drives many of the people in the tall building industry and at times it is a much needed source of energy to see projects through. During the conference we heard many local people who spoke passionately about their city, and we met some very energetic, bright and wonderful people while being in Mumbai. One cannot tell Mumbai how to shape the future as it has to be shaped by the people of Mumbai themselves. The future of the city is in their hands, and we believe the conference has generated a lot of valuable information, insights, case studies, theories and examples, which Mumbai can use to shape its own ideas on how to progress future urban development.

CTBUH would like to thank all sponsors, speakers, exhibitioners, volunteers, delegates and everybody else who contributed to make this conference a success.