Skyscrapers today are a symbol of growth and pride for the city, aren’t they? Well, if that’s the case, then one may wonder that if the India can proudly boast of its 7% annual growth, why can’t we see the growth in the height of our buildings? Globally, growing economies are looked upon and shown with a mix of their culture and height of their buildings. Try this out – google image search for ‘India backgrounds’ and ‘South Korea’ backgrounds and see the difference. The fact is that even today, the Western world looks upon India as the place of Taj Mahal, Qutab Minar, the ghats of Varanasi or slums. Who knows – the westerners living in dark shadows of their fake media might still be thinking that Indians still live in only either of the two types of residences – palaces or village huts – just as our age-old kingdoms!Before explaining the fact that why Indian cities fall short of skyscrapers, let us try to define a skyscraper. According to Wikipedia [1][2], a skyscraper is a building which is at least 150 metres high. Buildings higher than 35 metres are termed as ‘high-rises’.Now, with the ever-booming real estate sector of major urban areas in the country and the prices soaring up without a rise in the inflation index, it indicates that the demand for real estate has certainly increased and is expected to increase more with GST and RERA in place; yet our focus is on horizontal spread rather than vertical growth. So, are there any reasons behind this?

Trends of per sq. ft. price at Dadar, a locality in Mumbai; observe that the prices had doubled in just 3 years! Pic was taken from 99acres.com

The primary reason why can’t builders in Indian cities like Mumbai and New Delhi cannot build towers as tall as they desire is because of restrictions on FSI (floor space index). It was introduced after the World War II in the United States. The governing council of the city (Municipal Corporation) in the case of Indian cities is responsible for limiting the value of FSI. The FSI is defined as the ratio of the total built-up area to the plot area. For example, if the plot area is 10000 sq. m., the builder can build an apartment with a built-up area of 10000 sq. m. if the FSI=1 and a built-up area of 20000 sq. m. if the FSI=2. In the case of Mumbai, the FSI for the city district is 1.33 and that of the suburban area (Bandra to Dahisar and Sion to Mulund) is 1. No wonder why most of the high rises are located in South Mumbai!

A comparison of FSIs of different cities

As it is clearly evident, Mumbai has one of the lowest FSIs in the world. So, should Mumbai increase its FSI? Probably no. Why so? There are several reasons for it.

Firstly, the density of population in Mumbai is ridiculously high at 32,400 people per sq. km. On the contrary, Hong Kong, with an FSI of 12 times that of Mumbai is still less! In fact, Mumbai ranks third on this list [3] trailing behind Manila and Pateros, a suburb of Manila in the Philippines. Hence, with an FSI of just 1 and 1.33, if Mumbai can be this dense, how dense would it be if there had been an unlimited FSI?

A skyline of Metro Manila, the Philippines

Secondly, Indian government always aimed for cities to have a horizontal spread rather than vertical growth. This was because most of the Indian cities were in the interiors, surrounded by villages. Thus, a horizontal spread of the city would mean ease of accessibility to the central city areas from the adjacent rural areas, and thus a faster urbanization of the rural areas. However, for cities like Mumbai, this is not possible. Due to Mumbai’s geographical constraints (situated on an island and the mainland surrounded by forests and the Western Ghats), it limits the horizontal spread of Mumbai’s metropolitan area. Hence, there was no option but to develop the existing areas vertically and that’s the reason you find Mumbai on this list.

Satellite view of Mumbai and its ‘satellite’ towns

The third and one of the most significant reasons is Indian climate. Imagine two plots of constant area. One of them has a 10 storey building whereas the other has a 50 storey building. What do you would be the difference between the heat dissipation between the two plots? The plot with the taller building will certainly dissipate more heat. As an example, consider the number of ACs operating in the two plots. As the number of ACs or basically all electrical gadgets is more in taller buildings on the same plot area, the heat dissipation per unit area would be higher if we allow a higher FSI. Also, due to increasing effects of global warming, it would be wise to encourage horizontal spread rather than vertical growth. Mumbai is low lying and there is a high risk of it being submerged because of increasing sea levels. Also, the climate of Mumbai is humid and temperatures soar up to 35°C in summers. So, do we want our actions to increase our mean temperature further? Aren’t we happy with the current humidity and heat? This is more disastrous for dry cities like Delhi, and that’s the reason that Delhi has spread this huge with minimal high rises. You won’t believe, but until the 1970s, the tallest structure in Delhi was the Qutab Minar!

The urban heat island profile map of London, UK

It has also been observed that there’s isn’t much a difference without putting a cap on the FSI. For instance, Hyderabad does not have any FSI limit; so technically you can build a structure any high over there. However, Hyderabad gets a rank of 80 in the list [2], because of its huge area and possibility of a spread.Well, so if you were the one who belonged to the category of people who compared the growth of the economy with the height of its buildings, do you now

Well, if you were the one who belonged to the category of people who compared the growth of the economy with the height of its buildings, do you now realize how wrong were you? My entire article was a compilation of articles by experts [4][5] and some of the answers on Quora [7][8][9] relevant to the topic. The very purpose behind writing this was because I too was inquisitive to know the same and I thought that it would be better to share my research with others, in case you are wondering the same! If you liked this blog, please do like, comment and follow!
All my references are as below:

  1. List of cities with most skyscrapers, Wikipedia
  2. List of cities with most high rise buildings, Wikipedia
  3. List of cities by population density, Wikipedia
  4. Article in The Hindu
  5. Article in The Indian Express
  6. Emporis skyline ranking
  7. Why doesn’t India have more skyscrapers? – Quora
  8. Why don’t Indian cities grow vertically? – Quora
  9. Why don’t Indian cities have high rise buildings like other newly industrialized countries? – Quora