7 tall solutions for Mumbai's biggest problems

7 tall solutions for Mumbai's biggest problems

A vertical cemetery, a tower for the homeless and a car park exclusively for Nano owners are among some idealistic solutions to Mumbai's social problems

Urban development in Mumbai appears to subscribe to the architectural equivalent of chaos theory. If there is a system, it is belied by buildings crammed shoulder to shoulder and the labyrinth of winding roads that has emerged around them. 

Lateral thinking and vertical ideas for Ward C: Mumbai’s cavity 

The old nautical phrase chock-a-block finds a more appropriate application in a particularly muddled part of the city -- Ward C or the Kalbadevi Area. (Kalbadevi on Google Maps.)

Ward C covers roughly 1.78 square kilometres. It has a population of over two lakh (2001 census) producing 265 tonnes of garbage a day and the largest concentration of derelict buildings deemed too dangerous to live in.

These factors have made Ward C a veritable Rubik’s Cube for urban designers and planners.

Twelve students at the Illinois Institute of Technology in Chicago took up the challenge. With the organisational backing of The Remaking of Mumbai Federation (RoMF) and in association with students at the JJ and Rizvi colleges of architecture, they present thought-provoking solutions to some of the city's most entrenched developmental quandaries. 

Financially supported by the Council on Tall Buildings and Urban Habitat (CTBUH), the 12 architectural students proposed seven tall building concepts that address not only structural problems in Mumbai but also social, environmental and cultural issues.


khel towerThe towers lean to allow each building a view of the ocean.

Khel Tower: A vertical athletic center

It certainly isn’t a shortage of people that prevents India from putting together a world-class football team. It is more likely a shortage of facilities.

The Khel Tower as conceived by Kent Hoffman and Mark Swingler addresses the lack of recreational facilities in Mumbai.

Their vertical athletic center would include a stadium at ground level and multilevel zones with training facilities for different kinds of sport. 

Also included in the design is a top-class hotel, which occupies four of the six towers of the building.

They feel their tower would inspire and expose the people of Mumbai to sports other than cricket and increase the number of athletes in the country.


Nirashray TowerA modern day shelter for the homeless.

Nirashray Tower: Homeless tower

There are 100,000 people sleeping on the streets of Mumbai.

Nirashray Tower, proposed by Nashrah Noor and Amee Sonani, is a prototype accommodation facility for homeless people and rural immigrants across Mumbai. The tower is not for permanent relocation but a temporary residence space offered from one night up to one year to help the occupants transition to self-sufficiency.

The building also fosters the growth of a community by creating a market place on the ground floor and by making special provisions for educational and training facilities.

Mumbai would need more than just one steep building for the steep numbers of people without homes in the city. What is interesting about this solution though, is that the designers have taken into account the flux in the numbers of homeless people in Mumbai as well as the need not just for physical shelter but for economic rehabilitation.


Moksha TowerNot six feet under but six stories above ground.

Moksha Towers: Vertical cemetery

The brains behind Moksha Towers -- architects Yalin Fu and Ihsuan Lin -- recognize that in Mumbai “there is little recreation space for the living, let alone the dead."

Adopting traditional burial methods, their vertical cemetery provides services for the four major religious groups in Mumbai. There are garden burial spaces for Muslims, funeral and burial services for Christians, cremation facilities and a river to deposit ashes for Hindus and a tower of silence atop the building for Parsis.

Sustainability, practicality and religious qualms aside, this is a cemetery and the metaphysics of the whole thing are inescapable. The designers of the building see the vertical cemetery as a symbolic link between paradise and earth. For those who believe there is a great divide to cross it might bring them comfort to know that they could be an elevator ride closer to heaven if Moksha Towers ever came into being.


Jalaashay TowerA residential building and a man-made reservoir.

Jalaashay Tower: Reservoir tower

At some point most residents in Mumbai have found themselves standing in the bathroom lathered in soap and no water coming out of the faucet.

Mumbai faces a shortage of 250 million liters of water a day while at the same time the city sees an excess of water during the monsoon floods. This reservoir tower model built by Bojana Martinich and Teodora Vasilev, addresses the ‘water water everywhere but not a drop to drink’ problem.

Jalaashay Tower is a residential tower that is able to take care of 90 percent of its annual water demands.

The design includes a storage sink dug into the site which not only collects water that might otherwise lead to a flood but also filters and cleans it for residents to use.


urban ark mumbaiA skyscraper safe haven for endangered animals.

Urban Ark: High-rise animal habitat

This is essentially a vertical zoo that hopes to increase awareness of India's many endangered species by making the animals more accessible to the city’s poor.

The tower consists of a series of animal habitats each designated for a different endangered species including the Bengal tiger, the Gangetic dolphin and the Indian rhinoceros. 

The interesting thing about this structure is that human visitors of the Ark are in cages while the animals roam free in their skyscraper habitat.


tata towerSpecial vertical parking for the Tata Nano.

Tata Tower: Urban parking development

Concomitant with a rise in the number of cars on the roads in Mumbai is a dearth of parking spots.

According to research done by Seth Ellsworth and Jayoung Kim, the two designers of the Tata Tower, by 2030 a quarter of the land area in the city will be covered by parked cars.

But their vertical car park is not new to Mumbai.

What separates their parking space from others like it is that it is designed specifically for the world’s cheapest car, the Tata Nano.

Many feared that the release of the Nano would see thousands of the things course onto the roads. The Tata Tower has been conceived on the basis of that assumption, and is designed specifically for Tata employees -- all of whom drive the Nano.


Swadeshi towerA vertical ghat and residence for dhobi wallas.

Swadeshi Tower: Textile tower

This vertical dhobi ghat proposed by Nishant Modi and Hiren Patel is a residential building for all those in the trade of textiles and laundry. The traditional districts for these industries are under threat of eradication at that hands of local developers.

If you ever thought colorful sarees drying outside apartment windows looks tacky you are probably not going to like the design of this building, which relies on the clothes themselves as part of the buildings exterior look.

How feasible are these projects? We ask Rajeev Mishra, Mumbai Architect and Urban Planner

The seven designs are purely conceptual and academic in nature and will never materialize in Mumbai in their present forms. This is in part because they were not modeled for reality and laws related to construction within the city would disallow all of these proposals.

Additionally, the designs are totally inconsistent with “the Indian ethos and the lifestyle of Indian people,” says Rajeev Mishra an Architect and Urban Planner in Mumbai.

Mishra also notes a “disconnection between the aspirations of the people who live in Ward C and the aspiration of the designers who participated in the project.” 

Another salient problem with these designs are the aesthetics, which according to Mishra are “totally out of place.”

That said, the designs stimulate thought and provoke ideas and do demonstrate how architecture has the power to address social, economic, environmental and spatial issues when appropriately applied.


Raised in several cities across India, Tarini's constant search for new homes forms the basis of her desire to explore incessantly.
Read more about Tarini Awatramani