The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Atop 17 floors, you’re still street-level
- Kasba housing estate floats ‘skypath’ as a friendly neighbourhood platform

‘Castles in the air’ will soon cease to be the stuff of fantasies. ‘Skypaths’, bringing the street to the 17th floor, are set to change the urban skyscape.

Greenwood Nook, a Bengal Shrachi housing project near Ruby General Hospital, will be home to 184 families by 2005 in a higher-income group highrise named Coral Isle. Seventeen floors of south-facing flats will be connected by ‘streets’, with both open and covered spaces, to give residents an area to walk around, a platform where they can meet their neighbours, without compromising on privacy, like on a crowded city street. Each flat will also have a view of the ‘hanging garden’ – a floor of greenery on the first-floor level, which will provide shelter to a car park.

“A housing estate should not be only a place to live in. It is also a way of life. In most highrises, people don’t know anyone but the four folks on their floor. But this concept allows people to get a feeling of community that one gets in neighbourhoods,” explains the Delhi-based architect behind the project, Ajoy Choudhury, who also designed the Taj Bengal and the award-winning Mughal Sheraton in Agra. The Kasba flats are between 1,032 sq ft and 1,700 sq ft, while 10 “penthouse” duplexes are around 2,200 sq ft each.

Street-lighting and park benches will add to the ambience, without the bustle. “Parents usually worry where their children are playing. But they won’t have to here, with so much space around,” adds Choudhury, who wanted to counter the isolation experienced in most flats, which is a “severe blow to social life”. He started developing this theme after working on a project for the ministry of external affairs, which eventually was shelved as “too risky”. But then, a private promoter from Jaipur fell for the concept. “There are open courtyards within the Jaipur buildings,” explains the architect, who used to teach at the School of Planning and Architecture, New Delhi.

And if the Taj Bengal is anything to go by, Choudhury’s risks are fruitful. “When we created that high atrium, the technology wasn’t available in our country. Making a glass roof was unheard of,” remembers the bespectacled man, who “put his heart” into the project, inspired by the colonial structures of Calcutta. “Designers usually don’t look at the emotional needs of the people and the place,” he adds.

But people have to be willing to pay a premium for such a luxury, though this has not been a problem for Shrachi, so far. “The flats have been selling like hot cakes,” smiles D. Sanyal, vice-president, Bengal Shrachi Housing Development Ltd. The compound is also to include covered parking for over 100 cars, a gym, shops for essentials and even a playroom for kids.

The site, on a total of 2.17 acres, will also cover smaller blocks for the middle and lower-income groups. “We are looking at creating similar spaces in the middle-income segment,” signs off Sanyal.

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