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Not just Delhi: These six Indian cities have an air pollution problem worse than Beijing

Many northern cities including Agra, Patna and Lucknow continue to show alarmingly high air-pollutant levels.

Each year, almost six lakh Indias die prematurely due to air pollution, which is the fifth leading cause of death in the country. Of these, almost 35,000 deaths occur in the national capital. Even as Delhi government has sprung into action on January 1 to improve the air quality by regulating the number of cars of the streets, other Indian cities are breathing equally foul air, government data shows.

The National Air Quality Index network was announced last year by the government as an official reporting standard for air pollution levels that would allow for comparisons across cities. The data from government’s monitors in cities such as Patna, Raipur, Agra and Varanasi reveals that pollution levels are off the charts in many cities and that in the absence of strong measures, the problem isn’t likely to go away anytime soon.

“Even the government’s own, largely inadequate NAQI data reveals that 23 of the 32 stations across India are showing more than 70% exceedance of the national standards,” said Sunil Dahiya, Campaigner,Greenpeace India. “The pollution levels in a few Indian cities have the embarrassing distinction of having exceeded the toxic levels of Beijing and other Chinese cities, demonstrating levels at least ten times higher than the WHO standards, making air pollution truly a national emergency.”

Source: Greenpeace India.
Source: Greenpeace India.

Greenpeace India analysed the data provided by the NAQI portal and concluded that control strategies needs to move beyond just Delhi because air pollution seems to be a regional problem rather than just local one. The organisation said that steps are needed at national level to reduce the levels of particulate matter PM2.5 and PM10.

While Delhi was found to have pollution levels 12 times higher than World Health Organisation guidelines, another six cities – Lucknow, Faridabad, Ahmedabad, Kanpur, Agra and Varanasi – had pollution levels at least ten times as higher than permissible under these standards.

For instance, on November 29 last year, Patna’s air had 108 micrograms of PM 2.5 per cubic meter as compared to Delhi’s 78 micrograms per cubic meter. Beijing, meanwhile, had 81 micrograms of PM 2.5 per cubic meter of air.

Greenpeace also compared the levels of pollution in Indian cities to Beijing’s red-alert standard and estimated how many days the cities would be shut if they were following China’s standards of issuing alerts in times of severe air pollution. It turned out that in a 91-day period between September and November, Delhi met the Chinese criteria for 33 days while Lucknow met it for 40 days.

Source: Greenpeace India
Source: Greenpeace India

“The Government’s own data suggests that the air quality in several north Indian cities is worse than the air in Beijing, and yet we remain tentative in recognising this ‘airpocalypse’ as a pollution disaster,” Dahiya said in a press statement.

Shot in the dark

In 2014, the World Health Organisation released a list of world’s 20 most polluted cities, 13 of which were in India. Earlier, the Global Burden of Disease report had estimated air pollution to be the fifth deadliest killer in the country.

“Indian cities are witnessing a rapid increase in air pollution and untamed motorisation,” wrote Anumita Roychowdhury, head of the clean air programme at the Centre for Science and Environment in New Delhi. “Indian cities are witnessing a rapid increase in air pollution and untamed motorisation. Cities need to curb pollution from all sources, but vehicles need special attention as they emit toxic fumes within our breathing zone.”

Even as Indian cities remain exposed to critically high levels of toxic substances in their air, the absence of comprehensive data collection makes things worse.

“The data collection is not standardised. They are not necessarily measuring the same parameters,” said Bhargav Krishna from Public Health Foundation of India. “For instance, many of the CPCB [Central Pollution Control Board] and other monitors don’t measure PM 2.5 at all and even the measurement of PM 2.5 across different monitors is taken at different points of time. So you can't really do a retrospective analysis on these levels because they weren't measured at all."

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“Doctors have it easier than us. Their mistakes get buried, our mistakes will be there for everyone to see”

Celebrated architect Hadi Teherani tells us what luxury in the living space means to him.

Hadi Teherani is best known for designing iconic buildings in Germany including the famous Dockland office in Hamburg and the Kranhaus in Cologne. But he’s also left his mark on the landscape of Abu Dhabi with the Zayed University, and has designed a luxury residence that will soon grace the skyline of Mumbai—Lodha Altamount. We spoke to him about the challenges of designing luxury living spaces in India.

Q. In your opinion, what is the definition of luxury specifically in the area of private residences? Is it a lot of fresh air, space and daylight? Is it the room composition? Or is luxury something completely different?

Hadi Teherani (HT): For me, luxury is first and foremost to have space, not just enough for what you need but enough space to really thrive. And luxury has always been defined that way. If you look at Art Nouveau houses, those rooms have incredible heights. So yes, space is definitely an important factor when it comes to luxury. In Europe people pay attention to every square metre and here in Mumbai it is the same. There are slums where 4 people live in one room and just across the street somebody is living by himself on 1000 square metres. Once you have space, luxury can be in the features, in using certain materials, and there is no limit. Some things, of course, are simply not available here: the luxury of fresh air and a clean sea. No matter how much money you are willing to spend, you cannot get those. Therefore, you are limited to what is available.

Q. Have you incorporated this concept of space into previous projects?

HT: Yes, in different ways, no matter if you are working on government-sponsored housing projects or in the luxury segment. Usually our projects are more in the luxury segment, where space is crucial. We are currently designing a building where luxury can already be sensed at the parking level. You reach with your car and you are already supposed to have the feeling that you’ve arrived at a hotel lobby. This is how far luxury has come. That the arrival in a garage already gives you the feeling as if you are coming to a palace—you get out of your limousine into this stunning lobby and this feeling continues as you go up into the apartment where you have a bathroom that is 20-30 square metres and not just 5-10. The idea of really designing your bathroom or kitchen has not yet reached India. Bathrooms are still rather compact and practical since the idea of spending quality time in your bathroom doesn’t seem to exist yet. Customers definitely do not request a spacious bathroom when we discuss their projects. For me, personally, a great bathroom is extremely important, as it is the first thing you use in the morning. Afterwards you go to work, and you come back home. But I believe the areas that you use most need to have enough space for you to move and thrive in.

Q. Do you have any role model in the field of architecture? Maybe a building or a person?

HT: The Bauhaus is still my role model. Back then they designed products for day-to-day life, affordable for the general population. But those products have become classics today like the lounge chair by Le Corbusier. Those were project works but Bauhaus thought further ahead. The idea was to give people light, air and space, and to free them from elements that were poorly designed and uncomfortable like big stucco ceilings. The focus needs to be light, air and sun. For them, architecture and product design were always very fluent concepts. Le Corbusier, for instance, designed fantastic buildings as well as whole cities, but on the other hand also designed furniture. Gropius had even designed a car once and furniture, too. This school of thinking has influenced me, and once you have all those “tools” and this way of thinking, you get very far. With this “toolbox” of modern design, you can create anything and influence society. The times back then aided this development; everyone was opening up, living in and with nature, not hiding away in little holes. And the world evolved from there. And today you can see they are daring even more spectacular things in Asia than they used to in Old Europe.

Q. You have already gained quite some experience in India. Is there something that you would define as a typical “Indian palate”, and if so, how does it differ from the international projects? You already mentioned the differences in bath and kitchen design, but are there, for instance, taboos like colours you wouldn’t use or something in room composition?

HT: I haven’t encountered anything like that. What I do experience is that many projects are influenced by religious thoughts and by Vaastu, something like Feng shui. So the master bedroom has to be in the south-west and the kitchen has to have a certain location. Those rules need to be followed exactly, no matter if it makes sense for the building or not. Here in Mumbai it’s a little more liberal but in other regions, Hyderabad for instance, every centimetre has to be exact as per Vaastu. Sometimes they want a dedicated room for pujas. All this changes while designing a project, of course. But overall the ground plans are not that different. The families might be bigger so houses and apartments are bigger as well, or they are trying to utilize each and every square metre and avoid hallways, for example.

Those projects are also in the centre of a lot of marketing. We are not used to that in Europe but here in Mumbai or even more in other cities like Bangalore, along the entire highway from the airport into the city you only see 50-metre-high billboards announcing new real estate projects. You don’t see anything else! And it’s very creative marketing with catchy headlines and slogans. That isn’t happening in Germany. One more difference: when designing upper class buildings in India, they require a maid or servant room, maybe a separate entrance from the staircase and so forth. Here, you can still afford having a maid. In Europe you might have someone coming by for three hours once a week but certainly not living in.

Q. Let’s talk about the Lodha Altamount. What was the challenge?

HT: The design of Altamount was strongly influenced by being a Lodha project and by its location. Next to Altamount stands a luxury highlight of architecture, the Ambani tower, the most expensive home in the world. How do you want to top that? The Ambani tower is very structural. It shoots through the air, it combines all sorts of crafts and structural design elements with gaps and open spaces. You can’t top that and definitely not with our type of design. That’s why we decided to hold back and instead develop a dark and sleek building. That type of building doesn’t exist a lot here in India. Usually buildings have many structural elements like beams and balconies. By creating a calm building in the skyline of Mumbai, we will make Altamount stand out. Plus, the top of the building is very unique. Many structures are either simply cut off straight or completed by a dome. We have two geometric pointy tops so that the building is properly completed and doesn’t look as if it could grow further. It has a head and feet and is finished. So for us to hold back was our way to stand out. It doesn’t devalue the building design in anyway. It is meant expressively in the sense of “less is more”. And the interior is of course very luxurious: it is designed through and through, there is the green car parking podium, each balcony has a mini pool. So all those luxury features are present but the architectural design is based on the idea of “less is more”.

Lodha Altamount (Mumbai) designed by Hadi Teherani.
Lodha Altamount (Mumbai) designed by Hadi Teherani.

Q. Luxury can drift into the eccentric, depending on the client. Have there been any projects that were very eccentric which you still accepted or projects that you had to turn down because they were too eccentric?

HT: As architects, we create a space. What happens, of course, is that people buy an apartment in a great contemporary building and then furnish it in a baroque style. But that freedom has to be there, of course, because we can’t also tell the client which curtains to use or clothes to wear. At a certain point our job is done. However, when it comes to public buildings, the public is supposed to benefit from, so I have to be strict and dictate. In private buildings you can leave it up to the individual but publicly I have a responsibility and cannot consider each and every taste. I have to do a clean job so that in the end every individual can find himself or herself in my design. Anyway, taste always stems from a certain upbringing, culture and environment, so I also have the duty to educate and that’s what I do with my projects. When a small child walks by a building, she recognizes when the proportions are right even if she has no idea about architecture. But if the proportions are off, the child will pick that up too, because every building also exudes energy, either of unease or comfort. So we have quite a big responsibility as well. I always say doctors have it easier than us. Their mistakes get buried, but our mistakes will always be there for everyone to see.

With one residence per floor and a host of bespoke luxury services, Lodha Altamount is the epitome of unrestricted luxury. Designed by Hadi Teherani, and a part of the Lodha group’s Luxury Collection that has homes present at only the globe’s most-coveted locations, Lodha Altamount is the last word in luxury in India. For more information about Lodha Altamount, see here.

This article was produced on behalf of Lodha by the Scroll.in marketing team and not by the Scroll.in editorial staff

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