Vertical Living, the most sustainable way forward – Suresh Rajendra | Daily News

Vertical Living, the most sustainable way forward – Suresh Rajendra

Suresh Rajendra TRI-ZEN Apartments by John Keells Properties
Suresh Rajendra TRI-ZEN Apartments by John Keells Properties

In busy and vibrant cities landed houses will become a luxury at some point of time, and vertical living will become a necessity said Chairman of the Condominium Developers Association of Sri Lanka Suresh Rajendra.

Rajendra is currently the President of the Property Group of John Keells Holdings PLC and serves as a Director in many companies of the John Keells Group. Prior to joining the Group, he was the Head of Commercial and Business Development for NRMA Motoring and Services in Sydney, Australia and Director/General Manager of Aitken Spence Hotel Managements (Pvt) Ltd, Sri Lanka.

Following is an an interview with Suresh Rajendra.

Q: What are the trends of vertical living that can be seen in Sri Lanka and the Asian region?

A: Vertical living is growing rapidly especially in the cities as it is the only form of sustainable housing that is able to cater to the needs of the ever increasing population. Employment is mainly generated in the cities and the same goes for education and other facilities and therefore there will be a constant demand for housing and accommodation in the cities. This is a global trend.

Solutions are either an urban sprawl with houses being built further away from the city center and suburbs keep expanding, or to have more houses built on limited land which is vertical living. Urban sprawl is happening in Colombo but it’s not sustainable as there is a limit to how far you can go. In order to open more land for construction, open areas, agricultural land, water bodies and marshes are filled up, creating a huge environmental problem. People now must travel longer distances to work and schools, creating traffic congestion. It also affects the lifestyle since there is less time spent with families and longer hours on the roads. Therefore, vertical living is no more a luxury, it’s a necessity.

This is the case in all big cities in the region, not necessarily in the capitals alone. In most large cities 60% - 70% of housing is apartment housing. In Colombo we are under 10%. It’s a matter of time before vertical living becomes the most sustainable, sensible and alternate form of housing.

Vertical living has also entered suburbs such as Rajagiriya, Battaramulla, Dehiwala, Mount Lavinia and Wattala. Policy makers must understand that this is the most sensible solution to meeting the housing needs of a growing city. The Government should encourage vertical living and ensure that its can be sustained into the future.

Q: What are the other advantages that you get from vertical living?

A: The primary advantage is that less land is used. This leads to the conserving of land which is a precious and a limited resource and allowing it to be used for other purposes including open spaces for recreation. This means you create lungs within the city and make better use of a limited resource in the country. However, vertical living must be properly planned with guidelines and regulations. The authorities play a significant role in the planning of cities; by deciding on the use of lands height of buildings, density etc. There are regulatory authorities like the UDA, the Urban Council and the Condominium Management Authority for these roles.

Also, the closer you live to work or school, the less time you spend on the road. That certainly promotes a better lifestyle. It also creates a change in perspective about housing. The traditional thinking is to buy or build a house which can last you throughout your life. The type of house one needs depends on the different stages of one’s life. When you are single or a young couple you need a small space. When you have kids, you need more space. When kids grow up there’s a need to be closer to schools. And then when you grow older and kids move out it allows you to scale down again. Buying an apartment gives you greater flexibility and eases concerns on maintenance and security etc.

Q: How can vertical living help create a sustainable lifestyle?

A: In busy and vibrant cities landed houses will become a luxury at some point of time, and vertical living will become a necessity.

Therefore, developers and designers will have to take heed and design appropriate buildings. They will need to pay attention to energy efficiency and conservation. They need to design buildings to maximize natural sunlight, and ventilation. Good design reduces energy costs. Insulation of the walls and glass facilitate moderating of temperature. These are architectural aspects that one must consider, in vertical living.

Also, condominium living is shared living; sharing access ways, parking space, and facilities like swimming pools etc. There are also aspects such as waste disposal that need to be planned. Condominiums and vertical living create mini communities which is healthy for society and creates an understanding and a mutual respect amongst these communities. This is as opposed to living in a house surrounded by walls. Living in close communities requires certain rules in the way we get about our daily life; for example, maintaining noise levels, parking of vehicles and disposal of garbage etc. People become aware of these things and discipline themselves with good practices.

Q: What impact does vertical living have on town planning?

A: Condominium living is about density and space optimization and there are stringent laws in Sri Lanka about what you can build and where. There are regulations governing of parking spaces, fire safety requirements, traffic impacts, public access-ways, safety as well as within a building the common areas, corridors, safety features, number of lifts etc. All these requirements are formalized and implemented by the regulators on the developments. These regulations help the planners in enforcing the requirements, and the developer in planning and designing.

Through town planning, the authorities make sure land usage is properly planned and controlled and that a percentage of land is kept unbuilt, to create the open space. Based on the height of the building, the space you can use is decided. Roads and traffic assessments are done when approving building plans.

Q: What’s the best approach of vertical for Sri Lanka?

A: Housing is a primary need in any society. There is a dearth of housing at present and it will increase as the population increases. How do you resolve this? It also is about the economic and social aspirations of a person. Therefore, the Government has to make housing affordable, especially to the younger generation.

There should be assistance for first home buyers through schemes like tax benefits and low interest loans so that they get into the housing market.

Then how do you make vertical living affordable? Cost of construction in Sri Lanka is extremely expensive. Most materials are imported, labor is expensive and productivity is low. We also have a tariff structure i.e. para tariffs. Finally, the end cost is double the real cost. These must be addressed, and we are encouraged by the government’s outlook and approach. Therefore, it is key that housing is made affordable by providing better access to financing, reducing cost of construction through revisiting tariffs, improving productivity of workers etc.

Q: What is the role played by the Condominium Developers’ Association in this?

A: The CDASL is an association of the developers with 36 members. We strive to address common issues with the authorities, regarding regulations as well as work alongside the government in promoting and developing the industry. We are a fast-developing nation – the environment will change, economy will grow, people’s needs will become more sophisticated, and people will opt for better lifestyles.

Therefore, housing needs must be addressed in that spectrum and vertical living condominiums are going to play a significant role in it. 

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