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A city in Making

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The upcoming city of Lavasa is situated amidst Shayadri mountain range near the Mumbai Pune economic corridor, stretching along the Warasgaon Lake. Sapna Srivastava visited the city to find out the new principles of New Urbanism and Biomimicry, guiding the development of Lavasa and innovative technologies introduced to optimally balance nature and urban infrastructure.

The hill town of Lavasa spread across 12,500 acres in western India has five self-sustaining towns, Dasve, Mugaon, Dhamanohol, Sakhari-Wadavali and CBD (Central Business District). The Master Plan has been designed in conjunction with HOK International Limited, USA and architectural considerations such as land character, building frontage and other design guidelines have been taken into consideration while making the master plan. While HOK was involved to provide the overall planning concept and the architectural look, for the indiviadual buildings architectural various eminent Indian design firms and consultants have been involved. Currently, three towns of Dasve, Mugaon and Dhamanoho are under development.

“The comprehensive project has been planned for a permanent population of around three lakh residents from multiple socio-economic classes with city infrastructure supported by new-age systems and processes like GIS mapping, miniature hydro dams and e-governance. The concept that brings together all the components essential for daily life in a more organized manner is called New Urbanism which focuses on planning the residential and commercial spaces such that they are within walking distance of each other. It also promotes division of land into sustainable and manageable regions, allowing urban life and nature to subsist in harmony, without disturbing the natural balance.”

– Scot Wrighton

City Manager, Lavasa

The Master Plan

The overall city layout draws inspiration from traditional patterns of Indian town planning as well as vernacular forms of building. It emulates principles that are culturally based and that have proven sustainable for centuries. The landscape and architectural design of Lavasa is based on the transect model, i.e. development is denser near the town centre, gradually reducing as one moves uphill. Chip Crawford, Fasla, Sr. Vice President & Director, HOK planning Group says, “Environment played a major role in design & planning as we started laying out the project. The first step was to identify natural areas worth preserving such as forests and nallahs and accordingly, we prepared a conservation plan. In the next step, a restoration plan to repair the damaged areas was undertaken. Lastly an enhancement plan was developed for planning the compact urban centers.”

The principles of New Urbanism

Commuting and Connectivity: Most areas are within a ten minute radius from home or work connected with a network of streets, boulevards and alleys to easily disperse traffic.

Mixed Use and Diversity: A melting pot of inhabitants from all walks of life creating a mix of commercial and residential premises within neighborhoods, blocks and apartments

Mixed Housing: A range of living spaces based on a variety of factors – size, proximity to the town centre, type, price and income groups.

Architecture and Urban Design: Detailed attention to aesthetics and human comfort

Neighbourhood Structuring: A discernable city centre and more open public spaces that encompass a range of uses and densities

Planned Increased Density: Transect Planning, wherein population density decreases progressively as it moves away from the town centre

Smarter Transportation: An advanced and cost-effective commuting network for enhanced efficiency

Sustainability: Minimal impact on the environment

The Master Plan has also been inspired by Biomimicry – the science that learns from nature and adapts these learnings to planning, design and architecture. Working closely with biologists from Biomimicry 3.8, HOK studied the living creatures and plants of the moist, deciduous ecosystem to provide guidance and models for establishing locally attuned design strategies that respond to other challenges of the local biome. “Biomimicry is innovation inspired by nature. In a biomemitic world, we would manufacture the way plants and animals do, using sun and simple compounds to produce totally biodegradable fibers, ceramics, plastics, and chemicals. For example, solar cells copy from leaves, steely fibres are woven spider-style, shatterproof ceramics draw from mother-of-pearl, computers signal like cells and a closed-loop economy take its lessons from redwoods, coral reefs and oak-hickory forests”. Janine M. Benyus, Biologist, Co-founder & President Biomimicry Institute, USA. In addition to the overall master plan, the team developed a landscape master plan to rejuvenate deforested areas and drive future landscape performance. Reforestation, bioswales, rainwater harvesting and environmentally sensitive construction practices are all part of the plan.

Besides, with the help of Geographic Information System (GIS), the pattern of population density and work place resultant of land use was mapped. It was overlaid on the slope map, natural ravine pattern and proposed parks. Due to the hilly terrain, the streets were on different altitudes and needed to be connected. The projected population density mapping also determined the number of people who are anticipated to use the pedestrian walks and thus the frequency and width of such connections was determined. The walkways were categorised into formal and informal walks keeping in mind the slopes, amount of people and frequency of usage. The use of 3D-enabled GIS also makes the location of each structure easy and accurate. When combined with Global Positioning System it assists in carrying out maintenanceand operations proactively.

Biomimicry @ Lavasa

Lavasa is designed as a set of five urban towns set in the valleys and slopes of the seven surrounding hills that will mimic its dense forest. The plan and architecture are intended to create a sustainable framework on the hillside subject to a short but intense rainy season followed by months of drought. Despite the heavy rains, the steep hills, suffer almost no erosion and to understand how the hills stay intact, biologists from Biomimicry 3.8 studied the area’s ecosystem. Then they developed a set of “Genius of Place” design recommendations and ecological performance standards the city’s developers can use to ensure that whatever gets built performs at the same level as the natural environment. Such as, roofs that help re-release the rain water back into the air as water vapour, pavement that allows water to permeate back into the ground and building foundations that grip the hillsides like the roots of trees. To design roads, the team took inspiration from local anthills that are able to remain structurally sound during the region’s heavy rains. The key, Benyus explains, is the anthills’ sinuosity, which channels and slows water as it runs over them. Lavasa’s roads are planned to mimic that characteristic.

Benyus and her team identified six “ecosystem services” provided by the area’s moist deciduous forest: water collection, solar gain, carbon sequestration, water filtration, evapotranspiration, and the cycling of nitrogen and phosphorus. Then they handed those to the planners and designers at HOK as guides for what their design would need to accomplish. HOK’s team examined the existing ecosystem and determined that the now arid landscape was once a moist deciduous forest. “In its original state, trees would have maintained soil quality, stored water through the dry season, and provided a canopy to control evaporation.” Using trees as the design principle, HOK worked with Buro Happold, an engineering consultancy, to design a building foundation system that stores water, just like the trees that once existed on site did.

The 1,700-acre Dasve Valley is the Phase-I development nearing completion and is based on tourism, conventions and higher education as the economic drivers. It is a self-sufficient town with a town hall in the center, a club, a state-of-the-art convention center, a water sports’ complex, hotels, a Swiss hospitality college, hospital, post office, a school exclusively for locals and a retirement home for the senior citizens. Warasgaon Lake acts as the centrepiece with dense development planned around the lake, which gets thinners as one moves higher towards the hill slopes. The low-rise buildings in red, yellow and orange designed by architect Hafeez Contracter are modeled on the lines of Italian fishing village of Portofino. The promenade facing the waterfront on completion will be over 1.5 kilometers providing water sports, shopping and entertaining activities with colourful buildings, green mountains and villas on hill top forming the backdrop.

Approximately six kilometers from Dasve, Mugaon will be developed on approximately 2400 acre area and wil have a unique architectural character inspired by the western coastal Indian architecture. The development in Mugaon focuses on corporate and educational campuses and green research centres. Wrighton adds, “The town will use locally available materials like stone and bamboo and sustainable technologies like hollow flyash-concrete blocks, solar panels, green roofs, micro wind turbines and solar heaters. The next city to be developed, Dhamonohol will house high-end residential villas along with a golf course and a golf academy, a film-based theme park and an edutainment theme park.”

Environment Management

Inherent to Lavasa’s is the Environment Management Plan (EMP). This is a plan of constant, evolving action that addresses ecology concerns at several levels. From topsoil management, tree transplantation and mass plantation to the technologically superior processes of hydroseeding, soil, water and air pollution control and monitoring systems. Wrighton briefs on some of the vital envirnment initiatives introduced in the region, “The locals here practiced slash and burn cultivation. We created awareness amongst villagers to increase sapling plantation and till date, a total of half a million tree saplings have been planted at Dasve, with an average survival rate of 60%. To enhance existing flora and fauna, tree transplantation, preservation of ‘Top Soil’ for further use in landscaping creation of wildlife corridors, artificial water holes and release of fish in dam water to maintain a healthy biodiversity is carried out.”

Hydro-Seeding: Hydroseeding is a planting process that uses slurry of seed and mulch. The locally developed slurry is transported in a tank; truck mounted and sprayed over barren hill slopes for quick re-vegetation. Implementing hydro seeding resulted in a 44% germination rate over 12000 square meters of area. This greatly helped in mass plantation, prevention of soil erosion and facilitated quick vegetation.

Soil Bioengineering: Soil bioengineering is the use of living plant materials as an effective tool for treatment of unstable and / or eroding sites.The same was pursued for slope protection during monsoon and to preserving green cover.

Soil Conservation: Stones used for nallah bunding act as obstruction preventing soil from being washed away. In addition, with geomatting (involves placng of matts over the soil surface) slope areas are reinforced for strength & stability.

Water Conservation: Continues trenches are dug along the contours of the hill slopes forcing rain water to perlocate in the ground. Massive tree plantation of indegeneous varities to is aimed at raising the water table of the region.

Water Treatment: Sewage treatment is carried out using both UV & Ozonisation. The management is also employing new technologies for water / sewage treatment such as Soil Biotechnology developed by IIT Mumbai and ecological mapping of lake water.

Air Treatment: Sprinkling of water over roads to prevent dust pollution during construction and water sprinkling during crusher operations and use of PPE (dust masks) are some of the main initiatives taken to keep the air clean.

“The Lavasa site is hilly and the slopes at some places are quite steep. In view of the difficult topography, we proposed fragmented, multiple roofed houses at different levels with integrating courts rather than large structures with dominant rooflines. These seemed aesthetically appropriate too, as they would blend into the natural environment. The business model of the developers required that many houses be built. They had to be planned, therefore, as relatively dense neighbourhood nodes along the main road that twists and turns around the hill slopes. Despite the cluster, privacy of the individual houses was maintained by locating them at slightly different angles, and by the use of offsets, setbacks and landscaped courts. The houses, thus, look out into green spaces and not into each other.”

P K Das and Associates

Technology

Lavasa belongs to the new crop of smart-city projects. A joint venture company formed by Lavasa in association with Cisco & Wipro, My City Ltd. implements lifestyle technology solutions on a vast scale. Wipro is providing expertise in areas like city management services, e-governance, ICT infrastructure and value-added services, including proposing and implementing intelligent solutions for the home and digital lifestyles. Wipro will also design the detailed infrastructure for telecom-based services that will facilitate smart homes and buildings, including integrated building management systems, physical security requirements and other on-demand services.

Cisco’s Smart+Connected Communities offers the network to transform physical communities into connected communities and Cisco’s service-delivery platform enables to deploy new smart services and applications for citizens as well as those that manage and operate the community infrastructure. “The Information and Communication Technology (ICT) plays an important role in planning, executing and maintaining the technology requirements of Lavasa’s administration, residents and all other stakeholders such as commercial establishments, contractors, educational institutes, travel and hospitality services, hospitals and utility services. These ICT products & architecture and the technology & solutions are helping Lavasa to be a smart and sustainable city.” said, Wrighton

In the 1980s, the Maharashtra state government decided to prioritise tourism across the state and chose seven sites including the location of Lavasa to develop as tourist cities. These sites would each be governed by a Special Planning Authority (SPA), comprised of bureaucrats and technocrats. Since the sites were located in ecologically sensitive areas, there were stringent regulations controlling the size of the sites and the extent of felling and excavation allowed. Lavasa is governed by Lavasa Corporation Limited (LCL), a private enterprise. This arrangement has resulted in a unique form of governance. As the SPA of the area, LCL has been vested with most of the powers and functions of the local self-governing body or the municipality of the area. It can provide the area with utilities like water, electricity, gas, sewage treatment and other amenities that are required to develop and improve the area.

City Management

Lavasa city’s growth model of is built on three financial pillars: real estate sales, city service revenues and joint ventures with reputed companies in specific sectors like telecommunication, laundry, security, waste recycling etc. Each city being developed is staked to its own economic driver that defines its architecture and planning, for example tourism, biotech and software and other non polluting industries. A distinguishing feature of the Lavasa development is the skilled city management service team headed by a specialized city manager to provide quality community living with emphasis on e-governance. The responsibilities of city management include public safety & security, uninterrupted power supply, integrated housekeeping, maintenance, waste management, pest control and property management. Wrighton who is a past member and officer of several US state’s city management associations and has been a member of the International City-County Management Association (ICMA) for nearly 30 years says, “The city manager apart from ensuring that day‐to‐day apparatus of the city’s routine service delivery functions smoothly, is also responsible for the policy making, contract administration, measuring and managing performance outcomes and process & system engineering. The vision is to create a replicable model of city governance for new Asian cities by bringing world-class standards to Indian urban life.”

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