It's heady on top

Last Updated: Fri, Nov 23, 2012 20:42 hrs

Live closer to the moon”, invite the huge billboards in the heart of Cape Town that, incidentally, bears no connection with the South African city. This particular Cape Town is a township coming up in Delhi’s neighbourhood — Sector 74, Noida. And the invitation is from Supertech, the builder behind this humungous project of 5,000 housing units. Its showstopper here is North Eye, which will have 60 floors and will stand 255 metres tall.

Some 5 km away, in Sector 94, Supertech is coming up with another skyscraper, Supernova — a commercial-cum residential building of 80 floors standing at 300 metres. It will have high-end apartments, a mall, offices and rooftop gardens.

Move further away from Delhi, off the Greater Noida Expressway in Sector 150, and you’ll find Brys Group’s skyscraper site, Buzz. Once ready, it will have more than 80 floors and house 285 premium apartments of three to six bedrooms.

A scramble is on to get people to “break away from gravity and feel free”, as Supertech says. While it certainly might give you a high to stay on the 55th or 67th floor, the question is: are these high-rises safe enough, given that Noida falls in seismic zone 4, where the risk of earthquakes is pretty high. Only this year in March, this region (Delhi, Noida, Gurgaon and Faridabad) witnessed a low-intensity earthquake measuring 4.9 on the Richter scale. Similar tremors have been felt in the past as well, but never has the intensity been over 5 on the Richter scale.

Also, what happens in case a fire breaks out in a building this tall? Mumbai, India’s high-rise capital with over 20 new skyscrapers of over 100 metres coming up, was always planned as a vertical city. So, in a sense, it has that advantage over Noida, which is only just beginning to look skywards.

Ask developers and they claim that they have all security measures in place. “We have made every possible security check and have collaborated with some of the best names in the world for both Supernova and North Eye,” says R K Arora, managing director, Supertech. North Eye, he claims, can withstand an earthquake measuring 6 on the Richter scale.

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The foundations of both Supernova and North Eye have been laid through pile rafting after digging about 200 feet deep and four metres wide. Pile rafting foundation involves driving concrete piles into the ground to create a stable platform. Such foundations are only put in place after extensive testing of the soil. Arora says he got a team of experts from the US to test the soil and wind tunnel experts to test how well the structure would hold up in windy conditions. Each pile rafter was tested by putting a weight of at least 2,000 tonnes to check if it could withstand the pressure. North Eye, which has taken off the ground with four storeys almost ready, has 185 pile rafters. Supernova, the construction of which has only just started, stands on 250 pile rafters. Meanwhile, Australia-based firm, Golder Associates, was also roped in to carry out geo-technical investigation.

The builder knows it cannot afford to take any chances given that once completed, North Eye will support some 17,000 metric tonnes of steel and about 1.23 lakh cubic metres of concrete.

When it comes to skyscrapers, if an area is under seismic zone 3, then the building should be designed according to seismic zone 4 or 5. To minimise damage in case of an earthquake, Arora says they are also “using friction dampers so that the deflection is minimum”.

Rahul Gaur, director of Brys Group, says he went from city to city taking safety tips from landmark structures in Dubai, the US and Australia. The big challenge was to find architects who would take on a project of this magnitude. Realtors admit that such projects are ambitious and that local expertise isn’t enough. So, Gaur got on board fire and safety consultant firm Design Confidence from Australia. H-AO Architects from Dubai became Brys’s principal concept architect. Another Dubai-based firm, Beaver Gulf Contracting, joined in as engineering consultant. It has taken Brys eight months to go through soil and geo testing, consultations with experts and security measures. This done, work on Buzz will begin in January 2013. Meanwhile, Arora too got design and architecture specialists flown in from Dubai, the US, the UK and Australia.

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Before the foundation for North Eye was laid, a team of six professors from IIT Roorkee studied the plans and gave its clearance to security measures, which involved ensuring ample evacuation areas in the building, refuge floors on various levels and wide staircases. Buzz has 111 lifts, including 11 high-speed elevators. North Eye has over 60 lifts.

Almost 60 per cent of the housing units in North Eye have so far been sold. And most of the queries, says Arora, come for the upper floors. No premium is charged on houses that are closer to the top, he adds. Clearly people want a taste of the high life.

But there are those who would rather have their feet on the ground. “A lot of people are afraid to stay in high-rises,” says Sanjeev Srivastava, managing director, Assotech, which is building Celeste Towers — a 35-storey twin structure with 30 condominiums of 4,750 square feet each — in Noida’s Sector 44. “But we have taken every possible step to make sure they feel safe, secure and comfortable,” he adds.

Realtors who are going all out to make their skyscrapers as distinctive as possible say it’s a high not just for the residents, but also for them. But the bottomline is: these skyscrapers have to be high on safety too.

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