The Messy Suburb

Sorg Architects’ new high-rises make sense for middle-class India.

Sorg Architects

The Grand Arch
Golf Course Road Sector 58

Gurgaon, India

Gurgaon is one of India’s fastest-growing urban districts. Located 15 miles south of New Delhi, this suburb has seen its population balloon by more than 70 percent over the past decade. Bursting with shopping malls and the offices of multinational corporations, it has become a citadel for India’s new middle class. And now that New Delhi’s rapid-transit system is being extended to the very edges of Gurgaon, a new swath of erstwhile farmland is being readied for dense habitation.

“The pressure on the land is because New Delhi itself has a height and density limit,” says the architect Suman Sorg, whose Washington, D.C.–based practice has four gigantic projects coming up in the area, for the real estate developer Ireo Management. The Grand Arch, a 20-acre residential community at the last train stop in Gurgaon, is currently under construction and projected to be completed first, in early 2013. Most of its 842 apartments and penthouses are already spoken for. “I keep asking the developers, ‘Is this speculative? Is this a bubble that’s going to burst?’” Sorg says. “But there’s so much demand!”

Inspired by Mughal architecture like the Taj Mahal (which is a three-hour drive away), the Grand Arch has five high-rise structures—an arched central unit, from which the development gets its name, and four towers. In addition, the site will boast an elementary school, a 2,500-car underground parking garage, and retail areas. Because civic infrastructure is still scrambling to catch up, the development uses water-recycling systems and has generators and solar panels for backup power.

The surrounding land, which was once crisscrossed by farmers’ paths called rastas, is being turned into green space. “The gardens are themselves very Mughal, very formal,” Sorg says. “But then, overlaid on top are the rastas, which are historic and have to be respected. We tried to push the cars underground quickly, and have as many pedestrian connections as possible. It was important to have enough space for promenading.”

Taking a walk in the evenings and having a chance to greet one’s neighbors might be vital to the social fabric of the Grand Arch. High-rise living is still new to many middle-class Indians, who are also used to service providers like domestic help and milkmen, making for a messy urbanism belied by the architectural renderings. “The people who live in high-rises may be wealthy, but supporting that life are the people at the tea shops,” Sorg says. “There are mandated apartments for ‘Economically Weaker Sections.’ It will never be like the antiseptic suburbs in America. When all of this fills in, we will be happy that there are high-rises, because of the density, because it isn’t far-flung and spread out. I think in the end it will pay off.”

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