For the past several days, Gurugram as well as the nearby areas of the National Capital Region have been in the news for traffic jams, flooding of highways and dangerous potholes.So much so that even United States Secretary of State John Kerry, had this to say to students at Indian Institute of Technology Delhi while addressing them,” “You guys all deserve an award for getting here today. I don’t know if you guys came in boats or amphibious vehicles of some kind but I salute you.” The day before that, Mr.Kerry got to experience first hand just how bad the situation was in New Delhi, the capital of India, when he  spent nearly an hour with his convoy trapped in traffic jams from the airport to his five-star hotel.A failed infrastructure, thanks to poor and flawed design calculations will not differentiate in adversely affecting it’s users.

While everyone from the netizens on social media to the media channels have been trying desperately to search for the accused – the agency accountable for such a disastrous situation, the Government(s) and Civic bodies were equally anxious to propose quick fix solutions. These solutions varied from sanction of funds, to planning for new drains, to the creation of a new civic authority for better management. Before this article goes about exploring what went wrong, (or rather what usually goes wrong) here is a list of assumptions that most people are making and which are a far cry from reality:

  1. “Whenever it rains heavily, traffic jams and road flooding is bound to happen!!”- That is certainly not the case. Good designs not only anticipate rainfall but also provide for sufficient safety margins
  2. “The traffic police, politicians and municipal authorities are entirely responsible for the mess.”- This is not entirely true. Some politicians may have sanctioned under budgeted projects to win votes but it is ultimately shoddy design calculations which result in the chaos. Such is the impact of a poorly designed infrastructure, that when things go wrong, there is nothing much that the municipal authorities and traffic police can do from thereon. They can take some short term measures like drain cleaning or traffic management, but that really doesn’t address the root of the problem.
  3. “The public is responsible for the mess since there are so many cars.” – This is another cover up excuse. It’s actually the planners who have grossly underestimated the enterprising, forward looking nature of the people and in their arrogance, chosen not to provide sufficient spaces and flexibility of expansion of the infrastructure.

Storm water

While the efforts from various stakeholders are welcome, it is extremely important to go about seeking a solution to the problem of infrastructure development in the NCR in general and Gurugram in particular, in a “smart” way. Simply assigning blame to one political dispensation or the other is simply to grab onto the lowest hanging fruit.

The first step would be acknowledging the fact that the problem of storm water drainage exists at several levels. The second, most important step is to understand that storm water is not something to be flushed off. It is to be treated as a valuable asset which helps recharge the ground water, thereby creating a sustainable environment as well.

It will take more than funds and ambitious proposals or political rhetoric to get smart. Here are a few things we should probably be giving attention to as well.


image courtesy :

From Sahibi river to Najafgarh drain to ? – image source –

It starts with the fact that several internal roads in Gurugram do not have storm water drains. Some of these roads have been designed by private developers, others by Government authorities and many others form part of the old Gurugram settlements. In some cases, where there are storm water drains, they are either designed incorrectly or the sweepers and the locals think that they are meant to dispose of garbage, whether its dust and debris on the road, an empty mineral water bottle or the left over construction debris (malba) of someone’s swanky new house. Most people are unable to differentiate between a storm water drain and a sewerage drain. After relentless abuse for the entire year, the storm water drains are expected to be prim and properly functional.

Take the example of the Najafgarh drain (what was once River Sahibi!!).It is Delhi’s most polluted water body because of inflow of untreated sewage from adjacent populated areas. This is the “drain” currently being considered as part of the solution to resolve the water-logging at Hero Honda chowk. My best wishes to them.


If we take a look at the factories/offices near Hero Honda chowk, one finds that quite a few of them are corporates with turnovers running into hundreds of crores of Rupees. Yet, the simple requirement for them to construct an Effluent Treatment Plant and a Rain Water Harvesting pit, makes some of them cringe and frown uncomfortably. Depending on the area, some of these corporates are unwilling to shell out reasonable amounts for construction solutions which would not only help make their own premises more sustainable, but also reduce the burden on public infrastructure. Oddly enough, they are happy to discharge contaminated by-products of their manufacturing goods into the public storm water drains and foot astronomical annual repair bills resulting from damage to property, instead of taking basic simple steps, mandatory as per laws.



sglakhanpal quoteThe foremost requirement is to accept that public infrastructure systems cannot be designed in isolation. Calculations for designing a storm water drain for agricultural land are very different from urban areas with impervious landscapes.  On account of the Change of Land Use provisions, agricultural lands in Gurugram rapidly transform into Commercial or Institutional areas. This leads to more concretization, thereby drastically reducing the amount of water which the soil can absorb.The design of any new infrastructure must withstand the test of time, in which it will be subjected to the unforgiving demands of a rapidly evolving infrastructure.

We seem to fail repeatedly in this aspect and must take lessons from the past. The approximately 28 Km long Delhi Gurugram expressway is barely able to handle peak hour traffic. An investment of almost Rupees One Thousand Crores now seems to be a total waste after just 8 years of its inauguration.

The population projection for Gururgram for 2021 of 16.5 lakh people made by the National Capital Region Planning Board was already crossed in 2012- nine years earlier.

It seems that the planners have completely missed the enterprising and entrepreneurial nature of their Clients – the People.


Technology goes a long way in helping overcome design problems, provided that it is used.  LID (Low Impact Development) technologies, creation of permeable pavements, Green roofs, use of sub-surface drains and infiltration chambers can help dampen the harmful effects of water logging. They will also assist in safely recharging the Ground water, filtering out the heavy metal and particulates. Other countries have encourage use of such technology (Green Roof byelaw – Toronto; Green Infrastructure Program – New York City)

Unfortunately, most of latest construction technologies and materials do not even figure in the standard Schedule of Rates and Specifications of various Government bodies. In the recently aired program “The Big Fight” on NDTV news channel, eminent host journalist Vikram Chandra was seen literally begging the panel of “expert planners” and politicians about solutions to this specific problem of water logging. Sadly, not even the “experts” were aware of the concept of Low Impact Development and their “solutions” ranged from demolishing large areas of landmark structures to changing the entire organization structure of governance of India- something that may never happen. They threatened the audience with “dire consequences” such as “drowning” in the next monsoon. This myopic approach and refusal to reach out to corrective possibilities only contributes to the problem. The Schedule of Rates which is like the holy bible of most Civic and Finance Authorities is grossly out dated .The most unfortunate paradox is that these out dated documents are used, both for estimation and sanction of funds, for projects planned for future use.

The same applies to potholes.

sglakhanpal architect quote

Ever wondered why the same pothole keeps appearing even after it has been repaired every monsoon?

Proper drainage, preventive maintenance, use of surface dressing and veneer treatments will be a more effective approach to life cycle pavement management. Both the Supervisors and Contractors need training through skill development and knowledge transfer on pothole repair. This will lead to less reactive maintenance and proper maintenance scheduling.

It’s not that the expertise does not exist in India. Most roads in the proximity of all Raj Bhawans (Governor’s residence) in State Capitals will be prim and proper for the entire year. Besides the impeccable maintenance and detailing, another reason for this is the low population density of such V.I.P. areas. This again brings out the need to design roads which are even more resilient, robust,with proper utility cut management and wider in areas of high population density. Unfortunately, many times these areas are left in the hands of private, inexperienced contractors and supervisors.

Street art in shape of crocodile

Street Art by Baadal_Nanjundaswamy to protest the pot holes in Bangaluru

The most profitable aspect of any construction job is that it’s ability to conceal it’s real defects.Potholes can often be indicators of a more serious underlying problem and would benefit greatly from the attention of expert supervision. By the time the defects are visible for all to see and experience, the construction agency responsible has usually moved on and people seek accountability from the the current dispensation.

The United States has an estimated 55 million potholes and it’s reported that Canada repairs 4,50,000 potholes annually with a budget of 4.8 million dollars. That’s 10.7 dollars per pothole or Rupees 650/- to 700/- approximately.(This is the average cost, not actual cost per pothole- it depends on the size, depth and nature of pothole)So repair and preventive maintenance should not be such an unreachable concept.


sglakhanpal architect quoteThe beauty of any design, good or bad, is that its effects are inescapable and interconnected. The effects will be there for all to feel, whether it’s the Minister who misses an important meeting or the CEO who loses an important client or the general public. That lesson was amply demonstrated by the fiasco at Gurugram and other cities in India as well. While, the worst may not still be over, it would be helpful if all stakeholders honestly acknowledge the problems and failures and seek a holistic, long term solution to them. By merely sanctioning funds or proposing short term solutions in a hurry to win brownie points or shifting accountability we may be setting ourselves up for another inescapable debacle, creating “breaking news”- if you pardon the expression and looking around for alibis. Not exactly the SMART thing to do.


No more a child’s play

I happened to visit “Children’s Park” in New Delhi’s India Gate area and was appalled at the callousness with which the facilities have been provided there. The children’s outdoor play equipment in particular appeared to be more of torture equipment used in medieval periods rather than joyful play elements.

Since I had often played there as a child myself, it was rather disappointing to see the total lack of maintenance and the whole place seemed to convey a sense of disdain and utter disregard towards the blossoming generation.

The place was full of children of various ages and the lack of maintenance of the place clearly indicated that there was an accident waiting to happen.

I tried to read up on any documentation regarding any guidelines whatsoever in India, for child safety norms for outdoor play activity, but I was unable to find it. I did however find a detailed document from “Department of Health and Community services in Newfoundland.” (

It was obvious to me, even before going through it that the facilities in Children’s Park would not match up to the guidelines which I had found, but mentioned below are some of the discrepancies I could recall were missing from the Park:



Fine sand is not recommended as a protective surfacing material in on-site outdoor play areas. If it is possible to purchase another type of protective surfacing material, it is advisable to do so. Fine sand is difficult to maintain. In addition, it is abrasive and can cause injury to children if it gets in their eyes.


Lack of maintenance and signages

Lack of maintenance and signages


Crawl spaces are defined as spaces under four feet (1.2 m) high where children can access and adults cannot access. These crawl spaces must be enclosed.



Remove or cover any sharp points or edges. Any bolt that extends beyond the nut must be replaced with a shorter bolt, or covered with an acorn nut or plastic cap.

Swings poorly maintained

Swings poorly maintained



Swings must have no open-ended or ‘S-shaped’ hooks. Closed hooks are necessary. Make sure that no part of a play structure could trap a child’s head or limbs. Seesaws must have wooden blocks or rubber tires placed on the underside of the seats to prevent feet from getting caught. Remember that slides can become too hot for safe use. Place them in the shade or facing away from the sun.


Dangerous play equipment

Dangerous play equipment


Chains for swings, rings, and hand holds, etc. must be checked frequently for smooth functioning and for signs of wear, weakness or rust. Replace them when necessary.Use non-toxic paints when repainting any children’s product. Take care of rusted parts as soon as possible. The surface of slides must be smooth and show no wear and there must be no gaps, pinch points, or rough edges in the sliding surface. Maintenance of protective surfacing materials is essential. If the required depth of surfacing materials is not maintained then these surfaces are not considered safe.


Here, I am not even mentioning the requirement of easily visible first aid areas, adult supervisory staff and other requirements such as checklists for daily, monthly and seasonal inspections. I could not get even a glimpse of a person in authority except for the guards at the entrance who insisted that no one could bring any home-made eatables inside the park, although you could buy some from the vendors near the gate.

A possible, but rather silly defence of the indefensible scenario described above is that they have kept the “entry free”. How horrible does that sound – A free entry to cause grievous injury to the children of this country.

Ironically this park is located in proximity to the several prestigious offices of the country, such as the President’s Residence, the highest offices of the Ministries, the highest offices of Judiciary and the Bureaucracy – Perhaps rightly so, it serves to show just how concerned we are about our children.

Another equally ironical dimension to this grotesque scenario is the thinking of some of the parents themselves. While in most places no person in their right mind will even allow a child into this park, the parents seem to take pride, when the child gets hurt, claiming that the child is “growing up” or “getting tough”.

In this era of rapid urbanization, green spaces and green lungs are scarce but invaluable assets to any city. Effective design, maintenance and a change in our mindset is vital for the survival of both the green spaces as well as the population residing in the urban areas.

Despite the tremendous developments and evolution in the field of Architecture, people still often ask this fundamental question, “What exactly does an Architect do?”, or ,” What does making a building really involve?” , or , ” If the building is being constructed on site, why does the architect need an office?”

Here are 4 info graphics which give some idea about the work going on at the back end in the process of a structure being made. *This is just a general idea, the processes may be different depending on the nature of the project.

The graphics have been divided into 4 stages :

  1. Design Stage
  2. Tender and Site Mobilization Stage
  3. Construction Stage
  4. Completion Stage

Design Stage








Did you know, that the more time and  effort one puts in BEFORE the project starts (in planning), the better the project takes shape ?

This is a very simplistic representation. A successful project depends on the active and dedicated participation and contribution of all the stakeholders.


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The Art of Seeking Professional Services

The Mayor of Hamelin Syndrome.

The Pied Piper Syndrome is a term often used to refer to people blindly following a trend, similar to the folklore about the children of Hamelin who followed the mesmerising tunes of the Pied Piper’s musical instrument. While trends have often lured architects through early movements such as the Neo classical, Gothic, Art Deco to the later Deconstructivism, Sustainable and Passive Houses, this article choses to explore another aspect of the Pied Piper narrative, one which has often been overlooked. Why did the Pied Piper choose to lure the children away in the first place? The obvious answer was that he had not been paid his dues.

The reason for not having been paid his dues, was that the Mayor of the Town felt that removing rats from the city was hardly any task worth paying for. Further, the Mayor felt that the Pied Piper could not do anything even if he was not paid. This clearly demonstrated the myopic vision of Mayor as an administrator. The Mayor was not even concerned about the fact that some rats may return in the future and that the Pied Piper’s help may be required again. Thus in a way, the Mayor triggered a tragic event which had the potential to have far reaching consequences for so many people.

A very similar situation exists commonly in India, where people take pride in “making” their own houses, factories and buildings, never mind the violation of building and safety codes and the risk to their lives as well as those of living in those spaces. Seeking professional help has mutated into a strange, self destructive habit which compromises the very basis of objective of approaching a professional.

Let us take the typical example of a person who has fever. Instead of approaching a doctor, this person will first open his medicine drawer and take whatever medicine is lying in the drawer. A few days after not recovering, he will approach a doctor. He will take medicines prescribed by the doctor for one day and on the very next day he will seek advice from a homeopath, another doctor and a spiritual healer and continue to take some of the medicines prescribed by all the people he has seen. If he does not recover( or his health gets worse), he will blame all the people he has seen and also blame it on fate.

A similar dismal situation exists in architecture as well. People and organisations often approach Architects for advice on designing a house or a township for example. Half way through the project, they feel that they can complete the project on their own. They feel they can save some money by not paying the Architect’s and other engineering consultant’s fees and often feel that they can get away with it. It is not possible to calculate the tremendous damage they have caused to their own project doing so.

Any project is dynamic entity with its own unique challenges and opportunities. The professionals such as Architects/ Engineers, need to monitor it regularly (if not in real time) and evolve on their own designs in the best interest of the project.  Discontinuing the Architect’s services half way is similar to pulling out your close relative from an operation theatre, half way through the operation while the body may still be open. It is extremely important to let the project achieve a full closure before it is made operational and open for public use. In fact, it is worthwhile to keep in touch with the technical consultants even after the project has been completed.

Abandoning Professional services should always be the last resort. In case there is a genuine dissatisfaction with the Professional services provider, it is always a good idea to let your concerns be known, before taking extreme steps. While discontinuing professional services may initially appear to be financially appealing, the long term costs often far supersede the savings.

World Ozone Day

Try to Minimize Solar Gain

Sun Path Analysis


In regions which experience relatively hot summers, the sales of air-conditioning units are rapidly increasing as well. A team of researchers from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the United Nations estimate that the new cooling units entering the market could be responsible for up to 27% of all global warming by 2050.

I remember a time not long ago, when air conditioners in Delhi (India) were a luxury. Besides, many people adopted innovative strategies at passive solar cooling such as using thicker brick bat coba (for water and thermal insulation) on the roofs, having central courtyards with ventilators in rooms to naturally cool the houses. In fact, if one enters such a house today, one can experience the cooling effect without any artificial means.  However, with the kind of construction now-a days, air conditioning is all but a necessity.

Recently however, there are concerns that the gases they run on are contributing to climate change.

Although modern air-conditioning units run on relatively sustainable gases* they still have an impact, although not on the o-zone layer. According to scientists, they “contribute to global warming thousands of times more than carbon dioxide”.

These new gases, called HCFCs, are not as damaging to the o-zone as the ones previously used, but they are being used in such amounts that scientists at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration are concerned about the rising levels, especially in the developing world, where they have doubled in the past two decades to record highs.

One of the HCFC coolant called 410a  is deemed “environmentally friendly” because it doesn’t damage the o-zone. However, its warming effect is 2,100 times that of carbon dioxide

“There is precious little time to do something, to act.” , according to Stephen O. Anderson, the co-chairman of the treaty’s technical and economic advisory panel.

Currently, there simply isn’t a readily available commercial ozone-friendly alternative to air-conditioners that have a substantial warming effect on the planet.

Let me save the Ozone Layer

Till the time such a solution is made available, I cannot but help recommend the use of Architectural elements commonly found in Asia. I am reminded of an office I visited in Shilparamam, Hyderabad, which had a thatched roof surrounded by greenery and foliage. The structure had large open windows and despite the presence of heat contributing equipment such as computers, laptops and printers, I was relatively comfortable sitting under a fan in peak summer.

While it may not be completely practical to go back 50-60 years in construction technology, it would be certainly worthwhile to adapt such solutions, thereby reducing running costs and increasing the energy efficiency of buildings.


*(the Montreal Protocol was created in order regulate and control the use of hazardous gases such as CFC coolants which caused massive damage to the o-zone layer leading them to be eliminated from general usage)

(Information credit : Are Air Conditioning Units A Climate Change Catch-22?) by Timon Singh)

(Image credit:



Oops..He did it again ?

There have been several instances where architects have unintentionally ventured into grey areas when designing buildings. I guess it’s the passion to venture into unexplored territory, the desire to produce landmarks or maybe, sheer arrogance when critical aspects are overlooked in designing spaces.

The legendary American architect Frank Lloyd Wright is quoted as saying, “The physician can bury his mistakes, but the architect can only advise his client to plant vines.”


Glaring examples in the past include the Aon Centre in Chicago which was clad in Italian Carrara marble that had the marble pieces falling all over the place, the 60 storey John Hancock tower designed by renowned architect I.M.Pie, which had problems with its windows crashing down below, as well as the problem of motion sickness for the occupants of the upper floors on account of the structure’s sway.


The Massachusetts Institute of Technology had filed a negligence suit against Frank Gehry for design flaws in the “The Ray and Maria State Centre”, citing structural problems and drainage issues.


The latest to misadventure to join this infamous bandwagon is the commercial skyscraper 20 Fenchurch Street, popularly known is the “Walkie Talkie” or “The Pint” on account of its distinctive shape. Scheduled to be completed in 2014, the proposed 160 meter, 37 storeys building estimated to cost over 200 million pounds is making headlines for the wrong reasons.


The curved shape of the building is focussing the sun’s energy in a manner that it has caused parts of cars, tiles and carpets on the street to be damaged. Land Securities and Canary Wharf, the building’s developers, have already taken some steps towards damage control and may be looking at long term solutions, this is not the first time a building designed by the esteemed architect Rafael Viñoly has caused such problems. The Vdara Hotel and Spa designed by his practice in Las Vegas, collected the solar rays of his structures and beamed them into the swimming pool area making the sunbathing guests regularly singed.


While it’s easy to lay blame on the Architect, I feel that the root of the problem lies elsewhere – namely in understanding who or what an Architect is or does or is supposed to do and after so many before me have attempted this complex exercise, I will boldly like to do so once again. A building is the result of a collaborative venture between various stakeholders such as the Society, the developer, the Architects, the technical consultants as well as contractors. The Architect undoubtedly injects the essence into the built and open spaces, provides vision and a glimpse into the future, (the shape of things to come), but it is only through a collaborative effort that a building finally takes shape. It is common (but a rather incorrect) practice to assign credit/ blame to the Architect who sometimes acquires celebrity or cult status on this account.


This is not to say that the blame lies on everyone or that I am trying to dilute the responsibility of the Architect. I simply wish to point out that in most successful buildings, it is the collaborative effort of the entire team working synergistically that creates the architectural marvel.


A good method to avoid faults in buildings would be :

  1. To involve and engage specialist agencies for every aspect of the work (and not simply leave it all on the Architect). This is especially important in “iconic designs” for public buildings.
  2. The Architect should be more receptive to advice from the various specialist teams and more significantly the Contractor.
  3. To pass on knowledge of such faults to as much of the young generation as possible so that others may learn and take preventive measures.


Making mistakes are a part of the growth curve of any profession and Architecture is not without it’s fair share of them.


On a lighter note, I am uploading some common images. (Copyright credit to their owners.)

camera door escalator street light urinals



S.G.Lakhanpal Associates was established as an architectural consultancy firm. Thereafter it became a Strategic Business Unit of N.G.Lakhanpal Strategic Management Services Private Limited – A multi- disciplinary group providing consultancy in the following :


Interior Design

Project Feasibility Reports


It is an ISO 9001:2008 certified company.