Context, as they say, is the set of circumstances that forms the setting for an event, statement or idea and in terms of which it can be fully understood. Thus context gives the framework which creates the need, guides the process and explains the result. The primary purpose of architecture is to respond to the surrounding scenario i.e. the context, through design and planning. As all the other fields, the concept of context holds equal relevance in the domain of architectural theory and practice. Context is one of those architectural concepts that allow environment and architecture to exist in coherence.
Justice is fundamental to our notions of societal order, that is, to the order sustained between ourselves without recourse to force. There is an increasingly strong assumption that justice is something to which we, as humans, have a universal right. On a simpler note, justice is giving every-one his right.
Since architecture is concerned with the possibilities of developing human potentialities, therefore, generally the issue of justice directly or indirectly comes into play. From a broader perspective, the three theories of justice are Utilitarianism, Justice as fairness, Libertarianism. We will be explaining our example building with reference to these theories of justice in the later part.
The concept of right and wrong is very much subjective in terms of place, time, prevailing social, cultural and economic factors, environment etc. All these together formulates the essence of context. Hence, justice is also contextual. Therefore it is extremely important to analyse the context very sensitively while concluding about anything being just and unjust.
The building that has been taken up for analysis is Antilla. Doting the skyline of Mumbai, stands this towering symbol of enormous wealth – Antilla, the abode of the petrochemicals giant Reliance industries’ chairman, Mukesh Ambani.
The choice of Antilla might be an obvious one for some. One that has been much discussed in public forums all over India and abroad but the no one has ever has put it under the scanner of an architect’s lens. The impact of its mere presence and gravity of injustice that it embodies are reasons so pressing that drove us to take up this building. Occasions are rare when a building meant for residential purpose produces such ripples in the society. It has been the talk of the town ever since its completion and has had a plenty share of repercussions, be it social, economic or architectural. Antilla, has to its credit, the title of being the most expensive residence on earth.
The very idea behind the conception of the building is whimsical. When Nita Ambani got floored by the magnificent interiors of the Mandarin Oriental, she decided to hand over the job of doing up her dream home to Perkins + Will and Hirsch Bedner Associates – the people behind the scene at the Mandarin.
Antilla leaves a visible trail of injustice in its story. The very ground it stands on is procured illegally from the Wakf Board at 1/20 times the actual market value of the land – basically peanuts. It was kept aside by Currimbhoy Ebrahim Khoja Trust for the education of the orphans from Khoja Mohammedan community. All this and more when Wakf in Islamic law means donating land for charitable purpose and wakf does not have the power to sell, rent or transfer the land.
This hints at not only the injustice meted out to the orphans but also the land which couldn’t reach its maximum potential. Not only this, Antilla is a glaring reminder of the ever increasing chasm between the urban rich and poor in India. It is hard to picture some 800 million Indians living on $1.60 a day and a $2 billion home with state-of-the-art facilities in the same frame. Antilla overlooks a bipolar India with the serenity of the Arabian Sea and miles of slums of Dharavi.
The costliest residence on on earth is a 27 storey skyscraper-equipped with six floors of parking catering to 160 cars at a time, a 50 seat theatre for exclusive film premieres, a dance studio, gym, pool and spa- all on separate floors. Specific floors have also been dedicated to Ambani’s guests, family’s own residence and maintenance of the structure. The topmost floor has an air control room catering to the three helipads atop its roof. A staff of 600 people is always on its toes.
Antilla has ridiculed the legal noise norms of the residential area and has three helipads on its roof despite the ban imposed by the navy to construct a helipad over any residential building. No strict action being taken against the Ambani’s is directly hinting at the underplay of social injustice meted out to the commoners of the area who have no other way out but to patiently bear the high decibel woes.
Ambani’s den has been claimed as a sustainable building at various platforms by many people altogether but in our opinion, the concept of sustainability has been grossly misinterpreted in this case. Sustainability is, infact, the ability to meet the needs of the present without compromising with the needs of the future generations to meet their needs and Antilla doesn’t stand firm on this ground.
The hanging hydropronic plants and living walls do nothing more than adorning the facade and is a mere eyewash as far as sustainability is concerned. To substantiate our point we quote an RTI enquiry by a philanthropist which revealed that Antilla’s monthly power consumption was nearly 8.16 lakh units which can serve 1600 2 BHK/3BHK houses in Mumbai. The power consumption levels are more than that of Parliament House or Rashtrapati Bhawan.
Not only this, Antilla’s daily water consumption is 2430 litres, five times to that of a normal household. Apart from this, it receives an additional 15,800L a day for commercial use (although the building has no commercial use) which adds up to 18,230L day. Under no circumstances, is it justified for the Ambani’s to make such exploitative use of precious resources, depriving others of the same and still call their building sustainable.
Antilla fails to do justice to the fact that, it is, after all the hype – a home. Homes are meant to unite the family after a hard day’s toil and bring them together. Antilla, on the contrary, proposes the opposite – providing separate spaces for each purpose, defeating the whole purpose of a home. Moreover, a home exuberates an inviting and welcoming aura to the user but the monumental scale and the lacklustre facade render it rather intimidating. No one can tell from the face of it that it is a residence or an office building.
Antilla is well equipped with all the facilities that a commoner could only dream of. The Ambanis do not need to step out of their house to fetch something, visit a theatre or spa or even a parlour. The building is a self sufficient module that can function on its own without any assistance from the outside but this, at the same time, makes the building introvert, rather confining. It might be so to provide them security but it has, consequently, cut them out from the outside world so much so that they have turned blind to the woes of the people around them.
The injustice to materials is evident at various places in Antilla. There is exploitative use and over use of materials. Each floor of the building is double heighted making this 27 storey building equal the height of a 60 storey structure. This implies double the use of building materials like bricks, cement, steel, glass which is totally unjustifiable. Even the railings at the ballroom are made out of silver – a rare precious metal. The Ambani’s are doing nothing more than wrongly exploiting and misusing materials.
INFERENCE WITH RESPECT TO THEORIES OF JUSTICE
Social status has always been a very influencing factor in architecture and urban design. People have used construction to showcase their power and superiority since ages. This ritual or habit is the expression of the social, political and economical image of the society but this is contributed in shaping the form of the cities and creating the skyline.
Utilitarianism: A society, according to Utiltarianism, is just to the extent that that its laws and institutions promote the greatest overall or average happiness of its members.
Justice as fairness: It is the process of analysing the needs of the people and coming to a fair conclusion where no one is being sacrificed for the overall social good.
Libertarianism: As the name suggests, it emphasizes individual liberty as the central and indeed exclusive concern of social justice. A just society, in the Libertarian view, must grant and protect the liberty or freedom of each individual to pursue his desired ends but at the same time, people are expected to be rational enough in this approach.
In accordance with the theory of libertarianism, Ambanis have all the right to build a residence of their choice with the facilities that they need. They have the freedom to pursue their desires, befitting their social status and stature. We cannot expect them to live like a commoner. All we can expect them to do it to make optimum use of the resources to meet their needs avoiding any futile overuse.
Utilitarianism and justice as fairness go hand in hand. While the previous one emphasises on the overall well being, the latter one accentuates the importance of not compromising with the needs of one while trying to fulfil the others.
Antilla is a feather in the cap of a developing nation like India but only from a materialistic point of view, the ground realities being extremely contradictory.
Wealth has different meanings in different contexts. The days of the kings are gone in India. It is now a developing democratic country where the government is trying to feed 76% of its population through a food security bill. We still have 55% of our population as illiterate and undernourished. Hence, it is totally unjustified for these bollygarchs to indulge in such vulgar exhibition of wealth.
Lastly, we infer that no building is perfect or just in all contexts but efforts can be made by various stakeholders to follow a compassionate approach to co-exist symbiotically.