Getting the most out of setbacks

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Architect SATHYA PRAKASH VARANASHI says that by creative and careful manipulation, the mandatory setback around a house can be made to serve a wide range of functions

When we read about the rate of urbanisation in India, among the many implications discussed, the less focused has been developed land area as a limited earth resource. With the increasing land prices across the years, the site areas are getting smaller for the same budget. Accordingly, if 2400 sq. ft was the standard plot size most people bought five years ago, today it is only a 1,200 sq. ft plot.

Yet we all have the same requirements to fit into this half-sized land. As such, increasing the open areas around the house gets ruled out, but the need to be innovative becomes an imperative.

Utility space

We all need an external utility space, just outside the kitchen or dining area. If this facility is built as a room 5 ft. wide after leaving a setback of 3 ft., effectively we are pushing the house wall 8.75 ft. away from the property edge.

Alternatively, making the setback of 3 ft. wider by 2 ft. gives us a space 5 ft. wide and the house wall is only 5 ft. away from the property edge, saving us 3.75 ft. Much of utility can also happen in the open like a rear yard and in few areas a simple tiled roof can provide the basic rain protection.

Likewise, the car can be parked in an open porch, extending up to the property edge, without a lockable car garage that can happen only after the setback.

The setbacks are mostly left at lower level than the house, after raising the house plinth by a min. 1.5 ft. If they are filled nearly to the level of the public areas of the house and provided there with French or sliding folding doors, surprisingly the internal space of the house appears expanded up to the property edge!

When required the doors can be opened, getting the occasionally much needed extra space during events and get-togethers.


We also need to consider the setback slope required for rain water drainage. Deeper the plot, longer the setback length for water to flow, requiring higher formation level at the backside.

Smaller the plot, the rear formation levels can be to lesser heights. Incidentally, in case of plots lower than the road, we need not always fill the site setbacks to a level higher than the road.

If rain water percolation and ground water recharge can be properly managed, parts of site can be left at natural levels and money saved.

By creative and careful manipulation, the mandatory setbacks around a house can made to serve a wide range of functions – rainwater harvesting filters and tanks; kitchen gas cylinders; daily dump home composting; small plants; coconut trees; external toilets; open water well; dog kennels; fish tanks and lotus ponds; septic tanks; two-wheeler parking; helper’s room; party spaces; spacious sit-outs; steps down to basements; and; of course; extended gardens.

Legal setbacks are not a setback in land resource utilisation, but an opportunity as well.



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