Over the last year, we have noticed an increase in the demand for smaller, independent homes in lieu of apartments in and around the city. This clearly reflects a move away from dense developments. While this could actually be beneficial for the city and the residents in the long run, we do need to ensure that such homes are developed sensibly, with access to adequate natural light, ventilation and green space. If not, such developments can become cramped and congested, affecting the occupants’ quality of life, and also increasing the burden on the environment.
Considering the cost of land in the city, most plots end up being smaller than one ground (2,400 sq.ft.) within which most people aspire to build as much as possible. Such situations almost always result in the sacrifice of the space required as ‘setback’ all around the home. While code regulations often require a very minimal setback based on the plot size and road widths, that width is not adequate to barely walk around the home, leave alone creating a green buffer. This buffer is essential as it would also bring in some natural light and breeze and keep a minimum distance from neighbouring homes.
We should also be conscious of not only how much built space we need in relation to the plot size we own, but also of how much green space we need to preserve within the plot. Although current regulations mandate minimum setback widths, they do not unfortunately mandate a maximum plot coverage ratio, i.e.. how much of the plot area can actually be built upon and how much is left as open space.
A ratio of 50% is required only for ‘high-rise’ buildings (ie. buildings taller than 18.3m) and not for structures lower in height including all independent homes. Also, within this 50%, there is no mandate for how much should be left as a permeable surface, leading most developments to pave the available open space and not leave ground for planting.
With current setback regulations in small plots, the building footprint itself can occupy up to 75% of the plot area excluding other areas such as the driveway, parking lot, and so on. This leaves barely any ground space for planting that could act as a buffer and allow rainwater to percolate.
In this situation it is up to the occupants to realise the importance of open setback spaces as much as closed built spaces. If planned early on, setbacks can be designed creatively to act as interesting outdoor extensions of the building, spaces that can provide a breath of fresh air within small plots of land. These spaces would also act as the much-needed buffer from neighbouring structures, avoiding congestion from closely packed buildings, the very reason why these occupants would have wanted to move away from apartments.
The author is the founder of Green Evolution, a sustainable architecture firm