The merit of going vertical vs. spreading horizontally
in view of the land availability & food security

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Category: Blogging

By Zahaab Rehman

Two types of construction - what’s the difference?

The key difference between vertical and horizontal construction is how the two play out spatially. Horizontal construction refers to structures that are wide rather than tall, they grow ‘horizontally’. This includes majority of the structures in Pakistan, but main examples are roads, warehouses, schools, and other public infrastructure. Since these structures emphasize functionality above all other factors, the role of a structural engineer becomes the most critical as an expert in these consuctructions. With vertical infrastructure, the buildings grow upwards and are constructed with multiple floors i.e. high-rise buildings and skyscrapers. In Pakistan, these are usually residential spaces or commercial/official buildings. Instead of being common, you’ll only find these structures in prime locations such as big cities. Vertical projects are usually big on the aesthetic value, and hence the more critical role here is of the architect who has to design the building according to certain visual cues.

Is horizontal construction a problem?

When viewed at a depth, many other differences also lie in the way these two structures are constructed. One of the biggest drawbacks of horizontal construction is that it occupies a lot of land space. In light of the increasing urbanization, natural habitats and forestation is often cut down to make space for extensive horizontal infrastructure. Moreover, in our congested urban areas, these structures are even harder to put up. More land means higher costs, especially in an economy of inflation where land costs are increasing day by day. In a country like Pakistan, where we’re running out of usable land quickly, horizontal construction impacts the efficiency of our infrastructure sector, compromising on the availability of land for other projects. So, is vertical construction a solution to the land availability issues caused by horizontal construction?

Why vertical construction is a solution?

Right off the bat, the biggest advantage of a vertical project will be the less requirement of land. In much lesser area, you’ll be able to accommodate a lot more people, increasing the efficiency of the land used. In congested and densely populated cities, high-rise buildings are your answer to the increasing demand for housing and other facilities. Moreover, if we keep in view that these buildings are mainly used for residential purposes in Pakistan, they can promote major benefits for the residents as well. Living in a close-knit space and using shared apartment facilities promotes community living and bonding between the residents of the apartment. If the residential apartments are all put in a single high-rise building, it saves the space for creating other useful structures in a walkable distance. Instead of wasting precious land on creating rows upon rows of houses, build one skyscraper and utilize the leftover land for other amenities. It might not be very obvious but vertical construction also contributes to long-term environmental benefits in various ways. Once again, if buildings are constructed vertically, in a lot of places you won’t need to cut down forestation, and the leftover land can even be used to add more green spaces. The sharing of apartment facilities also promotes sustainable living. High-rise buildings are also more conducive to putting up solar panels and wind turbines, along residents to generate their own energy in an environmentally friendly manner. All in all, in a country like Pakistan, where population is rising exponentially, high-rise buildings can provide affordable housing to a massive amount of people. Apartment buildings allow you to cut down individual costs as everyone shares the load of all facilities equally, making them a lot more pocket-friendly. This establishes that the benefits of vertical construction are not just from an urban development perspective, but also from an economic one. Specifically speaking in terms of land availability, vertical construction seems like the obvious option to go for. But, are there any disadvantages to look out for?

Is there a problem with vertical construction?

Keeping all the merits aside, vertical construction also poses certain issues that need to be thought of in advance. Tall structures require the use of specific kinds of material which is lightweight as well as strong enough to handle the pressures. The design needs to be resistant to natural hazards like earthquakes, which Pakistan does get a lot of, and frequently. Previously, the famous Margalla Towers in Islamabad collapsed during the 2005 earthquake, which has put a fear in the minds of people, making them skeptical to the safety levels of high-rise buildings. The transportation systems can also be a hassle, first for transporting material up and down the building during the construction, and then while installing elevators for the use of people. The system needs to be efficiently designed to carry enough load and last for quite a while. High-rise buildings also take quite some time to complete and can seem highly costly while they’re still in the construction phase. The long term economic and urban benefits do make up for it but they’re not really feasible to construct during periods of recession.

What is the solution then?

Land availability, congested cities, and unplanned urban growth - these are becoming big problems for Pakistan. To top it all off, the increasing population brings an ever-increasing demand for better housing and facilities, which is contributing even more to problems of land use planning, making our cities unsustainable. Keeping in mind the advantages of vertical construction discussed above, specifically in light of the environment as well as land availability, vertical construction seems like a viable solution to our problems. Obviously, no rose comes without its thorns so issues do exist with vertical structures as well, but there’s nothing that cannot be resolved with the efficient use of resources and technologies. The only thing we need to begin doing is plan in advance. If high-rise buildings and vertical cities become a part of our long-term city growth plans, the construction will become much easier to execute. The CDA construction by-laws also promote vertical construction in the city of Islamabad, so at least we’re getting somewhere. Can you picture Pakistan becoming filled with high-rise buildings in the near future?

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