Economics in Economies


I believe architecture is the most mature and advanced form of human ingenuity. The timeless appeal of architecture transcends cultures and generations. Historical eras and civilizations can clearly be identified by their distinct architectural patterns, which serve as icons of a bygone era.

Economy is the biggest driving force in architecture. Buildings reflect the state of the macro to micro economy of the city or country. Architecture is akin to a multi-scaled chain that affects humans, communities and societies at a sub-conscious level.

Together architecture and economy decide the time and the level of achievement, a place has gone and marks the social and cultural status of a place. I believe Architecture is the highest form of art that one can practice. It is the most mature and an advance form of design. It is lasting and timeless; it defines cities, affects societies and has a considerable impact on overall human development.


Are buildings supposed to be a continuous habitable space or it can mean far more?

Can buildings be responsible for the economic progress of a nation or it is just a representation of a neighborhood?

Examples through traveling, reading, talking and understanding through logic

Let’s take Dubai for example. Dubai being a paradise for skyscraper lovers, an architectural marvel, has taken a new dimension in the real estate sector. Oil export which will eventually run out, Dubai had to discover a new economy for the future. They turned to Real Estate. This in the last 10 years this small settlement has transformed into a gleaming oasis. Construction of the iconic Burj-Al-Arab- the billion dollar building attracted the attention of investors from all over the world. This building which independently can possibly never make profit has a direct impact on the over-all economy of the place. Tourism increased in this oil depleting place. This gave birth to the real-estate boom in the country. Around 2005-2006 half of the world’s crane were operating in this region. Prices of houses and commercial spaces sky rocketed. This baffled me. Why people suddenly got so interested in this area? Why the land offered in the middle of the dessert seemed so lucrative? Are these signs of a bubble which might burst? And yes is it. With the global recession impacting Europe and America, Dubai too felt the heat. People in anticipation of increasing real estate prices invested in several properties with no one to buy in the time to need. Most of the buildings were empty. Why were they created in the first place when the local population is so less? The Emiratis only form 17% of the population. They created an entire city for the immigrants and expats who were looking for a higher standard of living and higher income. Dubai is a city of tax haven where the price of petrol is cheaper than a bottle of water.

In spite of these formula for success, to have an alternative means of economy, the city suffered badly. Architecture alone could not save the city which just remained a mystical dream. Buildings which at one point got world-wide attention were also the cause of economic downfall.

All this arises to one question who are we building for? It is important to carefully understand the demand and supply chain. Over supply is not just a burden on the economy but on resources and environment. It is not advisable to rely on a single economy. Architecture is long lived but tourism is not. Travellers are constantly looking for newer cheaper locations. It is just a wave that impacts for a while. Cities have to adapt and change to accommodate all kinds of people. What if tourists stop coming to Dubai? What will Dubai do next?


This takes me to a different land where a burgeoning population has impacted the over-all world economics and economies.

China- Just last week it over took the mighty American Economy to be the number one in the world. The International Monetary Fund recently released the latest numbers for the world economy. And when we measure national economic output in “real” terms of goods and services, China will this year produce $17.6 trillion — compared with $17.4 trillion for the U.S.A.

With an estimated 700 million of its billion plus population are now residing in urban areas, China has reached an important tipping point in its evolution from an agrarian to industrial economy. But this mass population migration, has resulted in an odd form of growing pain: massive, pre-fab cities built for a populace that doesn’t even exist yet.

China has built more than 500 of these empty cities since the Cultural Revolution in 1978, with hundreds more set to come online by the end of the decade. The theory behind it is solid; by 2020 one in eight humans will live in a Chinese city, totaling more than one billion people. China’s existing urban infrastructure simply cannot support that kind of population boom.

But China’s response takes the form of a very significant gamble. Instead of slowly expanding (or densifying) urban areas in direct response to demand, the country’s political leadership instead build entire towns all in one go. While it holds the distinct advantage of centralized planning, allowing government officials to lay out a comprehensive urban design—from public works, infrastructure, schools, and government buildings to stores, malls, and even universities—this method is also seriously risky. Should the any part of the town fail to take hold—business, industry, or residential—the entire project could be in danger of failure.


China now has the highest number of vacant space to be occupied. They have built Ghost Towns which mimics the cities of Europe but no one to live.

This also has massive side effects apart from being risky. The skies in Beijing and Shanghai are filled with smog. China now has the highest Co2 emissions in the world. A single molecule of Co2 produced locally has a global effect – stays in the atmosphere for 100 years. This is not sustainable. All in the name of growth and to suddenly become a super power – is it justified?

And this takes me to the next question. Do developing nations have the right to use natural resources to be developed?

Since the developed world used unsustainable methods to grow which now impacts the entire world, imposes ban on other countries to limit carbon emission.  Suppose if I were to image that there is a fixed carbon space in the atmosphere and 50% of it is already full. 90% of that space has been used by the developed world and only a fraction by the underdeveloped nations. India’s contribution to Global warming will be around 2%. Is that fair?

It is estimated that only 2-5% of the global population is responsible for almost all the Co2 produced. An average American emits almost 20 tons of Co2 a year, a European around 15. That would bring the world average to 3-4 tons. Now in order to improve the living standards are individuals entitled to basic amenities like refrigerator, T.V., washing machine, computer etc. etc.? Thus we can conclude the Co2 emitted is directly proportional to the number of humans in the planet. Now that’s a serious problem. Last decade or so we have been witnessing extinction of previously endangered species. Are we responsible for that? Aren’t we the protectors of the world? Over here I would like to use the famous saying from one of my favorite movie- Spiderman, “with great power comes great responsibility”. I can put another equation in the picture where the total number of species in the world is inversely proportional to the humans inhabiting Earth.

But I do feel that developing nations have the brightest chance of being developed sustainably. The richer nations should join the bandwagon so that we can see this world a little longer. We have all seen the images of a polar bear swimming in the deep sea looking for land. We all felt bad at the site of it. So in that relation once a friend of mine asked me this question that “why do you want to save the polar bear when most of us won’t even see it”. This question made me thing. Humans are sensitive beings and sometimes our economic decisions are based on emotions.


Jumping To India

Growing up in this country has been one of my best learning experiences. India still remains a mystery on how to works, to me it is the United States of India where people from all races, casts and languages live. This also has its own problems but has its clearly defined strengths. A country which has a huge potential to be the finest example in Economy study. Nearly 400 million people in this country live below the poverty line drawn by the government. This raises developmental issues in all aspects trade and commerce to education to infrastructure to housing. Won’t this be a huge burden on the environment? Do we have to compromise on environmental issues to address the afore mentioned problems.

We should learn from China. China provides skilled labor to make all kinds of products for the entire world. India too should work on the same. Increasing the literacy level which will empower people for skilled work. The population in these two countries can be the huge work force, proving for the world.

I grew up in contemporary Kolkata, where the skyline is broken in some areas by skyscrapers and tall multi-storey blocks. The cityscape has changed rapidly over the years. The central Kolkata, once a row of palatial houses, has been given up to offices, hotels and shops. In northern and central Kolkata, buildings are still mainly two or three stories high. In southern and south-central Kolkata, multi-storeyed apartment buildings have become more common.

I find myself pulled by two opposing and contradicting observations. On one hand, ancient monuments which is a symbol of pride and timeless constructions and on the other, new buildings, which are made in sheer disregard of the former.

Indian cities lack that immense character about which we once read in history books, because the old and the new are not in sync with one another. Old historic cities which has adapted and blended with the changing times seem to fail now. I found cities like Hong Kong and Singapore perfectly represents what they stand for. The colonial buildings are well complimented by the 21st century modern buildings. But I felt these cities however clean they are, are manicured to perfection, making it artificial sometimes.

Hence to understand monuments and its impact on modern world and to create a suitable building requires high degree of understanding and maturity.

Accessible constructions that walk the fine line between beauty, practicality and economically are the best constructions. The buildings should have a sense time they belong to. Cities should evolve continuously and age gradually.

The concept of sustainable buildings have taken a new meaning these days. We as architects have this obsession of smart buildings which we think are sustainable. But are these really sustainable?

Our excessive reliance on computer generated modules have given away to thinking, thinking on designing with a soul using natural material and passive ways of conditioning a building. We loosely use energy efficient mechanisms and build a building in a corner of a city and call it a green building. We forget about the embedded energy already used in the making of the building, the transportation costs and people travelling long distances to use the building. We need to look at things in a more holistic manner. We need to reduce the Co2 emitted from the buildings in the first place.

This can be as simple as the newer hotels doesn’t even have windows that can open. Why the indoor environment constantly has to be controlled. Why do we promote unsustainability when at the same time we cry about sustainability?  We need to design with dynamism. Buildings should be more responsive in terms of spaces and living environments.

However starting from the computer age, the impact of space is demolishing, computer started to establish another sense of distance and virtual space. We can perceive an amount of information outreaching the amount contained in the physical space. The technology revolution addressed a new kind of space: “The Tech-Dwelling”. ”The “Tech-Dwelling,” could be a computer, a smart-phone or potentially in other forms, contains every undifferentiated function into a single piece of chip. I am not denying positive impact of technology brought to architecture.

But a little more sensitivity is required in terms of addressing the varying and constantly changing issues.

In these periling times of disturbed environments architects should be seen has heroes.

Architects become more famous but less relevant. After Philip Johnson there has not been a single architect in the cover of the times magazine in last 30 years. The economic trend and new markets have given birth to new kind of global entrepreneur. We are the most entrepreneurial generation. Every other day there is some innovation in the IT, computer industry. What about the building industries and architects which are also being impacted by this global phenomenon of technology. Newer means of design and constructions are sometimes hardly unnoticed.

May be we need more awareness about our habitat, living spaces and conditions.  The goal is to achieve a net zero economy someday. But we are far away from that.

I am of the opinion that necessity is the mother of all innovations. Architecture is just not a subject of suitable constructions on a site but wider debate on various aspects that encompasses various functions attached to a space is necessary.

Thank You for reading my confusing text.

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