By Arun  Janardhan

A startling number of planned sky-rises are poised to change the cityscape of India’s commercial capital within the next decade. We report on nine of the most ambitious towers

The emblematic Burj Khalifa in Dubai and the Petronas Twin Towers in Malaysia are still some distance away—the former is over 600m tall, while the latter is nearly 457m—but Mumbai is fast catching up in reaching for the skies.

By the end of this decade, the city’s towering personality will reflect in residential buildings that are competing with each other in height. Soon, Imperial Heights—a 60-storey, 252m structure, currently the tallest residential structure in India according to its builders Shapoorji Pallonji & Co. Ltd—will bow to Lodha Group’s 117-storey, 304.8m-tall World One in Lower Parel. Shree Ram Urban Infrastructure Ltd’s 300m-high, 75-storey Palais Royale at Worli Naka, to be completed by 2013, will follow.

Till 2005, the 45-storey Shreepati Arcade at Nana Chowk was the tallest building in the city, beating its predecessor, the 26-storey Usha Kiran on Altamount Road, by several floors. Today, these two buildings are midgets, tomorrow they will be microscopic in comparison.

Mumbai, like every other city in this part of the developing world, is beginning to look different. The changes are more apparent in the city’s south and centre, which hung on to its colonial past for a long time, unlike the still emerging and haphazardly developing north. The developments are a result of changed laws in redevelopment and floor space allocations, necessitated by lack of space in a city bursting at its seams.

Large tracts of desolate mill lands in central Mumbai now have sprawling malls and buildings. Clusters of slums with plastic-covered roofs have made way for luxury residences, including penthouses.

The old-fashioned Napean Sea Road is getting a severe and startling facelift. Several of its old bungalows have been razed to make way for skyscrapers and crumbling ghost houses are being replaced by spanking new buildings. Altamount Road already has Reliance Industries Ltd chairman Mukesh Ambani’s Antilla as its defining architecture.

More than a dozen buildings in various stages of development are above 50 storeys. Prices for apartments range between Rs 5-25 crore, with penthouses and duplexes that can cost up to Rs 80 crore, according to real estate brokers. Skyscrapers, considered marvels of engineering, represent affluence and a successful economy. Buyers like the feeling of exclusivity, being away from the crowd and noise, cleaner air—and the associated prestige.

It is easy to surmise that the higher you live, the more important or wealthy you must be. As one customer told Lalit Kumar Jain, chairman of Kumar Urban Development Ltd, pointing to Imperial Heights behind Jain’s office: “Have you seen how clouds merge with that building? I want to live in the clouds.”

Krish Raghav contributed to this story.