A glimpse of the forest trail ahead to Malabar Hill in Mumbai


IMK Architects’ Rahul Kadri explains why an upcoming elevated walkway in Mumbai is a step towards restoring India’s degrading urban forests

Tthink about Mumbai and what comes to your mind? The traffic, the skyscrapers, the local trains and maybe the beaches. But its chic locality of Malabar Hill will soon be home to an entirely greener experience: the Malabar Hill Forest Trail, an elevated walkway. An initiative of the Malabar Hill Citizens ‘Forum and the Nepean Sea Road Citizens’ Forum, a project of around 10 crore, is being designed by IMK Architects. “Over the past six decades, our firm has worked on projects of various typologies such as residential, commercial, healthcare, educational, self-redevelopment, town planning and township projects. In terms of urban design, we have worked extensively on projects that involve the improvisation of infrastructures like trails, parks, etc. The forest trail project is particularly different because it is a very simple intervention that connects citizens to 12 acres of forgotten forest land, ”says Rahul Kadri, partner and senior architect at IMK Architects. Currently, tenders are being issued and Kadri aims to complete the project in 9 to 12 months. Excerpts from an interview:

Why was the decision made to create this elevated footbridge at Malabar Hill?

Malabar Hill Forest is an approximately 12 acre green pocket in the midst of Mumbai’s densely populated cityscape. It is home to a diverse mix of flora and fauna – from trees such as gulmohar, wild almond, copperpod, mango, coconut, raintree, jamun and jackfruit, to several species of birds such as the ring-necked parakeet, hornbill, coppersmith and brown-headed barbets, magpie-robin, golden oriole and peacock, as well as snakes such as the Indian cobra.

A preview of the next forest trail at Malabar Hill in Mumbai

Still popular with joggers, athletes, nature lovers and leisure enthusiasts in the affluent Malabar Hill district, the forest today appears to be falling into disrepair and neglect. Structures spread throughout the forest, including a stairwell and greenhouse, as well as older access steps, pathways, fences and guardrails are worn or broken; open drains lead into the forest and form sumps, reproducing mosquitoes; garbage and construction waste are regularly dumped along the trails; and the forest is increasingly threatened by the encroachment of the slums. The basement of the mound also began to give way due to constant erosion, exacerbated by stormwater runoff along steep slopes due to lack of drainage. In addition, the area is increasingly becoming an avenue for anti-social activities such as illicit brewing of alcohol. Thus, the Malabar Hill Forest Trail stems from the urgent need to preserve and restore the rich ecosystem of the forest, while creating a new sustainable interface between nature and the city.

Why do you think such projects are important for Indian cities?

The Forest Trail is an attempt to allow people to responsibly explore an old urban forest. Such projects are crucial because our cities lack spaces where citizens can interact intimately and become familiar with nature. The project is also a new way to catalyze the preservation and restoration of often neglected and degraded urban forests that are increasingly the prey of uncontrolled development.

The conceptualization of the project has been underway for a year. Please share with us his design journey.

Our vision for the Forest Trail is to protect this last 12-acre pocket of rainforest in the middle of town and restore its ecological balance by bringing back native plant species lost over time while helping the forest to thrive. The whole idea of ​​the elevated walkway is to get people to visit, understand and be a part of the ecosystem, while causing minimal disruption.

We initially came up with three design options – one on the ground, one above the ground, and a third which was a hybrid of the two. But we realized that keeping it on the ground would lead to encroachment of people in the forest, which could disturb the flora and fauna, so we ended up going with a completely elevated walkway.

A preview of the next forest trail at Malabar Hill in Mumbai

The trail should be built without destroying a single tree. Elaborate.

We conceptualized a raised wooden walkway with a central structural support spine in epoxy coated steel to minimize the impact of the intervention on the forest floor. A thorough study of the soil will help determine the design of the foundation and these supports. Our design takes into account the width of the trail, its sectional design, lighting and materials that blend into the habitat. Lighting will be kept to a minimum to ensure that the forest is protected from light pollution. The design will also address important ecological and hydrological concerns – it will avoid blocking the flow of natural water, reduce interference with existing root systems, and prevent disruption of wildlife movements and habitats. The walkway itself and its balustrades will be constructed of weathered wood to blend in with the natural hues of the forest.

How do you plan to keep the walkway interactive and accessible for visitors?

The city has several walkways, but there are no elevated leisure walkways. Surrounded by nature and birdsong, the trail will create a safe haven for pedestrians in the middle of the bustling city. The trail will be approximately 705m long with an average width of 1.5m, and it will be at a minimum height of 2m from the forest floor. The height will vary according to the slope of the ground, raised up to 10m in places. The trail will be dotted with viewing decks, benches, and glass bottom viewing areas at points where the walkway widens. For example, the trail will extend up to 3.6m at points with viewing decks and up to 5.4m in the glass bottom viewing area.

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