The good, the bad & the ugly of vertical living

How sustainable is living in high rise apartments?

8 January 2020 12:35 am - 0     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}


At the Daily Mirror, we believe that climate change is one of the greatest threats that we, as Sri Lankans, will face in the future. Therefore, we intend to provide our readers with local and international content with the objective to educate and inspire. We would also like to learn from our valued readers about any ongoing initiatives in making Sri Lanka a more sustainable nation.

We aim to explore sustainable ways of living that have the most positive impact on not just our natural environment, but also for humans and animals.

While topics such as global warming, pollution, and inequality are confronting, we believe it's time the media stopped shying away from these issues and became an active participant in finding solutions - and we hope you will join us.

Much is being said, planned and experimented on vertical living, and high rise has become the norm of the era. Widely recognized by all sectors of society as fashionable, and convenient high rise living has emerged as a trend with high rise leisure the following suit.  The Daily Mirror spoke to a few experts and authorities in the field to explore the good, the bad and the ugly of this well-established phenomenon.  


What is vertical living?

Deputy Vice-Chancellor of the University of Moratuwa Prof. P.K.S. Mahanama, who has decades of academic research as well as practical exposure in the domain of town and country planning, describes vertical living as opposed to the traditional and better-known horizontal living.  

Horizontal living is often considered the most comfortable form of residential construction for the majority of the masses. Horizontal living specifically entails having your own land space and a sense of privacy as your residence is surrounded by your private land.  

Vertical living is different from this. It is common land. The structure is built on common land and the land that is used for recreational purposes is commonly used by all the residents who live in one vertical living structure, which we call apartments.  

The world came to know of vertical living as far back in the 1950s. So this is not a new concept, but a concept that has been tried and tested in different countries, by different generations, at different times, for different purposes.  

Horizontal living is often considered the most comfortable form of residential construction for the majority of the masses. Horizontal living specifically entails having your own land space and a sense of privacy as your residence is surrounded by your private land

Advantages of vertical living

Vertical living had paved a way for itself mostly as a solution to the scarcity of land, General Manager Condominium Authority R. K. Jayaweera said.  

“Land is a fixed factor, but the population is not, and it is ever increasing. In this context, it is paramount that a solution tgo this problem,” he said.  

“Vertical living comes as the most viable solution.”  

The land is utilised for various purposes, including for residential, agricultural, irrigational, wildlife, industrial, cultural, religious, and many other purposes. For all these one requires land. Hence vertical living saves space/land and the remaining land could be used for other purposes.  


Residential space can be combined with commercial, leisure and even educational which will dilute isolation and simultaneously turn the low occupancy to manageable higher occupancy... 

Prof. P.K.S. Mahanama

Sustainability of urban living

Vertical living may not only be the best form of urban living but also the best form for rural living. Because urban or rural; the land is a limited resource.  Hence the vertical living even in the sparsely populated rural regions help preserve land for the generations to come.  

Vertical living has its downsides as well. The main disadvantage, or rather discomfort in vertical living would be sharing of elements and amenities.  

There are many common facilities that are shared. For example, though waste management is one of the key sustainable reasons to opt for vertical living, if this system is not properly implemented it can create an undesirable situation.  

There should be a good understanding and coordination among the residents when common amenities are used.  

Though it is said that a good set of rules and regulations will come forward to be handy, it is to be considered that when a mass of people are living in one space, there could be issues arising about the views they have on common elements and amenities as well as the best code of conduct in using them.  

In addition to these practicalities, the high monthly maintenance cost is a common complaint from residents.  

Saturated effect

Prof. Rangajeewa Ratnayake, Head department of Town and Country Planning at the University of Moratuwa explained how the high rise boom was in the saturation phase at present.  

“The enthusiasm and investment on the high rise are no more,” Prof. Ratnayake said.  

“Especially with the sensitivity to social and financial climate of a city, the investors could back out any moment.”  

It was seen in the past decade that expatriates were keen to invest in luxury high rise buildings while locals too had their hands on the same. Almost who could afford seems to have invested by now.  

“The low occupancy in the vertical living complexes is appalling,” he said expressing concern.  

Social isolation

Prof. Ratnayake said that according to a study by his University that the social isolation of occupants of high rise buildings irrespective of their social class and financial position is much higher compared to those in the traditional units of horizontal living.  

“The way entry points to the houses and the doors and windows are positioned makes a big impact on social engagement,” Prof. Ratnayake said.  

“If one would see someone from a window, strangers turn into familiar persons in no time, and familiar persons turn into acquaintances. But in the high rise concept which respects privacy to the utmost, there is little scope for this,” he said.  

The enthusiasm and investment on the high rise are no more...with the financial climate of a city, investors could back out any moment


Mixed development

Mixed development would be seen as one solution to the issues discussed above. Thought intended to be mostly for residential purpose as an action of increasing land density, Prof. Mahanama is of the opinion that vertical living should collaborate with multiple uses which would lead to mixed development. “The residential space can be combined with commercial, leisure and even educational which will dilute isolation and simultaneously turn the low occupancy to manageable higher occupancy even at selected times of the day.”  

Making a city to be sought after

Melbourne is currently recognized as the most livable city in the world and Prof. Ratnayake illustrates how this status has been achieved.  

“For a city to be financially viable and a commercial hub, it has to appeal to a customer to walk into. Greenery, water bodies and relaxed atmosphere makes a customer spend more time in such space.”  

Merely having an employer-friendly legislature/legislation would not attract investors. It should also be a space that makes an investor feel spending more time in, that would attract his attention, he said.  

City as a public place

City walls would define a city, but walls within a city would divide a city. Colombo, Kandy and Galle are known to be visually divided cities, where a stratum of a social class is confined to a part of the city. In addition to that one, workspace would be completely segregated from another due to the high walls built around it.  

It is commonly seen that the vertical living complexes around Colombo city maintain exclusivity from their poor neighbours that leads to issues of not only class conflicts but also residential distinction bringing forth concerns of equity.  

Equity vs. Exclusivity

Privacy and safety are strong ayes for vertical living. Privacy would not come unless otherwise with exclusivity, and safety would generally mean stringent measures adopted towards the intruder whether bona or mala fide. Safety and privacy look appealing for quite some time, especially at the inception of securing them until physical security is undermined by mental security.  

As concerns of isolation and depression creep in, social recognition as a whole would be jeopardized when one’s neighbours who are horizontal dweller would perceive one as a member of the privileged.  

Issues of equity and the city as a peaceful entity starts there, and how much ever land density and environmental sustainability is achieved, the mission of total sustainability fails at that point.  

Hence though seemingly sustainable at first glance, one has to ponder deep into the lesser-known domains to ascertain whether there is sustainability in its real sense and if there is as to whether it could be recognized as total sustainability.  

Sudaththa de Alwis is a freelance lawyer and freelance journalist. 




  Comments - 0

Add comment

Comments will be edited (grammar, spelling and slang) and authorized at the discretion of Daily Mirror online. The website also has the right not to publish selected comments.

Reply To:

Name - Reply Comment

Two arrested with 12 T-56 assault rifles in Pitipana

Two accomplices of underworld figures ‘Kosgoda Tharaka’ and ‘Gagana’

PM, NP Governor discuss illegal boat arrivals from India

Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa and Northern Province Governor P.S.M. Charle

Not wearing face masks in public Over 1,200 sent to self-quarantine

Over 1,200 people have been sent to self-quarantine for failing to wear face

President to join PM on SLPP campaign on July 3

President Gotabaya Rajapaksa would be joining Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaks