Anyone, literate or illiterate, who has had anything to do with building a house can remain unacquainted with a cantilever. It is the sure passport to extra covered area of which there is never enough.

What is a Cantilever?

According to Chandigarh Building Rules, it is either a Balcony or a Canopy, or a Chajja. ‘Balcony shall mean a cantilevered horizontal projection from the wall of a building not supported from the ground having a balustrade or railing and intended for human use.'  'Canopy shall mean a projection from the top of the parapet wall or a continuation of a flat roof beyond the face of the outer wall designed to protect the wall from weather. And finally, ‘Chajja shall mean a continuous cantilevered horizontal or sloping projection from the outer wall of the building primarily intended to give protection from weather.’

A cursory glance would reveal how ambiguous and confusing these definitions are. If one were to draw inferences from these definitions one would think that perhaps a Balcony alone was intended for human use, whereas a canopy or a Chajja were not. When a canopy is designed to protect the wall from weather or when a chajja is intended to give protection from weather, for whose use are they? There could have been one simple definition: ‘A Cantilever shall mean a projection from the face of a wall not supported from the ground:’

Although there is no such mention in the building rules of Chandigarh, yet a cantilever is not considered part of the covered area of the building. The rules further permit a maximum of six feet ‘Cantilever! It is this Provision which gives many ideas to a developer of property. Consider one example: Suppose a person builds an area of 24’ X 24’ which is equal to 576 sq. ft. and provides a 6 ft. cantilever round the built portion he will have 720 sq. ft. under the cantilever, which is, as one can see, more than the actual covered area. For a 30’ X 30’ or 900 sq. ft. covered area the area permissible under the cantilever comes to 864 sq. ft. Thus it goes on reducing as the covered area increases.

As is well known, the rental of a property depends more on the covered area than on the open space around it. So the developer wants to put as much under cover as he possibly can this, however, irks the guardians of the law. They begin to give interpretations to the building rules. For example, if the cantilever is enclosed by glazing or wall then it will be counted towards the permissible covered area, This is fair enough though one fails to understand why it does not find mention in the rules. It is when the whims of the interpreters become ridiculous that their bonafides become suspect. For example, if a cantilever meets a wall at the end it ceases to be a cantilever. Why? Does it cease to fulfil any of the definitions given earlier? No. Formerly an open flight of steps or stairs cantilevered from an outer wall was not counted towards the covered area. But now it is. Why? Have such steps ceased to conform to the definition of a balcony? It appears that this has been done to prevent subdivision of a property for letting out by giving independent stairs to different tenants. This is illogical. If people have to live in hired houses what is wrong in getting independent access? It is better. Each tenant can look after his own stairs, and there will be less disputes. Indeed this provision should be encouraged by allowing open stairs which do not count towards covered area. Another interpretation which has come to light recently is very curious. It is somewhat like this: A person may enclose a cantilever on an upper floor by glazing. But then, as stated earlier, it would count towards the covered area. One would have to leave corresponding area as open terrace because one may not cover more area on an upper floor than on the ground floor. This on the face of it, appeared very sensible because it opened up possibilities of creating good architectural compositions. But what baffled one was the interpretation that in case a cantilever portion was enclosed on the upper floor by glazing or walling then the ground floor below it automatically would count towards covered area, even if there is no intention of enclosing it. This is very baffling and totally unjustified. It leads to some comic situations: Should an upper floor occupant enclose his cantilever balcony, which is a fairly common occurrence, then the occupant on the ground floor becomes equally liable for prosecution without having actually made any change himself.

The cantilever has been troubling the administration from the very beginning of Chandigarh. All sorts of protuberances would appear on the faces of individual private houses which would have no relationship with the adjoining protuberances. A very disturbing street picture was emerging. All this was brought under effective control by the introduction of frame control regulations. The chief merit of Frame Control is that it largely eliminates the written rules. Everything is communicated through easily understandable drawings. The areas of restrictions are clearly defined and there is plenty of freedom in doing what one likes in the area one can build in. it is high time Chandigarh administration took a second look at the functioning of its building rules and revise them to make them up-to-date and easy to understand. The best method of communication as far as building rules are concerned is through drawings and not through words.

Aditya Prakash.