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Leading by Example

Architect JR Bhalla, pivotal to the Architects Act 1972, passed away recently

Written by Shiny Varghese | Updated: January 11, 2017 12:18:43 am
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It is one thing to design, and another to get that design built. Architect Jai Rattan Bhalla always emphasised on the latter. When the India Habitat Centre (IHC), Delhi, was envisioned as a building of light and shadow, as a partner with architects Joseph Allen Stein and BV Doshi, Bhalla worked on-site daily to smoothen the creases that could have happened between contractors, workers and the clients. It’s the possibility of that design vision becoming a reality that made SDB Consultants build landmark projects in India in the ’50s and ’60s, including Srinagar Conference and Convention Centre; Indian Institute of Management, Bangalore; and Gulmarg Masterplan. Bhalla passed away on December 31. He was 94.

Despite their different backgrounds, American architect Stein, Ahmedabad-based Doshi and Kenyan-born, Delhi-based Bhalla came together to prove there could be another approach to architecture. “Bhalla was the significant link between the office, the clients and the architects. He encouraged the design partners to innovate. The IHC is an example,” says Doshi. Even though they parted ways after Stein’s death in 2001, Bhalla collaborated with many other architects thereafter.

Bhalla was no stranger to the corridors of power. But that didn’t make it any easy for him to gain legitimacy for the profession. At the time, nobody needed an architect’s degree to practice architecture; engineers were already doing the job. He spent countless hours moving from one bureaucratic desk to another, and scripted what would become the Architects Act 1972, which would empower professionals to claim the title of an architect, backed by a legitimate degree and standards of practice.

The Act led to the formation of the Council of Architects (COA), which is now the licensing body for architects. Bhalla became its first President, and headed COA for nearly two decades. Even during his last days, he was keen on bringing amendments to the Act. This sense of commitment to the nation would come from his student interactions with Mahatma Gandhi, whom he met personally and exchanged letters with.

“Bhalla’s contribution to Indian architecture has been enormous. He provided an umbrella under which young architects could flourish. As an educationist, many schools of architecture in the country benefited from his advice,” says architect Raj Rewal.

Bhalla was the only Indian who headed many international organisations, including the International Union of Architects and the Commonwealth Association of Architects. He was also a Fellow at the Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA), and Honorary Fellow of the American Institute of Architects (AIA), and the Royal Architectural Institute of Canada (RAIC).

“He saw that architects would give the country a planned growth. One doesn’t see such a strong advocate for the profession anymore,” says Vijay Garg, Vice-President, COA.

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