While Delhi-based landscape architect Ravindra Bhan sees “design as a process and labelling it as modern, only the face of it”, Ahmedabad-based architect couple Parul Zaveri and Nimish Patel say they often “question the relevance and purpose for which a building is made”.
Architect Shiv Datt Sharma recalls working with Le Corbusier and E Maxwell Fry in Chandigarh and Chennai-based CN Raghavendran sees an architect as an “agent of change”. These statements from well-known names in the country have been complied into the book Architectural Voices of India – A Blend of Contemporary and Traditional Ethos (Cambridge Scholars Publishing) by architect Apurva Bose Dutta.
“There are three generations and six decades covered across these 19 architects. The aim was to have architects from different age groups, specialisations and ideologies come together and talk about specific issues,” says Bengaluru-based Dutta, who has been writing about architecture for the last 12 years. From discussions around their individual journeys to the state of our cities, role of an architect, and architectural education, the book presents “oral histories” of architects who have shaped the landscape of the country. Each interview also carries a glimpse into the personal lives of the architects. The book thus moves from their early lives to the processes within their minds to the drawing boards in their respective studios, framing the architectural scene in the country.
Some of the names include Christopher Charles Benninger, Pune; Karan Grover, Vadodara; Sanjay Puri, Mumbai; Raj Rewal, Delhi; Brinda Somaya, Mumbai; and Sonali and Manit Rastogi, Delhi. Dutta says the book presents a pluralistic view of architecture. “It has been defined in many ways — a religion, a way of life, a celebration, nirvana.” Candid conversations with architects present insights into their work and philosophies. Mumbai-based Hafeez Contractor, known for his designs of Chhatrapati Shivaji International Airport, Terminal 1C, Infosys corporate office in Bengaluru, and Mahindra World City in Chennai, among others, shares: “Wood and stone was used in ancient and medieval architecture because they were available … glass seems to be the material of choice now…Every time a new material comes, the older generation looks at it with scepticism. But the point is that we are changing and that is the most practical way of doing things”.
While Pritzker Prize winner BV Doshi’s declares that as designers “we are not participants but act as guests and accept plans, developments and policies in our cities”, Bengaluru-based Sandeep Khosla looks forward to a public project (a cultural centre by the Kelageri lake in Dharwad, Karnataka) by his firm, where they can contribute to the urban fabric of the city. Architect Kamal Malik, nostalgic about his Himalayan childhood, presents the Lupin Research Park, Pune, as a project that redefined architecture for him. It synergies scientific logic with creative enterprise in a mandala-inspired design.
Architect Sanjay Mohe, who has always held that sketching is invaluable to the design process, says, “It is comfortable to sketch on an iPad…However there are little things about traditional sketching that will never be the same. For instance, when you are using a 4B or 6B pencil and you stop to sharpen it. That pause is important; it give you time for an idea. We need to discover how to make room for that pause when using technology.”
This book brings to memory the famous 1932 photograph, Lunch Atop a Skyscraper, where 11 Rockefeller Centre construction workers are seated casually, eating lunch across a beam, a symbol of both resilience and ambition all at once. Even as one questions the merit of the profession these days, these interviews are a reminder that thought and conviction has made many a good building in the country.