With a career spanning four decades and a self-made legacy of some of the most significant works of Independent India, Hasmukh C. Patel’s architecture speaks volumes about the architect he embodies and the grit he possesses. A narrative of his personal and professional journey – the book showcases select 51 projects that summarise Patel’s architectural idiom in its entirety.
“…………………The human being is at the centre of my creative efforts…………………This is the only thing I understand and the only thing I practice.” – Hasmukh Patel
A man of few words, he has to his credit a profound body of work that foremost is a commendable contribution to the repository of modern architecture in India. The consistency in the quality of his architecture resonates with an innate ability to formalise design concerns. With an exhaustive portfolio – from houses to hostels and office complexes to stadiums, Patel established a substantial practice.
Compiled as a monograph, the book has curated photographs, detailed drawings and selected projects chronologically arranged under twelve typologies. Skimming through his works, one realises that his architecture diligently avoided wastefulness and profligacy. It is mindful of simple ergonomics and sublime geometry. Divided into two parts, the first part is a catalogue of Patel’s architectural oeuvre; the second part is composed of essays that are a testament to Patel’s demeanour as a student, a practitioner, a mentor, and a father.
The Art of Aesthetic Diagramming
Pursuing architecture as a practical art, Patel’s keen interest in developing a visual language is reflected in his way of drafting plans as coherent geometric compositions, unfolding sections as a conjugation of order and designing details that pronounced the ambience. His command over the structural grid is apparent from as early as his student days at M.S. University, Baroda and later on at Cornell University, Ithaca.
The formal rigour seen across all of Patel’s work may be traced back to early influences of the tradition of twentieth-century modernist thinking. Although the architecture of Hasmukh Patel was attributed to a restrained aesthetic, it struck a fine balance between – “reason and passion, arrogance of the artist and the self-abnegation of the craftsman, and between the practical and the aesthetic.”
In Pursuit of a Regional Modernism
Ahmedabad is among those few historic cities where it is possible to draw parallels between post-independence social transitions and the advent of architecture as a vital profession. Bold, untouched photographs of the riverfront city’s urban setting offer a glimpse of his aspirations for a transforming society.
In a city of philanthropists and visionaries, Patel’s practice chose culture over caprice with forthright ambition.
In the Foreword, Architect Christopher Charles Benninger acknowledges that “His creations are important and remarkably beautiful places, yet they do so without blatant attempts yearning to appear in books about great architecture. That was never Hasmukhbhai’s objective. His career has not been about fame or fortune or what is called “signature architecture”. It has been about how you make good cities by getting the small things right, in the urban fabric, that adds up to a greater whole. In today’s context that is the important benchmark in architecture. It is the founding principle of regional modernism in India.” [i]
His buildings were flagships for a new policy, attuned to the dominant state of affairs. It is no coincidence that Patel’s commissions in the early 1980s, especially his designs of banks and office complexes present in themselves, an invaluable case study of a seamless synthesis between economy and art. Recollecting a few of the un-built projects – the design of Chinubhai Market in 1981 was amongst the largest public projects in the city and the first redevelopment proposal of a defunct mill. Patel’s architecture strived to encourage socially beneficial forms of behaviour – potentially reconciling people with the life of the city, town or commune.
With prudent prospicience, he expanded his scope to shaping the city. Collaborating with multiple agencies, Patel re-worked on the revival of the Sabarmati Riverfront Development proposal that was first drafted by Kamal Mangaldas and Bernard Kohn in the early 1960s.
Amidst an engaging counter intuitive relationship between contexts and aesthetics, this Monograph opens up a dialogue.
Architect Bimal Patel in his Introduction writes: “Patel did not often speak about his architectural philosophy. When he did speak, he preferred to focus on how his buildings pragmatically solved the practical problems that client requirements or the technicalities of building construction posed. Perhaps as a consequence of this, he is admired first and foremost as a conscientious and skilful professional, and his architecture is applauded for being deeply pragmatic and well constructed.” [i]
Patel strongly believed that “when something no longer serves the purpose, it should be suitably modified.” As part of the book layout, a retrospective preface sets the premise for each of the typologies reaffirming the rationale with which he designed. A rarity, this approach is what made Patel,
“ a thinking 20th century architect who constantly pushed the boundaries even in unknown contexts, committed to establishing an individualistic approach”,describes Ramesh Desai who was an integral part of the practice’s core project management team for over 25 years. [ii]
Contemplating further on his ethical stance, Bimal continues: “From the mid ’90s onwards, the sweeping changes unleashed by explicit and official liberalisation of the Indian economy began rapidly transforming and modernising the world of building and architecture. Patel’s practice quickly adapted to this shift as well. Through the four decades that he was active, Patel not only successfully navigated the challenges that the many shifts in India’s political economy posed but he also made good use of the opportunities that they created. Moreover, all throughout, his practice was steadfastly committed to being relevant to the needs of ordinary Indians.” [i]
He ardently explored available technologies such as precast concrete, slip-form construction, advanced theatre projection and acoustic systems and space frames that bound clarity of such radical techniques to his own context. Extending the reach of design to improve the lives of Indians belonging to the middle-class strata, he closely worked with building developers and engineers. From the very beginning, Patel had fathomed the importance of an inclusive practice and an unfaltering administration.
From past experiences of site visits to discussing design ideas and guiding clients – there is much to be learnt from his unstated philosophy. Looking back at 25 years of association as the chief administrator of the practice,
Arvind Patel still remembers the finesse with which Hasmukh Patel prepared his drawings, “From conceptual to final execution stage there were hardly any revisions ever. This is because even his conceptual drawings were as good as good for construction drawings.” As a leader he believed that “a good project is a combined effort of all the related agencies including the artisan and the client.” [ii]
More than 50 years later, with over 350 projects, it is no surprise that Hasmukh C.Patel fuelled his ambition with more work and few words. Today, HCP Design Planning and Management Pvt. Ltd. is led by his son Architect Bimal Patel and is among the oldest and largest firms in the country. It is actively vested in urban planning and project management apart from upholding a rigorous architectural practice.
For a long while, there has been much debate and dilemma over the significance and definition of the architectural monograph. Globally, we have a wide spectrum of publications categorised as monographs and two such formats broadly encompass a majority of them – the Open Monograph which features a growing practice of an engaging architect and the Closed Monograph which is a reflection on a curated set of works and ideas, mostly featuring a retired architect.
While it is certain that its core intent is to inform and engage with a wide readership on a personal worldview, very often there is a loss of an underlying discourse in an attempt to achieve an overtly simplified format. One reason for this maybe, as opposed to the popular notion that these monographs are intended for a mass audience, in reality, it finds a limited readership within the discipline. The question that arises then is, how does the monograph play a substantial role in contributing to an architectural discourse?
The Architecture of Hasmukh C.Patel by Catherine Desai and Bimal Patel earnestly grapples with decoding of an implicit pedagogy by conducting a critical inquiry into his disciplinary discourse that is centred on institutions which developed as significant architectural typologies. These include cinema halls, cricket stadiums, banks, churches, et cetera.
The design of the monograph is special – generous spreads of personal archival material and adequately edited text is presented with fluency.
In between the page spreads are full-page black and white candid photographs while the drawings have been reproduced in a visual language that is true to its original make. The minimalism in these spreads restricts the gaze of the reader to significant details that would have otherwise been lost in the clutter.
Within the conventional layout of a monograph, the essays in the book are penned down by people closely associated with the practice and people greatly inspired by Patel’s doctrine of a modern architecture. Among them, reminiscing on a distant childhood spent in “the wide hallways, reflecting pools, large playing yards”, Arindam Dutta writes about his fondest memories of going to school at St. Xavier’s Primary School in Ahmedabad. The biographical essay revels in the architect he personified and the man he is today- “At 82, Hasmukh Patel is still a student.” ♦
[i] : Excerpted with permission from The Architecture of Hasmukh C. Patel by Catherine Desai and Bimal Patel, published by Mapin Publishing, Ahmedabad.
[ii] : Transcribed and quoted content from Arvind Patel and Ramesh Desai in conversation with Matter.
Title: The Architecture of Hasmukh C.Patel : Selected Projects 1963-2003
Author: Catherine Desai, Bimal Patel
Publisher: Mapin Publishing
Year of Publication: 2016
Reviewed by: Hrushita Davey
Photographs & Drawings: From the book; © HCPDPM
Spreads: From the book; © Mapin Publishing Pvt.Ltd. [The Publishers]
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