For the last decade and more, I have called a place designed by Hasmukh C. Patel; ‘Home!’
My apartment is on the ‘4th Floor’, which happens to be the eighth level, as each apartment is a duplex with rooms organized around a double height living room. A large balcony overlooks a public park and a sculptural stair physically connects the rooms. There are days when we forget we are living seventy feet above the street- there is something grounded about the way the apartment works. Our children often refer to our lowest bedroom as ‘the basement’. There is no sense of disconnection, no sense of the typically isolated
apartment. This is not a ‘flat’ that is born from the abstract yet thrifty imagination of built up areas and floor space indices. Apart from an internal generosity to each unit, the three residential blocks shift to make a garden. Much before it was the norm for ‘amenities’ this complex had a swimming pool and children’s play area. Its commercial block is organized around what could be called a ‘chowk’ at the corner intersection. This development draws from the best repository of architectural archetypes to create a new configuration for the city of its time. One senses that Centre Point is a development that has emerged from a generous imagination for ‘good living’. One can talk similarly about the Chinubhai Tower, a shopping complex and office building along Ashram Road. Here a sense of ‘public’, ‘civic’ space pre-occupies the project over its commercial status. These projects were amongst the first of their kind and they signalled the emergence of the first generation of ‘developers’, and a changing pattern of patronage that would drive the growth of the city of Ahmedabad. Hasmukh Patel’s professional engagement with this gave rise to several important buildings that make the Ahmedabad skyline legible.
Hasmukh C. Patel was an eminent architect who, like many of his time, studied abroad to return to an emerging nation where the arena for meaningful architectural exploration was primarily seen to be state sponsored institutional projects. Though, through his illustrious career, Patel did several of these, what stands out in his oeuvre is the quality of ‘private’ work that he has been able to accomplish. He worked with a wide range of clients, on a wide variety of architectural building types, from educational campuses to research stations, agro-industry facilities, sports and hospitality projects, banks, mixed use commercial and residential development
Through all of these Patel’s greatest commitment was to a sense of professional purpose, organization, and efficiency, and to a quality of building that was to set the standard of architectural detailing, construction, and workmanship for the profession.
He along with Achyut Kanvinde were pioneers in emphasizing that an architect is first and foremost a ‘professional’. Whereas Kanvinde voiced this through professional institutions, Patel preferred to demonstrate it through his own practice.
Hasmukh Patel practiced at a time when questions of cultural and national identity were the chief pre-occupation of India’s most accomplished post-independence architects. Patel was reticent on these subjects and followed a pragmatic approach to architectural design. It is clear that architectural quality was of utmost importance to him, though he preferred to concentrate on the tangible and measurable dimensions of this. Be extended this attitude into his academic tenure as the Honorary director and then Dean of the School of Architecture, CEPT, Ahmedabad where he consolidated the institution from 1972 to 1983.
With this emphasis on a ‘professional’ outlook, Hasmukh Patel occupied a unique position from which to respond to the emergence of the ‘developer’, a new patron of architecture, in the late 1970’s and early 1980’s. His greatest contribution has been in giving this emergent architecture an optimism, dignity, and aesthetic like no other architect of his generation. He pre-empted the arrival of ‘commercial’ architecture as the new mainstream but made no distinction in the content or the rigour of process for what was architecturally possible here. Of this, his work will always be a reminder and inspiration ♦
Riyaz Tayyibji, an alumnus and former lecturer of the Faculty of Architecture at CEPT University, Ahmedabad is the principal architect and partner at Anthill Design. In continuation of his interest in architectural documentation, Riyaz is the co-ordinator for the Gandhi Heritage Sites Mission, a project that will document thirty four buildings built by, or related to the life of M.K. Gandhi. His academic experience has extended to being a visiting instructor at the Ecole Spéciale, Paris. Apart from this, he has actively been writing on a variety of architectural subjects. The architecture of the city of Ahmedabad is a subject that he often returns to.