Designs that look ahead and experiment - What relevant architecture signifies

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  • Published 30.03.04

Relevant architecture is all about problem-solving and not just decorative building blocks, acclaimed Ahmedabad-based architect-planner Bimal Hasmukh Patel said on Monday. The modernism guru was in town for a presentation on the topic ‘Is modernism still relevant?’ at the Ambuja Cement Lecture Series, in association with the Indian Institute of Architects, West Bengal Chapter.

Patel, the youngest recipient of the prestigious Aga Khan Award for Architecture (in 1992 for designing the Entrepreneurship Development Institute of India, Ahmedabad) felt the “abstract vocabulary of modernism” was crucial and that any design solution should “look ahead and experiment”, focusing firmly on points of functional needs.

A doctorate and Master’s degree-holder in city & regional planning and architecture from the University of California, Berkeley, and a graduate student instructor in the same US institution, the 43-year-old has also designed the National Institute of Management, Chennai, and the Gujarat High Court building, among others.

Currently involved in redesigning the riverfront in his hometown, Patel is not averse to working on a signature project in Calcutta, if it is “challenging and relevant enough”. While nothing has crystallised at the moment, it is learnt that the Ambuja Group, that gave the city the Balkrishna Doshi-designed Udayan, The Condoville on the Bypass and is gearing up to unveil Charles Correa’s City Centre in Salt Lake, is keen to involve Patel as well.

“We find some of Bimal Patel’s work extremely exciting and would love to have him design some landmark project in Calcutta at a later date,” was all Bengal Ambuja Housing Development Ltd managing director Harsh Neotia would say. Patel himself felt it wasn’t lack of political will but managerial support, which was the main stumbling block to urban planning.

“Calcuttans need not be despondent about the pace of development in their backyard. With the urban agenda slowly but surely coming to the forefront, things are bound to change. The days of romanticising about the rural ambience are over and everybody now realises cities are the real engines of growth. True, the outlook on long-term planning still leaves a lot to desire, but the mindset can’t change overnight. We must remember even the western cities were in a wretched state 100 years back,” said Patel.

There is no point in blindly aping the West with complete disregard to regional aspirations and conditions, warned the architect. He also felt Calcutta must concentrate on “creative reuse” of its magnificent colonial buildings after restoring their crumbling facades and stressed the need for a “meaningful project by the waterfront to encourage dialogue with the city”.

A visiting faculty in the School of Architecture, Centre for Environmental Planning and Technology, Ahmedabad, Patel has delivered lectures at various symposia and institutes, including Pratt Institute, New York, The Aga Khan Program, MIT and IIM, Ahmedabad. He has also received a clutch of international awards, like the AR&D, Emerging Architect, Commended Award, 2001, World Architecture Award, 2001, Salzburg Seminar Fellowship, 2000, UNCHS Best Practices Award, 1998 and the American Institute of Indian Studies, Research Fellowship, 1990-91.