Ar Hafeez Contractor talks about the problems and solutions on Indian architectural scenario in a candid conversation with Preeti Srivastav
Padma Bhushan Architect Hafeez Contractor is working towards turning India into a dream home for every citizen by creating people-friendly and affordable designs. He also opens up about his take on the current status of the profession in India and how government can improve and let architects shape the destiny of a future-ready nation.
What was the turning point in your life that served as stepping stone into the world of design?
Probably, I was made for it. I used to design guns and bikes when I was in standard three or four. I was not interested in studies and always kept busy in designs. One of my teachers, in jest, suggested that I should take up architecture. Probably that stayed with me. I continued sketching designs of buildings without the technical knowhow. Later, while I was attending a class I ended up pointing out mistake in an architectural drawing done by an architect who was related to my teacher. My teacher then introduced me to the architect and that person encouraged me to study architecture. While I scored very low in my SSC, I was allowed to sit for the entrance exam and I ended up scoring an A+. I also performed well and always remained class topper all throughout my architectural study stint.
How would you rate town planning or architecture procedure in India?
The lowermost tenderer is chosen and not the best one, so that clearly states the sorry state of architectural process in India. It is pertinent to note that architectural mistakes only surface after a year or two, when the building is put to regular use with people who inhabit it and use the facilities. Also the fact that architectural is a long term investment hence is to be done very carefully.
Do architects have a say in designs in India or is it developer/client driven?
It is like marriage. Convince or get convinced. It is always a collective responsibility of the team— that comprises client, architect, engineers and contractors—to deliver a project. We have our share of debates and the most logical reason prevails.
How have your experiences of working in India and abroad been?
We are a developing nation and we have to deploy money in various projects from limited resources and we are doing absolutely fine. We are getting better with every passing day, though I wish we could do a little better than what we are now doing. And this is possible if we can do away with unreasonable laws and regulations. The country’s progress should be given the top priority.
What is one most important thing to keep in mind while designing a building?
People are most important. I design for people—from clients to the occupants of the building—I keep in mind that ultimately I should be designing for people.
Where do you draw inspiration from?
As I have already mentioned that I design for people, my inspiration also comes from people. I am blessed with an ability of reading a person’s preferences by only interacting with them and I draw inspirations from people and their lifestyle.
What is your design philosophy? What are you most passionate about?
My design philosophy is to deliver what I am expected to deliver keeping in mind the constraints like budget, time and reason. I am most passionate about work and architecture.
Any particular artist/architect/innovator whose works you most admire?
I like so many of them that it is hard to point out any one. In fact I don’t dislike too many things in life. I admire every design or art.
Tell us about any piece of architecture/design that has left a lasting impression on your mind.
Works of Le Corbusier and Frank Lloyd have influenced me a lot. There are different things in day-to-day life that impress me. In terms of architecture, the material or technology may change but the principles remain same.
Any historical monument/building that has impressed you and inspired you?
All historical monuments teach us the basic of design. If we know our history well we are more adept to design for the future. The historical structures have a lot to say and all we have to do is learn how they were built keeping in mind the social, climatic and individual context. If we can imbibe that same principle now we will never go wrong in our designs.
What is the one design mistake you avoid in your practice?
If you listen to people and understand their upfront and underlying requirements, there will be no design mistake ever.
Which is the most challenging project you’ve worked on? Tell us about your learning experience.
Every project comes with different challenges and we learn from every project. However, the most interesting project that I have worked on is the Osho Meditation Resort in Pune. Rajneesh Osho was also one of the most interesting clients to work with.
What is the influence of international architecture/design on India?
There is a vast influence of international architecture in India. In fact we all have influences. It cannot be termed good or bad.
What, in your opinion, is the future of design in India?
This is a big question. Designers need to understand that functionality is of utmost importance. Today we get carried away by what looks good on the outside, we need to change this. Media is playing an important role and the design industry needs more publicity to ensure a good future.
How do you strike work-life balance?
Work is life to me. I only take breaks when I get an ultimatum from the family (laughs).
What will be/ is your dream project?
I want to design affordable homes for every Indian.
What kind of design you would prefer for personal use?
Practical designs works best for me.
What interests you outside work? What are your hobbies?
Architecture interests me at all levels. To explain it, architecture is not just drawings and designs, it encompasses so many aspects like art, culture, society, people and much more and I am interested in everything.
Share one piece of advice to the upcoming architect or designer.
Read more, work hard and listen to the suggestion and advices of practising architects.