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December 2008

December, 2008

Hasmukh Chandubhai Patel was born in 1933, in Bhadran one of the many small villages that make up the relatively prosperous Charotar region of Gujarat. His mother Shantaben belonged to Bhadran. His father Chandubhai Rambhai Patel was from Sojitra, a village nearby. Chandubhai had studied Civil Engineering, a rarity in those days, and ran a small construction company in Baroda. Hasmukh was the eldest of six children, two brothers and four sisters. When he was still very young, Hasmukh was striken by a bout of Polio, which left him with a permanent disability in his left leg. Hasmukhbhai occassionally reminisces about his childhood in Baroda, about cycling several miles to a nearby village to run errands for his mother, about playing cricket in the pols with his friends, about skipping school to go and watch movies, about being sent away to Ahmedabad to live with his uncle, Ratilal, who was charged with educating him. In the rough and tumble of growing up in a Patel household no concessions were made for his disability and that is probably why he has never thought of himself as handicapped. Hasmukhs father was very keen that he become an architect. Hasmukhbhai recalls visiting building sites that his father was working on and being influenced by his meticulousness and high standards of construction. After graduating from high school, Hasmukh joined the Department of Architecture at Maharaja Sayajirao University, Baroda to study for a Bachelors degree in Architecture. It was here at the university that he met his future wife Bhakti Patel, a student in the Arts faculty. Prof. M B Dave, was one teacher from his days at M S University, who2 3

Hasmukhbhai feels, helped him develop as a designer. He also worked with Prof. Dave for a year in 1956-57, after his graduation and before leaving to study architecture at Cornell University, USA.The two years of graduate school at Cornell, the professors he worked with, fellow students, campus life, the music, art and architecture of the late 1950s, all left a lasting impression on the mind of this young architect from Baroda who came across the seas by ship in search of an education. He graduated with a Masters in Architecture from Cornell University in 1959. After graduation he traveled within the United States to visit the works of the masters Mies Van der Rohe, Frank Lloyd Wright, Louis Sullivan Though he owed much to his years in the United States, Hasmukh was keen to return home, which he did, after a brief stop in East Africa on the way. On his return, Hasmukh joined the architectural firm of Atmaram Gajjar in Ahmedabad. It was in that same year that he married Bhakti Patel, and for a short period lived in his fathers house in Baroda and commuted to Ahmedabad for work. His employer Atmaram Gajjar, however, was terminally ill and six months after joining the firm, Hasmukh was asked to take over the practice and complete ongoing projects. Though unfortunate, this event jump-started his career in Ahmedabad. Hasmukh and Bhakti moved into a one bedroom house in Ahmedabad, their son Bimal was born in 1961 and daughter Canna in 1963. Simultaneously, Hasmukh also started teaching at the new School of Architecture that was being set up in the city. He was one among the small group of architects who helped nurture Centre for Environmental Planning and Technology (CEPT, as it is now called) in its infancy. Students from those early years remember him fondly for his down-to-earth approach to design, his ability to laugh with them, often at himself, and his empathy for the best and worst of them. Later, he served as Director,4 5

School of Architecture, CEPT, from 1972 to 1981 and as Dean, CEPT, from 1978 to 1981. Hasmukhbhais practice grew over the years, but the first years were a struggle. He recalls summer afternoons in his two room office in the old city, where, after lunch, water would be sprinkled on the Kota stone floor and he and his colleagues (four in all) would spread out old blue-prints on their drafting boards and take a nap. The first air conditioner he bought was installed in the studio not his own room. Hasmukhbhai has been a role model for many a young architect, who identified with the self made young man from a simple family who had the courage to step out and find success in the fickle world of design. In 1974 he moved his office out of the old city to Ashram Road, the newly developed commercial hub of modern Ahmedabad. In 1969, Hasmukh, Bhakti and their two children moved into their new house at 1, Friends Colony, Naranpura. The house, which many regard as one of Hasmukhbhais finest designs, remained the centre of their universe through the years that followed. While Hasmukhs practice took him to every corner of the country, Bhakti remained the anchor that steadied their lives. Through the 1970s and 80s, Hasmukhbhais practice grew rapidly. He gave Ahmedabad iconic buildings that stood out in the citys skyline. His architecture forms part of the gestalt of Ahmedabad today. The firm of M/s Hasmukh C. Patel, as it was called in those days, was held in high regard by clients, colleagues and members of the building trades for fairness, high standards of construction and professionalism. In 1990, both his children, now architects, joined the firm bringing in expertise in city planning and interior design. The practice became more multi-disciplinary and grew to a strength of over 100 persons. As a parent Hasmukhbhai was ever aware of the need to offer support, but more importantly to step aside and give room for growth. He used his experience and vision to create the6

conditions for growth without being overbearing. Hasmukhbhai now enjoys walking through the studios of HCPDPM, HCPIA, EPC, TDW Furniture, all independent companies working in the fields of architecture, project management, urban design, interior design, city planning and furniture design, and continues to think of what next! Hasmukh Patel at 75, is still a student. He learnt to swim at the age of 40, and his early morning swim is a daily ritual that he practices till today. He started learning to play the piano at the age of 70, alongside his grandchildren, and took up sketching and painting again - a skill that had remained dormant for many years. Technology fascinates him, and he spends a substantial part of his day at the office, working on his computer, always exploring what else it can help him do. Today Hasmukhbhai and Bhaktiben still live at Bhakti 1, Friends Colony. The house has grown to include a beautiful extension that Hasmukhbhai designed in 2005 and Bhaktibens garden is a joy to behold. Their home remains the hub of their children, Canna and Mukesh, Bimal and Ismet, and grandchildren, Akaash, Aara and Shaans lives.


Hasmukhbhai and Bhaktibens House

How should one live in order to live a genuinely good life? What values should one espouse? Philosophers write books to propound their views on these questions. Architects design houses to do the same. The architecture of Hasmukhbhais house speaks of his views on these very important questions. I grew up in Hasmukbhai and Bhaktibens house. I continue to go there almost every day for lunch. Of course, the lunch that my mother makes for my father and me is delightful and nourishing. But so is the architecture of the house. It continues to educate and nourish me on those most important questions and I want to share some of what I have learnt. My first hazy memories are of the house being constructed on a distant and barren plot surrounded by open fields. I was eight years old. As the house neared completion, Sundays became site visit days. I remember sitting and watching the carpenters at work on the dark and hard rosewood, waiting for my father to finish giving instruction to all the different people at work. The rosewood was a subject of much discussion. The carpenters, while admiring its dark beauty, kept complaining about how hard and difficult it was to work on. It was also an unusually rich and luxurious material in a fairly modest house. It was possible to use rosewood only because my maternal grandfather was a wealthy wood merchant. Apart from providing the lovely rosewood, he had also helped pay for the land, and though, as a whole, the house venture relied primarily on my fathers courage and earnings, with characteristic generosity he wanted the house to be legally my mothers property.



It was clear from the beginning that this was a modern house unlike conventional houses. To start with, the choice of exposed brick and fair face concrete on the exterior as well as interior surfaces was an unusual deviation from the plastered norm. The space planning confounded many particularly my paternal grandfather. He was a civil engineer who had worked with many architects and supervised the construction of many buildings and houses. But he simply couldnt understand how we were going to live in a house that lacked a proper living room or a dining room. Instead, there was this large double-height space in the middle of the house with a staircase in one corner, a bridge spanning the width, and the whole space spilling out onto a large verandah. In comparison to this large unwieldy space, the kitchen was absurdly small just 7 feet wide. The look of the house from the outside, with its hard lines and interlocking cubic forms added to the unconventional character of the house. Right from the beginning then, the architecture of our house seemed to proclaim that life was meant to be an open ended venture - not bound by the confines of tradition but an opportunity to explore and experiment. Once you have decided how you want to live, it seemed to say, dont worry about what the norm is. But only after you have decided how you want to live! Do not deviate fro

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