I got married at the age of 41... because I could not buy a house.
Coming from Hafeez Contractor , that's quite a statement. In an interview to HT Cafe Contractor elaborates:
Abhi loan milti hai.. It was difficult to get a housing loan back then.... Not that I couldn't have got married. But the girls I used to like were from rich families. And at the time I used to stay with my mother ina one-room kitchen in Gowalia Tank.
... That's the reason I understand a 25 year old's dilemma.. he wants toget married. But can't buy his dream house.
Of course, understanding does not mean the guy is doing something about it.Most of the buildings he designs aren't the kind a 25 year old can afford.Contractor blames this on government policies, such as restrictive FSI."We need to create an economy of abundance, instead of making people pay the price of scarcity - we are creating it," he laments.
Effect of this artificial scarcity: loans are readily available - but who can afford the EMIs anymore? My cousin visited a property exhibition in Mumbai recently where the cheapestflat - in Goregaon - was going for Rs 80 lakhs. Anything in Andheri, Rs 90lakhs - 1 crore.
"I can't take a loan for 70 lakhs," he sighed. And if he, working for oneof India's best known banks at a senior position can't afford it, I wonder which 30 something professional can!
But back to the architect. An interesting fact about Contractor is that he almost didn't become an architect. Although he was obsessed with drawing from an early age, he actually did not get admission into architecture college because of poor marks in class12.
A profile on Business Traveller notes:
He was about to enrol in the army when an aunt tore off the letter ofadmission. Contractor then joined the Arts stream in Jai Hind College in Mumbai. The journey back into the world of architecture was by sheerchance.
The subject French was a handicap and so he decided to take tuitions from his cousin's wife. The cousin owned an architecture firm and sometimes theclasses were conducted in the office. One day, in the office, Contractorsaw the detail of a window and commented that it would not open in its present design.
His cousin was surprised and asked him to show his version of the window and despite having no formal training, Contractor's inputs were very good. Another family member then used some influence and managed to get him aseat for an entrance test in which he scored A+.
Amazing story, isn't it? Hafeez went on to become the most successful graduate of Rachana Sansad Academy of Architecture.
Too much hype?
Of course, Hafeez Contractor has his critics. Arzan Wadia writes in his blog:
Sadly, besides a few Indian architects, most are blindly aping the west. The band leader of the latter is none other than Hafeez Contractor. In a recent interview that he gave to a very good friend Rahul Bhatia,Contractor was asked :
"When you look across the Mumbai skyline, there’s a kind of sameness, nothing that catches the eye."
and his response was
"When you have a residential building, it consists of a living room, bedroom, hall, and kitchen. It’s only when you have something different, like a museum, or a hotel, that things are different."
I am baffled by such comments. What he is trying to imply is that residential buildings all look the same. How wrong can he be. Residential buildings the world over offer an amazing variety of design. He does not even have to look so far.
Kanchenjunga, at Kemps Corner is one of the bestexamples of residential high rises. Sadly not one of the hundreds of Hafeez buildings can even aspire to come close to that.
I agree - Kanchenjunga, designed by Charles Correa , is something else. But Correa does very few residential projects. Contractor may have done a lot of other work but is best known for projects like Hiranandani. The aam aadmi can recognise a Contractor building and it appears beautiful (beauty being relative to the other crumbling old buildings around).
As a brand name in architecture, Contractor is the biggest there is in India today. And that is no mean achievement!
The Other Architect
Perhaps, you say, someone new will come along and create a new, moreoriginal and India-inspired architecture. But wait, there was such a man.His name was Laurie Baker.
An award-winning English architect, renowned for his initiatives in low-cost housing... Baker sought to enrich the culture in which he participated by promoting simplicity and home-grown quality in hisbuildings.
Baker became well known for designing and building low cost, high quality homes, with a great portion of his work suited to or built forlower-middle to lower class clients.
More on the man who devoted 50 years of his life to a unique philosophy of architecture here.
Yet, when Laurie Baker died 3 weeks ago, how many newspapers gave it coverage on their front pages? Only the Indian Express. I bet the TVchannels didn't even consider it to be 'news'.
The man did not build skyscrapers or malls, after all. No castles, just beautiful, affordable, livable homes.