Architect Hafeez Contractor - An Icon

Architect Hafeez Contractor

Who could believe that a student who was once scolded by his teacher for drawing structures of forts, bikes, guns, etc. in his notebook and also got prophecy out of anger and frustration that 'you will grow only as an architect', has today become the most famous icon of architecture in India who hardly needs any introduction. He is none other than Ar. Hafeez Contractor who at that time was not even aware with the meaning of the word 'architect'.

Demand Triggers Innovation from Architects

Today with over four decades of successful stint in Architecture and innumerable projects to his credit, Ar. Hafeez Contractor had just not grown only as a well-known face in the architecture fraternity for his avant garde and surrealistic designs but also as a man whose design approaches are in response to current demand. His vision has given a new meaning to highrise construction in India. He believed that architecture should be honest and respond to the spirit of times characterized by distinct ideas, disparate mission, contrasting conviction and divergent preferences.

Being a controversial architect for unrealistic ideas and thoughts, his designs are not bound to one set of beliefs but he keeps playing with infinite possibilities and out of the box concepts. Speaking to Maria R. about his stints in the architecture world, flight of imaginations, and generation of innovative ideas with changing demand trends, Ar. Hafeez Contractor says, "Dreaming for anything is completely open as I'm dreaming for houses without water supply pipes and hopeful also to get them soon. 'I think demand is a vital thing which triggers innovation from architects. Vertical and sustainable construction is the need of the hour considering accommodation to huge population, thus maintaining a perfect harmony between increasing population and limited land. Architect while designing for today, should always keep future in mind. My desire is to work on such projects where a design and construction gives shelter to more people at a time as my wish is to see every Indian have his own house to live in." Excerpts:

What fascinated you to enter into the world of architecture and design?
Since my childhood I was fond of sketching, drawing and designing sections of buildings, fort etc. So in short I will say that my passion drew me here.

Will you please give an overview of your journey since inception to present stature?
Firstly, I would like to say that there were lots of hurdles in my way to become an architect as my mother was not in a financial position to bear the expenses of my architectural studies which was quite expensive that time as per the income of my family. Secondly, I was also weak in studies and scored low marks up to SSC which refrained me from getting admission in any architecture college but I didn't leave the hope and kept trying and finally after a short time came to know about the Academy of architecture where admission was possible only if I qualified the entrance test. And I did it. I believe that creativity is vital to become an architect, not the marks.

After completing the architectural studies from the Academy of Architecture in Mumbai my career began in 1968 as an apprentice with my uncle Architect T. Khareghat. Later, after I completed my Master from New York's Columbia University, I became an associate partner in my uncle's firm in 1977.

In 1982, I started my own practice, with dedication to design excellence, efficient delivery and sophistication in building technology. We have over 550 employees, comprising architects, town planners, interior designers, landscape artists, civil engineers, CAD operators, and graphic designers.

ONGC Dehradun
Main - ONGC, Dehradun

So far, I have worked in executing wide range of architectural projects like bungalows, residential developments, hospitals, hotels, corporate offices, banking and financial institutions, commercial complexes, shopping malls, educational institutions, recreational and sports facilities, townships, airports, railway stations, urban planning and civic redevelopment, and infrastructure projects. The firm has to its credit over 2500 satisfied clients with 72 crores square feet of ongoing projects in 100 cities and 5 countries.

ONGC Mumbai
ONGC, Mumbai

What architecture means to you? A word about your Design Philosophy?
Architecture is a part and parcel of my life.' It is something to me which is priceless and can't be expressed in words what I feel for it. Keep creating and designing something innovative and out of self- expectation is my passion. Moreover, I believe that architecture should be honest and should respond to the spirit of time characterized by distinct ideas, disparate missions, contrasting convictions, and divergent preferences.

My design philosophy is not restricted to one but it varies from project to project, construction sites, clients' demand, budget, etc. I am an architect, who has always felt that the need of a client is of paramount significance because it comes out of necessity and my role is to satisfy that need rationally.

An architect should be very clear for whom (clients) he is creating; what should be incorporated in design that becomes unique once completed and draws others' attention and also he should consider what will be its impact on the society, people and environment. Architect should design for today, keeping future in mind.

Do you have any particular role model in the architectural and technological industries that have inspired you most?
Universal Majestic Mumbai
Universal Majestic, Mumbai
I have lots of role models from whom I learnt a lot. I believe that it is not necessary to learn something from only famous personalities but an ordinary person can also teach you lot. So just keep your eyes open as ideas can come anytime from anywhere.

How do you see at the current architectural trends?
Architecture is always based on current demand which inspires architects to think innovative ideas that meet the demand by coming into reality. Seeing the huge population of our country, I am advocating for layered infrastructure, vertical growth of cities, judicious land use and the need for sustainable compact cities to maintain a perfect harmony between increasing population and limited land resources.

As we are living in such a country which has a huge population so it is our moral duty being an architect to design in such a way that gives shelter to many at a time. Vertical construction is one way we can provide accommodation to lots of people on limited space. For the past 25 years, I have been propagating that we need to expand vertically and not be restricted by limited FSI (Floor Space Index). I would like to say that limiting FSI and restricting height of structure has been the biggest cancer destroying our cities. I had worked with a developer in Gurgaon and convinced the government that highrise development had more advantages in terms of quality life versus intense low rise structures dotting the landscape.

Moreover, with land becoming a scarce resource, we need new imaginative policies which preserve land, pave the way for new compact cities with intense development. We have to find out new ways and have a new approach towards designing our cities. For me a sustainable compact green city is the answer. We need compact cities and intense development for better taxation, connected centers of social and commercial activities, community based society, rich urban landscaping and proximity reducing waste of energy. Special emphasis should be on social housing to irradiate the housing shortage. These cities would be cheaper and easier to run rather than sprawled out, evolved existing cities.

Mumbai International Airport Limited

Your name is associated with several iconic projects including the recent Infosys software development block in mysore, global education centre infoys Mysore or other projects such as DLF Aralias, Gurgaon, Imperial Tower, Mumbai, GIFT Gujarat and many more. What always inspired you to think and design out of the box concept? How do you get the ideas?
I think demand is the most important thing which triggers innovation from architects. I will also say that the capability to think out of the box is God gifted and one has to keep it polishing and nourishing through his/her firm determination, dedication, and passion.

As you are seeing that today for most of the mega projects in India, developer/contractor are generally contacting international renowned architects like moshe safdie (khalsa heritage-punjab), ADRAIN Smith (imperial tower or Mumbai master plan), John Portman (park hyatt hotel Hyderabad), Ar. James Cybertecture (cybertecture egg, Ohm Tower in Mumbai) etc. Do you think it will be a drawback for the Indian architects as they will not get chance to show their creativities?
Competition is any way better. We have to show the world that we are the best. But my only concern is that why we are allowing the international architects to compete in our land when we are not getting chance in their country.

The Aralias PAN
The Aralias- PAN

What is your take on Green construction?
Many people think that I am against the green building construction or development. But I want to make it clear that I am also advocating for green construction. Only there is a difference of definitions. I think that green or sustainable construction means not just to use energy efficient building materials and products in your projects but it should be in your design too where emphasis should be on judicious use of land to save it as much as possible. As once exhausted, land can't be produced or replenished anyhow.

I feel that Green construction is of no value when just to win gold or platinum rating, we will misuse our precious commodity i.e land but it would be worth when land along with energy will be preserved. Optimum use of land is Green and Sustainable to me and I must say that Architect should design for today, keeping future in mind.

Which building material such as glass, steel etc you love to work with?
All materials are good and nothing wrong with anyone. The only thing is that you should know its proper usage and method to apply. I believe that glass is a material of future.

Being reputed as one of the most innovative designers who is committed to create unique, inspirational, path breaking and sustainable structures; what new idea/theme is in your mind that you are looking for to work on?
Currently, my focus is also on social housing as I have a dream that every Indian should have his own house and in this government role and support is of utmost importance.

What according to you are the mantras/secrets of your successful life?
Hardwork, dedication, understanding of the social & environment needs and client's demand are the vital elements to get success in life. One should also keep abreast with changes and always adopt changes with time.