Hafeez Contractor, an architect, born in India to a Parsi family, received a scholarship to have graduated with his masters from Columbia University. After his apprenticeship with his uncle Khareghat, he eventually became a partner in his firm in 1977. India Today reports that this was the time in Mumbai when some of the best and worst things happened; including Indira Gandhi’s major political blunder calling off the emergency, followed by Sanjay Gandhi’s stérilisation campaign which led to a shift of power from the Congress to Morarji Desai’s crew. This was the time when Andhra Pradesh had lost 50,000 people, leaving 20 lakh homeless, due to a massive hurricane that hit the state. Finally, on the Bollywood front, Dharmendra was provoked by a controversial story regarding his marriage to Hema Malini which left him throwing punches (literally!) at film journalist Devyani Chaubal. It was during this time that Contractor stepped into the industry of architecture.
Some of the most influential and esteemed projects in the country have had a contribution by Hafeez Contractor:
- The 42 in Kolkata
- Lokhandwala Minerva, Mumbai
- Discovery offices, Mumbai
- And for you cricket lovers, he designed the DY Patil stadium…..
Bringing in influences from the west now has his career spanning three decades from when he started. Today, he finds himself at a pedestal to call contemporary green building systems a ‘joke’ which you as a reader, may or may not agree with. But it is essential to point out how questionable it is for sustainable buildings to be truly sustainable; considering how expensive they can be and giving a green signal to concrete as a building material. Not to mention, the numerous processes undergone in construction to make a building stand as tall as it does? Hafeez Contractor believes in site-specific solutions. India requires solutions as unique as its problems.
Although he dismisses the idea of a personal style and says he’s got “no signature, saving a penchant for glitz.” some of his very obvious architectural elements include glass, glass and a whole lot of glass, along with concrete and steel.
The Bollywood Starchitect said for one of his works “You definitely like a woman with lipstick, rouge, and eyelashes. So if you make your building more beautiful with some appliqué, there’s nothing wrong” That’s another statement that is debatable, as not all women wear makeup, and definitely aren’t objects to be compared with buildings!
One thing is for sure, he’s not everyone’s architect. As many people as there are who admire his work adorning its high-end monetary value, it’s that many who despise his way of design calling him an ‘overrated marketing success.’ Nevertheless, it’s important to acknowledge his inbound success in the industry and learn from his journey. A few things young architects can learn from his journey would definitely be bringing home novel ideas. Brain drain is a serious problem in third world counties. Skill needs to be used for the progress of the nation rather than the individual. Second would be resilience through the negative comments.
Hafeez Contractor is by far the most controversial in the Indian built environment industry, with glorification come immense amounts of critique. He’s one to not pay much heed. Thirdly, Contractor is a true businessman, just as all architects at some time have to be. Sales skills are essential for pushing through an idea and for clients to react, empathize and if you’re lucky, maybe even commission. Lastly, evolve with time while adapting. People, buildings, and cities all change through time and need to be dealt with, using relevance.