“A building becomes architecture when it not only works effectively but moves the human soul.” – Habib Rahman
An independent India has seen a series of eras that constitute its sublime architecture. Many visionaries worked towards a common goal, bringing structure and modernism to blend with the culture and history this divine country already inhabited. A few architects at the time of independence set their sites on creating idealistic structures that transformed the principles of an Independent India. Architect Habib Rahman, the man famously known as the architect of independent India left his imprints on various structures that have been admired over the past 70 years.
Architect Habib Rahman was an absolute visionary who brought modernism to India with an ideology that was embedded in every one of the structures, evoking a sense of authenticity and boldness that dictated the surrounding spaces. The Bauhaus style of architecture, one that originated from Germany after World War I, was introduced to India via the works of Habib Rahman. His buildings kept every passerby riveted with the picture of a developing new India that still had the genesis of its culture and tradition.
The Bauhaus is a movement that was brought into the world by Walter Gropius in the early 20th century. The movement radicalized a change in design and aimed to create a new form of architecture that would help rebuild the society after the ravages of World War I. This particular style of architecture, design, and technology promoted a rational and functional design that embraced concepts like form follows function and less is more. The style was recognized as a changing movement due to its simplistic ideology. The building principles and techniques encouraged the maintenance of aesthetic standards in an industrialized world while using materials and resources intelligently and purposefully.
Architect Habib Rahman, being a student of Walter Gropius at MIT, brought the Bauhaus style of architecture to an independent India. This visionary architect started his professional studies with a degree in Mechanical Engineering and completed his further studies in Architecture from MIT, making him the first Indian to have completed his education at an American University. By 1946 he had worked and learned under the guidance of several legendary mentors like Walter Gropius and Lawrence B Anderson. He returned to India with this exceptional new style, revolutionizing architecture and design with flair in a country that had just fought its battle for independence.
Architect Habib Rahman’s design principles were composed of a philosophy that resonated with the Bauhaus style of architecture. With an emphasis on modernism, the concept also aimed at creating high-quality, high-value goods that were cost-effective and accessible to all. Building design saw its transformation with the introduction of flat roofs, smooth facades, cubic shapes that favored right angles, and exceptional grid structural design. The color palette used white, grey, black, and beige as primary colors and construction techniques and materials using steel frames, flat slabs and concrete saw a first in this new age era of modernism in India.
Though the philosophy dominated the inclusion of the Bauhaus style, Rahman also worked on a merger between the western world techniques with the traditional historical roots that India had to offer. With open floor plans that had interiors that focused on the functionality of the structure, the principles of design by Architect Habib Rahman also included Indian architecture elements like chhajjas, jalis, domes, horizontal and vertical louvers, and overhanging roofs.
The Architect of Independent India
Habib Rahman: The Architect of Independent India, a book written by S.M Akhtar chronicles the pivotal role that Architect Habib Rahman played in shaping the modern architecture of New Delhi. In his book, the author highlights the journey of transition of India from a newly independent state to a strong republic, reflected through his architectural practice. It celebrates the renowned architect and his memorable moments created through a life devoted to innovative and meaningful design.
Architect Habib Rahman, after his return to an independent India in 1947 designed 80 projects as a rookie architect and was then commissioned to construct his first memorial project in West Bengal, The Gandhi Ghat. This memorial, created in 1948, was inaugurated by Jawaharlal Nehru. Nehru saw Rahman as the architect who would hold a crucial role in shaping the architecture in India. He arranged for Rahman to be transferred to the Central Public Works Department in Delhi in 1953.
In a life devoted solely to improvising, innovating, and transforming, Habib Rahman created an immense range of notable structures that made a mark in Indian history as we know it today. A few of his major works were located in New Delhi in the ITO (Income Tax Office) area. The University Grants Commission Building, the Auditor General Building, and the Accountant General Building were a few that were notable structures in the area, all built between 1954 and 1955. His famous work on the Tomb of Maulana Azad stands strong as a landmark in the capital to date.
In 1955 he was awarded his first Padmashree and created magnificent designs with every forthcoming structure. Architect Habib Rahman was accorded the role of encouraging the culture of arts and performing arts in India. He designed the Rabindra Bhavan, an arts complex housing the three academies of literature, dance, and fine arts.
In a lifespan of some great work, Architect Habib Rahman was also awarded the Padma Bhushan and JK Cement Architect of the Year Chairman’s Award for Life Achievement in 1974 and 1995 respectively. Habib Rahman, with his ideology, philosophy, and principles of design broke out the mundane ways of construction and adopted new construction material and technology whilst keeping the roots of Indian tradition and significance of culture alive through his work.