by Anmol AhujaMay 11, 2022
At 92, I M Kadri and his contemporary, BV Doshi are perhaps among the last of that generation of iconic architects alive who began their practice at the dawn of independence. Influenced by the dreams of an emerging nation and steeped in Indian heritage, they strived to create a new language of architectural design, modern yet uniquely Indian. Kadri developed a distinct style, an amalgam of the havelis he grew up around in Ahmedabad, Moghul architecture and international contemporary design.
“You know I trained as an engineer?” were I M Kadri’s first words as we settled down to a tete-a-tete in his home in one of his tiered developments in South Mumbai. Sitting at the edge of his white marbled living room extending into a lush terrace garden, I experienced the soothing luxury of being surrounded by a profusion of greenery in the heart of the city. Kadri was born in Ahmedabad in 1929, attended the Jamia Millia Islamia University in New Delhi and completed civil engineering at the Pune Engineering College in 1953. Excelling in perspective drawings from a young age, he practiced his talent at every opportunity. At university, he became completely enamoured by the style of the Jamia Millia edifices. It was then that he realised he wanted to design buildings. “I remember when the architect, Karl Malte von Heinz visited the college, I followed him around like a puppy, soaking in every word he uttered.”
Kadri relocated to Mumbai and started his firm IMK Architects in 1958. His lucky break came in 1960, and he has never looked back since. A significant number of his projects have been prestigious public and institutional spaces across the country and abroad, including The Shivsagar Estate, Nehru Centre, Haj House, Ceat Mahal, and Sahyadri Guest House to name a few in Mumbai, several Taj Mahal Palace Hotels including those in Goa, Udaipur, Chennai, New Delhi, along with The Oberoi Hotel, Bengaluru, Owaisi Teaching Hospital, Hyderabad, and National Judicial Academy, Bhopal.
Here are some excerpts from an exciting interview with Mr. Kadri at his residence.
Sonal Shah (SS): How did you get your first project?
IM Kadri (IMK): When I came to Bombay, I did not know anyone but my college friends. They scoffed at me when I told them about my ambition to do architectural work. "This is Bombay…there are some amazing established firms like Batley and King or Sathe and Kothari…you do not even have a degree…no one will give you any business.” But I was determined, and took up employment in a construction company called Anderson and Dawn to learn the fundamentals. The owner, Phirozshah Dubash became a good friend. He knew of my ability to draw elevations and kept giving me small jobs. One day, he got a sea-facing parcel of land in South Bombay in an auction. He invited well-known architect Jehangir Vazifdar to plan a multi-storeyed apartment building. When Vazifdar shared his blueprints, I had the audacity to roll them up and tell my boss Phirozshah that there was nothing unique in them. Dubash gave me two weeks to come up with something novel. At the time, I didn’t even have my own home; I used to stay with my brother and his family. Every night, after dinner, I would use the dining table to work on. Exactly a fortnight later, I produced my plans. Dubash studied them closely and asked me to erase my name from the sheets. He took them to Jehangir Vazifdar, who gave them a stamp of approval! That was my first assignment – Brighton, in 1960, where I incorporated terrace gardens and a swimming pool. We were very successful and sold all the apartments. I was only 29 years old then.
SS: Which was your most challenging project?
IMK: The Nehru Centre in Mumbai. I was seized with the question: 'How could I represent Nehru architecturally?' He was successful in bringing India together despite all our diversities, all our difficulties, and helping us rise as a nation. The cylindrical shape of the tower portrays a nation reaching up together towards the sky. The cross latticework is suggestive of the whorls of the rose flower that Nehru always wore in his lapel. And within, I created spaces for art, culture, science: everything that Nehru held dear.
SS: And your favourite one?
IMK: Each and everyone is a favourite - they are all my children.
SS: Jaalis, and terrace gardens are a leitmotif that distinguish your structures. Could you share your design philosophy?
IMK: Architecture has to be functional and at the same time easy on the eyes. In India, we have a rich heritage to draw on, and I have been greatly influenced by Moghul architecture and Urdu poetry – both impart a softness to their mediums. I have tried to add that softness to my designs. Also, the façade has an immediate impact on how the building is perceived. In this, the use of the jaali, simple arches, and terraces has aided me a lot. Jaalis, or latticework, serve a very important function as well. They provide a screen to ensure cross ventilation and light while cutting off glare, heat, and even the onslaught of rain. It also lowers the temperatures inside the building. Another integral dimension of ensuring softness was through incorporating gardens within the structure. I grew up overlooking fields; even in Jamia there were a lot of open spaces. I was convinced that creating areas for plants would enhance the urban living experience. So I conceived a step approach and introduced gardens in varied ways – through cascading balconies, tiered terraces, and others.
SS: What is your working day?
IMK: Since the last few years, I have been semi-retired. I used to spend half a day at the office, drawing and overseeing projects, till the COVID-19 pandemic hit. Now, it’s largely work-from-home. The few assignments I continue to be involved with are mostly for charitable organisations.
SS: What advice would you give the current generation of architects?
IMK: Four fundamentals that I think are important - be conscious of the brief given by your client and design keeping the end-user in focus. Be innovative, visualise the space in different ways so that there is always a freshness to your work. Assign at least one element to make the building noticeable in the surroundings, and don’t repeat your designs. Regardless, every architect must make sustainability and the planet’s limited resources an important concern.
Even though Kadri’s projects span the country, his biographer Kaiwan Mehta labels him the Bombay architect, given his extraordinary impact on the development of the city especially in the crucial decades of the 1960s to the ’80s. Today, with the metropolis having become a dense sea of tall towers, Kadris’ sculpturesque structures stand distinct and distinguished, bringing a stylistic freshness to the landscape.
Did you know? I M Kadri...
- Got his first project, Brighton Apartments in Mumbai, when he was 29 years old
- His stained glass mural in Ramada Hotel Dubai features in the Guinness Book of Records for being the world’s highest mural at 135 feet
- Was highly influenced by Brazillian architect Oscar Niemeyer
- Became Sheriff of Bombay in 1994
- His biography, The Architecture of I M Kadri, by Kaiwan Mehta was published in 2016
- Was bestowed the Sir Mokshagundam Visvesvaraya Trophy, Lifetime Achievement Award in 2021
- Loves the colour white
- Turned 92 on Dec 1st, 2021
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