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'His generation held the idea of beauty as important'

From the iconic Nehru Centre to the stunning Haj House, IM Kadri’s work receives a fitting tribute in a book by Kaiwan Mehta

The millennials will know him as Athiya’s Shetty’s granddad (the slightly older as Mana Suniel Shetty’s father), but for old timers, IM Kadri is the maker of some of Mumbai’s best known and celebrated buildings, including Happy Home School for the Blind and the Nehru Centre complex in Worli.

Haveli building, Napean Sea Road: This is a case of residential architecture where life inside a home meets Mumbai’s fight for space with the stacking of homes in a tower. The terrace balcony merges the floor of the house with the horizon, giving every home a sense of being in touch with the ground and sky. This cantilevered terrace architecture was an engineering feat
Haveli building, Napean Sea Road: This is a case of residential architecture where life inside a home meets Mumbai’s fight for space with the stacking of homes in a tower. The terrace balcony merges the floor of the house with the horizon, giving every home a sense of being in touch with the ground and sky. This cantilevered terrace architecture was an engineering feat

He imagined designs that were ahead of their time. They represented the metaphoric churning of a new nation, says theorist and critic Kaiwan Mehta in a new book that looks at the legacy of the man and his work. The Architecture of IM Kadri looks at a repertoire that embodies the best of modern and traditional. The jaali you see at Crawford Market’s Haj House reflects calligraphic imprint; the continuous façade instead of individual floors emphasising the tall-ness of the built object. Here, he successfully merged the required needs of a centre for pilgrims en route to Haj with the visual demands of urban architecture.

Kadri at work: He influenced the development of two areas — Napean Sea Road and Worli, and also forayed into the world of five-star hotel design. One of his recent constructions was a school for underprivileged girls in Ahmedabad that he built through his the family-run, Begum MB Kadri Foundation
Kadri at work: He influenced the development of two areas — Napean Sea Road and Worli, and also forayed into the world of five-star hotel design. One of his recent constructions was a school for underprivileged girls in Ahmedabad that he built through his the family-run, Begum MB Kadri Foundation

Edited excerpts from an interview with the author.

Q. How was Kadri able to fuse the modern and traditional without it appearing forced?
A. He was a modernist architect, who designed some of the most contemporary buildings of the time, including the Islam Gymkhana (1963) and Worli’s Shivsagar Estate (1967). His influences from Ahmedabad [where he was born] and Delhi helped this blend. Besides, his background as engineer ensured that he understood structure and form. Engineering gifted him logical thinking; architecture remained his passion. He belonged to a generation that held the idea of beauty as important.

Kadri with a family friend and late actor Sunil Dutt
Kadri with a family friend and late actor Sunil Dutt

Q. Share his fascination for motifs and jaalis.
A. He was a huge fan of Louis Kahn’s work. He was well-travelled and had an intuitive mind. This gave
him an advantage; he developed his own value system. In hindsight, when we look at his designs (including the jaalis and motifs), we see that they stood the test of time. Even today, when we look at Shivsagar Estate,
we know it’s a strong part of Mumbai’s memory.

Kadri with actor Dilip Kumar and poet Jan Nissar Akhtar (centre)
Kadri with actor Dilip Kumar and poet Jan Nissar Akhtar (centre)

Q. Why are so many of his prominent constructions centred in Worli?
A. In the 1950s and ’60s, Bombay was growing, and extending towards the suburbs. Worli stood at this meeting point [of the south and north]. Many questioned IM Kadri’s decision to choose Worli to execute his designs but he realised that this was the beginning of a move towards the suburbs.

In a 2004 picture, Kadri is seen with his grandkids (from left) Akshay, actress Athiya Shetty, Sana, Aman and Ahaan Shetty
In a 2004 picture, Kadri is seen with his grandkids (from left) Akshay, actress Athiya Shetty, Sana, Aman and Ahaan Shetty

Q. How would you define his style?
A. His body of work doesn’t represent one particular style. He was at par with [Louis] Kahn. But I believe, through him, we will be able to find others who’ve made similar contributions to the cityscape. His training as an engineer reflected in the clarity of thought that marks his designs. He came from a generation that considered architects as city and nation builders; they also believed that their work had to contribute to the betterment of life and society.

Nehru Centre: The jaalis and diagrid are structuring principles of the Nehru Centre. The tower represented a new nation’s aspirations; the jaali was inspired by the rose that Pandit Nehru wore with his bandgala
Nehru Centre: The jaalis and diagrid are structuring principles of the Nehru Centre. The tower represented a new nation’s aspirations; the jaali was inspired by the rose that Pandit Nehru wore with his bandgala

Q. Did he share his views on today’s architecture?
A. He feels there has been a loss of ethics. He believed architecture should make life easy and better for people. This is evident in his plans where he never compromised on elements like a garden. He felt that the user as well as the client deserved the best. Economic viability of projects was crucial.

Shivsagar Estate: It speaks of an idea of a growing city and a confidence in new neighbourhoods. Kadri designed this in an environment that didn’t support the idea. Note the modernist mural in the south-end, and the marching towers that portray an argument against doubt in a changing urban landscape
Happy Home School for the Blind: It incorporates a jaali façade that is modern, yet ornamental. The pointed arches emerged from medieval architecture but were modern in use and proportion in the way they lifted the building off the ground. ALL PICS COURTESY: THE ARCHITECTURE OF IM KADRI, Niyogi books

Shivsagar Estate: It speaks of an idea of a growing city and a confidence in new neighbourhoods. Kadri designed this in an environment that didn’t support the idea. Note the modernist mural in the south-end, and the marching towers that portray an argument against doubt in a changing urban landscape
Shivsagar Estate: It speaks of an idea of a growing city and a confidence in new neighbourhoods. Kadri designed this in an environment that didn’t support the idea. Note the modernist mural in the south-end, and the marching towers that portray an argument against doubt in a changing urban landscape

Q. How was the experience of working on the book?
A. It’s a unique work since it is on an architect by a critic. He gave me complete access to his lifetime of work — his plans, blueprints and research. Working on the stories and interpretation behind his work was memorable. It was a challenge, but offered me valuable lessons.

The Architecture of IM Kadri by Kaiwan Mehta published by Niyogi Books (Rs 2,995).

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