Mr. Hiren Gandhi

Architect's Voice, Aug 2017
MR. HIREN GANDHI
Founder of Hiren A. Gandhi & Associates

Please tell us about your professional experience.

I have worked with different clients – both in the private as well as public sector. It has been a varied experience because when you work for public sector, you don’t know who your end client is. There is a hierarchy of people working for public sector so the expectations are different at all levels. Hence, your work gets perceived differently by everyone involved in the project. It’s a very challenging for an architect to do something for the public sector; whereas when you work for private sector, you can come in direct contact with the client.

An architect has to really understand what is the client’s brief and interpret it. Many times, the end user isn’t an identifiable person so you, as an architect have to put your own inputs as to what will be good for the users in general. That is one challenge you can say which I have always faced. We have dealt with public organizations like ISRO, ONGC, IOCL, HPCL, Ahmedabad Municipal Corporation, Gujarat Gas, and many more.

Farm House at Ahmedabad with roof top garden

What are the most interesting projects of your career?

I would put it in two ways: Interesting projects and Challenging projects.

For example, when we did Shyamji Krishna memorial at Mandvi, Prime Minister Modi was the Chief Minister of Gujarat at that time. He had brought the ashes of Late Shyamji Krishna Verma( a freedom fighter) from abroad and he wanted to setup a memorial at his birth place Mandvi. Hence, a limited design competition was floated by the Gujarat Government. Out of several architects, they shortlisted 3 architects out of which they shortlisted two. The secretary of the department had asked me to make a presentation to the honourable CM for which I was given 10-15 minutes in his office to explain the project idea.

It was a remote plot near Mandvi about 500 meters away from the sea shore. The proposed site was in the middle of no where with no identifiable land features. I had done a lot of research on Shyamji Krishna’s life and the activities he carried out while he was abroad. I found out that majority of the work he had done while in London where he had established the India house. During my presentation, I said that if we create something which reminisce of the India house, people will get attracted and feel as if they have visited the London House. All the inside artefacts were planned accordingly.

The honourable CM Modiji liked the idea very much and that is how India house came into existence. Now, over 2 lakh people visit this memorial every year. It has a food court, souvenir shop, artefacts, and an exhibition gallery. It’s an iconic building for our country.

How do you integrate Vaastu in your projects?

My approach is to correlate Vaastu with the climate. For example, more open spaces on the north-east side brings in the morning Sun and the breeze comes from the South. As per Vaastu, there should be less openings on the South side; however, South also brings in a lot of heat and radiation so the less number of openings will heat the building lesser. The same principles apply for the West side too. As per Vaastu, courtyard should be in an open space. Aspects that are directly in sync with the climate are very critical for the architect to consider. Ultimately, we are all professionals and primary goal is to satisfy the client. The client should be happy at the end of this exercise because they are spending their life’s earnings for their building.

Shyamji Krishna Verma Memorial at Mandavi

Has Vaastu awareness increased amongst the architects?

Definitely. Not only from a scientific viewpoint, but commercially too, a Vaastu compliant building would be in higher demand any day. When we have a client looking for individual house, corporate buildings, or office buildings, we first ask them if they believe in Vaastu and how much fastidious they are about making it Vaastu compliant. Some people just take care of the entries and plan the rest accordingly.

Also, we get a lot of young architect trainees who seek the job. I feel that the education they receive in their college is itself inadequate in terms of real practice. Their knowledge about the construction technology is quite low. Therefore, learning Vaastu becomes secondary for them. First thing is to be able to perform the basic tasks efficiently.

What are some of the challenges architects usually face?

Architects are usually briefed about the client’s requirements when they are appointed. But architecture isn’t merely to satisfy the proprietor. Even after the brief, there are so many things which aren’t clear to the architect. While doing office buildings, many times they feel that the canteen is in a noisy area. Hence, it has to be moved on the top floor of the building or it has to be moved to the ground floor in a secluded corner. Satisfying the program and advising the client with the correct information is one of the major challenges at times.

Do you think that great places in cities attract people and business?

Yes, absolutely. Infact, in Europe, there is a trend to invite international architects and to create certain magnets. For example, the tourism industry in Bilbao (Spain) revived because of the Guggenheim Museum designed by Frank Gehry. There are a lot of similar projects in Spain like this. Like talking about our city, Ahmedabad recently got the World Heritage tag. The important thing is that we have to preserve it.

Farm House at Ahmedabad with roof top garden

Regarding business, if the working environment is conducive for the people working in any city, then it does attract more business. Another important thing is cohesive development. The original Indian concept was that the work place and home should be in walking distance. Today, many people travel for over an hour to reach their work place. By the time they reach office, they are already exhausted. So, well planned places increase your productivity.

What are the challenges for urban planners?

The greatest challenge is transport connectivity, safety & security. Even places like London have towering Inferno; however, for Indian cities, too much verticality isn’t the answer. We should still spread horizontally. How will people go from one place to another if we were to spread horizontally unless we have a good transport network like Metro, BRTS, or any other medium? This is one challenge. Similarly, there are a lot of other challenges for urban planners. One of it is affordable Housing and we are involved for many such projects.

In Europe, there is a trend to invite international architects and to create certain magnets. For example, the tourism industry in Bilbao (Spain) revived because of the Guggenheim Museum designed by Frank Gehry. There are a lot of similar projects in Spain like this. Like talking about our city, Ahmedabad recently got the World Heritage tag. The important thing is that we have to preserve it.
An architect has to really understand what is the client’s brief and interpret it. Many times, the end user isn’t an identifiable person so you, as an architect have to put your own inputs as to what will be good for the users in general.

Bank Building at Ahmedabad with protective sun screen

Do you think career as an architect a safe career choice in India?

Let’s put it this way. “Roti, Kapda, aur Makaan” are the three basic human needs. These will always be there. Architecture was known as a profession for the elitist earlier. Architects during the British raj were hardly for the poor people and mostly for the elite class. Poor and middle-class people used to build their house themselves or the Carpenter and Masons would do it for them.  But for a country like ours where basic shelter is an issue for the masses, an architect has to cater to every class in order to make their presence felt to remain relevant in the society. Hence, there will always be demand for architects. If one goes with the right mind in the profession, it will always be a good choice. The dangerous part is there are a lot of schools these days which have mushroomed over a period. A lot of architecture schools are not well equipped to impart knowledge required to step into this profession. Compared to our country, foreign countries ask for certain years of work experience before being allowed to start their own venture. Architecture isn’t a one man show after all. There are a lot of people involved – structural engineer, mechanical & engineer, contractors, PMCs and many more.

So, one has to have a broader picture in mind. It may so happen that you are too new to handle everything initially. There are chances that others will start dictating you. In today’s age of information, if you aren’t competent, you will immediately get marginalised. That is true for any profession. You have to excel at anything you do.