Can the story of a city be pieced together from its buildings? Critic and theorist Kaiwan Mehta certainly thinks so. Mehta, who writes widely on urban design and visual culture, explores the relationship between development and the city’s buildings in his new book, The Architecture of I.M. Kadri .
In telling the story of Kadri, Mehta also hopes to tell the story of the city’s complex negotiation with space, change, and beauty. “Bombay hasn’t yet found its rightful place in the narrative of modern Indian architecture,” says Mehta. “Bombay is, unfortunately, seen primarily as a commercial centre, unlike Delhi, where the big cultural institutions and public buildings were set up immediately after Independence.”
The book was a project that was commissioned by Iftikhar M Kadri, the founder, partner, and principal architect of IMK Architects, who began his practice in Mumbai in the 1950s. “When I was invited to review Kadri’s work,” says Mehta, “I was told that I could play with the material for two months. After that, if I felt charged enough to write about it, I could take it on or drop it. The questions I had were never points of anxiety. They became opportunities for rich conversation.”
“Kaiwan has worked meticulously,” says Kadri. “He has gone through my archives, and looked at each and every drawing. He went all over India to see the buildings I have designed.”
While the book does refer to Kadri’s projects in Delhi, Goa, Bengaluru, Bhopal, Hong Kong, Malaysia, Tajikistan, and the Middle East, Mehta quite firmly places Kadri in the shoes of ‘a Bombay architect’. The architect has designed apartment complexes, office towers as well as recreational spaces. However, his most identifiable imprint on Bombay is perhaps the pineapple-shaped Nehru Centre building, a source of delightful surprise in a city dotted with skyscrapers on one hand and slums on the other.
Architect Rahul Mehrotra, who recently co-curated an exhibition with Mehta and Ranjit Hoskote, titled ‘The State of Architecture: Practices and Processes in India’, at the city’s National Gallery of Modern Art, says, “Kadri’s career runs parallel to Mumbai, developing in the late 1950s and through to the 70s and 80s; a period when apartment living was proliferating through the city. Kadri combined pragmatism with luxury in his projects, and invented a range of apartment types for the city. Prominent among these for me are the Jivan and Manek towers and Swapnalok, the luxurious stepped terraced apartments which blur the difference between bungalow and apartment living.”
Delhi-based photographer Ram Rahman, son of architect Habib Rahman (a contemporary of Kadri’s), says, “One would be critical of Kadri’s work as an architect if one looked at it through the lens of the kind of modernist work that was happening in Delhi and Chandigarh after Independence. However, it is important to understand that Kadri’s work is closely linked to the city’s culture and ethos. Kadri’s use of Muslim cultural tropes such as arches and jaalis is also a unique kind of stylistic exploration. Not every architect should be expected to engage with hardcore Bauhaus modernism.”