Habib Rahman


"A building becomes architecture when it not only works effectively

but moves the human soul."

lle JK Cement Architect of he Year Chairman's Award or Life Achievement in Architecture was instituted in December last year. On December 8, the jury announced that Habib Rahman was to be the first awardee. Ten days later, on December 19, Rahman died suddenly of a heart attack. He had spent the intervening days preparing notes and photographs for the Award Secretariat. At the endof a brief note for them, he had written ''A building becomes architecture when it not only works effectively but moves the human soul,"

Clearly pleased with the award, he joked that he was given a major award every 20 years (Padma Shri 1955, Padma Bhushan 1974, and now the JK Cements in 1995), and should he live to a hundred, he wonld get the Bharat Ratnal

This issue of A+D, a tribute retrospective, is the first to feature the work of a government architect or department, a recognition that Rahman felt was long overdue. It is also a recognition of the many architects and engineers who worked with him in the CPWD.

Writing about a father is difficult, but since we also had a professional relationship -involving both photography and architecture- it is a little easier. r have tried to assemble a representa tive body of work encapsulating the kinds of concerns and design solutions that occupied Habib. Much of this material has not been published in recent years and is not familiar to many younger architects and students. Hopefully it can become the basis for future studies and research into not

just Rahman's work, but into the work of many architects, unrecognised till now.

Living and working in Delhi in the 50s was a heady experience. The cultural ethos was charged with the energy of the new nation and under the dorninan t spirit of Nehru, there were great hopes for the future. Married to classical dancer Indrani Rahman, Habib was deeply involved in and influenced by the period of the rediscovery of our music and dance traditions. In fact, as a serious amateur photographer, he photographed almost all the major dancers of the period. Most of the photographs of his work in this issue, were also taken by him.

In his later years he continued to design from home and consult with many architects. He was also involved with students from the Delhi schools of architecture, advising on thesis projects and proposals, as well as communicating design ideas to young proteges in different corners of the country on the cheap postcard.

While increasingly dissilusioned about the state of the country and specially the rising communalism, he never became bitter and remained in fighting form right till the end.

We have reprinted articles which appeared over the years in varions journals. Most are from Design magazine. Thanks ar~ due to Patwant Singh for permission to reproduce these. Where required, I have added short notes. I would also like to acknowledge the great help from Pablo Bartholomew and Rajinder Arora.

Ram Rahman

i\ RCHITECTlJR..E -+ DE:..."TGN ,"·l~ r -t'pY 199f., 19

c(» T RIB UTE Habib Rahman

A Note on Design

Rahman's training in the mid- forties in MIT was under Lawrence

Andersen, William Wurster and Walter Gropius, who was teaching at neighboring Harvard. Gropius had fled Nazi Germany after the dissolution of the Bauhaus, bringing to the US the design philosophy evolved there in the 20s. The Bauhaus school of Modernism was characterised by it's belief in socialism, and the necessity for modern design to provide a better life and environment for the average person. It emphasised the importance of mass production techniques to design and manufacture high quality and cheap goods, which could be accesible to many.

In architecture, it espoused a philosophy of simple and clear structure using modern materials like steel and glass. The functional aspect of design was strongly emphasised. The 'Gropiusschool of the modern movement led to what is commonly referred to as the <International Style.'

When Rahman returned to Calcutta during the communal brutality of 1946, he brought this design approach with him.

This design philosophy fitted well with the cultural ethos of the period - the national movement having just won independence for India. Being a poor country with limited resources, all new building had to be as cheap and functional as possible. An idealist, Rahman found the perfect place in the West Bengal Government to begin his work.

Interestingly, the very first design commission he got was for the Gandhi Ghat memorial. For this design he could not refer easily to his modernist training, and looked instead at traditional Indian religious architecture. Though a staunch aetheist, he drew from the symbolic forms of older religious architecture, to abstract and create a contemporary idiom for more symbolic buildings. His more coventional Bauhaus approach would manifest itself in the many office buildings and the housing he designed for the government all over the country in the 50s.

But these two design streams ran parallel in his work, finally fusing in his design for Rabindra Bhavan in 1961. After

this period, his work had a distinct design style where he had developed a regional modernist vocabulary.

Rahman felt strongly that the 50s had been misrepresented in the assesments of the last two decades and the belief that modern architecture in India only came of age after Le Corbusier and Chandigarh was simplistic. While not disregarding or negating the impact of Chandigarh, he felt that there was already a group of architects producing good work in India, and the few who had trained in the US - Stein, Kanvinde, Vanu Bhuta, Piloo Mody and later Correa, had brought a very different modernist approach than that of Le Corbusier's Meditterranean Modern.

Habib was also very sceptical about much recent architecture in India which was using socalled 'ancient theory' as it's basis. He felt strongly that mere jargon or the simple imitation of old patterns was meaningless without a true reinterpretation for our times.

Ram Rahman

Left Model of the Gandhi Bhavan Library, Tribhuvan University, Kathmandu.

Right Shridharant Farm House, Delhi.

All Photos. Iwless mentioned, by Habib Rahman © The Estate of Habib Rahman. 1996

BE. Calcutta 1939 B Arch MIT, 1943 M Arch MIT, 1944

Architect. Boston. New York, 1944-1946, in the offices of Lawrence Anderson

Walter Gropius

Konrad Wachsman

Ely Kahn

Dancer, New York. 1946 Ragini De"; Dances of India

Senior Architect Government of West Bengal. 1947- 53

Senior and Chief Architect (PWD Government of India. New Delhi. 1953 ~ 74

Secretary, Delhi Urban Arts

Commission 1974 - 1977


Padma Shri 1955 Padrna Bhushan 1974

JK Cements Chairmans Award for Lifetime Achievement 1995

Selected buildings

Gandhi Ghat, Barrackpore, 1949 New Secretariat, Calcutta 1953 Bengal Engineering College buildings 1952

Gandhi Library, Tribhuvan University, Kathmandu, 1969

Himalayan Mountaneering Institute, Uttarkashi, 1966-68

In Delhi:

Auditor General Building. 1954 Dak Tar Bhavan, 1955

Delhi Zoo. 1956-74

Mazaar of Maulana Azad, 1959 Type 3 "Rahman Fiats': RK Purarn, 1959

Rabindra Bhavan, 1961

WHO Building, 1963/64 Indraprastha Building, 1965 Multistoryed Flats, R.K. Puram, 1965 Curzon Road Hostels, 1969

DDA Building, designed in 1969 Mazaar of Dr Zakir Husain, 1972 Shridharani Farm House 1972

Alkazi Farm House 1972

Patel Bhavan, 1973

Mazaar of Fakhruddin Ali Ahmed, 1976

Sharada Rao house and flats. 1970's - 93

Buildings as consultant in Delhi:

Sheila Theatre, early 60s Hindustan Times Building, 60s American Center, late 60

ARCtllTECrURE + DES'[GN Mm··Apr 1996 21


Habib Rahman and his times

Malay Chatterjee

Habib RUh. man started out with a degree in mechanical engineering from BE college, Calcutta. He had only an amateur's interest in architecture those days. In 1939 he spent a week

in Delhi, "a city of tongas and monuments", to sit for the competitive exams for the Railway Service. He failed these exams, much to his relief, but succeeded in winning a government scholarship to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in the US. Once there, he switched to architecture and was the first Indian to complete both under-graduate and graduate degrees in architecture in an American university. This was followed by work experience in Boston and

New York, and included a short stint with Walter Gropius.

It is important to note that Rahman's understanding of 'modern architecture' was thus shaped by the exciting cross-fertilization that took place between the American and European Modern Movements in the US over the 30s and 40s. When he returned home in 1947 to join the West Bengal Public Works Department (PWD)

as Senior Architect, he felt isolated and over-awed by the enormous responsibilities he had to shoulder at the age of 32. The Indian Institute of Architects, then dominated by British-trained professionals, denied him membership as it did not recognize American degrees.

In Calcutta there was no one to turn to for advice or guidance.

It was an era when most buildings were designed by civil engineers. Few in government or society knew what an architect was or did. There was nobody to discuss modern architecture with until Joseph Stein arrived in 1952 to head the newly-established Department of Architecture at BE College.

Rahman's Calcutta years were marked by the completion of several projects, two of which gained national attention; the memorial to Gandhi at Barrackpore (1949), and the New Secretariat (1949-54). The fourteen-storeyed Secretariat Building marked the advent of high-rise construction in India. Rahman and his engineer colleagues had no previous experience of designing services for such a tail building. Mail-chutes, concealed electrical wiring, fire-fighting wet-risers, plumbing lines concealed in central service shafts, were ail novelties introduced through this building. All concerned learned on the job. Rahman, in particular, learned how to communicate effectively and cordially with his engineering colleagues. Years later he admitted that his respectful and courteous treatment of government engineers was the single most important ingredient for achieving quality in his buildings. In project after project they enthusiastically collaborated with him to produce buildings which had a degree of structural integrity, economy and elegance not seen before in sarkari buildings.

In 1953 Rahman moved to Delhi as Senior Architect in the Central PWD (CPWD). He was particularly grateful for the kindness shown him here by Manickam, who was like an elder brother and taught him the ropes. In 1955 Rahman became the first architect to receive the Padma Shree in recognition of his work in Bengal. After this, the Indian Institute of Architects promptly awarded him a

Fellowship and membership. By 1957 he had come to the attention of Meher Chand Khanna, the dynamic new Minister of Works and Housing, who ensured that several prestigious projects were assigned to him.

Though Rahman worked on a large number of government projects all over India, the greatest concentration of his work is in Delhi: some 15 large office complexes including the 2 l-storeyed Vikas Minar, several hundred units of innovative government housing, the Delhi Zoo, and three exquisite memorials -- the rnazars of Maulana Azad, Zakir Hussain and Fakhruddin Ali Ahmed. Rahman was also often approached by other government departments and private sector firms to help improve the quality of their designs. So the 'Rahman Touch' shows up in a wide variety of projects for which he could not claim official authorship.

The CPWD-designed architecture of the 50s and 60s transformed new Delhi. Though finances were severely limited, Nehru and Khanna encouraged a vast building programme for urgently required offices, hotels and housing, with very little participation by architects in private practice. Rahman's work over this period has to be viewed in a context; the CPWD was the major builder along with various other government departments with architectural wings, such as the Railways, Post and Telegraphs, Municipal Corporation, New Delhi Municipal Committee, and so on. Among his seniors and colleagues in the CPWD were Deolalikar, Ghelot, Ioglekar, Yardi, Billimoria, Rana, Gill, Manickam and Benjamin. Some of these architects produced very fine building. But, as in any large building spree, there were the inevitable disasters which left a powerful impression on a public still innocent about good modern architecture. Indian Oil Bhawan, the first multi-storey to come up in Connaught Place, featured seven different elevational treatments. Impressed by this, a potential client once told a now-prominent Delhi architect, "you are asking for 6 per cent and giving me only one kind of elevation. The CPWD architects charge only 2 per cent and will give me at least four different elevations. You are dearly trying to cheat me!"

Rahman's early work in Delhi was marked by an over-emphasis on exposing structural concrete frames and an indiscriminate use of sun louvres influenced by Brasilia. It took. him several years to realize that there was no clear scientific rationale for the way he was using louvres. The turning point came when Nehru rejected his first proposal for Rabindra Bhawan in 1959. His drawings featured extensive louvres. Barada Ukil, the Secretary of the Lalit Kala Akaderni, encouraged a disheartened Rahman to try again. This forced him to evolve a fresh new vocabulary for fenestration and shading devices. Nehru was very pleased with the results.

In Rabindra Bhawan we see Rahman at his best: sensitive siteplanning, an intuitive approach to creating pleasing forms through innovative structural solutions, and great care in detailing. From this point on, his best work was stamped with an unmistakable identity inspired by the philosophy of Tagore who advised that

Habib Rahman

modern creative work should neither blindly copy India's past heritage, nor blindly imitate the modern West. Two further projects exemplify this philosophy at work Indraprastha Bhawan (1963-65) and the Administrative Building for Pragati Maidan (1971). Indraprastha Bhawan also beautifully integrates a gigantic wall mural (by MF Hussain), the first and last time this has ever been done successfully. Other attempts at incorporating art in government buildings have yielded results akin to placing a small postage stamp on a large envelope.

By 1965 Rahman was senior enough in service to begin representing the CPWD in important inter-departmental committees concerned with wider planning, urban design, and landscaping issues in the capital. He found himself caught up in several controversies, but in the process received an invaluable education in how politicians, bureaucrats and technical specialists thought about 'urban aesthetics'. It was worse than just a case of the blind leading the blind in committee meetings; ample funds seemed to be available to ensure that New Delhi would continue to be vandalized in the name of'beautification', 'modernization', and 'redensification',

A crippling accident in 1970 did not diminish Rahman's professional dedication and determination to continue active service. He became Chief Architect of the CPWD in 1970. As Chief Architect to the Government of India he found himself at the bottom of a rigid and unsympathetic hierarchy: PM, Secretary, Director General (always an engineer), Additional Director General (always an engineer), and lastly, Chief Architect. This structure killed the creative abilities of the average architect in service. Rahman's tenure was too short for him to bring matters to a head. As he saw it, government should either disband the Department of Architecture and give the work to private architects, or it should bestow some dignity and responsibility to the Department by giving it a status equal to the Engineering Department. Rahman's tenure, however, saw the creation of the country's first Urban Arts Commission, a development which gave him some, if not lasting, satisfaction.

Mrs Gandhi initiated the idea of an Urban Arts Commission for Delhi (DUAC) in late 1971. Inder Gujral, the Minister of Works and Housing, and Rahman studied the two precedents available: the Washington Arts Commission and the Royal Arts Commission of UK. They prepared guidelines, the Law Ministry drafted the Bill, and Parliament passed the Act in 1973 without any debate because members did not understand what it meant. A few months after retiring from government service in 1974 Rahman was appointed the first Secretary of the DUAC, with Achyut Kanvinde and Ebrahim Alkazi as members, and Bhagwan Sahay as Chairman. That same year Rahman was awarded the Padma Bhushan, the only architect to have received this honour to date.

Though the DUAC was established with the best of intentions, it soon became apparent that it was no match for the powerful politi-

Sketches. building profiles. 1994

cal and bureaucratic structures that control building activity in the capital. Rahman's services were abruptly terminated in 1977 because of his opposition to placing a statue of Gandhi under King George's canopy at India Gate, and because he had resisted Imam Bukhari's determination to construct public urinals blocking the southern entrance to Iama Masjid. The government of the day was also considering condemning a large number of bungalows in the area south of Rajpath, auctioning the land released, and creating 'a second Connaught Place to bring balance in the plan of New Delhi'. Rahman was a stumbling block and had to go.

Despite the Commission's subsequent chequered history, Rahman continued to see it as a potentially vital institution which needs complete overhauling and vastly expanded powers, including police powers, penal powers, and immunity from writ jurisdiction. He also saw the DUAC evolving into an open, vibrant forum for dialogue between professionals, government and community. As he put it, "We all need education and re-education in planning and design issues. So public support must be mobilized to bring about the necessary amendments to the Act of 1973."

Courageously overcoming several spells of poor health in his last years, he remained intellectually alert and professionally active as a freelance consultant, including three years spent in New York. He was a jury member for several important architectural competitions. He took a keen interest iii. public affairs in general, and in planning and design issues concerning Delhi in particular. He grew increasingly concerned about the failure of the design profession to address the problems of rapid urbanization and growing social and economic disparities. In a conversation in 1989 he noted that "the public is beginning to form a very poor impression of architects and planners as mere money grabbers. Policy-makers also know we have shifting values and will compromise anything, because we feel that we will do a better job than the competition." Though practically house-bound for the last five years, he was totally 'plugged in' to local, national and international developments, thanks to the explosion of print media and satellite television. He expressed his reactions on a wide variety of subjects in countless letters to newspapers and journals. In this sense, he was an activist right to the end.

Habib Rahman had no illusions about the mistakes made by his generation of architects and planners. As he put it, "most of us entering the design profession in the 50s were given responsibilities which far exceeded our capacities." What pained most was the failure of succeeding generations to learn from these mistakes. He ascribed this failure to three factors: an increasing pursuit of monetary self-interest at the expense of wider social responsibilities; the unwillingness of professionals and educators to conduct relevant research; and a widespread disregard for all the details which have to be seen to, if an aesthetically satisfying urban environment is to be created. Was Rahman being too harsh in his diagnosis?


Habib Rahman

50s Housing

II M y special interest in residential design goes back to when I designed my father's house in Calcutta in 1935. My Bachelor's thesis at M]T was on Low Cost Housing, I feel that any design for residential architecture must first a nd foremost satisfy human needs and reflect the lifestyles and economic aspirations of the people for whom the houses are built.

A full-scale model of a two roomed peon's quarters, designed and built for the 1954 Housing Exhibition in Delhi, W,IS immensely liked by both the Government and the public. The same design was later adopted for construction in different parts of India. It also

formed the basis of the design for two-bedroom quarters for the junior government staff in Rarnakrishnapuram which was well received and came to be popularly known as the 'Rahman type' Hats.

(l11lerl'iew with Mina SingiJ, Inside Outside, 1987)

Rig!!t The Housing Exhibition ill Delhi in 1954. At tile top are the tworoomed ouaners which. were built all Ol'er India. 0,1 the right is the gate alld ticket booth. Rahman hired a team of artists to mak« frescoes and sculpture jor this exhibition which included Eliza1Jeth Brunner, Prem Saran and Premoje ChrmdlllJlY Below 'RrlIHlIIlI1 type' two-bedroom flats, Ramakrishnapuram, Delhi, 1959.


50s Office Buildings

New Secreta ri at Calcutta, 1949-54

The West Bengal Government's new Secretariat on Hastings Street, Calcutta, has been planned according to the modern trend in designs of office buildings and architecture such as the United Nations Headquarters in New York and the Ministry of Education building in Rio de Janeiro.

Taking the greatest advantage of the site and orientation the building has been designed in three blocks to create a pleasing composition. The tallest block, 270 ft X 60 ft, has 13 floors, and this will, perhaps, be the tallest office b uilding in India. Illumination and Light

To obtain uniform illumination and maximum ventilation the blocks have been made comparatively narrow. Practically continuous glass windows have been used throughout. To cut down glare and prevent direct sun rays coming into the room, horizontal and vertical louvres have been used on the east, west and south side of the blocks. There will be four high-speed elevators in the 13-storeyed block, and two high-speed elevators in the six-storeyed block. The net floor area available in the three blocks is 200,000 sq ft. Steel-Frame Structure

A steel-frame structure on Frantic Piles has been driven 65 into the ground. The maximum load coming on each column is 750 tons. Columns are spaced at 20 ft X 20 ft bays. The floor to float height is [2 ft. There are

6" two-way reinforced RC Slabs. Air-conditioning can easily be provided for in future. The highest point of the building will be nearly 180 ft above the

26 ARCHrnCTiJ~ + DESICN MtI r -A.w ]996

road level.

There will be accommodation for 11 modern cafeteria and a separate officers' lunch room, as small lecture theatre, and parking space for over 100 cars.

The building will cost nearly Rs 85 Iakh, but it will save the State Government about

Rs 5 lakh annually which the Government are paying for the hire of accommodation for their 40 offices in different parts of the city.

The foundation work was started towards the middle of 1951. The six-storeyed block will be completed by the middle of November. The other two blocks are expected to be co 111- pleted by the end of ] 953..

(Architect Rahman': notes [rom The Weekly, West Bengal, October 24th, 1952)

Chief Engineer on this project was T Mitra.

Left A self-portrait by Rahman !Viti! the model on a steel girder.

Top The steel frame during construction This was the first steel frame sky-scraper built ill India.

50s Office Buildings Habib Rahman

University Grants Commission New Delhi, 1954

The building is designed to house all the offices of the University Grants Commission, New Delhi. It was the desire of the UGC authorities that it should have the maximum floor area permissible according to the existing Corporation Rules on the plot of land allotted. The shape of the plot is an irregular pentagon. The effort, therefore, was to locate the building all the plot in such a way that it fits into the site logically. Offices are planned on two sides of a central corridor, in a building which consists of two wings parallel to the two sides of the pentagon having the service core (staircase, lift and toilers) at the junction of the wings. The southern wing is six storeys high and the northern wing partially six and partially five storeys high. The ground floors of both the wings <ire occupied by the air-conditioning plant room, substation, telephone exchange, lumber room, stores, etc. A portion of the ground floor area of the northern wing has been allotted for parking of cars, cycles and scooters. The Chairman's room, conference room and the rooms of most of the senior officers have been located on the first floor. The canteen and recreation rooms are on the fifth floor of the northern wing which has a roof terrace. A couple of suites have been provided on the fifth floor of the south wing with bathrooms and kitchen facilities to serve as

guest rooms for visiting ViceChancellors. On the roof Of the service core, the water tanks and the lift rooms have been carefully concealed in one single

enclosure. A free-standing open RC staircase has been placed at the end of the north block. A small block has been located at the rear of the plot which will accommodate dosed garages and residential quarters for essen rial staff.

Careful studies are being made to plant interesting horticulture and create an equally interesting landscape.

The building has been designed to enable it to be fully air-conditioned whenever funds permit. To cut down the heat load on air-conditioning, chhajjas and louvers have been planned to eliminate direct sunlight into the rooms and to protect the walls from the summer sun.

Conventional local materials such as brick, wood and concrete have been used. No imported material has been used. The area of the plot is 1.6

acres, the plinth area is 67,000 sq ft, and the carpet area 44,000 sq ft.

(Patw,mt Singh, DE~SIGN Incorporating Indian Builder, 1955)



Some of the GoverlHnent Institutional buildings constructed in various parts of India in the 50s.

Top TOW Model of the AGCR building, New Delhi, 1958.

Middle TOW Auditor General /)1./ilciing, Madras, 1958.

Bottom row left CBR building, Ranchi, 1957.

Bottom row right Auditor General's Office, New Delhi, J 958.

28 Af.!:Cli:lTi!CTURE + DES1GN Milt-Apr 19%

5U5 Office Buildings Habib Rahman

Dak Tar Bhavan New Delhi, 1955

Designed in 1954 to house the GPO and the Posts and Telegraphs Directorate, this building has a facade which follows the curve of Patel chowk. The

main lobby level contains the public post office area with one long curved counter. The roof of the back section of the building has open verandas and covered terraces with staff lunch rooms, a library and recreation hall. The inner courtyard made it possible for all offices and cubicles to have their own windows,

'o:uo," .~_ ... ._.


,\_RCl fTTECTURE -+- DESIGN Mill Apr 19116 29


Rabindra Bhavan New Delhi, 1961

e aim of this project

was to provide accornmoation to house the activities of the three National Akademies: the Lalit Kala, Sahitya and Sangeet Natak; the first being the akademi of the plastic arts, the second of literature and poetry and the third, performing arts. Though set up by Government these are stated to be autonomous bodies. Their objective being to encourage and help promotion of these various arts.

The site, measuring three acres, is located at the corner of Lytton (Copernicus) and Ferozshah Roads, and has a frontage on both of them.The requirement stated that the administrative offices of the three akademies had to be accommodated on the site, as also a gallery for the exhibition of paintings and sculpture and a moderate sized theatre. The major portion of the coverage on these pages has been given to the administrative block, since the exhibition blockwhich was the first one to be completed - has already been published in detail in the June 1961 issue of Design. Work on the theatre block is yet to be taken in hand.

The design solution as it finally emerged consists of the administrative block with three wings of more or less equal length at an angle of 120 degrees to each other. and a pentagon shaped exhibition block the form of which follows the curve of the traffic island.

Each 4-storeyed wing of the administrative block houses an

akaderni, the Lalit Kala being in the wing nearest to the exhibition block to which it is connected by a covered walkway. The main entrance into the administrative block is where the three wings meet. The entrance hall, lift and staircase are placed here, though each of the three wings have their own staircase for internal vertical circulation.

A large library is provided on the ground floor of the Sahitya wing opening out on to the garden. The Sangeet Natak wing is adjacent to the site of the proposed theatre. The exhibition block has a basement and two upper floors. Of these two, the ground floor is on two levels, the floor above being reached by a free standing spiral staircase. The basement will house the air-conditioning plant. storage facilities and a small workshop.

The galleries have sufficient space for large exhibitions. Lighting is through artificial as well as natural means and though the galleries are not air-conditioned at present, provision has been made in the design for their complete air-conditioning in the future.

The long walls of the administrative block are loadbearing in brick masonry, whilst the end walls of the wings are in random rubble stone masonry. RCC sun shades in two continuous rows over all the windows have been provided, the lower row in each case being placed on cantilevered brackets so that it is away from the wall and is

Above Habib Rahman explains the details of tN.e plans of Rabindra Bhavan to Prime Minister lawaharlal Nehru. Nehru had rejected the first proposal made by Rahman, saying it did not have the spirit of Tagore. He was very pleased with the final result.

110 obstruction to breeze. According to the architect the angle of the sun shades is designed to eliminate the strong morning and afternoon sun. The roof slab projects six feet beyond the walls on all sides. Future air-conditioning needs have been provided

for in the structure of this block too.

The exhibition block is of RCC frame structure with filler walls.

(Patwant Singh, DESIGN Incorporating Indian Builder. 1962)

"Rabindra Bhavan, which was nominated for the Aga Khan Award in 1980, was the first building where I could free myself from the influence of Walter Gropius and Oscar

. Niemeyer. This building belonged to India.

Here I used traditional Indian elements such as chajjas, jalis and overhanging roofs. It was the first functional building to give me aesthetic satisfaction. Maybe it was Rabindranath's artistic genius that inspired me to give an emotionally moving quality to the building. I feel proud to have been able to design memorials to both the Mahatma and Gurudev."

ARCHffECTIlRE + DF5rGN Mar-AI)r 19% 33














o 11:::::::=::12===::11 D



Views of the Akademi building, silowing the use of stone, Ialis, overhanging roof, running louvers arid fire brick.


'Dill. lIN"r __ II"'U

111. ..... (1" ...... 1111 ....... !5"1_"_-.!

Top Interiorviews of the gallery. Aboy,e Drawing showing the double height foyer in rhe exhibition block. Right Roof details of the exhibition block.



Zoological Park New Delhi, 1955-74

The Delhi Zoological Park is located to the south of Parana Qila (Old Fort) on an undulating wooded site measuring nearly 300 acres. With the imposing Purana Qila forming a backdrop to unusual and interesting animal enclosures and aviaries in an informal layout, the Delhi Zoo has turned out as an exciting and unique Zoological Park.

The original concept of the Zoo and the selection of its site was made by Carl Hagenbeck,

a renowned Zoo expert from Germany, who also gave technical details of many animal enclosures. The layout initially suggested by him had to be modified considerably to fit the contours of the land, and make it more practicable. All the architectural and structural details of the animal enclosures and the aviaries have been worked out by the Indian architects .. The aotualronstruction work was. begun in 1957 and the Zoo was opened to the public at the end of 1959.

A unique feature of the Zoo is that the enclosures are constructed in such a way as not to form a visual barrier between the spectators and the animals. This has been achieved by creating unobtrusive natural barriers such as wet moat, dry moat, steep fall, etc. To give the impression of a natural setting for particular animals the enclosures are landscaped with different contours, rocks and vegetation.

Since the land available is considerable, and an attempt has been made to give the animals a natural setting, considerable walking will have to be done to cover the entire Zoo. However, the circulation pattern

44 ARCHITEC1'URG + DESICN M~r-/~pr t9W)

of the paths has been made in such a way that the visitors can easily choose to see certain portions of the Zoo only, without covering the entire ground. Three main zones have been created viz, the Indian, the Australian and the African swamps, each with artificial lakes and waterways. The lakes of the Indian and African swamps have been made bird sanctuaries and numerous birds of various types come and settle on these lakes during the different seasons. A large artificial lake for boating and picnicking is being constructed in the southern part of the Zoo. A few old monuments within the Zoo compound have been merged in with the landscape and the surrounding areas turned in to picnic spots.

Cages and open aviaries have been resorted to only in the case of small animals and birds. In the case of larger aviaries the internal area has been properly landscaped to further enhance the natural setting. As the spectators enter the largest aviary they will be surrounded by birds on all sides.

Attempts have been made to construct all the animal houses to look as rustic as possible with local materials like stone, etc. The African zone has been designed in such a way that all the animals -Tions, zebras, giraffes, ostriches, etc, roam around in a seemingly natural setting without any visible physical barrier.

There is a small canteen commanding a good view of the Purana Qi]a and a number of kiosks provide snacks and cold drinks. Specially designed shelters with seats have been constructed at convenient loca-

tions, The paths have very low level illumination, fixed in concrete structures which merge with the roadside hedges.

It is expected that the Zoological Park will be complete in all respects in three to four years time. There is a proposal to construct a restaurant in the middle of one of the lakes and an experimental children's corner has been started. If

successful, a larger and more elaborate children's zoo will be built in the near future .. To enable visitors to see the entire Zoo in one visit, there is a proposal to introduce slow moving battery driven trolley cars.

{Patwant Singh, DESIGN Incorporating Indian Builder, 1965)

Ftlci.ng page The ent rlUlce gate Be/olV The director's office

DfSlGN Mar-Apr 1,996 ARCI-DTECflJJ{£ +

45 ARCHrrECflJRE + DESIGN Mn,.Ap' 19%

Top General view of the bird pond against the Purana QUa.

Above The elephant umbrella, with a deepribbed concrete column. Left and Righ: Details of the bridges, water-fountains and covered benches.

Habib Rahman

Above The front and back of a typical enclosure, showing the rough-hewn walls.

Left A typical section, showing tne moat and rear areas of privacy for the animals.

Below Buckminster Fuller and Joseph Stein OIl iln early morning visit to the zoo.

Bottom Steel tube cages for small mammals. The enclosures for larger animals are all constructed of local stone to match the PUrIlnll Qila Ilnd have sloping roofs, witl: simple concrete pillars.



Habib Rahman

Multi-Storeyed Flats

Ramakrishnapuram, New Delhi, 1965

The necessity for multistoreyed dwellings arises from rapid urbanization of Delhi due to population explosion. Continuation of only the usual two-storeyed constructions would result in a linear development extending further away from the town centre which creates problems of transport to and from the place of work. Besides it is often not logical or economical to utilize all the available land for horizontal two-storeyed development.

Rising land values make it necessary to plan high density housing schemes in areas near the town centre. And in high density colonies, one can achieve good open spaces for recreation only by resorting to multi-storeyed housing. The Master Plan for Delhi envisages eight-storeyed development for central areas for Delhi, so it is not for somebody's whim or fancy that multi-storeyed construction is being resorted to. It is felt that it is inevitable, and at the most, it can only be delayed by continuing with two-storeyed development for the present. That would mean demolition work in already developed colonies once urbanization takes full sway after some years.

Considering the aspect of ownership, MS development may not be feasible now in privately-owned localities unless a corporate ownership is established. When government is developing housing for its employees, however, it is in a position to plan a comprehensive project as the question of individual ownership of houses does not arise. And, thus, it is proper that full advantage should be taken of this for creating good environment with ample open spaces.

Opposition to MS Flats

Those who live in two-storeyed residential colonies are so used to the advantages of a private garden in the case of ground floor tenants, and a terrace in the case of the first floor occupants, that they dislike the idea of multi-storeyed housing. Even though it is true that each tenant cannot be given a private garden in multi-storeyed developments it is possible to give large open spaces to all in place of small patches of lawns and private gardens. Also each tenant can be given a sizable sleeping balcony.

Another reason for general apathy towards multi-storeyed development is that services like water supply, electricity, drainage transport, etc. are not well developed as yet in Delhi. Urbanization presupposes efficient services and these will have to be geared to keep up with the development envisaged in the Master Plan, for a city in the real sense of the world cannot function without them.

Type VI Flats

The Type VI blocks are 'Y' shaped in plan so as to allow maximum radial bifurcation of each wing and at the same time to enable all wings to be served by common lifts, staircase, etc. The central core contains an entrance hall, lifts, staircase, meter room (on ground floor) and garbage chute and servants lavatory on all floors. In each wing. one flat is planned as a self-contained unit. The entrance lobby opens on to both the study room and the living room. On the opposite side is the dining room which abuts on to the living room and receives service from the kitchen through a service latch window or through the balcony. The servants' room near the kitchen has access from outside the flat. The three bedrooms have been so arranged as to be accessible independently from the living and dining rooms and are near to the sleeping balconies that cantiliver out alternately in two directions so as to give sky

exposure to the cantilevered portion. Some measure of privacy has been provided by judicious design of railing and a high parapet with [ali below. Additional servant's room required for each flat is provided in a separate block. The bedrooms have been provided with a built-in wardrobe and dressing table. The kitchen has ample built-in shelves, a cabinet with working counters, etc.

Type V Flats

Type V blocks are 'T' shaped in plan with each of the three wings being served by common lifts and staircase. A compact plan has been evolved for each flat. The entrance lobby has a study room on one side and leads into the living and dining rooms can be used as one hall for social gatherings etc. The two bedrooms are accessible from the living-dining-room and open into the sleeping balconies which are similar in arrangement to those in Type VI flats. The kitchen adjacent to the






Afl:CH1TECTURE + DESIGN .MiJr- .... p' '1996 49

dining room is accessible from the behind entrance lobby. The servant's rooms, lavatories and the lift r00111 are served with a separate service staircase.





At ground floor level aile wing is on stilts providing a sheltered ent ranee and driveway going under the building. It also provides a covered children's play area which opens on to larger free spaces. The Inquiry Office is by the side of the m3 i n entrance and the blocks are so arranged a to allow generous space for open parking. Garages are ground floor structures near each block. While deciding the orientation of the blocks an attempt was made to give the best orientation to the maximum number of rooms in each block. With large open spaces between blocks a feeling of openness with good air and light and considerable privacy for each flat is established. The structure consists of RC struc lure frames with 9" external panel walls and 4 J /2" internal partition walls. External walls have exposed brick work to add





texture and interest in unison with the pattern of protecting cilaj}as. The expansion joints have been carefully located

near the central core to avoid fouling of any of the bays within the fiats.

There are two lifts provided in each block. Water supply i through an underground service re ervoir which feeds the storage tanks in covered murnty at terrace level. A garbage chute has been provided in the central core of each block with an openable hopper cover at each floor level and space for collection and removal at ground floor level. Electric meters for

all flats are located in a common meter room on the ground floor.

In the layout plan 6 blocks of Type V quarters and 10 blocks of Type VI quarters have been planned to give 138 Type V and 230 Type VI flats. However, three of the blocks cannot be constructed at present due to land dispute. As a result, there are 138 Type V flats and )61 Type V1 flats. The density of the colony when completed will be 75 persons per acre.


A shopping centre has been designed for this colony and will be constructed shortly. The layout plan also provides for such facilities as a club, creche, nursery and primary school

and these will also be designed in due course. Besides these large open spaces which are not possible in a two-storeyed development of the same density are available as children's play areas and recreation spaces.

The cost per flat of Type V works out to Rs. 46,600 and that for Type VI, Rs 60,000. The total cost of the project ( eighbourhood XlII, RK Purarn) is expected to be Rs 2.5 crores,

(PalwantSingh. DESIGN Incorporating Indian Builder, /968)

Curzon Road Hostels New Delhi, 1969

Six blocks of fiats were constructed on the site of the old Constitution House on Curzon Road. They were first occupied by delegates to the UNCTAD conference held in Delhi in 1969. The balcony treatment of each of the blocks is different, giving a varied facade.

Pacing page left and tl bove Views of the two External Affairs Hostels blocks.

ARCHlTECfURf + DESICN M~'!.Apr 1996 53


54. ARCHITECI1JRE -+ DES1GN M:1'r-tlp ... ]996

Top General view of the complex. Above Views of the club/restaurant and shopping complex.



60s-70s Office Buildings WHO Headquarters New Delhi, 1962

Set on a site which has an open, stinking sewer on one side and a powerhouse on the other with a chimney which promises to belch great quantities of sooty smoke at all hours of the day and nigh t. The new building

for the South-east Asia Headquarters of the World Health Organization ("\THO) is symbolic of our paradoxical way of doing things: badly designed buildings on good sites, and good buildings on bad sites.

What results from this current practice of treating the siting of buildings with scant respect for aesthetic and planning considerations is that even fine architecture, all-tao-rare, gets smothered in mediocrity. Surely it is time for those who deal with such matters to stop playing checker-boards with a subject of profound significance

for our cit)', and on our civilization. Habib Rahman's building consists of two major elements: a low-slung auditorium-cum-conference block, connected to a six-storey office building. The composition is effective. It isn't an easy thing to achieve a relationship between two blocks placed in such close proximity to each other; a relationship, that is, which is valid in its balance, proportions and visual impact. But in this case it has been accomplished. I feel, however, that the staircase leading from the fust floor of the auditorium block to ground level ought to have had a more graceful, slow-spiral-like quality; at present it is somewhat constrained. And the pool below it is definitely fussy. The ground floor entrance hall of the office building is spacious without being wasteful of space but a

more ingenuous solution should definitely have been found for the main staircase. 1 have two rather strong objections to it: firstly its placing and secondly its form. Placing a staircase right against a wall of transparent glass, as in this case, p resents a visually confusing picture from the outside.

Moreover it is a solution valid only if the staircase is to be set against a solid wall, but not if it is to be placed against a glass wall. The form 0 f the staircase too could have been given a quality of lightness and elegance, thus making it the focus of interest for all those entering the building. I am reminded, as I write this, of the fine solutions in staircase design which I saw at the General Motors Technical Centre near Detroit. There, <'iquite a new dimension has been given to the concept of

staircase designing, and I feel this fine building here was a good opportunity for something original in that direction.

The partitioning of space for offices in the main block was rendered easier by virtue of the fact that the entire building is air-conditioned. The remit is very efficient space utilisation,

The auditorium is of distinctive design except for the fact that no separate side entrance into the hall near the dais has been provided. Consequently the chief guest and others with him have to pick their way through seated delegates before they can reach the head of the hall.

It is good to see that the

rear of the building has been handled with as much care as its facade, the usual practice amongst a lot of our architects being to let the rear fend for

60s -70s Office Buildings Habib Rahman

itself. All the elevations are very satisfying with their flowing lines except the north side of the conference hall block. I feel that imaginative fenestration treatment on this side could have enhanced interest in this rather large expanse of wall, Also, this wall should have continued all the way to the rear of the block, instead of which, quite abruptly and unconvincingly, another treatment of it begins half-way along its length. vVhere this building scores additional

points is in its attention to such details as the design of gates, compound walls and landscaping. I wish this attention to detail had been carried to the point of designing of furniture for the entrance hall, or at least

in selecting the fabric for the chairs placed there .. Whoever ' heard of a wishy-washy grey for chairs set against a grey marble backdrop? This brings us face to face with the perennial problem of maintenance of buildings in India,

Leaving aside for a moment the selection of fabrics, the really serious thing to think about is the callous indifference shown to buildings by those using them Blobs of spit, smudgy, greasy hands on doors, clumsily repaired woodwork, broken glass panes, dirty stains on walls (mercifully the paan addicts haven't made much headway in this building so far) and such things soon make slums of the most sensitively

designed buildings. Even ill the WHO building, with all the extreme care the organization takes of it, the imprint of the inhabitants can be seen. Unless each office organises some sort of a training programme for its users, pointing out to them the abuses they inflict on a buil ding and how not to inflict them, there is little hope of good architecture remaining good for long. Quite possibly those who learn something in their working environment ~ about how to be decent to buildings ~ would take the lessons learnt home and so the living environment might gain too,

One unfortunate side-effect of having a building in which a United Nations agency is going

to function is that many member countries come forward to contribute something or the other to 'enhance' the value of the building. I saw a design of a mural by a Burmese artist which is proposed for the entrance hall of the WHO building, and frankly it is terrifying.

There is now quite a weird collection of buildings in Indraprastha Estate (where this is located), but Rahman's building stands cut for its clean lines, clarity and fine proportions. Only it should have beenlocated on a site more worthy of it.

(Patwant Singh, DESIGN Incorporating Indian Builder, 1965)

ARC}-IITECTI)ll:E + DESIGN Mar-Apr 1996 61


Indraprastha Bhavan New Delhi, 1965

R- ahrnan's plan consists of DNO independent blocks of contrasting design. An

eight-storeyed block with a plan resembling a drum (Mriduug1ll11) was originally designed to house UN Agencies offices. Its structural columns are expressed as bold vertical lines projecting out of the curved exterior walls. The windows between these columns are staggered on alternate floors to create an interest, ng pattern. With the exception of continuous vertical slits down the centre the end walls facing east and west are windowless. A central service core houses the stairs, lifts and toilets. Apart from this the ground floor is kept entirely free for parking of cars and scooters.

(Patwrmt Singt), DESIGN Incorporating Indian Builder, 1965)

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62 A RCt-U1E.crtrRE + DESICN Ml1'r-ApF 1995


Abol'e Views of the cell trill skylight and the twill hclica! staircase ill the Y shaped block.

Habib Rahman

Left: vika: Minar, the DDA headquatters, desigllcd in 1 ')6').

Fill-left and below The nell! Auditor General rower ouslt in the 70s . Bottom The administration building of the Trade Fauin New Deli,i, 1972.


Sardar Patel Bhavan New Delhi, 1973

''AIlUDlber of new trends which I helped introduce in Government architecture and were innovative in

their time, include exposing Rec frame structures by slightly recessing brick curtain walls, concealing sanitary pipes in narrow shafts with inspection doors on each floor. ventilating these shafts and toilets with exhaust fans, eliminating rain water pipes by generous roof projections, enclosing and integrating water tan ks and lift machine rooms with concrete jalis, and using unplastered brick walls, never before used ill the CPWD."

(Interview with Mina Sillgh, Inside Outside, 1987)

64 '\.RCHITECTlJRE + DESIGN M'~;\r' ,,%


Memorials Gandhi G,hat

IIJ.. • .. ust five months b.efo.f.e iude-

. pendence I was appointed

_ Senior Architect in the Bengal PWD. My first assignment was the prestigious and extremely challenging one of designing a memorial for Gandhiji - only a few weeks after his assassination - on the banks of the Hooghly, near Calcutta, where his ashes were immersed.The brief was very sketchy and vague. The memorial had to be elegant and modest, reflecting the personality and philosophy of the Mahatma, with a bathing ghat attached to it. There was a budgetary limit of five lakh rupees and the deadline stipulated was January 30,.1949, Candhiji's first death anniversary.

This was the first structure to be built as a memorial to the Father of the Nation. [ had no contemporary example of such a structure to draw inspiration from, and no one available to guide me.

However, Gandhiji's respect and love for all religions inspired me to conceive a


Ba rrackpore, 1949

structure that harmoniously and aesthetically reflected and symbolised the three main religions in India - Hinduism, Islam and Christianity, The result was a tower - a simplified profile of a temple shikhara, capped with an islamic dome. A horizontal cantilevered slab projecting

from both sides appeared in silhouette somewhat like a cross.

Happily the first model was approved by the cabinet. The 40 ft cantilever was too difficult for the departmental engineers to design, but a. brilliant bridge engineer came to our rescue. In spite of various foundation problems, the structure - called Gandhi Ghat - was completed well before the first anniversary and was opened by Panditji on January 15, 1949. It was one of the most memorable events of my life when Panditji shook my hand saying '[ congratulate you on your magnificent conception'. Six years later, I received the Padilla Shri for this design.

(Interview wim Mina Singh, Inside Outside, 1987)

Top View of Gandhi Ghat from the Hooghly river.

Above Detail views ar night.

Left lawa II a ria I Nehru at the opening.

Ram Rahman

Mazaar of Maulana Azad

Jama Masjid, Delhi, 1959

M aulana Azad's Mazaar was designed in direct consultation with

Iawarharlal Nehru. Panditji wanted a simple tomb that complemented and did not clash with the historic site that lay between the lama Masjid and Red Fort, both built by Shah Iahan.

Rahman came up with a design which derived from the central arch of the mosque. This was the base for a thin-shelled concrete cross-barrel-vault arched structure. The concrete was a mix of white cement and crushed white marble, that was slightly polished by hand.

The tomb was surrounded by a low marble Mughal lat: and placed in a small garden with reflecting pools.

In later years, the site has been completely altered by the 'beautification' around the mosque. The sloping ground was carved up, an underground bazaar built and huge water pools constructed. These are always dry and have become garbage pits. Rahman walked away in anger from a memorial service when he found that the cement had been painted with white plastic emulsion paint.

AlKHlTIcruRE • DESIGN MOT'tIp, 1996 71

Memorials Habib Rahman

Mazaar of Fakhruddin Ali Ahmed New Delhi, 1975

All the three tombs Rahman designed in Delhi were a conscious addition to the hundreds of tombs dotting the city of which he was an avid admirer. This tomb for President Ahmed, is situated in the garden of a small old mosque next to Parliament House. Here too the design had to be sensitive to the existing building. In this case the concept of the open linear forms - almost like line drawing in space - an ongoing experiment with Rahman, was carried to its fruition. First sketched and then conceived in cardboard cutout models, the proportions of this tomb and its jalis were finally refined in a full scale plywood mockup.

To achieve the thin frame members in marble, an unusual

. engineering solution was devised. All the structural elements are made in thin steel around which were clamped two C sections of carved marble, fixed by internal pins.

This is the newest of Delhi's 'open to sky' tombs with marble screens, that include those of [ahanara and Emperor Mohammed Shah 'Rangila' in the Nizamuddin Dargah,

Facing page and above The tomb in itssetting. Left Construction photo showing. the stell Clrmat1.rre with the marble being clamped around it.

Below Rahman clucking the mal·/lle jalis wtth the craftsmen

ARCIiIU:CfURE + D.ES~GN M.:J'r.,l-tpr £9% '7.3


Mazaar of Zakir Hussain New Delhi,Jamia Millia, 1971

Zakir Husain's Mazaar is inset into the top of a raised mound. The inward sloping walls are inspired by some of the TughIaq period tombs in Delhi. The sloping concave walls do not meet.at the comers and support a shallow dome. The facing of these walls is of rough cut marble pieces mounted on their edge.

Views of tire Mazaar and its interior. The minar 011 the left in the photo above is 1101" a part of the lI1azaar but belongs to n masjid in the background.

Ayodhya. Babri Masjid

Memorials Habib Rahman

Design proposal, 1990

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No religion approves man killing man to sell, appease or proteet God. Yet millions have been killed to propitiate God ever since he was created/invented by Man. Even today such

killings continue from Ireland to the Philippines.

Recently hundreds have lost their lives due to passions aroused by the Ram Ianambhoomi and Babri mosque controversy. Fanatics and fundamentalists are above rationale, logic, human values and even law.

Deep religious devotion and love for God inspired great art, music and architecture in the past. We are rightly proud of our great spiritual and cultural heritage. Today religion is devoid of spiritual values and artistic creativity - they are replaced by communal hatred, violence and greed.

This insanity and communal frenzy must be stopped at any cost.

The religious leaders, politicians and intellectuals must try and find a long-term solution through human, spiritual and cultural values. Why not take this opportunity to establish a nucleus for promoting communal harmony, understanding and religious tolerance by imparting knowledge of comparative religion all this volatile and disputed land around the Babri mosque?

I suggest that the area be turned into a unique spiritual centre of all faiths with a beautiful modern temple, church, gurdwara, synagogue and prayer halls for all other religions. Also repair and renovate the Babri mosque and build a complex to house a school of comparative religion.

This spiritual centre, the first of its kind in the world, sbould also be a complex of architectural beauty, a show piece that our future generations would be proud of. Temples, Mosques and churches built in India these days are usually extremely crude, unimaginative

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sometimes a comical imitation of our exquisite architectural heritage. In the West hundreds of very beautiful modern churches have been built since "\Torld 'lVar I, that do not resemble the great churches or cathedrals. A few beautiful modern mosques can also be seen in some Islamic countries. Why should we continue to build vulgar copies of our past glories?

While my proposal would at first appear naive and utopian, it could appeal to some leader with a grand vision. And if there is a sincere and strong political will such a dream can become a reality.

(From The Statesman, July 28, 1990)

Float for Communal Harmony, India Day Parade, New l'()rk, 1981

ARCH ITEC11)R E • DESIGNM"-Ilpr 19% ?S


Habib Rahman

Industrial Design

B e.calls.e of his early engineering background, Rahman was extremely

interested in improving the quality of the fixtures in his buildings. While working for Konrad Wachsman and Walter Gropius in the General Panel Corporation in New York, he had spent six months just working on designing a hinge joint for the prefabricated plywood housing they were producing for the troops in the Second World War. This design discipline was to remain with him throughout his career. Also, because of his Bauhaus training under Gropius, he was very keen on exploring the application of mass production techniques to make simple, cheap and practical fittings for the Indian context. His most succesful attempt was the 'Pulbolok' - a door fitting which replaced the functions of three separate fittings: handle, bolt and latch. Two versions of this fitting were designed, both of which became extremely succesful and were copied across the country.

The fitting was very easy to manufacture: it had one element made of die-cut sheet metal,

and another of bent metal rod.




Left Steel stool with

ca ne seat, J 968. This stool was made on a buildillg site with steel reinforcing rods. It is a modem interpretation of the Mom.

Below eft Woodell table. designed arId crafted by Rahman. Right above Sketch of postures all a rickshaw. Right Rickshaw developed by the Bycyc/e & Sewing Machine Research and Development Center; Dhandari, Ludhiana.

In 1985, Rahman bad to have one leg amputated below the knee. In Iaipur to have a Iaipur Foot fitted at the SMS Hospital, he travelled to the din i c every morning on a cycle rickshaw - and he immediately found design defects in it. He failed to understand the design logic behind the angle of the seat, which was raised quite high and pitched forward, making the passengers an awkwardly to avoid being thrown into the back of the driver. Rahman tried to devise a logical and cheaply manufactured rickshaw with a simple gear system, that would make pedalling more efficient for the driver. While this project did not progress beyond a huge amount of research and communication, it remained a focus of continuuing interest, with Rahman proposing a design competition for students at the lIT's and other engineering schools.

. I\~CHJTECTURE .... DESIGN j\j.flf-Atw 1996 77


Personal Notes

Patwant Singh

I first met Habib Rahman in February 1954, soon after I had featured the Mahatma Gandhi Memorial in Calcutta, designed by him, on the cover of The Indian Builder .. I had started the

magazine a year earlier in Bombay.

Habib was moved by contradictory emotions on seeing his building when the magazine landed on his desk. He was obviously pleased by the recognition of his elegant design without any prompting on his part and by an Editor unknown to him. But he was equally upset at seeing his name omitted a the building's designer which, of course, was due to a slip-up on our part. He wrote and conveyed his unhappiness, wording his letter gracefully and without rancor of any sort. He also insisted I call him next time I was in Delhi .. Which I did, soon after that.

The Rahman's lived in Sujan Singh Park where

longing for recognition as patrons of the arts.

The first issue of Design, A Magazine ofAI"tS and ideas, appeared on lanuary 1, 1957. Habib, quite naturally, was amongst those distinguished persons from India and abroad who were invited to serve on our Editorial Board. In those days, given the volume of construction activity whi h was underway after Independence, it was very much the vogue to plant domes, chattries or what-have-you 011 modern office blocks, hotels and uch in a desperate attempt to make them look 'Indian'. Habib called it 'applied archaeology' and in a thoughtful article he wrote for our July 1960 issue, he deplored this trend:

"In 1958 two important buildings of a monumental character were completed, the High Court building at Chandigarh and the Vidhan Soudha at

we made our acquaintance over drinks one evening. Bangalore. The artistic intentions of the archi-

It was a warm, agreeable and very memorable meet- tects as revealed by these two buildings are poles

ing because we found so much in common, coming apart. It is not that they express the difference in

as we did from entirely different backgrounds. This personalities of the two architects but that they

first encounter was to develop into an enduring are the outcome of two completely different

friendship that lasted over 40 years - cemented by approaches to architecture. One is the bold,

our shared interest in good design, and a passionate rational and imaginative expression of a new age,

concern for its future. which comes to grips with modern technology

Although originally from Calcutta, Habib had and materials, and the other is an expression of

gone to the US to study automobile engineering the urge to cling to the past by imposing 'applied

but, finding himself increasingly drawn to architec- archaeology' on a reinforced concrete building.

ture, had switched courses. To make a bit of extra There are quite a number of monumental build-

money (if at alll), he had danced in Ragini Devi' Design, Cover, Zoo issue, 1965 ings commissioned since Independence which

troupe with whose daughter, Indrani, he was to later elope. I was have a similar archaeological inspiration. They have resulted

brought up in an entirely different milieu in another part of the from thoughtlessness to fundamental questions, and misguided

country but had entered the construction field and developed an nationalist sentiments. On the other hand, numerous ill-

abiding and lifelong interest in buildings. And later in urban form designed buildings have also been put up on the name of

as well. India did not have a single design or architectural magazine modern architecture - they are bare, soulless, and sometimes,

then and Habib, realising the potential of the recently launched paradoxically, even unfunctional. Some of these buildings have

Indian Builder, felt that it could become a powerful voice for urban made the Indian people sceptical of modern architecture and

sanity, civic grace and, of course, creative architecture and design. have confused them about its aims"

He felt we should stay in close touch since each of us in his own way Those were wonderful years - before the onset of the rot

was involved in the cause of creative architecture and livable urban which would slowly eat into the country's vitals. The future of

spaces. post-Independence India was still ours to shape. And the

As The Indian Builder grew in stature and circulation it had euphoria was with u.s, as was the excitement of enriching India'

become clear to me that there was room for publishing a second landscape with our creative genius. The destruction of institu-

magazine, covering all aspects of design. Although in the broader tions, criminalization of politics, the cancer of corruption and

sense it would be a magazine of architecture, in acknowledgement the emergence of dishonest and mediocre men, lacking character

of architecture's pre-eminence in the creative arts, its editorial and substance, were still some years away. As were the developers

coverage would show that no architect or designer ~ or any creative and such who with their greed and money-power would

person - can work in isolation from practit~oners of the other arts. vandalise our cities and countryside.

So it would cover not only architecture, the visual arts and product During his years with the Government of India, including a

design, but also articles on music, dance, drama and poetry. Because stint as the country's Chief Architect, Habib designed many

just as the country's physical landscape was becoming an architec- major buildings. And though I did not see eye-to-eye with the

tural wasteland, the performing arts were being cornered by design expression of some of them, my respect for the designer

newly-formed societies and coteries, founded by the nouveaux, and and his commitment to design continued to grow over the year.

the not-so-nouveaux, riches who were le s interested in a quest for Quite simply because of his integrity: both in his approach to his

new concepts and expressions, and more in satisfying their own own work, and to the problems of his profession. Habib stayed

i8 A.r.!:CH1TECiURi: + DESrCN M.ar-Ap! 1996

Habib Rahman

aloof from the coteries and diques which were beginning to form even then and which would in time lead to may unprofessional practices and to lowering the standing of this noble profession. Even after his retirement as India's Chief Architect, he did valuable work in his capacity as Secretary of Delhi's Urban Arts Commission, which was established in 1973 by an Act of Parliament. The quality of his contribution to this office is best judged by the extent to which this institution has gone downhill since then.

The last years of Habib's life were not happy, beset as he was by illness, loneliness and a sense of isolation, following his move to North Delhi - at considerable distance from most of his friendsafter his retirement. The cruellest blow of all was when his leg had to be amputated. That this should happen to a man who with bare torso, a flamboyantly coloured, tightly-wound dhoti and with his hair clown, would take to the floor for a side-splitting imitation of Martha Graham, was particularly poignant, But he faced this adversity too with his customary fortitude and grit.

Habib Rahman will be remembered long after many others of his generation are forgotten. Not only because of the many landmarks he designed, but because he too was a landmark in his own right.


Joseph Allen Stein

Direct, sensitive, proportionate, in a word integrity in design and in person. A supreme example of courage.

It is appropriate in a time when the word "integrity" rarely appears in speech or print that this issue is being devoted to the works and efforts of Habib Rahman, the first secretary of the Delhi Urban Arts Commission and a rare phenomenon, a government servant of distinction and integrity.

It is to be hoped that this issue of A + D devoted the work and person of Habib Rahman will be beacon to many of the younger readers of A + D as an example of a great person and fine architect in times that can be called dark. V.,re can but hope that this moral darkness is the darkness before dawn and that the marvels of technology now so ruthlessly applied against both nature and the needy multitudes will yet be used responsibly and beautifully by a new generation motivated by the example of a distinguished professional and a great person like Habib who persisted to his last breath, despite being burdened by harsh physical disability after an accident twenty-six years ago,

Habib's works were characterized by a rare sense of appropriateness and directness, His work, like his life, should be a beacon and a challenge. Indeed, it can be seen that Habib was a Gandhian kind of

Above Ebrahim Alkazi and Achyut Kanvinde during a meeting of the Delhi Urban Arts Commission HI .1974, photographed by Habib.

Left Rohman in a lighter vcm Below left Model of the proposed Indian Pavilion for the New York Worlds Fair, 1964. This project became the subject of a big controversy between Rllhnum (md Indira Gandhi alld Pupu! Iayakar, which was played 0111 in tile pages of Design magazine.

an architect, seeking beauty through appropriateness and simplicity

Despite the many limitations of being a government architect in a service dominated by bureaucrats and engineers, and working under severe restrictions, budgetary and otherwise, Habib's larger buildings are notable for the same sturdy simplicity and sensitivity as to be seen in Humayuri's Tomb. His smaller structures such as the later memorials have a striking and poetic simplicity delicacy and grace. The WHO building and the Rabindra Bhavan are expressive of the sensitivity and dignity that give them an enduring and endearing quality in a city marked by harsh forms and violent relationships,

Habib's dedication to students and causes and his many friends are all testimony to a great soul and a fine architect who will be long remembered.