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A Pioneer of Contemporary Vernacular Architecture

An architect who is not only known for his powerful and distinctive architecture but also for his immense contribution to design education and its community. In an educating and thought provoking interview, Prof. Habeeb Khan answered our questions with wisdom, wit and the smartest of metaphors.

Picture courtesy: Prof. Habeeb Khan

How do you approach your projects?

We don't. Projects do! To be be honest there's no defined approach. There's only a defined definitive thought process which is applied. Just like every airport has a different approach while landing, the winds, temperature, air traffic, length of the runway etc. governs the way you land, each project has a different approach and varied governing criteria. Defining a rigid approach is defeating the fundamental freedom of design and binding yourself in your own chains.

Were there any particular influences in the early part of your career?

Well we are still in our early part of our career. Architects come to maturity in their practice after they reach their 70's and above. The world starts recognizing them then. Going by the yardstick we are in our teens.But yes the organic and complex social fabric of India, it's mythology and folklore, arts and crafts and of course Frank Lloyd Wright and Charles Correa. And imagine how can you not get influenced by someone whose mom wanted his still to be born son to become an architect, so she used to play with Lego pieces and read about buildings.And you know Wright learnt his first lessons in architecture while he was in his mother's womb. Wow man. What inspiration. And yes I wanted to be the Howard Roark of fountainhead. No no not of architecture. But of Dominique.

Which project from your practice stands out according to you and why?

None. That project is yet to be made. For if we sit on laurels and identify one then we are dead. Achieving stability and a sense of achievement and satisfaction is not our ball game. You waste time if you play it and you are also sure of loosing it. Divinity flows through you in form of creativity, but we think we are creative. This is a big illusion every successful man lives in.

"ख़ुद से तो कुछ िकया नहीं मैंने कभी भी कहीं भी

वही सब िलखा मैंने, तूने जो िलखाया मुझको

हर दरो दीवार इमारत बनायी जो मैंने कसम से

हर संग में तेरा ही अक्स, िदखाई िदया मुझको

हुनर तो तेरा था हबीब तो ज़िरया था िसफर् तेरा

ज़माने ने बेवजह ही संवारा औ सजाया मुझको"

If divinity wants your project to stand out it will find its ways. And it will. You are no one

to say or declare about it.

What do you think the future holds for Contemporary Vernacular architecture?

Very bright. It has already caught up the fancy of intelligent architects. After coining the term of our thought process in 2007-8, it took 10 years plus and exhaustive 50 plus presentations across the country for them to understand what it is. And honestly speaking there's no other option to us Indian architects. If we don't imbibe it we will be doomed. We are already on the road which has destroyed and killed architecture, cities and people in the so called developed world. Contemporary

vernacular will make us and our society wise again. India was called the "sone ki chidiya" once, some eons ago. Contemporary vernacular is throwing the net in the air to catch that "chidiya" and bring it back and install it on a pedestal that is India. Hope you understand what we saying.

You’ve done quite few important institutional projects all over India. What draws you to these?

Money. What else. There's nothing in this world which is more magnetic than money. Discussing money is a taboo. And so are discussions about our cows. So better discuss cows. At least it's holier than anything else. Money is unholy. You are not supposed to own it publicly and more so discuss it. But Cow is a holy animal. And it's fashionable to discuss it. It is completely Indian in ethos. Every other cow in the world is a jersey cow. Which is not Indian. So our cow is the real cow. Our cow is very climatic. It has similar properties as humans. Cow also runs for shelter just like man does when it rains. It is in absolute sync with humans. Cow is the only animal which cries and has expressible sense of emotions. (synced with humans you know). Unlike the buffalo cow gives milk only when it's calf is in front of it. It shelters the calf under it while feeding. Everything about it has healing properties, be it it's excreta liquid or solid, or its skin which cures your blood pressure if you touch it. Cow is mother of all. Cow has horns but they are almost vestigial. They are of no use except self defense. And cow has earthen colors. Even it's white is mixed with the dust and earth it sits on. And more importantly it gives you a feeling of rooted-ness and contextuality of being a

hardcore religious Indian.

What else do you want from this cow which is so humble and so docile and so grounded?

And it is also in the news nationally and maybe once inside while internationally. Intelligent ones will substitute cow for our Architecture or contemporary vernacular or institutional projects or anything to do with us and those who are hardcore cow loyalists will substitute it with more cows.

What was your inspiration behind J.D. College?

The cow.

Why is there such a strong cultural significance seen in your work?

Because I am a cultured man like the cow.

What would your one advice be for young architects and designers?

Be like the cow.

What are some of the opportunities and challenges your office faces now?

Now? It's an understatement. It has always faced challenges and they keep getting difficult by the day.But the greatest one at the moment is to take our work to the next level. Where it will be acceptable and be equivalent to any other work of any international standard and yet be the cow that it has always been.


A: Prof. Habeeb Khan

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