When I first heard about Apurva Bose Dutta’s new book, Architectural Inheritance and Evolution in India, which profiles 10 acclaimed Indian families with a history in architecture and design, I wondered, Why? Would it be another tale of privilege—of how members of the family flourished by simply pushing the glory of the pioneer? What would architects and designers such as myself, with no blood ties to the profession, take away from reading about the journeys of these “architectural families”? The history of India is rich with legends of dynasties, of princes succeeding kings and becoming emperors, and of princesses taking the throne and making history. The family name was an integral part of one’s identity. However, in the last few years, with the talk of nepotism making the rounds in Bollywood and, by extension, in every other part of Indian society, the outlook seems to have changed. So, I wondered, is this book just an attempt to hop on the cultural bandwagon?
Within the introduction, the author began to answer my questions: “Privileges, entitlement, legacy, reflected glory, and reputation preceding you … all stand aloud today. This book is not a measure to judge, clarify, or glorify them; it is, I hope, one that looks beyond to observe how families bond over disciplines and contribute towards it collectively.” I hoped so, too—hoped that the book would shed more light on how simply being part of a legend doesn’t make you legendary, and when it all seems set out for you, that doesn’t make it easier.
The author arranged online meetings with the members of the chosen families and recorded the two-hour long interactions. “Next, the recording of every conversation was watched and transcribed,” writes Dutta. “The final output had to be an essay on the family; hence, the transcription could not be verbatim.” This came as a surprise to me. In conversations, the silence often speaks far greater depths than the words it is guarded by. I was immediately hit by a fear of missing out on the important subtleties of these conversations, the possible conflicts and tensions between the pauses. The resulting conversation-turned-essays were written in a narrative style, each one about 4,000-4,500 words long. They tried to do justice to the stories and the legacy of the different families while ensuring that “similar weightage” was given to all the 44 family members discussed in the book.
It’s not hard to imagine how the choice of families, as the author confesses in the introduction, would have been a difficult task, one that has been skillfully accomplished. “Considering we have many families in India with two architects, families with a minimum of three trained architectural practitioners in the immediate family were included.” After much deliberation, the author chose 10 families: the Ghoshes, the Jains, the Kanvindes, the Kembhavis, the Khans, the Puris, the Shahs & Gores, the Shahs & Khannas, the Sharmas, and the Zacharias & Bhyravs.
The architects of the chosen families have worked in all of the different sectors, ranging from government to private, academia to practice, and even in alternate allied avenues. Some of these family trees are so complex that I wanted a graphical representation to be able to understand them better. The ventures of the members are also varied: some families share an intergenerational practice, others have multiple practices; and still others are working outside the practice in allied fields while still contributing to the practice and the legacy.
Given the diversity of the traits and value systems of different families, I was particularly enchanted by how the book’s narrative is sensitive to the journey of these families and their practices. While the Ghoshes contemplate theory and practice, be it teaching at leading architectural institutions in India or at work, engaged in both large and small scale residential, commercial, and hospitality projects; the Jains strive to preach morality and simplicity through their public spaces and institutions. As the Khans showcase a spirit of liberation through their idea of “contemporary vernacular,” the Puris continually evolve in their architectural discourse—both at their studio and beyond as they host conferences, workshops, and their pro bono design projects as a way to give back to society. The Zacharias are passionate architects who create spaces that respond to the needs and aspirations of their clients, using natural materials, sustainable design, and poetic expression. The Sharmas carry the legacy of Ar. Shiv Datt Sharma, the master of detail and form, renowned for working with Le Corbusier and ISRO, and a commitment to preserving the heritage of Chandigarh. They have designed a wide range of projects across the country, from hospitals and housing to schools and scientific institutes.
Occasionally, the essays shift to describe seemingly insignificant events that form the intangible beauty of live, unscripted conversations. For instance, while describing the family dynamics and bonds of the Sharmas, the narrative is brought back to the Zoom call, where the father-mother-son are “huddled together, smiling, laughing, and munching on moongfali (peanuts) on a cold evening.” These anecdotes made the people seem more real, their identity more human and relatable, more achievable.
Between their offices in Hubli and Bengaluru and five decades of work spanning architecture, structure, and even modular furniture, the Kembhavis emphasize culture and progress; while the Kanvindes acclaim grace and righteousness while carrying forth the legacy of Ar. Achyut Kanvinde, who gave Ākār (shape) to the architecture of post-independence India. The Shahs-Gores, possibly the largest architectural family in India, embrace self-belief through their three practices: Architecture Plus, S+PSa, and Opolis. The Shahs-Khannas, in their collective family experience of 150 years, believe in defining their own style while borrowing enough influence from the legend, Ar. VN Shah.
The book reflects on the many features and variables that accompany the legacy of architecture in India: how an early exposure to architectural and design thinking influences an individual, how the evolution of the discipline and its ever-changing dynamics affected the bonds between families, and finally, how the different generations and family members choose to carry their legacy. Although the book sits loosely on a clear, familial structure, the individual essays celebrate the differences and legacy of the families. It isn’t just the torchbearers that get the spotlight; the successors’ stories were highlighted with equal prominence, if not more.
The book graciously highlights how, in family practices, new perspectives and skills are introduced into the firm while building atop traditional family values. When S. Ghosh & Associates started taking on larger projects, their son, Ar. Sudipto Ghosh, offered his expertise in BIM and redefined the fundamentals of the practice’s workflow. A few chapters later, a similar rigor is seen in Ar. Indrajit Kembhavi of the Kembhavi Architecture Foundation, who believes that technology is crucial for reimagining the role and style of architects in today’s day and age. While some directed their efforts to uphold the legacy of their elders, strong, spirited young minds, such as Vrinda Kanvinde, Sabrina Khan, and Ayesha Puri forayed into allied fields to redefine the meaning of their family legacies. Reading through these journeys left me feeling proud and hopeful.
As I forayed into architecture, I began with a lot of enthusiasm to achieve my ultimate dream of “creating a masterpiece.” And yet, somehow, by the end of the excruciatingly long five-year degree course, I found the enthusiasm fading away. I questioned whether I could continue for much longer. It wasn’t so much a lack of interest—in fact, my interest and intrigue had only increased over time—but the realization that architecture is a daunting field where one has to wear many hats every day. I questioned again my ability to get things done at the rigor and pace that the field demands, and I started to believe that my time in the profession might be limited. Once I had made the decision, I hadn’t had any second thoughts about it—until I read this book.
I would like to thank Apurva for sharing these stories of master architects and their generations, all struggling to find the source of their passion for building better spaces and their role in this glorious, difficult industry. Looking at these role models now, I feel a renewed sense of resolve and confidence within myself to perhaps continue in the field.
I realized what I was doing wrong: confusing a “masterpiece” with a “master stroke.” A masterpiece is not created overnight; the defining stroke might hit you in a moment, but it will probably take years of practice and learning to meet that moment. Tracing the journeys of self-discovery of these master architects, how these journeys had direct implications for their practice, how the influences in their formative years were critical to molding the design language and the theme of their legacy, and how they evolved over time to find their own voice, I began to wonder now about a time when I might have my own practice, and how my traits and interests would shape its identity. It was a thought that I had never allowed myself to ponder before.
Featured image courtesy of the individual families. The book is published by Altrim Publishers and supported by the Council of Architecture, India. For more information and to purchase a copy, visit: https://www.apurvabose.com/book-architectural-inheritance-and-evolution-in-india.