Winning smiles

The felicitation of the young architects and designers was a fitting finale to the day-long iGen Design Forum 2018 held at Sahara Star

ITP Media’s group publishing director, Bibhor Srivastava welcomes the audience.

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Indrajeet Saoji, Girish Chaubey, head of Projects, Hafele India, Zannat Jui, Rafiq Azam and Gurunath Gavli, senior area manager-Project, Hafele India, with iGen Neil Parekh.

Our iGen series has always been a celebration – a celebration where idealism, intelligence and innovation are recognised in an inspired and ingenious group of people. What makes our annual hotlist of 50 young architects and designers truly spectacular is that, each year, it assures us that more professionals are pursuing good design in their respective cities and states. We firmly believe that their efforts shouldn’t go unnoticed, and our iGen Design Forum has consistently been a platform that encourages and supports these budding designers. While felicitating each iGen in the presence of their role models is one way to acknowledge and motivate them, we also wanted to offer them an exclusive experience – one that they would cherish for a long time.
The keynote address by Christopher Charles Benninger, which felt like a tête-à-tête with the living legend, was the perfect way to begin the felicitation ceremony. As the celebrated architect took a seat on the stage, he made it clear that he wasn’t going to talk about his projects – many of them are award-winning examples of contextual architecture and sustainability – nor was he going to talk about the state of education, a topic he had initially contemplated addressing. No, he had something more insightful to share, mainly his journey from the USA to India; from being seen as an “idiot American architect” doing pro bono work in the country to becoming the person he is today. Following the architect’s journey was, without a doubt, the highlight of the event.

Christopher Charles Benninger’s keynote, filled with inspiring anecdotes, felt like a tête-à-tête with a legend.

Mohit Hajela, Christopher Benninger, Dev Malhotra, group advisor-Sales & Marketing, Jaquar Group, and Barun Chowdhury flank iGen Nischal Abhaykumar, who received Jesal Pathak’s certificate.

“I think people are the essence [sic] of what life is all about and how things work,” began the architect, pointing out that he had no plans to come to India. Instead, the young Harvard graduate on a Fulbright Fellowship had his eyes set on Bangladesh. But circumstances redirected his steps. “My teachers, who worked with Corbusier, said that there is this young guy called Balkrishna Doshi, why don’t you make a trip to India and use your fellowship there? Now, that was good luck and it was fate,” and this was the beginning of Benninger’s life in Ahmedabad. On Doshi’s suggestion, he taught a planning course to architecture students, and continued teaching with Doshi even after his fellowship – until he was offered (and accepted) a job at his alma mater. But the youngest member of the faculty senate in a tenure track position had certain aspirations that only India could fulfil.
Benninger went on to share how every fleeting encounter, every opportunity, even those lacking promise, can lead to something bigger. “I wanted to do a low-cost housing project. Frankly, nobody was interested in it – except for one of the geniuses of our country called Kirtee Shah.” Like Shah, Benninger persisted…and was finally introduced to a social worker in Baroda who gave him a project, though in the end it didn’t materialise. This exercise wasn’t futile, because that social worker went on to become the Minister of Housing and assigned Benninger significant projects in the following years. Thus, “meeting people and working with people with no objective of making money or becoming well known” made Benninger the person he is today.

Zannat Jui, Rafiq Azam, Maria Louis and Sonia (wife of architect Tony Joseph) during the ice breaker.

Yatnesh Pandey, head-Marketing, Nerolac, Bandana Jain, Ajay Kulkarni with iGen Rakesh Kakkoth.

He continued to narrate story after story of his experiences, from working on his first Economically Weaker Section (EWS) housing scheme for HUDCO (Housing and Urban Development Corporation) in Jamnagar as a 29-year-old architect to designing the Site and Services Scheme in Chennai (1973-78). “My thesis at Harvard had been Sites and Services Housing. Nobody thought it was a good idea…to lay out plots and tell people to build (their own) houses. But from 1974-78, we actually allotted around 15,000 plots to low-income families in Chennai and they started building on it.” These insights helped to convince everyone in the room that they should believe in their ambitions and carry on despite the odds.
At each juncture, Benninger emphasised the merits of building meaningful relationships within the fraternity. “Things are all linked together…It’s all links between people…All things happen through networks. All of you should work on your friendships. Don’t get angry with your friends, don’t be nasty to them,” he advised. Calling his CEPT community a tribe where lively discussions, disagreements and debates keep things interesting, the architect inspired the young audience to maintain a similar spirit within their immediate fraternity. Turns out it was a similar network of friendships and series of encounters that led Benninger to write Doshi’s Pritzker nomination at Fumihiko Maki’s request (also a Pritzker awardee).

Barun Chowdhury, Yatin Patel and Maria Louis pose for a photo op with iGen Kruti Garg.

Bibhor Srivastava and Mohit Hajela with iGen Hemant Purohit.

Although it was one of the most casual keynote addresses, it was also one of the most inspiring, filled with anecdotes about simple people and their noble ambitions and the humility to pursue them with hope and determination. There couldn’t have been a better prelude to the felicitation ceremony than this. As each iGen stepped forward to receive their award, while their friends, colleagues and seniors cheered them on, the air was pervaded with a sense of promise – one that assures us that the pursuit of good design will only get stronger with every tomorrow. And when our iGens of 2018 need a reminder or a push in the right direction, they can always turn to their signed copy of Letters to a young architect − inked with a personal note from the architect and author himself – for timely guidance and motivation.

The team behind the very successful 7th edition of the iGen Design Forum organised by ITP Media.



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