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ISSUE OF DECEMBER 2003  
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Contractor Of Unique Designs

Reema Sisodia deciphers the building blocks of Hafeez Contractor, architect par excellence

The first time someone told Hafeez Contractor he was going be an architect, he did not even know the meaning of the word. Contractor was then in Standard III and the teacher who made this prophesy was not exactly complimenting him. Says the man, "When my friends in school would be engrossed in books, I would draw structures of forts, bikes, guns etc. It became such an obsession that once my teacher, out of sheer frustration and in a rather disgusted tone, told me 'you will grow up to be only an architect'. I did not know what it meant then."

At the age of 53, Contractor today is one of the most famous faces of architecture in India with projects for names like Tatas, BPCL, ICICI, National Stock Exchange, CIDCO, etc. His name sells and often appears in the advertisements of construction projects.

But Contractor almost didn't become an architect. After his schooling, he was refused admission to an architecture course because his academic record was not too good. Contractor said, "Not getting entry into architecture school was a bit disturbing as I knew I had the talent and confidence. But my second class score in the school exams went against me. Destiny however had its own plans for me."

He was about to enrol in the army when an aunt tore off the letter of admission. Contractor then joined the Arts stream in Jai Hind College in Mumbai. The journey back into the world of architecture was by sheer chance. The subject French was a handicap and so he decided to take tuitions from his cousin's wife. The cousin owned an architecture firm and sometimes the classes were conducted in the office. One day, in the office, Contractor saw the detail of a window and commented that it would not open in its present design. His cousin was surprised and asked him to show his version of the window and despite having no formal training, Contractor's inputs were very good. Another family member then used some influence and managed to get him a seat for an entrance test in which he scored A+.

He was admitted into the Rachna Sansad Academy of Architecture in Prabhadevi, Mumbai. A post-graduate course from Colombia University, New York followed. Colombia was a tough place, where as per the words of one of his professors, 'We don't just teach you, we expose you to the world'. "At Colombia I learned about life and the profession," says Contractor.

After returning to India, he joined his cousin's architecture firm where he did everything from sweeping the floor when the peon was not there to being boss when his cousin was not there. He split with his cousin after a difference of opinion and started a firm of his own.

"Ever since I was in college I had dreamt of setting up my individual firm that would work in two shifts, from 9 am to 6 pm and from 6 pm to midnight. When I discussed this dream with my friends they would make fun of me, but it has happened," he says.

His office had a small beginning in 1982 with a staff of four. Today, there are around 140 people there including senior associates, architects, interior designers, civil engineering staff, architectural support staff etc with Contractor at the helm.

Interestingly, the boss has no cabin in this office. All Contractor has for himself is a table placed along with his employees on the shop floor level. Says Arjun G Bujbal who has been working in the office for 19 years, "Sir is a total workaholic which rubs off on the team. They often work throughout the night and then leave the next morning for presentations that could be in Chandigarh, Chennai or wherever. He is extremely simple in his functioning."

Contractor works everywhere, constantly creating designs. Often, when he is in an plane, the newspaper works as his canvas. His work has taken him to countries such as Japan, USA, Singapore amongst others. But wherever he is, he prefers the diet to be simple. Contractor is not a fussy traveller. Even the services of domestic airlines suit him fine. "I spend my time productively while travelling. I design the surroundings that pass by, whether in urban or rural areas. They provide inspiration for my work. It boosts my imagination which finds an outlet in the form of building designs. My only passion is building attractive and unique structures and I hope to give Indian cities and towns my very best," he says.

And we, at our end, wish him the very best and many more dream projects to follow.

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