For people who know nothing about architecture or building, the string of words – hot-dipped galvanised steel doors and windows – may seem rather alien. But thanks to renowned architect C.S.H. Jhabvala, this phenomenon was introduced for the first time in the Sun Life Insurance Building that stands today at Ajmeri Gate in Delhi – making it a milestone in its own way.
“My father was very innovative,” said Renana Jhabvala during a talk on Wednesday about his method in architecture and as a teacher at the School of Planning and Architecture (SPA) where he taught for almost three decades. But later on in the talk about Professor Jhabvala, another facet of his life took centre-stage – that of a remarkably gifted artist.
With sketches from his new book titled “Delhi Phoenix City” to aid her narration, Renana spoke about how her father perceived Delhi’s architectural marvels in the context of history and what happened to these monuments as time went by. So as the slideshow began, there they were: pencil sketches of the Tomb of Roshanara, Kashmere Gate, Fatehpuri Masjid and many more of Delhi’s architectural gems.
While many of these were sketches of places that the Professor visited often, several others were taken during his “quiet desultory ambles” around town. “I studied at Hindu College and my father would often come to drop me off,” said Renana, pointing to a sketch of the house of Hindu College’s Principal which according to the professor was a design “peculiar to the Army”. Similarly, the family would get dragged to the ramparts of Red Fort each time they had an outstation visitor. This then obviously became a part of his collection of drawings.
Yet the Professor, who currently lives in New York and turns 92 next month, only took to his real passion of drawing and sketching after his architectural practice reduced. Before that he had an illustrious career as an architect and more importantly a teacher and head of the SPA.
“Professor Jhabvala was more than a teacher. He was many things rolled into one,” said Nalini Thakur, a former student and current head of SPA’s Architectural Conservation. “He was instrumental in professionalising architectural education – a big change from being seen as a draftsman,” she said. The Professor not only consolidated the syllabus for architecture education but promoted objective ways of learning, observed Ms. Thakur, “but he was a tough teacher and was feared a lot.”
Hearing Professor Jhabvala’s contemporary and classmate J. J. School of Arts Professor M. M. Rana’s recollection of their days as young architects was perhaps the best way to conclude the evening session. “I was drinking tea one day when someone threw a matchbox on my head,” he said, “I looked up and saw Jhabvala. He immediately told me he needs me to teach at SPA. There started our association once again as teachers.”