Building Art into Spaces : a Heart to Heart talk with Architect Hiren Patel

He designs homes like a poet writes poetry. With a tinge of romance, a stream of thought and enough meaning to enable delightful acceptance. Architect Hiren Patel won’t use too many words, he’ll let the wall speak, make the garden communicate and allow the furniture to comfort you. We decide to meet at his home, Setu; it has a warm aura with glass walls that let every room share its story. The sun peeps in from part of the glass roof in the adjoining room as plants from the garden smile at us inside. Wife Dina ensures the house remains neat and beautiful just as it was when they moved in. Around a decade ago. Over a glass of papaya smoothie, we talk about his journey, art, travel, design and how the architect, who enjoys minimalism, gets the maximum out of varied materials and spaces.

Architect Hiren Patel, house setu

Architect Hiren Patel, interior design

Eklavya, in a way…
I was always good in studies; even faculty at CEPT when considering my admission thought I would opt for medicine since I had scored high. But design, architecture and me were meant to meet. My father was a civil engineer and town planner; both elder brothers were civil engineers and I would see them make models. What pulled me was the designing bit. I remember a house coming up across ours; it was of Kumar Vyas who headed the Industrial Design Dept at NID and I would often see Dashrath Patel come there. From a distance I saw it all. I must have been in class X at C N Vidhyalaya then. Designing spaces always pulled me.

‘I was clear about what I wanted… I was inclined’
When I was in class V, we had to select an elective – weaving, painting, carpentry, music, etc. Most went for what their parents wanted. I followed my heart and took up painting. Earlier, when in class III, I participated in a drawing competition and made a sketch of Uttarayan with tall buildings. The symmetry of structures, I am told, was drawn well even then. I was clear about what I liked and  connected well with drawing.

‘I enjoyed painting all five years’
Piraji Sagara was a wellknown artist when I joined CEPT. I took painting as subject for all five years, made portraits, sketches, landscapes… In fact, it may sound funny, but I tried making portraits better than the ones he made! A lot of artists would come to meet him and I would keenly observe them.

‘I was sketching on my honeymoon too’
I have been sketching since college days and have more than 100 sketchbooks. In fact, I made about 30 sketches during my honeymoon as well! Sketchbooks are a constant companion on trips, be it work or family holidays.

When art married design…

When I began working as architect, it was largely building design I engaged with; six-seven years on, we began with interior designing. I enjoyed that it fine-tuned my sensitivity. At one point we would be discussing buildings and related technicalities, the next moment the discussion would be about the kind of stitch a cushion must have, and then again moving to discuss a township. I could manage the switch with ease. It was a lot like mentally zooming in and zooming out of situations and subjects. Then, we slowly got into landscape designing. I believe in the concept of totality and so combined architecture, landscape and interiors. Also, whenever I designed a space, I always allotted space for art/installation. Earlier it would be my sketches or local art, now there are plenty of works to choose from.

Art as a central force
As a designer I try hard to educate clients on art and its type, what will go well with what. In that sense, I saw professionalism in art through art collector Anil Relia; it has been more of a friendly link with him than professional. My true art connection began with artist Sharad Patel. I would go with a blank canvas to him, explain my idea/vision and he would make beautiful paintings. He was suffering from cancer but painting became a central force. Even when admitted to hospital he would be concerned about the paintings he had to work on. Later, I began working with Navin Dhagat, Apoorva Desai, Nabibakhsh Mansoori, etc..

Architect Hiren Patel, setu, Portrait of Mahatma Gandhi

‘I enjoy timelessness in works’
I understand the client’s need and infuse timelessness in work. Much is put together, then excesses are filtered out, getting down to basics. Like, in architecture, we connect with the landscape by using glass (walls) whereas internally glass partitions lend largeness to spaces. Likewise, adding art and artifacts in interior designing is important; one is designing a philosophy at a deeper level. I am still developing that aspect.

Top Three architectural delights
– Gandhi Ashram Museum by Charles Correa
– Geoffrey Bawa’s works in SriLanka
– Jean Nouvel’s Institut du Monde Arabe in Paris

‘She gives a different perspective’
Dina is good with suggestions, her way of looking at architecture and design is different too. I recall we had gone to architect Leo Pereira’s house in Bhavnagar and I was all praises. Just then, Dina remarked it would be a difficult house to maintain! You see, she is a dentist and sees things differently.

Architect Hiren Patel

Heart to Heart talk, Architect Hiren Patel, Anurita Rathore


Photography : Ravi Panchal

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