Building Ahmedabad: Kamal Mangaldas and Devendra Shah

| Updated: September 28, 2022 3:43 pm

Love it or hate it, Ahmedabadis can’t ignore the work of architect Kamal Mangaldas and engineer Devendra Shah. As partners in Design Associates, they built hundreds of buildings in the 40-odd years they worked together, which are a hallmark of the city today. They are the ones who introduced the ubiquitous row house (a concept some outsiders have unkindly called an abomination), based on Ahmedabad’s Pol culture. They built the famous Rajpath Club and were pioneers in designing farm houses for the city’s elite, in league with developers like Chintan Parikh. In the public space, they built the Gujarat University Convention Centre and refurbished Law Garden and Parimal Garden. Not many would know this, but Kamal Mangaldas even built Gujarat’s first Water Park on the Ahmedabad-Mehsana highway and later, Ahmedabad’s first Dog Resort.  

Given all this, “One is to One: The Works of Kamal Mangaldas and Devendra Shah” is an exhibition that should pique the interest of the city’s denizens. After three weeks at the CEPT University Exhibition Centre, the exhibits have been moved to the CEPT Archives, where they will be on display till 9 October. The exhibits include photographs, an audio-visual conversation between Mangaldas and Shah, who are both 84 years old, and most interesting for architects, a selection of old hand-made architectural drawings. The duo has always been famous for their meticulous drawings, which incorporate notes in Gujarati for the craftsmen executing the plan. “The drawing is the medium of communication between the designer and the artisan builder,” says Kartikeya Shodhan, curator of the exhibition and head of the CEPT Archives. “Kamal Mangaldas is perhaps the only architect in India who recognised the fact that drawings with notes in English made no sense if the workers on site could not read the language.”

Shodhan, 54, is a nephew of Mangaldas and worked with his firm for ten years, till the doyen decided to retire in 2018. Shodhan is the one who built Scooby’s Dog Resort in 2018, for which he visited similar facilities in Chandigarh and Chennai. “The best thing about Design Associates was the willingness to experiment, try new things. Kamalbhai and Devendrabhai had no clue about building water parks but when the Water World project came to them in 1991, they didn’t hesitate to take it up. To understand how water parks work, they went to Cairo, because Egyptian culture is closer to Indian culture than Western culture when it comes to these things,” he says.

Design Associates was set up in 1964, and its initial clients were Ahmedabad’s high net worth individuals. The firm’s first institutional project was the Electronic Corporation of India facilities in Hyderabad (old-timers might remember EC TV, India’s first television, for which there was a one-year waiting list). Vikram Sarabhai, who was Mangaldas’ uncle and chairman of the Atomic Energy Commission at that time, recommended his nephew to Prime Minister Indira Gandhi. “They won the project because they put in the lowest bid,” says Shodhan. “Right from the beginning, their approach to design was utilitarian. They made buildings which were simple and economical and could be constructed quickly and would require very little maintenance. It had to do with the ethos of those times.”

Mangaldas and Shah did build a few more factories, for Technova and Indopharma in Mumbai and Bharat Dynamics in Hyderabad, but the bulk of their work is in housing, mostly in the western suburbs of Ahmedabad. These include Amaltas Bungalows, Ankur Orchards, Sanjay Park, Ashwamegh Bungalows, Jai Shefali Row Houses and Abhilekh Apartments, which was one of the first apartment buildings designed for 100% basement parking. In 1997, Mangaldas also refurbished Sheth Mangaldas Town Hall on Ashram Road, which is named after his grandfather, a leading industrialist of his times.

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