He is the brain behind several world-class and award-winning buildings that include airports and hotels in the US. Several milestones and achievements later, the dream of doing something meaningful for his home country has brought Indian American architect Harshad Patel to his roots, determined to provide low-cost houses to the country’s poor.
Patel, who was born in Kampala, moved to India with his family when he was 12. An avid sketcher, he took to architecture on the advice of his elder brother. Once he completed his studies in India, he moved to the US in 1973.
“After designing for many firms and winning many competitions, I set up my own design firm in 1987 and dared to take on the established players in the US. I like to compete because I know I will win,” Patel, founder and director of Design Consortium said.
And now, with all his expertise and discussions with international firms to come up with solutions for low-cost residential structures specifically catered for India, Patel wants to give back to his native country, especially to make his father’s vision come true.
“My father had a dream of helping the poor of India and talked about how low-cost housing was the need of the hour. However, due to red tapism and high levels of corruption, the project has never been able to take off,” Patel said.
As per Patel, the price of land triples within a span of a few years. So, if the government allots land for a low-cost housing society, by the time it is approved and everything is in place, the price of the land would have skyrocketed, making the project unviable.
But the renowned architect, who has set up office in Gurgaon, has a solution in sight – a mix of prefabricated residential projects that guarantees to reduce costs and construction time.
“India today needs an estimated 19 million low-cost houses for its poor and a mix of prefabricated and precast buildings is the only solution,” he said.
“Prefabricated buildings can be built in a factory at a much quicker pace and also with less wastage,” said Patel, adding that some major developers in India are in consultation with him to design and build low-cost housing projects.
“We are in talks with Mexican and Chinese companies who can set up factories here and provide us with prefabricated buildings,” Patel said.
He however felt the government would have to entice the builders who would work on low-cost houses because compared to other projects, the profit margins would be slimmer. To start off, the government will have to subsidise the land and provide tax benefits to the builders in their future projects, he said.
“As it is, most Indian developers are not interested in the low-cost affordable housing project due to the high cost of land, delays in government permits and the cost of construction. Providing incentives is a solution,” he said.
Apart from low-cost housing, Design Consortium has also started residential and commercial projects across India in Tamil Nadu, Punjab and Maharashtra, as also premium villas in Delhi.
“A huge market is opening up in India in township development,” says he. “We want to be part of such exciting possibilities.”