As first-generation design entrepreneurs, Rahul and Swapnil Dalvi’s aim, when they set up their practice in 1997, was laced with pragmatism: “First to get some work and then to give our 100%. Our focus was to build up our identity, as we had no legacy to bank on,” say the alumni of MSU of Baroda. The break — after a slew of residential projects — luckily came almost immediately, in the form of an urban design project in Vadodara.
“With no major jobs on hand, we worked 24×7 and deliberated with authorities and town planners more than required,” recalls Rahul. “Our hard work paid off when we eventually bagged the project after competing with 11 other senior firms.” The assignment turned out to be a great teacher: the duo honed their communication skills — whilst interacting with engineers, project managers, bureaucrats and politicians — as well as learnt an important lesson in expecting the unexpected. “An unlikely project may get executed before time, while the most sure-shot one may not see the light of the day. Hence remaining serious about all projects…was another important learning,” says Swapnil.
With a growing portfolio came an increased sense of responsibility for every line drawn and every call taken. “Handling a project as a project head for some firm and doing so as the appointed architect was way different… With time, logic got sharpened and the sense of gauging creativity and aesthetics to functionality got better,” disclose the architects, who condemn the cut-copy-paste culture. “[The] search for shortcuts and, hence, cloning or mimicking design is…killing one’s originality. This is the single largest mistake that any architect/designer, irrespective of age, can commit,” they caution.
Labelling their earlier work as “logically correct and quite conventional” — tailored to a ‘just born India’, Swapnil and Rahul believe that now is the time to challenge stereotypes in order to arrive at a new option for a fast developing nation.
“We were the last generation to have drafting boards. Earlier, low budget projects on large land challenged clarity in engineering and design to reduce construction cost….today, projects consume small land packets with very high budgets, an evolution in itself. Our experience of seeing the changing times with conceptual clarity of logic and details is what we cherish and enjoy.”

Looking Back

Designing schools across the country for the same promoter became interesting, as the Dalvis derived customised designs based on location. At the Vadodara school, limitations posed by a tight plot resulted in creatively carved out spaces that facilitate apt light filtering, while also enabling cross ventilation for the whole structure.

Looking forward

The architects are hoping that a mass housing scheme with 3500+ apartment units sees the light of day. “We have handled luxurious projects,” they say, “but to focus on the last square inch of space for its usage and, thereby, touch the lives of the masses with good design, reminds us of our responsibility towards society.”

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