Pradeep Sachdeva, architect and urban planner, leaves a lasting legacy

Published : June 06, 2020 17:49 IST

Pradeep Sachdeva Photo: By Special Arrangement

Pradeep Sachdeva, the award-winning, New Delhi-based architect who was well known for designing several landmark public spaces in the capital city, passed away at the age of 62 on May 31. He was considered one of India’s foremost designers of urban spaces. The iconic and popular Dilli Haat at INA Market, Garden of Five Senses in Said-ul-Ajaib, and Emporia Plaza at Baba Kharak Singh Marg are some his most interesting contributions to New Delhi. Sachdeva’s untimely demise will be a monumental loss to Indian architecture, say many of his associates.

Sachdeva’s work, however, transcended architecture. He often said his intention was to capture the soul of the place and allow the common man to enjoy an aesthetic he may not have access to in a wildly developing city such as New Delhi. Sachdeva certainly achieved his goal, for he will always be remembered as the man who, keeping inclusiveness and accessibility as a priority, created several beautiful spaces in the city.

Other famous buildings he designed in Delhi are the headquarters of the Delhi Development Authority (INA Market), Azad Hind Gram in Tikri Kalan, Delhi University Plaza, Plaza and Streets at Bhikaji Cama Place, and the Botanic Garden in Noida.

A trailblazer

Sachdeva grew up in Meerut, Uttar Pradesh. He was schooled in Mussorie and graduated in architecture from Roorkee University. He came from a modest background, and the simplicity of his upbringing seems to have remained a fundamental value which was prominent in his work. After working with senior architects, he set up his own practice, Pradeep Sachdeva Design Associates, in New Delhi in 1990.

Sachdeva was among the trailblazers who discovered that small villages within the urban sprawl would be an inspiring location to set up workspaces. This was in the early 1990s, when architects, painters and designers found that rooms in old villages were affordable and loaded with personality. The trend eventually led to a symbiotic relationship between the villager and the designer, both taking the best from each other. Today several of Delhi’s villages have some of the most well-known, not to mention expensive, designers housed in these localities. Sachdeva’s first office was in Khirkee Village. He later shifted to the Ayanagar, where he and his team turned a dusty plot of land in a village into an oasis.

Sachdeva was an exceptional architect whose keen interest in conservation and urban planning saw his practice redesign and rejuvenate segments of cities across the country. Assi Ghat in Benaras, the refurbishment of Marine Drive in Mumbai, Willingdon Island Redevelopment in Kochi, and the Eco-Park in Kolkata are some of his pan-Indian projects.

However, Delhi was where his heart was. He understood its history, its ethos and he worked industriously at helping it retain the architectural charm that it once commanded as a capital city. As an urban planner, his biggest fears was the city would be engulfed by poorly thought-out modern construction, which would ruin the beauty of the sprawling metropolis. Unwilling to let this happen, his firm would pitch for projects that involved developing or beautifying public spaces.

Deputy Chief Minister of Delhi Manish Sisodia wrote: “The spaces he created have become architectural landmarks for our city brought alive by his imaginative design. RIP.”

Jaya Jaitley, former Samata Party president, who worked closely with the architect on the Dilli Haat project, wrote: “The people of Delhi and beyond owe a huge debt of love and respect to an architect who was a lover of life, people, and the aesthetics of public spaces…. He gently encouraged citizens to respect and honour their surroundings by offering them something better than the general squalor in most public environments.”

Sachdeva had been working on other significant Delhi government projects such as Chandni Chowk’s pedestrianisation and beautification, Jama Masjid precinct redevelopment, and streetscaping of Ring Road (Moolchand to Ashram chowk), and Vikas Marg. He was also in the middle of building a centre for environment along with the environmentalist Sunita Narain.

Sachdeva was excited about the Chandi Chowk project which is located in Old Delhi. He was emphatic that it should retain its old-world pedestrian character yet be modernised just enough to allow easier movement in the congested precincts. His design did not want to displace centuries-old shops and generations of local people. Unfortunately, not all on the larger committee felt this way. In what turned into an ugly problem, some architects took him to court over Chandni Chowk. Sachdeva, a quiet and mild -tempered man, was shaken over the aggression, and associates close to him say was quite puzzled by why they were opposing a plan that was essentially planned with the local people in mind.

A former employer of his said “he was very unassuming as you can see from the outpouring of friends and the media coverage. Everyone is equal in his office and workshop. It was also very secular with all communities working in harmony. Workers would work all night to complete a project on time. His work in sustainable materials and alternative energy was an indicator of an innovator and long-term thinking.”

Sachdeva had a supremely creative and unique quality where he blended the traditional with the modern, heritage with new age, construction with climate and, perhaps, his most passionate theme, landscape in public spaces. It was his love and support for Indian craftsmanship, which he brought into design, that truly set him apart from his chrome and glass counterparts. Using local resources and material was his signature style.

Through this he not only supported hundreds of workers and craftsmen but also created a familiarity for the Indian, which made the space accessible. It could be tiles from Gujarat or woodwork from Rajasthan, but it had a sense of commonality.

Dilli Haat

Dilli Haat is an example of Sachdeva’s style. Located in the rich and fancy neighborhood of Lutyens’ Delhi, Sachdeva did not want it to be another upmarket space which was shut off to the common man. It was among the country’s first open-air markets that catered to all sections and, more importantly, gave rural craftsmen a platform to sell directly. Winning awards for its design and philosophy, Dilli Haat has become a huge tourist attraction, where even visiting state dignitaries are taken for an outing.

Egalitarian and collaborative, Sachdeva would work hands on with all his craftsman. Deeply involved in preserving Indian treasures, he would steer the artisan to produce fine work, which would find a place in a contemporary setting. Sachdeva won an award for saving a 300-year-old wooden Kerala home, which would have been knocked down, had he not dismantled and transported it to his farm in Haryana. He also saved old Haryanvi havelis by buying the pillars and windows before they met their downfall.

An expert on trees and flowers, he co-authored two books: A Naturalist Guide to the Trees and Shrubs of India and A Naturalist Guide to the Flowers of India.