Architect Ramu Katakam’s memoir explores the history of post-independence Indian architecture

The memoir of an architect has the potential to be many different things, all at once: a documentation of their oeuvre, the structures that moved and inspired them, and the people and politics that shaped their world view. Ramu Katakam’s Spaces in Time adds another dimension—of serving as a record of history.

A veteran whose practice began in the late ’70s, Katakam wanted his memoir to depict changes in India’s architecture in the period after independence. Katakam’s first-hand experiences—whether his involvement in setting up Dilli Haat, a crafts bazaar in the capital, or building a secretariat building in Saudi Arabia—reveal details beyond what is known. Consider, for example, a retreat in Haryana’s Sohna that Katakam had to work on in secret, because it was to be a meeting place for cabinet ministers during Indira Gandhi’s tenure as prime minister.

Architect Ramu Katakam’s new memoir published by Arthshila.

Harshita Nayyar

The writing process prompted Katakam to reflect on his practice, as well as the years before he became an architect. He paints a portrait of the early years after 1947, when India’s citizens
were eager to experience “the beginnings of freedom”, as a resident of a tent colony in Lutyens’ Delhi. He recounts weekends spent at Teen Murti Bhavan with Rajiv Gandhi when they were both schoolboys—idyllic days of swimming in the president’s pool and witnessing Jawaharlal Nehru at work.

Of a visit to the Piazza del Campo in Italy, the architect writes as evocatively about the terracotta-coloured bricks as he does of a young couple in love. Structures such as the Piazza and architects such as Louis Kahn and Luis Barragán deeply inspired Katakam. “Both attempted to bring a spiritual quality to the spaces they designed,” he says. “Barragán even talks of enchantment, serenity, intimacy, and amazement. If a building gives me these, I find myself drawn to it.”

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