Hafeez Contractor

An Open Letter to Hafeez Contractor, by Shubhayan Modak

Shubhayan Modak, a young architect writes a letter to the celebrated architect Hafeez Contractor, who offered Indian Railways to do the master plan for 19 railway stations for free.
Hafeez Contractor

Respected sir,

I was happily sipping a warm cup of tea, scrolling through Facebook when I came across a piece of news that read ‘Architect Hafeez Contractor offers to design 19 railway stations for free’. I quickly resorted to verify the authenticity of the news, hoping that it was a hoax! Turned out that the news was true, and you actually offered to do the masterplan of nineteen railway stations for free! I was shocked, and so were many others.

The news read that it was a pro bono work. Google describes it as ‘work undertaken without charge, especially legal work for a client on low income’. The client in this case is Indian Railways, and surely the client isn’t on low income. I am a young design journalist with hardly a year of experience and lots of love for the entire design fraternity. It took a lot of courage on my part to stand up and speak directly to one of the stalwarts of the profession on an issue which I (and many others) felt has been rashly dealt with. But being a journalist, it is my responsibility to rise above fear and face whatever comes in my way, and I will do the same.

You decided to work for free! And you called it a service to your nation. And I cannot help but notice the irony to this- nation building and service starts from the very grassroots sir. Before taking the big leap of helping your nation by master planning nineteen stations without any consultation fees, I really wish you would have served the grassroots. And I will not go on to explain what grassroots mean here, I am sure you got my point. I also do not understand what service you have done by saving the Indian Railways your consultation fees. They clearly can afford to pay you without the necessity of asking for a discount. What extra benefit do you feel the Railways will bring to the general populace of the country with the amount you just saved them from spending? I will tell you the answer- nothing. Railway service will be as terrible as it has been for the last few years, and your free service really didn’t serve anyone.

You decided to work for free! How many times have you done that in your career? Probably a couple of times when you were young and starting out maybe to attract potential clients and pave your own way for the future. And now when you have really established yourself at the apex, this free service appears to be a gimmick, a publicity stunt. A move which will be much appreciated by the public of the nation and the establishment will be held high for agreeing to build the nation for free, right? Sorry but this was really shallow.

You decided to work for free! Very sorry Ar. Hafeez Contractor, it didn’t go well with many of us. You of all the persons did it. Was it because you desperately needed projects and so you decided to offer a really wealthy client some freebies so as to ensure the client awards the upcoming projects to your office? Or was it something else? And you really are a small part of the project sir, the majority of the work involved in this will be done by planners, draftsmen and representational artists. Are you going to make them work for free as well? I hope not.
You decided to work for free. And free many a times brings another free gift with itself- that’s called lousy! I would sincerely hope your establishment doesn’t do a lousy job out of a free assignment. Because if that is so, a succession of waves of criticism will come at you. I also have another question. Once the master planning is done, what next? Are you simply going to let other establishments compete for securing the tender to develop the detailed redevelopment proposal or does all the upcoming work automatically gets to your desk? The later I suppose. Since you have done the masterplan, and that too for free, you would obviously want the detailed proposals to be done by your office. Question. Will that be free service as well? Can you afford to offer complete design, sanction, approval and construction supervision of these nineteen stations for free? I don’t think you can or will want to Ar. Hafeez Contractor sir.

You decided to work for free! And you surely have considered yourself noble for taking this step. I too have for a few minutes pondered upon your generosity. But it didn’t last long because I was looking at the glaring headlines of the news. ‘Architect Hafeez Contractor offers to design 19 railway stations for free’. By doing this, you really put the cause of better pay and respect to the fraternity at stake here. Imagine all the leading dailies of the country and the regional ones publishing this news with bold and glaring fonts. This will be read by millions and more. Going by the Indian psychology, not many will pay much attention to you doing the design of nineteen stations, they really don’t care much. But what will grab their attention is that you have agreed to do the job for free! The upcoming thought will be like this- ‘If a starchitect can do the design of nineteen railway stations for free, surely Mr. Architect from the next colony can have a look at my land and design my house for free as well! One station is huge enough, and this architect here is doing nineteen of them for free. So it is okay to ask my architect to do my designs for free as well’. Is this what you want? And let me tell you, someone who agrees to work for free doesn’t receive much of a respect because people think of him to be disposable. Not maybe for you but for those innumerable many struggling to make their own mark in the industry. Wow sir. Such a lovely step!!!

You decided to work for free! It is a service to you because you have enough wealth and so does your office. Maybe you can pay your employees for working on these projects from your office funds. But was this the just thing to do? You simply put the reputation of architects at stake. It was a rash move, unexpected of you. If it really were to be done for free, you could have advised the Ministry to amend the setup a bit by taking up the role of a mentor and letting newer struggling offices to do the masterplan for free! In this way, you could have at least served your fraternity a bit by providing valuable opportunities to your junior colleagues to prove their worth! Or you could have advised the Ministry to float individual design competitions with the clause that architects and establishments from the state are allowed to bid for that particular station’s redevelopment. This would be a welcome move on your part because the entire country would have received chances to do some work, compete and take up projects with honor. But you decided to take them all. And for free. Please do not tell me this is service, because clearly it isn’t. As far as my vocabulary goes, I find this to be sabotage.

What could have been the story behind all this? In all probability, you agreed to do ten percent of this really huge assignment for free in order to secure the remaining ninety percent of the job for your office in future. And if that is, it was a well-played move. Just that it did a considerable amount of harm to your own kind. I would request you to take your next steps after more thought. Steps like these coming from people sitting on the top does more harm than good. You are a role model to many, students and professionals alike. And when role models take steps that go against the fraternity, two possibilities arise- a revolution or a collapse. Look at the state of the industry- architects are underpaid, depressed, frustrated and angry at themselves for making the wrong choices. Yet, nobody has the guts to stand up and revolt, so it is safe to assume its collapse we are heading towards.

Sorry Ar. Hafeez Contractor sir, I expected a wiser decision from you.

Please help the fraternity avoid the doom rather than being a party to this.

Thank you,

Shubhayan Modak

*The views expressed in above letter represent the opinions of the author, and not of ArchitectureLive!

Shubhayan ModakShubhayan Modak is a graduate architect from Dept. of Architecture, Town & Regional Planning, Indian Institute of Engineering Science & Technology, Shibpur. He is the Co-founder and Editor-in-chief of Sthapatya that aims at raising architectural awareness amongst the common public by using local language and colloquial glyphs. He is passionate about visiting places, and exploring the local rituals, cultures, traditions and people. He has served as the Convenor & Editor-in-chief of Indian Arch ’16, the annual student’s journal of National Association of Students of Architecture, India.

69 Responses

  1. Looks like there are no projects left,which pays ! Soon we will have roman and gothic station modernised,for pigeon settlements ,so does the society.Architect Mahendra Pawar.

    1. I agree with you, it a it’ a pigeon redevelopment program at 19 indian Railway stations.

      1. Dear Shubhayan,
        Sanjeev lohia MD & CEO Indian railway stations Development Corporation this side. Have read your open letter. I think there are lot of misunderstandings. U are requested to visit IRSDC website http://www.irsdc.com for the details. You can contact us for further details.
        There are total of 11 Architect firms who have expressed interest for development of concept and master plan for 74 stations. Nobody gets any right of first refusal or priority in further tender for detailed design by virtue of having done probono work.

  2. Mr. Modak,
    I am glad that you have the patience to write such a lengthy article. In the larger context, you need to understand basics. First of all nothing is offered free in this world . Secondly everyone has his own worth. If your design is bad, you can offer free service just to get job. If your design is powerful enough and different from others, it will be appreciated under all circumstances. However you must be knowing that all govt jobs are offered after a set of understanding amongst all parties and budget per sqft of railway jobs is 3 times more than market rates. So nothing to fedl ashamed or depressed. Nobody in India is going to help we architects. We will have to help ourselves. You shd write an article on lower feecharged by most architects and force COA to take action against the culprits. We hv enough projects in country for all architects. If more fee is paid as per norms, we would do less projects and quality work by invesging mord gime on each project. We and only we will hv to fight for our cause and nobody will come to our help. However poor human resource and lack of unity is a deterrent in the direction of upliftment of profession.

    1. This is rightfully said that nobody will help architects in this country but ourselves. We have to establish our necessity in this country. And definitely he wont do the entire thing for free. He is doing the master plan for free to attract the rest of the project for which he definitely will charge money.

  3. First of all really great job shubhayan for pen down thoughts of million professionals.
    This is a same generation who brought down the Respect and fees of architectural fraternity from 10% to 1-2% for rat race during the IT and real estate boom in 90s
    These guys don’t understand the real concept of philonthropy. As you rightly said, they don’t understand a concept of working at grassroots level. They should check Laurie Bakers work n principals.
    Real fact is these kind of big firms are now facing the problem of foreign consultants ( can’t call them design architects as it’s not allowed by COA) taking a huge chunk of their business and has become a question of survival.
    Hence These kind of stunts of offering freebies and other neighbourhood services has become a trend now.
    I hope they understand tht this kind of practice ll set a wrong example. This ll destroy the market for small and medium entrepreneurs and practices. BUT it ll be fatal for your business too Padmashree Hafeez Conteactor. You ll be doing 19 stations, what after that? Will you be to offer same services to all the clients ?

    I m sure associates in your office are already praying tht these projects don’t come to them!
    Don’t disturb the micro economy of your offIce. It ll be catostrophic.

    Charity matches are good in cricket for retired players, not in professions like ours!

    Bring respect to our profession, don’t just aim for Padmavibhushan!

  4. Mr. Modak great article… but Mr. hafeez contractor is not an architect he is a business man and his move was perfect as businessman. We all read your article all of us it is true word by word… but he is planning next move. Architecture is not a place for light hearted people all this will happen it will happen in future. So don’t be frustrated…PLAN YOUR MOVES PLAY IT WELL ENJOY YOUR SUCCESS.! As successful will be praised by 1000s and speakers by 100s.

    1. Definitely the planning needs to be done. But this gentleman did a shrewd planning, and hurt the entire fraternity by his businessman like move. Cannot take that at all. He did a big harm to the fraternity.

  5. Free Design, free service and free consultation are becoming a trend in the recent past both on Architecture and Interior Design projects. It is a curse to the profession. Even large scale competitions like Guggenheim Helsinki do massive damage. Free or unpaid effort is a disease in our society. When noted names in the industry offer free services it degrades the profession severely. It’s a shame. It is objectionable bad irresponsible trend. Already there is employment crisis among new graduates in Architecture. We seem to be nearing a dooms day.

  6. Mr Modak, first of all i congratulate you for this bold letter. Here are some if my reservations. Why can’t the CoA take some steps and advice govt not to make tenders for such govt works which ensure that only the experienced large firms qualify , mostly international firms. All govt tenders require huge experience and turnover and staff and net worth and L1 selection with low fee. All budding architects would like to work for govt if these prequalifications are relaxed and then great architects like HC would not tempt to work for free to kill international competition. How many architects in India have experience of such projects. You can count them on finger tips may be so in order to give good opportunity to all architects in India govt should relax it’s qualification norms and rise it’s pay standards as such works are needed to be done in all cities to uplift the living standards of citizens. Am sure all young budding and even experienced architects can work for urban rejuvenation projects happily provided they are supplemented with experts from other fields who will.help them analysize the context well. Even if Such team of enthusiastic indian architects start working on any one station in their city our country will have benefit from its own sons of soil and can implement things which are in context and tune with indian requirements rather than depend on international firms . Though I condemn the step taken by HC i see it more out of necessity to qualify at any cost to be eligible for future projects and kill some local as well as more international competition. This is surely not the right path and govt with help of CoA should take note of such practices and try to discourage them by making some internal amendments in code of conduct. Again thank you for initiative.

    1. COA wont do a thing. Take my word for it. They have been dormant for too long. And again, you are very true. This move was to eliminate a good amount of able competition from national and international counterparts. Totally agree with you on this.

  7. Appreciate the young architect for taking up this issue. Very clearly states that creative fresh architects have no place in today s India. Only the numbers with a large practice count. SAD. I have witnessed all the challenging large projects being pocketed by the big names and large practices with very little quality but only quantity. With controlled influence and free fees. And the connections they have – best not to name any. And what do they do. CUT and Paste in huge quantities colourfully presented with bows and yies and with many skins beyond the shores as names to back up.

    1. This expert Cut and Paste comment comes from Mr Jaisim, whose firm is called “Fountainhead”

      That’s so Creative, Innovative, Fresh and Original (Novel) Name! I’m sure so are your thoughts and designs!

      Why don’t you take up few of these stations? Neither any influence required nor your firm has to be large!

    2. Respected Jaisim Sir,

      Creativity is a beauty and is joy for ever. However, here I disagree with the article, as the writer is upset for the free services rendered by an Architect. What is wrong with it. In fact, we architects are useless when we compare to other profession. Doctors organise a free checkup camps, some times even free cataract operation.

      Giving free services is one of the greatest virtues that mankind can have. I learned this when i had my first Bhandara in a Gurudwara. We all do that in our life and feel content. No profession can be complete without compassion and empathy. Architects in India is the only profession that has been ruined by greed, both for money and fame.

      Now coming to the article. Creativity is a personal strength that can not be challenged, unless it supersedes by new and better idea. We architects created a CoA. The very purpose of this organisation is to see the benefit for the architects. Because i have a Degree and CoA number, I am better than other person when it comes to design.

      Registration number for doctors is for the benefit of the people not the Doctors. In Architecture it is other way round. The word ‘Architect Fraternity’ seems like a gang of people who think that they have right to announce creativity over others. One of the greatest engineers, Gustave Eiffel was the designer of Eiffel Tower and Fraternity of Architects came on the road in protest at Paris. The reason was, how an engineer can be awarded the contract of the Tower. It was a competition for awarding the contract. What if it was only architects that could participate?

      Architecture is an art and every one has right to express it, I started it with making things with Lego as kid. Had i known that i cannot make beautiful structure till i study Architecture, i would not have enjoyed it. My thanks to other creative fields/professions that do not have CoA kind of stupid organisation. If there were we would not have A R Rahman, Lata, Rafi, Kishore in film industry.

      Respected Sir, you have a very strong commitment to this profession. Your concepts and integrity to this profession is well known and many of us admire you. I request you to abolish the CoA, which has nothing to do with Ideas and design, but to ruin this profession. Competition is tough, every where, every profession and the solution is to create a niche with brilliant ideas rather than pointing fingers. Criticism is good, but not at the cost of creating space for ourselves. I call it jealousy.

      Chandra Bhushan

  8. These business men has brought down the professional ethics. Many architects earn commission from suppliers and contractors on many folds than professional fees. They are least bother of 2% fees. That’s why govt of India agencies like NPCC offering LESS THAN 1% professional fee for design consultancy, putting entire responsibility of the project. COA sitting quitely and has nothing to do with it. Hafeez must be lobbying for Padma award. He is saturated over the years of ‘MAKING DRAWINGS’ for builders…. Request Ar. Shubyan to publish this letter in News Papers in all regional languages to make fresh professionals aware the meaning of ‘services at free of cost’..

    1. The Architecture Profession is a serious service oriented profession . The time spent in designing and seeing the end product through is the responsibility of any Architect and I am sure the offer made is for a partial service. Accountability should be the priority in any public structure for which a wholistic approach is essential .C o A is very clear regarding the wholistic design process .

  9. Very well written mr. Modak, but its easy to hit at shinning targets like HC.
    Much bold and loud voice should be raised for real issue or threat to fraternity, that is, large section of non-COARegistered consultants, overseas consultants, licensed surveyours, practicing as an Architects in India, despite the Supreme Court order in Feb2017 and COA notice.
    They are the ones who are responsible for destroying the Architectural practice.

  10. You decided to write this article for FREE! and i decided to read it for free. such a waste of time, instead of seeing the intention of one person setting an example to the government and people, Mr. Modak is worried about his neighbors asking him to design their house for free? So you are telling me people so far haven’t asked you already?

  11. I feel this artical is prepared by person who has no experience ,no level of understanding,baseless arguments, trying to get famous by doning negativity against celebrity kind person, short cut ,

    Who are you to ask anybody if he wants to give free service, show me people ready to give free service, why Amitabh bachaan gave free service to Gujrat? Did u ask him? And who the hell are you talking this way?

    1. Someone who cares about the fraternity and hopes to see it survive for a reaally long time. With practices such as this, sorry the end is quite near.
      p.s. im a nobody.

      1. We are living in a democratic country . The Architecture Profession is a noble profession . Thought goes into everything in any design and it’s detailing . Concept Design by someone and detailing by another is a wrong system being encouraged. Wholistic project responsibility has to be taken for the success of any public structure , especially when it is linked to the town and country planning .

  12. It is free consultation that is offered. Rest of the resources will most probably be put in by the railways . With due respect to the author, nobody can doubt hafeez contractor’s refined design acumen. And if passengers get to enjoy a better ambience which railways has not given till now, what is wrong in that? This nation has given so much to him so may be he wants to give something back to the people now? As a common Indian, i appreciate this service to the people. May be he was so fed up of the way stations are at the moment that he decided to do his bit….i would like to see a positive aspect in this.

    1. “…refined design acumen…”???


      Thank you SO much for injecting humour into this dreary discussion! 😀



  14. as Our Senior Architect Jaisim sir stated, CUT and Paste in huge quantities colorfully presented with bows and yies and with many skins beyond the shores as names to back up. is quiet true..

    The concern architect have to give appreciable “C U T” to the related officials and they will definitely do the
    “P A S T E” in order to keep up the records to the right to information and intact.

  15. Why respected Mr Hafeez contractor cannot design shelters in rural areas and tribal regions. Isn’t this more important for nations development. This charity is a bluff. If he wants to do free he must do 100 percent of work for free. People should also be aware of amount of work which shall be rendered free and amount of work which shall fill the pockets of respected Mr Contractor. People’s will bite their nails after hearing them.

  16. I feel the one to blame is COA and IIA. They need to represent architectural fraternity in govt tenders and change the system of L1. Further , like other country in every govt job govt authorities should insist compulsory on a consortium of different practices / firms a large firm mid size and a startup to work together. This will do a capacity building to handle complex projects for growing firms. If Hafeez really wishes to contribute to society and architect he should take couple of smaller firms in this project in consortium and help them build their experience and portfolio.

  17. If it is true that the famous architect who are senior and leaders in Architectural profession are giving free consultation this is really a disastrous move to the Architectural fraternity. it looks like they are financially sound and strong and less bothered about the income, but their trend of free consultation is harmful for the upcoming young generation of architects and they will face problems in professional practice. It is against the ethics and code of conduct of Architectural practice. Young architects will be losing their opportunities.

  18. I was smiling while reading the article!
    The choice of words here make it clear what position the Architect holds in the writers mind and heart.
    I would just say that its very immature of you writer sir!
    If I provide a free service to someone that does not mean the whole world will get and demand free service.
    Whatever the reason was for the Architect to provide free service, might be personal interest or a way to lure for bigger projects, I see some beautiful railway stations in the future India.
    This has the capacity to bring a change.
    Since you have said railway does not deserve free service then whats wrong if in future the Architect bags some bigger projects and Indian Railways become something near to worlds class!

    I also do not think that the Architect has done anything against the fraternity!
    If all whatever you’ve written is correct, then the Architect has taught us how to do business and rise!

  19. Thanks Shubayan and applauds for bringing our fraternity to light. All I appreciate Ar. Hafeez Sir is for putting his heart ahead of his wallet for IRSDC, which a few Architects may do, and I assume he would have done this with due respect to do something free for his nation\ government through his profession. But we should also look at how much the professional code protects our conduct in the profession:

    Architects (Professional Conduct) Regulations, 1989- 2(1)(xiv) “An Architect shall not prepare designs in competition with other Architects for a Client without payment or for a reduced fee (except in a competition conducted in accordance with Architectural competition guidelines approved by the council).

    It is expected that the well experienced professionals have got the competition and such “free to do service” approved from council…. before highlighting it in social media. Else, the regulations do support Shubayan’s article and the Architect’s fraternity.

  20. Hi modak….. It is realy indeed a great attempt that u have made. I appreciate the courage that u had, to post an open letter to ar hafeez contactor….. This is seriously a shameful attempt made by him….not only shameful he has indirectly indicated that all the other architects practicing in india are fools when he said that some architects would take away such projects at low fees and ruin the design of the project….does that mean that he is the only architect who can design. This is a serious issue. Being at the position he is today, he should have proposed to put such projects in public forum and have architectural competitions so that there could be various options to percieve a project….. And best projects could be executed with great pride….and why doesnt indian government project such prestigious projects for competitions…..appreciate ur attempt …

  21. Well articulated passage and congrats for the resolve, shubhayan.

    Doing some ‘free work’ is not unique to architecture alone. Every profession, or occupation will have people doing some Free Work, perhaps in varied circumstances . But Hafeez is indeed unique. He conceitfully advertises it ! Haven’t seen or read anybody else doing it as shrewdly as him.

    And then we have COA. It has now become a defunct entity with all its office bearers ever proving that individuals are above institution and not the other way around.
    If anything can be done at all, It should be restructured/reformed to lead the fraternity in this global era.

    Maybe we should let COA have its say in enforcing academic standards or in conducting college inspections, which it gives more priority over other burning issues of our profession.

  22. you are absolutely right shubhayan , freebies are always gimmics , if anybody want to do so first compete , win then declare services free for nation . don’t grab it by avoiding competition .

    ar. sunil

  23. Thank you for penning down these words with conviction Shubhayan. As a part of this fraternity, hoping that this letter reaches and works on the appropriate aspects that need to be addressed.

  24. Every word written here is from the heart and is true!!!….This Goliath named Hafeez just disrespected his own profession.

  25. Well said!! I was paid a mere ₹5000 a month as a fresher in 2015. I was wondering if I would have earned more as a waiter or a housekeeper without spending 5 precious years of my life…

  26. I am neither an architect/ designer or associated with the field directly.
    Architect or businessman, Mr.Contractor began from extremely humble backgrounds and reached heights solely on merit and hard work. This fact cannot be contested. So firstly let us give credit where it is due.

    Moving on to the the article, I suppose the author is a young man passionately driven by his creativity but still not old enough.
    Mr.Modak, after having vast sums of money and success, the only thing that matters as you grow older is the sense or mortality. By offering free service, to public buildings designs that will never be demolished, Mr.Contractor is buying immortality.
    Money, competition and good causes etc are notions of increasingly lesser importance.
    Good ideas or bad intents etc are things lesser people like us are bothered with because we are struggling with goals of success. Hafez Contractor has crossed the threshold of such issues, hence our objections and agreements matter little to him, as the view from his life prism is very different from ours.
    I mean no intented harm to anyone in my writing.

    1. Khushrau, I would have to differ from you on that. Many of us, who are old enough, have seen the kind of ethics (or lack thereof) that Mr. Contractor has displayed, with great consistency, from the moment he launched his career. A leopard does not change its spots. If you are interested, I would urge you to find out from those who know. Cheers!

      1. Agreed. More political and self centered who always tried to create differences in the team for the sake of strengthening his own position.

  27. Totally exposes his own practice as he goes against the code of conduct as per our rule book of practice . He must be not only barred but strict action should be taken against !
    It’s not now but we have been hearing if his magnanimity for some time now without competing for a good functional design!
    I can say this as I won a compitition against him with his offer to do the prestigious Poluce Research Centre in Pune for free while I charged and was paid by the rule book of IIA! Shame to fraternity !

  28. Stallwart !!! He uses the same design in Mumbai, Navi Mumbai, Gurgaon and Delhi.. that too with a lots of wastage of space..as if the cities do not have identity of their own.
    All I feel is that Hafeez Contractor is mediocre as an architect..

    1. Totally agree.Ask him to participate in any fair housing competition and the results will reveal the truth.

  29. One more person who is crying too loud for Hafeez doing free Consultancy for Indian railways. This man may never question Google for giving him free email services and will not question Facebook or Whatsapp for giving free services.

    But he has a problem with Hafeez. From first paragraph, i understood he is not a journalist, but an architect.

    His arse is paining and almost bleeding. This is how we are in India. We want a law that will save our profession, rightly because we aren’t capable enough to glorify it.

  30. Even if he have charged his fees you would have bashed him. Article doesnt make any sense

  31. Guys please go through this website before you comment. Do little research.

    Sanjeev Lohia Says 2 months ago
    Dear Shubhayan,
    Sanjeev lohia MD & CEO Indian railway stations Development Corporation this side. Have read your open letter. I think there are lot of misunderstandings. U are requested to visit IRSDC website http://www.irsdc.com for the details. You can contact us for further details.
    There are total of 11 Architect firms who have expressed interest for development of concept and master plan for 74 stations. Nobody gets any right of first refusal or priority in further tender for detailed design by virtue of having done probono work.

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