Architecture is a visual art but it is also a tactile, habitable art form created by the union of hand and mind. The collaboration between Ahmedabad-based architect Hiren Patel and Jaipur Rugs to create the rug collection Reminiscence (released July 2020) parallels the relationship of an architect’s hand and mind. Patel’s watercolour sketches—created as a daily diary—are realised through the artistry and skill of Jaipur Rug’s female weavers.
The collection of six hand-tufted wool and viscose rugs visually reflects Patel’s travels throughout the Indian subcontinent and other parts of the world. ‘I always travel with a box of watercolours,’ he told a global audience during the collection’s launch on Instagram Stories. Patel explained why photographs capture the surface, but can’t capture the essence—the soul—of place the way a sketch can. ‘When you sketch [a scene] it goes deep into your mind . . . it’s a form of meditation. I don’t draw exactly what I see, I go beyond.’
Patel belongs to a discrete and elite group of architects—those who are accomplished artists and who use the art of sketching to express their initial idea. The group includes Pritzker Prize Laureate Balkrishna V. Doshi whose Tagore Memorial Hall in Ahmedabad housed a curtain woven from a sketch by architect Le Corbusier. This unification of architecture, art, and weaving influenced the young Patel as did Ahmedabad’s fame in the global textile industry and its renown for block printing.
Not all architects possess the skill to express architectural concepts as ‘cocktail napkin sketches’ before the idea is digitally rendered. Sketching ideas on a paper ‘napkin’ or in a wire-coiled visual diary like Patel’s, supports the belief held by many critics that the best architects are those who can access their intuition—the unconscious mind—and express it through drawing. It’s no surprise to discover the first category under the Project tab on Hiren Patel Architects’ website is ‘Art’. Digital software controlled by the conscious mind aided by the ‘machine mind’ is efficient and fast, but the hand guided by the unconscious is superior for solution solving and creativity. Understanding this background makes the translation of Patel’s sketches into rug art all the more meaningful.
Asked by the host during the Instagram Stories reveal—Jaipur Rugs Director Yogesh Choudhary—which rug is his favourite, Patel held up his watercolour of a plaza in Paris at midnight. ‘In daytime you miss the beauty,’ he said referring to the crowds of people that interrupt the serenity of the scene. Another sketch he held to the camera captures his vision of fragrant Frangipani (Plumeria) trees during a trip to southern India where he visited buildings by Sri Lankan Geoffrey Bawa—another architect who was a prolific artist. ‘It’s easy but also not easy to paint nature,’ Patel explained. ‘[What I do] is the difference between painting and illustration. I don’t draw exactly what I see. I don’t illustrate. My green grass is pink,’ Patel said pointing to his sketch, ‘because it’s happy. If grass is green I can just take a photo. This goes beyond [what the eye sees].’
Patel’s vivid colours in the Reminiscence collection reflect not only the clarity of colour found on the Indian subcontinent, but they seem to capture colours Pierre Bonnard used in his exuberant sketch-like paintings of the south of France. ‘Watercolour is a joyful medium,’ said Patel. ‘It’s a challenge as you can’t undo or redo. . . it has to flow.’ Translating his sketches into rugs reflects Patel’s desire to overcome restrictions.’We’re not supposed to touch paintings or feel the painting,’ he said. ‘Our thinking for the collection came from wondering how to translate watercolours into rugs so they can not only be touched,’ but he added with a smile, ‘so we can roll on the painting!’
During the Instagram Stories Q&A a member of the audience asked Patel how he remains inspired during COVID-19 lockdown. His reply was a reminder of the power of daily observation. Patel sits on his verandah and breathes in the landscape. He sees each day anew. ‘You get to know the nature that surrounds you. You see a new leaf. You see how the flowers fall to the floor.’ Watercolour sketching ‘opens a horizon’ for Hiren Patel. See the world through his eyes with the Hiren Patel x Jaipur Rugs collection, and then buy a set of watercolours. Be inspired by Hiren Patel to find the new horizons that are just outside your window.