A son of an accountant turned superintendent of the Empress Botanical Gardens in Pune – India, in the 1940s, Prof Prabhakar B. Bhagwat went on to study Agriculture and then Landscape Design in Copenhagen and in England where Prof. Brian Hackett was his mentor.
Upon returning to India, he taught at several universities, founded programs in the discipline and was amongst the first qualified landscape architects in the country, establishing its professional body.
A compassionate teacher, a lover of the plant kingdom, he has in his lifetime influenced generations of designers in the country, who bear the torch of his passion and enthusiasm.
A project that has stayed as an important benchmark is his remarkable restoration of the devastated Timba basalt quarry , spread over 100s of acres, which today is a dense forest.
The firm that he established in 1973, is today steered by his family and students and is by most accounts the most influential studio in the country.
Guided by a strong sense of inquiry, uncompromising design ethics and a deep appreciation of plant material and ecology the studio undertakes commissions ranging from the design of new cities to projects with philosophical and poetic imaginations in landscapes of innumerable types and scales.
Research is its strong underpinning and it holds firm the belief that being a professional means to explore, investigate and communicate the meanings of the discipline in every possible way.
Towards this end, LEAF ( Landscape Environment Advancement Foundation), is the firm’s outreach arm, through which it regularly publishes research about our living realm and grants fellowships every year.
After almost 5 decades the studio stays true to the credo established by its founder: “Conversations with nature are a special privilege; one must try each day to expand those who can partake in them.”
There are several:
a. Prof. Prabhakar B. Bhagwat
b. Prof. C Th Sorenson
c. Prof. Brian Hackett
d. Mr. Juan Grimm
a. Nishat Baugh, Srinagar- India
b. Aaram Baugh, Agra- India
c. Harivallabhdas Garden, Ahmedabad – India
d. Cranbourne Botanical Gardens, Australia
e. Baake Bihariji Ka Bageecha, Vrundavan – India
For a weekend villa built for a young friend, the studio – while designing the house – imagined the landscape as a series of fractals and discontinuities, as a way of giving expression to Eastern ways of thinking, where contradictions are not opposing ideas but about cosmic balance. Stories and fables are not linear, but made up of many subtexts that can be appended or followed on by differing texts, and still merit attention: the house experiments with these ideas. A drive through a dense shaded grove locates the visitor through a narrow aperture in the wall, in a court that allows the blazing sun to beat mercilessly. Boulders located in the court seem to deny entry, till a path seems to emerge and can be traversed. The hot court is separated by a wall and on the other side is a soft moist gentle court. The fountains are here, reminiscent of agricultural cisterns that spew mist. These contradictions continue. The main gardens are traversed by linear irrigation channels that carry the rain water and recharge it. This grid is overlaid by a helical grid that moves from a higher datum to the lowest. Places are hidden; never revealed. A seat behind the mist fountain, a hidden pond not seen from the gardens or the house, a wooden seating with pipes gushing water, behind the door of a seating space, not seen from anywhere else in the house. These incidents, as if to shrug over communication and instruction, invite contemplation and discovery. The plant material of the project is intentionally modest and is a mix of agricultural crops and wild plants found along the roads leading to the locale. The landscapes as also the architecture strive to make strong personal conversations which are unapologetic; inviting the viewer to decide if they are worth partaking in.
The studio was commissioned to build a home, in river desiccated ravines. The soil was poor, the water brackish. The site had two raised portions with a shallow valley and then the land dropped to the lower lands, which flood even now every monsoon when the adjacent river swells. Built on two hills, the home connected by a steel bridge is the seat from where to experience the many theatres of nature. The landscape starts with a very formal representation of nature, and as the bridge snakes through the house keeps changing its perception. Suspended between the two homes the bridge becomes the cusp; on one side a formal landscape and on the other a wild untamed one, till it pierces the house and then exits it again to descend into wilderness. From tamed to untamed. From order to another idea of order. The sloping terraces were stabilized by geo mats and then planted with many grasses. The pathway that traversed it was marked with a thin red line of grasses and clumps of bamboo to become the thresholds. The valley itself houses an amphitheater that uses the pool deck as a stage and against the background of the setting sun is a place that has seen many music and drama performances. The lower terraces are the zones of continuous change. They essentially comprise productive landscapes and orchards, but they are also designed to slow the water and let it percolate in the ground. The studio continues to visit the home a decade after it was completed, making continuous small changes, planting new trees, modulating the ground a bit: a life long commitment to land and nature.
A dilapidated bat infested fort near Udaipur was being remodeled to become a boutique hotel. Built along a hill over a 100 feet high , it presented many courts as one climbed the fort. All that remained were the names Zenana Court (Ladies Court); Kamal Court (Lotus Court), Darbar Court (Royal Court) and others, about 8 of them altogether. There were no physical traces of what these courts may have been nor any recorded descriptions. Dispensing with the route that would allow them to be recreated in the image of similar courts elsewhere in the state, the studio created a series of mental constructs. Spaces that reminded the viewer of the past, allowed contemplation on the present, and at times upon the idea of timelessness. One then came upon the Devi (Goddesses) Court, marked with two large rocks as her incarnation, with a Bauhinia that flowered behind them. The Royal Court, received a rough hewn white marble throne with a tree shading it and it presided over a black floor that through its pattern circumscribed an arc – almost as if the Gods were overseeing the world from the edge of the cosmos. A fountain in the Ladies Court allowed the water to be taken in its womb, an ode to the difficult lives of women in feudal lands, where their voices are often stilled. The Lotus Court got a modern makeover; terraces etched the jaggedness of the mountains on their floors. In a court that held the stables and now remodeled rooms, the landscape was for many years of fodder grass, till slowly the trees matured. At the rear of the palace boulders found on site were sculpted as soldiers with Sansevieria headgear, lined up, looking at the valley in anticipation of war, and in a lower terrace a traditional four square garden with a gravity fed water source was designed to grow herbs and vegetables.
The gardens of a extremely large business house in the middle of a dense city, which has the offices of senior management, are a tale of empathy, humility and generosity. The Aram Baugh in Agra laid in 1521 AD , was emperor Babur’s first garden in India. A pattern of quadrants that looks deceptively simple in plan is actually a complex labyrinth of the mind. Inspired by this, the plan here is simple: a series of cross axises creating spaces, each that holds a narrative of land and community. The garden can be traversed democratically- it has numerous paths and entrances and deliberate choice or serendipity can decide the path to use. There is water, with islands that cannot be reached; and now are safe haven for migratory birds; seats in the water, allow and encourage occupants to walk bare feet and sit in the water; there are courts where food is grown and used in the staff kitchen; there is a museum of many small courts- each that has a rare tree planted as a reminder of our loss. It is traversed through an arbor made of basic construction reinforcement steel. The spaces closer to the larger office area grow a grassland on thin soil which is overlaid on the roof that houses parking below and allow for a thriving bio-diversity to find home. A large recycled wood pavilion is the space for meals and tea time. And a swath of trapezoidal grassed patch, is the space for talks and performances. In a time when landscapes are at times used as symbols of wealth and power, this landscape directs attention to values of humanism. Of simplicity. Of elegance and empathy. And finally of poetic and numerous conversations with land and flora.