The Engineering fraternity in Kenya, Africa and the world celebrates the life of Eng. Ishwarlal B. Patel.
Ishwarlal B. Patel popularly known as I.B., was born in December 1932 in Kikuyu. At the time his parents ran a kiosk on the farm. He spent his early childhood living a simple life with Kikuyu as his first language until suffering a violent robbery at their dwelling. I.B. still remembers hiding under a bed on that fateful day when his father was attacked, and how afterwards, his mother made a swift decision to move to Nairobi.
A promising student, he went on to join Government Indian High School (now Jamhuri High School) and graduated in 1948 at the top of his class. By the following year – at the age of 16 – he had raised 1,700 Shillings to pursue a Bachelor of Engineering degree in India. With full knowledge that the funds would only support a few months of his first year at college, I.B. boarded the ship and only returned to Nairobi after qualifying as an engineer in 1954. He survived his first year with just the funds he had brought with him and was fortunate enough to earn a scholarship which saw him through his remaining four years in India.
On his return to Nairobi, I.B. started his career as an engineering assistant with R.A. Sutcliffe (FIStrucE). He worked on numerous industrial and residential projects and also designed and managed the construction of cathedrals, office blocks and county council halls. Within five years at the practice, he had climbed up the ranks to the post of Chief Engineer. In 1959, he was awarded a Fulbright Scholarship to complete postgraduate studies at the University of Illinois Urbana–Champaign, USA.
After qualifying with a Master of Science in Engineering degree, I.B. joined the world-famous architectural, urban planning and engineering firm, Skidmore, Owings & Merrill as a Project Engineer in their Chicago head office. He contributed to various multimillion-dollar projects, including multi-storey apartment and office buildings, as well as shopping centres and car parking facilities. Here he gained experience as an architectural engineer in highrise urban structures and modern aesthetics. He also worked on industrial projects. In 1962 he was hired as the Chief Civil Engineer for the Birla Group for their staple fibre and rayon mill in Nagda. He also designed and supervised factory extensions, housing facilities, airport runways and social and sports amenities.
By 1966, I.B. had returned to the country of his birth where he was appointed Chief Structural Engineer – Nairobi City Council. He supervised council projects ranging from schools to social halls and bus stations. He was responsible for the review and approval of all the structural construction in the city, ensuring that the work carried out by all (if you use this word its with a c and not s)engineers and architects at the time adhered to the relevant codes of practice. In 1968, with Nairobi in the midst of a post-independence building boom, he decided to for work for himself. I.B. and his fellow engineer and high school classmate Harcharan Singh Mangat established Mangat I.B. Patel & Partners where I.B. spearheaded all the structural projects .
His first major commission as an independent structural engineer was International Life House on Mama Ngina Street. I.B. designed the building with 16,000 square meters of office space on 13 floors, two levels of commercial shops and two underground carparks. Not only was it Kenya’s first megastructure, it was also the first building to be fully air conditioned and to have two basements. It showcased I.B.’s pre-eminence in the sector and he was nominated Kenya’s representative on the Council of Tall Buildings and Urban Habitat in 1972, an appointment he held till his death.
Working with some of the region’s most distinguished architects (not sure why this is capitalized), many of Nairobi’s iconic buildings bear I.B.’s touch. Lonrho House, Rahimtulla Tower, Citibank House, the Grand Regency Hotel, Inter-Continental Hotel, Reinsurance Plaza, Fedha Towers and the I&M building amongst many others, have all had their structures designed by him.
I.B.’s expertise as a structural engineering was not only evident in high rise concrete structures but also in working with timber for large structures. This unique skill leveraged local materials and styles and is visible in landscapes all over Eastern Africa. Following the success of the Lobo Lodge in Tanzania and Naka Pola Lodge in Malawi as one of the first examples of eco-friendly construction of commercial buildings in timber, he designed many similar structures for game lodges and hotels along the Kenyan coast.
I.B. also worked on many industrial projects such as Panpaper Mills in Webuye, which was built in 1974 and fully operational within a year! He designed and supervised the construction of sugar factories in Western Kenya and Uganda in addition to grain storage silos in Nairobi, Nakuru, Kisumu and Bungoma. In 1995, he co-designed and supervised the Eldoret International Airport alongside consultants from SNC-Lavalin.
He has been the mastermind behind the structural integrity of many religious buildings including the Holy Family Basilica cathedral, but it was his painstaking attention to detail on the BAPS Temple on Limuru Road that was recognized with an award by the Architectural Association of Kenya (AAK) in 2000.
I.B. was declared an Engineer Laureate of Kenya by the AAK in 2003. He was a Founder Member of the professional society in 1967 and became a Fellow in 2002. He was also a Founder Member of the Association of Consulting Engineers of Kenya.
I.B. passed away in his home in Nairobi, on Thursday the 17th of September 2020 aged 87. He was a mentor to so many of us and a loyal friend, his prolific projects all over East Africa will be an enduring reminder of his engineering prowess. The Kenyan Engineering fraternity is grateful for the mentorship, guidance and great service offered by Eng. I. B. Patel. He will be greatly missed!