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Pritzker prize winning architect Balkrishna Doshi empowering have-nots through housing

BV Doshi’s work drew upon eastern culture, raised India’s standard of living across social strata and won him architecture’s ‘Nobel’.

india Updated: Mar 09, 2018 08:40 IST
Krutika Behrawala
Krutika Behrawala
Hindustan Times
Pritzker prize winner,Balkrishna Doshi,Architect
This photo provided by The Pritzker Architecture Prize shows Balkrishna Doshi of India winner of the 2018 Pritzker Architecture Prize, the highest honour in the field, announced on Wednesday. (AP photo )

The phones haven’t stopped ringing at his Ahmedabad home and office since the announcement.

“Everyone’s calling to say congrats,” says Balkrishna Vithaldas Doshi, who on Wednesday became the first Indian to win the Pritzker Prize, considered architecture’s ‘Nobel’ equivalent. It will be conferred on the ‘Laureate’ at the Aga Khan Museum in Toronto in May.

“This award implies that the direction I have taken in my career is the right one,” says Doshi, 90. “That direction involves looking at architecture as a living organism and having dialogue with it. Since I also teach, I have sought through my teaching to impact future generations. My work has also been about empowering the have-nots through housing and contributing to society at large.”

An architect, urban planner and educator, Doshi has been practising for 70 years, shaping the discourse of architecture in post-Independence India.

In an undated handout photo provided by VSF, an underground art gallery in Ahmedabad designed by Balkrishna Doshi.

He was born in Pune, studied at Mumbai’s JJ School of Architecture, moved to London and then to Paris (1951-54) as an apprentice under one of the masters of 20th-century architecture, Charles-Édouard Jeanneret, better known as Le Corbusier.

“Working with Corbusier was the biggest turning point in my life,” says Doshi, who returned to Ahmedabad to supervise the legendary Swiss-French architect’s work in that city and later worked closely with Louis Kahn, when the American stalwart designed the campus of the Indian Institute of Management at Ahmedabad.

While these masters left an indelible impact on him, Doshi, through his own practice, Vastu Shilpa, established in 1956, was able to interpret architecture and transform it into works that reflect Eastern culture while raising the standard of living in India.

For instance, he undertook a pioneering low-income housing project, in the 1950s.

“Between 1950 and 1980, Doshi’s architecture responded to a need of societies that were changing or growing at a fast rate,” says architect and architecture theorist Kaiwan Mehta. “What’s fascinating is the range of institutional buildings he designed in different cities and the way they’re contemplative, fit into a city’s context and yet stand out as bold statements.”

Among his most notable works are Aranya Low Cost Housing in Indore, which accommodates over 80,000 people; the Jnana-Pravaha Centre for Cultural Studies in Varanasi; the Sawai Gandharva performing arts centre in Pune; the Tagore Hall on the banks of the Sabarmati in Ahmedabad and Amdavad Ni Gufa, a cave-like underground art gallery.

This photo provided by The Pritzker Architecture Prize shows the Aranya low-cost housing project by Balkrishna Doshi in Indore. (AP)

He was also instrumental in building the Indian Institute of Management – Bangalore, whose design is inspired by the town of Fatehpur Sikri; the Delhi campus of the National Institute of Fashion Technology (NIFT), which is based on the concept of a central step-well; his own design school – Ahmedabad’s School of Architecture (1962), that has now grown into the CEPT (Centre for Environmental Planning and Technology) University, where Doshi is dean emeritus.

“One of BV Doshi’s most important contributions has been his engagement with the academic world,” says Rohan Shivkumar, architect and dean of research and academic development at the Kamla Raheja Vidyanidhi Institute for Architecture and Environmental Studies in Mumbai.

“Especially opening the School of Architecture, which greatly affected the imagination of what constitutes Indian architecture today. Many of us who teach architecture in different schools have been influenced by his ideology, especially the way he attempted to evolve an architectural language that is able to bridge the gap between universal modernist impulses and the unique conditions of the Indian context.”

As with Corbusier, some of the highest praise comes from those who inhabit the spaces he created. “Wherever you are on this campus, you see a garden outside,” says MS Narasimhan, dean of administration at IIM Bangalore. “The sun and the breeze are a part of our architecture. Stone joinery was new in those days and the connections Dr Doshi fashioned ensured that there is always a ‘jugalbandi’. Quite like teaching and learning.”

“His practice has not just been able artistry but has responded to social and environmental concerns, whether it’s low-cost housing or energy-efficiency of his own studio, Sangath,” adds the architect and researcher Yatin Pandya, who was associate director of the Vastu Shilpa Foundation for research in environmental design, for 24 years.

First Published: Mar 09, 2018 07:57 IST