Balkrishna Doshi receives Pritzker, says win a recognition for Indian architecture
For Prof Balkrishna Doshi, there is a sense of fulfilment: After over six decades of inhabiting the space, he received the field’s highest honour, the Pritzker Prize at a ceremony in Toronto, making him the first Indian to be awarded the so-called ‘Nobel of architecture’.
“It is one of the rarest things one could expect in life,” he said in an interview the morning after receiving the award at a ceremony in the Aga Khan Museum. “What more do you expect? This is a crowning glory. So at the age of 90, if I get that kind of a thing, what more can I expect? I’m fulfilled.”
Doshi, who was born in Pune and lives in Ahmedabad, has collected numerous accolades during his distinguished career but the Pritzker is special since it also brings recognition to Indian architecture.
“That will be extremely significant in the Indian context because architecture as a profession doesn’t have a kind of status in India today except marketing. I mean, architect is synonymous with developers.
“First time, there is the recognition that architecture is a discipline which is extremely important in a civilised society. So there will be respect for architecture,” he said.
Doshi joins a roster of impressive, if not legendary names among architects who have won the Pritzker since it was established in 1979, such as Zaha Hadid, Rem Koolhaas, Frank Gehry, IM Pei and Oscar Niemeyer.
He became aware of the selection when the Prize’s executive director Martha Thorne called him in January. Thorne said she was in a “delicate way” seeking to inquire if he could travel to collect the award in Toronto since that is among the mandatory conditions for recipients. Doshi responded, “Of course I can travel. I was happy about the award, so I could have gone to the moon or to the deserts.”
Doshi was born into a family running a furniture business and he said he came into architecture “by chance”. He started studying the discipline as India gained Independence. “Favourable coincidences helped me in my life,” he said. Among those was being associated with Le Corbusier, the visionary French architect renowned for his projects in creating the modern city of Chandigarh and in Ahmedabad. Doshi describes Le Corbusier as his “guru”. In his official statement accepting the Prize, Doshi said, “His teachings led me to question identity and compelled me to discover new regionally adopted contemporary expression for a sustainable holistic habitat.”
His work is described as a “symphony”, engaging the elements.
His work “explores the relationships between fundamental needs of human life, connectivity to self and culture, and understanding of social traditions, within the context of a place and its environment, and through a response to Modernism,” a release from the Pritzker Prize noted. “Childhood recollections, from the rhythms of the weather to the ringing of temple bells, inform his designs.”
Among his multiple endeavours are the Aranya low-cost housing project in Indore, the Indian Institute of Management in Bangalore, Centre for Environmental Planning and Technology in Ahmedabad as well as “cultural spaces” such as Tagore Memorial Hall and the Institute of Indology, also in that city, as well as his own studio, Sangath. He continues to be with Vastushilpa, the consultancy he founded.
Doshi is hopeful this award will have a “long-lasting impact” rather than one that is momentary. As India looks for affordable and quality housing for its population, there is a role for creative solutions.
“In the condition in which we are now, talking about urbanisation, planning, rural development, economy, employment, this is the discipline through which other countries have worked and taken their guidance,” he said.
“So now perhaps the government and authorities will look at architects, and significant architects, not necessarily foreign architects, and ask them to work with them.”