“Design is nothing but a humble understanding of materials, a natural instinct of solutions and respect for nature.”
-Balkrishna Vithaldas Doshi
The realm of Indian architecture, from this day forth, and in posterity, will remember March 7, 2018 as the day when a representative from our soil shattered a ceiling that withheld us, as it was announced that the veteran architect, Balkrishna Vithaldas Doshi, was awarded the Pritzker Prize, the highest honour conferred to an architect.
An alum of Sir J J School of Architecture, Mumbai, B V Doshi’s architectural journey began in the year 1947, the iconic year in which India gained independence from colonial rule as well. However, hailing from a family which had been a part of the furniture industry for two generations, B V Doshi showed an early understanding and affinity towards the realm. Subsequently, he gathered many experiences and accolades as a young architect, including becoming a fellow at the Royal Institute of British Architects and his work with renowned architect Le Corbusier in Paris between the years 1951 to 1954. The intent with the initiative to rebuild his homeland, B V Doshi returned to India and was initially overseeing Le Corbusier’s projects in Ahmedabad and Chandigarh, such as the Mill Owner’s Association Building (Ahmedabad, 1954) as well as Shodhan House (Ahmedabad, 1956). Later, among his first major works in India, was the Indian Institute of Management, Ahmedabad, where he collaborated with Louis I Kahn and Anant Raje, and this was a project with noteworthy campus design, as well as structural composition.
B V Doshi with Le Corbusier
Source: Architectural Digest India
It was in 1956 that B V Doshi initialized his own practice, comprising himself and two other architects, which was named Vastu Shilpa, which literally translates as the art of architecture. A renowned architectural firm today, Vastu Shilpa Consultants have achieved the completion of over a hundred projects, and the principles of their practice orient around his vision for architecture, one that is derived from our native culture, the experiences and teachings gathered from Western influences and an ingrained respect for nature and life. His architectural studio, Sangath, is an exemplification of his practice, whose vaulted structures allow for spaces to mingle on varying levels, and its green surroundings provide tranquillity. The spatiality itself is such that it nurtures design thought, sensitivity and creativity.
The multifarious designs brought forth by B V Doshi are representative of a formative Indian architectural ideology. His usage of locally sourced materials and implementation of sustainable practice, which remains true to its context has been a source of inspiration in architectural design.
Tagore Memorial Hall, Ahmedabad was a project finished by B V Doshi in 1966. With its voluminous spatiality, comprising an auditorium with a capacity for seven hundred inhabitants, and its grand stature, the design is defined by bold strokes in concrete folded plates, and reflects the architect’s creative sensibilities. With its surroundings remaining similar to the date, a view with the foreground is indicative of the immense tribute it pays to Tagore, the artist and legend.
Tagore Memorial Hall, through its form and its spaces, indicates a connectivity to the artist himself. While B V Doshi’s projects have always had an ingrained confluence of art and architecture, one cannot help but compare the robust stature of the Tagore Memorial Hall to his most renowned tryst with a work of art and a mastermind artist, Amdavad ni Gufa. Amdavad in Gufa is an underground art gallery whose design form reflects dynamism and fluidity. A permanent gallery for the work of artist M F Hussain, Amdavad ni Gufa has been famed, not only for its unique form but its planning which ensures that the heat in the region can be combatted by the placing of the structure. Its construction technique, with self-supporting materials such as Ferro-cement and usage of broken and wasted chipped ceramic tiles, are exemplary, proving to be effective as well as aesthetic.
Aranya Low-Cost Housing is perhaps among the most inspiring projects worked on by B V Doshi. With an objective to create community housing for the underprivileged, this project was successfully undertaken and the eventual result was the accommodation of around eighty thousand individuals, in low-cost houses, which were composed together to form a community, with a sense of warmth and individuality, maintained through a network of courtyards and internal pathways. Following the basic principles of architecture, emoted by a sense of experiences and values, this project is truly an example to learn from in the present context, where finding solutions for cost-effective and sustainable architecture is dire. Housing for all and slum rehabilitation are both urgent needs of our nation and throughout the world, and currently, we have not derived the most effective measures on a uniform basis, making it essential for projects like these to be kept in the fore of the mind.
While B V Doshi has contributed greatly to the built world through his own practice, one will find that his contribution is exponentially higher when reminded that as an academician, he has worked tirelessly towards not only imparting valuable knowledge to students across generations but has also created spaces where the growth of such learning is best fostered. Whether we speak of Centre for Environmental Planning and Technology (Ahmedabad), Indian Institute of Management (Bengaluru) of National Institute of Fashion Technology (New Delhi), these institutes belonging in diverse cities possess individuality while sharing the common facet of being viable and pleasing learning spaces.
About Sangath, the architectural studio where his designs have been conceived, B V Doshi recalls, “Sangath fuses images and associations of Indian lifestyles. The campus integrates, and memories of places visited collide, evoking and connecting forgotten episodes. Sangath is an ongoing school where one learns, unlearns and relearns. It has become a sanctuary of culture, art and sustainability where research, institutional facilities and maximum sustainability are emphasized.”
B V Doshi is a name most students of architecture learn prior to the first step into their classrooms, eager to contributing towards this realm. Multitudes of students across generations have poured over his drawings, read articles about his practice, and heard the words in which he shares his knowledge and experiences. The vitality of architecture in our nation today is yet to be conveyed to a vast majority of its population, including a significant proportion of the architectural faction itself. Today, as B V Doshi’s award is a matter of national pride, people from all walks of life have gathered nuances and aspects of his practice that not many have been aware of. Through him, they learn about architecture, and through him, they learn about how essential architecture is. Thank you, Sir, for representing India, Indian architecture and architecture itself.
“I think architecture is a matter of transformation – a transformation of all adverse situations into favourable conditions.”
-Balkrishna Vithaldas Doshi
-Devashree Vyas, Volume Zero.