Pritzker Winner Balkrishna Doshi on How “Architecture is Just a Backdrop to Life”

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67 years into the service of the nation, Balkrishna Doshi was born in the year 1927. Reigning in the architectural industry in India, some of the architectural wonders of the country was designed by him. Aptly enough, he is named after the young Hindu God, Krishna.

Starting his career in the same year India got its independence, 1947 served as the baby step towards his marvelous career ahead in the field of architecture.

Balkrishna Doshi created the Life Insurance Corporation Housing building in Ahmedabad, India, in 1973. Courtesy of VSF
Balkrishna Doshi created the Life Insurance Corporation Housing building in Ahmedabad, India, in 1973.
Courtesy of VSF

Balkrishna Doshi had envisioned Indian architecture differently and this helped him thrive in the field for over six decades. He has immensely contributed to how architecture is studied and practiced in the country and also has established various schools for design and architecture. Working with the best in the field, for example modernists of the 20th Century namely Le Corbusier and Louis Kahn, has also helped him. Straight from his mouth, Balkrishna Doshi has illustrated how he learnt from Le Corbusier’s teaching to realistically visualize buildings and the environment. This he learnt by drawing alongside him on tables and on applying similar principles to his personal and professional life. He would later attain the highest level of appreciation by receiving the Pritzker Architeture Prize.

Doshi started studying architecture in 1947, the same year India gained independence. Courtesy of VSF
Doshi started studying architecture in 1947, the same year India gained independence.
Courtesy of VSF

Doshi has built above hundred buildings and designed several educational institutions as well as prominent buildings in the country. His core ideas are based on local materials, how social changes affect architecture as well as the environment. The most prominent architectural motivation he got was from his family who built furniture, and like any other Indian family in those days, increased the floors of their house to accommodate the great Indian joint family.

Doshi's design for Bangalore's Indian Institute of Management was inspired by traditional maze-like Indian cities and temples. Courtesy of VSP
Doshi’s design for Bangalore’s Indian Institute of Management was inspired by traditional maze-like Indian cities and temples.
Courtesy of VSP

The reason behind calling architecture the backdrop for life comes from his experience with the space he worked in. For him feeling alive in the workspace was important, the movement was important. This according to him brought life to the entire job. The passion for his work was visibly strong for Doshi, he has pointed out how his childhood has helped him mould his ideas and further a career which is preach worthy.

Doshi's design for Ahmedabad's Centre for Environmental Planning and Technology dates back to 1966. Courtesy of VSF
Doshi’s design for Ahmedabad’s Centre for Environmental Planning and Technology dates back to 1966. Courtesy of VSF

While designing educational institutions, it is important for the students to connect with the environment and the campus, and this habit was manifested in Doshi from his early days when he used to sit under a tree for classes. It was important for people to feel the environment they live and study in, and this is what would help them adapt to a place and gain familiarity.

Doshi finds the most natural and common things suitable to define architecture and according to one of his ideas, architecture could be compared to an Indian meal. The meal may consist of various elements, but the consumption of each depends on the person, there is no proper rule or sequence to it. This philosophy was aptly connected to his lecture at the Royal Academy of Arts in London, wherein, he pointed out how he operated on three principles for his work, namely, “porosity, paradox and practice.”

The perfect example could be related from his office in Ahmedabad, namely Sangath. This piece was completed in the year 1980 and is no less than an architectural wonder. It is complete with a deceptive and meandering garden and how people often get lost in the feels of the peace inside. It does not feel like an official space and soothes one down by being immersed in music! This is how the discovery of the journey to architecture occurs according to Doshi, one should be familiar with the space they work in.

Doshi created Ahmedabad's Institute of Indology building in 1962. Courtesy of VSF
Doshi created Ahmedabad’s Institute of Indology building in 1962.
Courtesy of VSF

It would be unfair to not point out a few of his works. Taking inspiration from temple designs as well as maze-like Indian cities, he designed the campus of Indian Institute of Management, Bangalore. Apart from this, he has also designed Indian Institute of Management, Lucknow, and National Institute of Fashion Technology, New Delhi. These are just a few of his contributions to the country apart from the several housing projects he has designed.

Hypnosis is the key. Making individuals feel alive and lost in the wonders of a building is how one can achieve architectural wonders. The possibilities are endless and to immerse in the ocean of creativity makes one successful.

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