remembering the architectural legacy of balkrishna doshi

remembering the architectural legacy of balkrishna doshi

balkrishna doshi: remembering the indian visionary

During the last seven decades, Pritzker Prize 2018 Balkrishna Vithaldas Doshi (1927 -2023) created a body of work praised for its poetics, purpose, and deep appreciation of material context. From affordable social housing to public spaces, Doshi’s works are influenced by both from india vernacular architecture and the environment as they are by his early tutelage under le corbusier Y louis kahn – mentors he describes as his guru and yogi, respectively. In 2022, she formally received the RIBA Royal Gold Medal for Architecture honoring his outstanding contributions to architecture.

Balkrishna Doshi was born in 1927 in Pune, India. Growing up, he nearly followed in his family’s footsteps as furniture makers, but his interest in architecture eventually blossomed into a passion. In 1947, he graduated from the JJ School of Architecture in Bombay and worked with Le Corbusier for four years as a senior designer in Paris (1951-54) and a further four years in India to supervise projects in Ahmedabad. He later worked with Louis Kahn as an associate to build the Indian Institute of Management in that same city and they continued to collaborate for more than a decade.

Doshi eventually established his own practice, Vastu-Shilpa, in 1956, along with two architects. Now known as Vastushilpa Consultants, the multi-disciplinary practice has evolved to five partners spanning three generations and sixty employees, with a portfolio of over 100 built projects, each of which influenced the architectural landscape of India and its adjoining regions. Doshi eventually settled with his wife Kamala in Ahmedabad, building his house in 1963 and then his studio, Sangath, in 1981.

remembering balkrishna doshi's architectural legacy of the past seven decades
Balkrishna Doshi in his Sangath studio, 2018 | image © Iwan Baan

delving into the architect’s seven-decade career

Beyond this early Western influence, Balkrishna Doshi developed a design philosophy that blends industrialism and primitivism, as well as modern architecture and traditional form. His practice integrates environmentally sustainable and climate-conscious ideals and roots architecture within the broader context of the surrounding culture and its social, ethical, and religious beliefs.

A deeply humanitarian outlook also rounds out his compassionate approach to design. In fact, Doshi perceives architecture as an extension of the body, imbued with its own essence and value. ‘So this has been my philosophy, to ask the question: What is the essence of architecture? A building is a living organism. A building is alive. It is not a product, it is a process in which things happen. It is a reflection of life and architecture is a backdrop of life.,’ the architect shared during a chat with RIBA President Simon Allford in 2022.

remembering balkrishna doshi's architectural legacy of the past seven decades
Life Insurance Corporation Housing, Ahmedabad, India, 1973 | image © Vastu-Shilpa Consultants

As well as a practicing architect and urban planner, Doshi was a highly regarded educator who shared his teachings at universities and through his Vastushilpa Foundation, dedicated to improving vernacular design and planning in India. Exemplifying his passion for education, Doshi established and founded The School of Architecture in Ahmedabad in 1966. With a dramatic brick and concrete structure, the structure reveals strong influences from Le Corbusier’s 20th-century modernist traits. The architect also carefully considered the climate of India when featuring sloped skylights, sliding doors, and recessed plazas shaded by trees. The complex was later expanded to house the School of Planning (1970), the Center for Visual Arts (1978), and the School of Interior Design (1982), and was renamed CEPT University in 2002.

In 1992, Doshi furthered his passion for education by completing the Indian Institute of Management (1977 – 1992), a business school brought to life through interconnected courtyards, elevated walkways, and a series of shrines and temples to provide breaks for personal and social activities. ‘The various landscapes on the patios and pergolas, with their changing color and light, add a sense of time. Likewise, the outer stone walls are covered with vines,’ notes Sangath Studio, Doshi’s practice.

remembering balkrishna doshi's architectural legacy of the past seven decades
Indian Institute of Management, Bangalore, 1977-92 | image © Vinay Panjwani, courtesy of the Vastu-Shilpa Foundation

Another notable project of his is the Aranya Economic Housing (1989), designed as a minimalist township for economically weaker sections (EWS) in Indore. The master plan reveals clusters of 10 EWS homes grouped around a central courtyard; Each unit is assigned a 30 m2 plot with a brick plinth, bathroom, water and electricity. ‘With the possibility of further growth as new alternatives, these typologies would find means to improve the quality of life of each respective family. In thirty years, the entire fully developed municipality harmonizes the virtues of choice, freedom and social union. As intended, EWS pools emulate maximizing multiple uses of space with minimal effort,’ writes Sangath Studio.

In the same spirit, Doshi completed the Housing Life Insurance Corporation (1973) in Ahmedabad. It was described as “an experiment in combining three income groups on three floors of a pyramid-shaped block of flats accessed via a common staircase.”

A few years later, Balkrishna Doshi ventured into the world of arts with the Amdavad Ni Gufa Gallery in Ahmedabad (1994). Designed as a subterranean space, the center takes on a cavernous quality, with warped columns resembling geological formations and walls covered in artwork reminiscent of traces of early civilizations. Here, visitors enjoy cool weather while learning about each featured artist.

remembering balkrishna doshi's architectural legacy of the past seven decades
Indian Institute of Management | image © Vinay Panjwani, courtesy of the Vastu-Shilpa Foundation

Other famous works include Shreyas Comprehensive School Campus (1958-63), Ahmedabad, India; the Institute of Indology (1962), Ahmedabad, a building to house rare documents; Tagore Hall and Memorial Theater (1967), a 700-seat brutalist auditorium in Ahmedabad; Premabhai Hall (1976), Ahmedabad, India; sangath (1981), the study for his architectural practice, Vastu Shilpa; ompuri temple (1998), Kill, shaped like an eye; the Science and Environment Center (2005), New Delhi; the flame university (2007), Pune, conceived as a bazaar-like complex.

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