Remembering the architectural heritage of balkrishna doshi

Remembering the architectural heritage of balkrishna doshi

Balkrishna Doshi: Memory of the Indian Visionary

In the past seven decades 2018 Pritzker Prize Winner Balkrishna Vithaldas Doshi (1927-2023) created a body of work that has been praised for its poetry, purpose and deep appreciation of material context. From affordable social housing to public space, Doshi’s work is just as heavily influenced of India Vernacular architecture and the environment as they are under by his early guidance Le Corbusier and Louis Kahn – Mentors whom he calls his guru or yogi. In 2022 he was officially awarded the RIBA Royal Gold Medal for Architecture to recognize his outstanding contributions to architecture.

Balkrishna Doshi was born in Pune, India in 1927. Growing up, he came close to following in his family’s footsteps as a furniture maker, but his interest in architecture eventually turned into a passion. In 1947 he graduated from the JJ School of Architecture in Bombay and worked with Le Corbusier for four years as senior designer in Paris (1951-54) and four more years in India to oversee projects in Ahmedabad. He then worked with Louis Kahn as an associate to establish the Indian Institute of Management in the same city and they worked together for over a decade.

Doshi finally founded his own office Vastu-Shilpa in 1956 together with two architects. Known today as Vastushilpa Consultants, the multidisciplinary practice has grown into five partners spanning three generations and sixty employees with a portfolio of over 100 built projects, each of which has impacted the architectural landscape of India and its adjacent regions. Doshi eventually settled in Ahmedabad with his wife Kamala, building their house in 1963 and later his studio Sangath in 1981.

commemorating the architectural legacy of balkrishna doshi over the past seven decades
Balkrishna Doshi in his Sangath studio, 2018 | Image © Ivan Baan

Immerse yourself in the architect’s seven-decade career

Beyond this early Western influence, Balkrishna Doshi developed a design philosophy that blended industrialism and primitivism, as well as modern architecture and traditional form. Integrating eco-sustainable and climate-conscious ideals, his practice roots architecture in the larger context of the surrounding culture and its social, ethical, and religious beliefs.

A deeply humanitarian attitude also completes his compassionate approach to design. Indeed, Doshi perceives architecture as an extension of the body imbued with its own essence and value. “So that was my philosophy, asking the question: What is the essence of architecture? A building is a living organism. A building is alive. It’s not a product, it’s a process in which things happen. It is a reflection of life and architecture is a backdrop to life,’ said the architect during a conversation with RIBA President Simon Allford in 2022.

commemorating the architectural legacy of balkrishna doshi over the past seven decades
Life Insurance Company Housing, Ahmedabad, India, 1973 | Image © Vastu-Shilpa Consultants

In addition to being a practicing architect and urban planner, Doshi was also a highly respected educator, passing on his teachings at universities and through his Vastushilpa Foundation, dedicated to enhancing vernacular design and planning in India. As an example of his passion for education, Doshi established and founded The architecture school in Ahmedabad in 1966. With a dramatic brick and concrete skin, the structure shows strong influences from Le Corbusier’s modernist traits of the 20th century. The architect also carefully considered the Indian climate by incorporating sloping skylights, sliding doors and recessed spaces shaded by trees. The complex was later expanded to house the School of Planning (1970), the Visual Arts Center (1978) and the School of Interior Design (1982) – and was renamed CEPT University in 2002.

In 1992, Doshi expanded his passion for education by graduating from college Indian Institute of Management (1977 – 1992), a business school brought to life by interconnecting courtyards, high-ceilinged corridors, and a series of shrines and temples to provide pauses for personal and social activities. ‘The varied landscapes in the courtyards and arcades with their changing colors and lighting conditions add a sense of time. Likewise, the outer stone walls are covered with creepers,’ notes Sangath Studio, Doshi’s practice.

commemorating the architectural legacy of balkrishna doshi over 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 low cost apartments (1989), conceived as a minimalist township for economically weaker districts (EWS) in Indore. The master plan shows groups of 10 EWS households clustered around a central courtyard; each unit is allocated a 30 sqm plot with a brick base, a built-in toilet, water and electricity. ‘With the possibility of further growth as new alternatives, these typologies would find means to improve the quality of life for each family. In thirty years, the entire fully developed township harmonizes the virtues of freedom of choice, freedom and social interaction. As designed, the EWS groups emulate maximizing the reuse of space with minimal effort,’ writes Sangath Studio.

In the same spirit, Doshi completed the Life insurance company housing (1973) in Ahmedabad. It has been described as “an experiment in combining three income brackets on three floors of a pyramid-shaped block of flats accessed by a common staircase”.

A few years later, Balkrishna Doshi ventured into the world of art with the Gallery Amdavad Ni Gufa in Ahmedabad (1994). Conceived as an underground space, the center takes on a cavernous quality, with curved columns resembling geological formations and walls covered in artwork reminiscent of imprints of early civilizations. Here, visitors enjoy a cool climate while learning more about each of the featured artists.

commemorating the architectural legacy of balkrishna doshi over the past seven decades
Indian Institute of Management | Image © Vinay Panjwani, courtesy of the Vastu-Shilpa Foundation

Other famous works are Shreya’s comprehensive school campus (1958-63), Ahmedabad, India; the Institute of Indology (1962), Ahmedabad, a building to house rare documents; Tagore Hall & Memorial Theater (1967), a 700-seat Brutalist auditorium in Ahmedabad; Premabhai Hall (1976), Ahmedabad, India; Sangath (1981), the studio for his architecture firm Vastu Shilpa; Ompuri Temple (1998), Matar, with eye-like shape; the Center for Science and Environment (2005), New Delhi; the flame university (2007), Pune, conceived as a bazaar-like complex.

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