Balkrishna Doshi: The First Indian Pritzker Laureate and Visionary Architect

Indian architect Balkrishna Doshi's style combines nature, culture, and history into a single, symbiotic space where the boundaries between outside and inside become very blurred indeed.

Balkrishna Doshi, B. V. Doshi or just Doshi, is an Indian born architect best known for his pioneering work in low-cost housing and unique architectural style. At the age of 90, he is the latest recipient of architecture's highest honor, the Pritzker Prize.
This also makes him the first Indian architect to receive "the Nobel Prize for Architecture".

His career has spanned 6 decades and he has become one of the most important and influential architects in post-independence India. His style is a fusion of international modernism and local traditions.

B. V. Doshi was influenced by and worked and studied with, both Le Corbusier and Louis Khan in his early career. 

Doshi’s unique architectural style draws upon Eastern influences to create a body of work that “has touched lives of every socio-economic class across a broad spectrum of genres since the 1950s,”  according to the Pritzker jury. 

His most notable works include the Indian Institute of Management Bangalore and the Aranya Low-Cost Housing Development in Indore to name but a few. The latter was even awarded the Aga Khan Award for Architecture.

Balkrishna Doshi: The First Indian Pritzker Laureate and Visionary Architect
Balkrishna Doshi at IIA National Convention 2013. Source: Sanyam Bahga/Wikimedia Commons

In the following article, we'll take a quick look at his life and explore some of his more notable works

Balkrishna Doshi's Early Years

Balkrishna Doshi was born on the 26th August 1927 in Pune, India. He was born into an extended Hindu family which had been heavily involved in the local furniture industry for several generations.

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Doshi would show an early interest in, and aptitude for, art. His school teacher recognized his talent and quickly introduced him to architecture.

Balkrishna's architectural studies officially began in 1947, the same year India was granted its independence from the British Empire. In this year, he enrolled at the Sir J. J. School of Architecture Bombay (now Mumbai). This was, and still is, one of the oldest and most important architectural institutions in India.

Balkrishna Doshi's dreamt of moving to Paris, France in the early 1950's. It was his ambition to work with the famous architect, Le Corbusier.

Despite the fact he couldn't speak any French, he decided to give it go. But first, he needed to get Le Corbusier's attention, he decided to apply for an unpaid apprenticeship.

Between 1951 and 1954 Doshi was accepted by Le Corbusier who instructed him in ways he would later apply to rebuilding his home nation of India.

Interestingly, Le Corbusier could only speak to Doshi in broken English. Doshi would later recall that “When you don’t know the language, the conversation becomes more visual and spatial.”

Balkrishna Doshi: The First Indian Pritzker Laureate and Visionary Architect
Panorama image of the main complex of Indian Institute of Ahmedabad (IIMA) designed by Le Corbusier and Doshi. Source: Lauri Kymäläinen/Wikimedia Commons

Doshi returns home to India

In 1956, Balkrishna Doshi returned to India to help supervise some of Le Corbusier's projects in Chandigarh and Ahmedabad. These included the Mill Owner’s Association Building (Ahmedabad, 1954) and Shodhan House (Ahmedabad, 1956), among others. 

After successfully completing the projects, he decided to go it alone. In 1956 Doshi founded his own practice, Vastu-Shilpa (environmental design) and hired two additional architects. 

Building on the experiences of his younger years and time in Europe, Doshi's earlier work would be heavily influenced by Western architects. He would soon meld this with the love of his ancestral culture, life and the forces of nature to create his unique style of architecture. 

Memories from his childhood like his local shrines, temples, and bustling streets; scents of lacquer and wood from his grandfather’s furniture workshop would all find their way into his architecture.

Balkrishna Doshi: The First Indian Pritzker Laureate and Visionary Architect
Part of Doshi's magnificent Centre for Environmental Planning and Technology. Source: VSF/Pritzkerprize

In an interview with BBC Gujarati, Doshi referred to his childhood memories of buildings he would see every day. 

"I used to see two- and three-story buildings and how generations of a family would grow within them. People still live inside such buildings, and the certain charm and warmth of it, is what shaped my understanding of how homes should be."

He would inject his unique style into many building types over his long career. These would include institutions, mixed-use complexes, housing projects, public spaces, galleries, and private residences.

Doshi would later recall that of all of his creations, he held his private studio, Sangath, Ahmedabad, as one of his greatest works. 

“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.” 

Doshi found his inspiration in nature and the elements

Balkrishna Doshi's architectural style explores the relationship between the fundamental needs of life, culture, and tradition. It also explores these core elements in their context with the local environment and through a response to Modernism. 

He believes that architecture should involve all the natural elements. These elements, according to Doshi, are the catalysts for creating moods.

It is the images and visions that these moods conjure up that Doshi has spent his life trying to capture in his works. 

Nature, specifically climate, is one of the most important ingredients in his designs. Especially for buildings in his home nation of India.

Balkrishna Doshi: The First Indian Pritzker Laureate and Visionary Architect
Doshi's underground art gallery, Amdavad ni Gufa, in Ahmedabad is characteristic of his unique style. Source: Vaishal Dalal/Wikimedia Commons

B. V. Doshi always strives to combine materials, technology, and lifestyle with his fascination for his culture into each and every design.

Sustainability and nature are also key considerations for his designs. He tries to incorporate, as far as reasonably practicable, local resources in the construction of each building. 

To B. V. Doshi, architecture is not about a single building but a combination of habitations. Whenever he designs townships, he likes to think about how the buildings are used by different members of the community. 

Balkrishna Doshi is a very respected architect

Doshi has been internationally and nationally recognized for his contributions to Architecture.

His list of awards include:-

Officer of the Order of Arts and Letters of France (2011),

Global Award for Lifetime Achievement for Sustainable Architecture,

Institut Francais d’Architecture, Paris (2007),

Prime Minister’s National Award for Excellence in Urban Planning and Design, India (2000),

Aga Khan Award for Architecture (1993-1995) for Aranya Community Housing,

Gold Medal, Academy of Architecture of France (1988),

Gold Medal, Indian Institute of Architects (1988) and;

Padma Shree National Award, Government of India (1976)

Balkrishna was also made a fellow of Royal Institute of British Architects. He was also made a fellow of the Indian Institute of Architects.

Balkrishna Doshi is also an Honorary Fellow of the American Institute of Architects.

He also served on the Pritzker Prize Jury from 2005-2007, and on selection committees for the Indira Gandhi National Centre for Arts and the Aga Khan Award for Architecture. 

Balkrishna Doshi: The First Indian Pritzker Laureate and Visionary Architect
Aranya Low-Cost Housing. Source: VSF/Pritzkerprize

Doshi has many honorary doctorates too

Doshi was, previously, a member of the International Committee for preparing the International Charter on the Education of Architects. This was sponsored by the International Union of Architects in association with UNESCO in 1995.

Doshi also holds honorary doctorates from the University of Pennsylvania and McGill University, Canada. He has also served as a visiting professor at Massachusetts Institute of Technology; University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia; University of Illinois, Urbana Champaign; Rice University, Houston; Washington University in St. Louis; and the University of Hong Kong, among others, and has lectured at prestigious schools and institutions throughout the world.

More recently a retrospective of his works has been traveling around India and China. "Celebrating Habitat: The Real, the Virtual and the Imaginary" initially opened at the National Gallery of Modern Arts in Delhi in 2014. It later traveled to the Power Station of Art Shanghai in China in 2017

In 2017, Balkrishna also delivered the 27th Annual Architecture lecture at the Royal Academy of Arts in London.

Doshi's Indian Institute of Management Bangalore

One of B. V. Doshi's masterpieces is the current campus buildings for the Indian Institute of Management in Bangalore (IIMB). It was completed in 1983 and covers an area of over 100 acres in South Bangalore.

During the early 1970's the first two IIM campuses at Calcutta and Ahmedabad (which he also helped design with Louis Kahn) were beginning to struggle with demand for undergraduate positions. What was needed was a new campus.

The first two were originally aimed at the private sector but it was decided that the new Bangalore one should cater for the public sector.

To help the project along the local government donated the 100-acre site and contributed around $46,000 for its construction. 

According to their own website, it has become something of a pilgrimage destination for architectural students and practicing architects. Since its completion, the campus's buildings have since been complemented by greenery, as Doshi originally intended.

Its design is inspired, in part, by the Town of Fatehpur Sikri, a 16th Century founded by Akbar. Doshi took Fatehpur Sikri's combination of courtyards and gardens as his inspiration for the 'glocal' design of the campus at Bangalore.

Also inspired by traditional maze-like Indian cities and temples, IIMB is organized as interlocking buildings, court, and galleries. The design also provides occupants with a  variety of spaces protected from the hot climate.

The clever mixture of masonry, vast corridors and plenty of vegetation allow visitors to be simultaneously indoors and outdoors.

"Three-storied hallways, open quadrangles with ample area for greenery, sunlight streaming in through pergolas, geometrical roofs and a rough texture finish are the unique features of this ‘glocal’ design." - IIMB.

B. V. Doshi envisaged the campus as a place to be lived in rather than just an academic space. In his own words, he wanted "to create an atmosphere where you don’t see divides and doors".

The campus's courtyards and corridors are said to be sensitive to the Indian context of community and environment. They are also places where life, art, and architecture coexist in the same place, the very definition of Doshi's style.

"Instead of courtyards that are dry and rigid, he made green corridors, which allow for academic exchanges to be carried beyond the classroom." - IIMB.

Balkrishna Doshi: The First Indian Pritzker Laureate and Visionary Architect
B. V. Doshi giving a guided tour at IIMB. Source: IIMB

What is the Pritzker Architecture Prize?

The Pritzker Architecture Prize is an annual award given to "to honor a living architect or architects whose built work demonstrates a combination of those qualities of talent, vision, and commitment, which has produced consistent and significant contributions to humanity and the built environment through the art of architecture."

"Balkrishna Doshi has always created an architecture that is serious, never flashy or a follower of trends."

It was founded in 1979 by Jay A. Pritzker and his wife and has been funded by the Pritzker family ever since. The Hyatt Foundation acts as the official sponsor for it.

This prize is considered the world's premier architecture prize and is often referred to as the Nobel Prize for Architecture. It is awarded "irrespective of nationality, race, creed, or ideology."

Succesful recipients receive a cash prize of $100,000, a citation certificate and a bronze medallion. The winner is decided by a jury of five to nine architectural experts.

It was recently announced by the Hyatt Foundation that Doshi is to become the 45th Pritzker Prize Laureate. This will also make him the very first Indian recipient of the award.

"Balkrishna Doshi has always created an architecture that is serious, never flashy or a follower of trends," said the Pritzker jury.

The 2018 Pritzker Prize jury justified their decision by stating that "[Doshi] constantly demonstrates that all good architecture and urban planning must not only unite purpose and structure but must take into account climate, site, technique, and craft, along with a deep understanding and appreciation of the context in the broadest sense".

Balkrishna Doshi: The First Indian Pritzker Laureate and Visionary Architect
Doshi designed the Indian Institute of Management, Bangalore.Source: Sanyam Bahga/Wikimedia Commons

Doshi is a worthy winner of the prize

The Pritzker Jury continued to justify their choice by saying:-

"Projects must go beyond the functional to connect with the human spirit through poetic and philosophical underpinnings. For his numerous contributions as an architect, urban planner, teacher, for his steadfast example of integrity and his tireless contributions to India and beyond, the Pritzker Architecture Prize Jury selects Balkrishna Doshi as the 2018 Pritzker Laureate."

“My works are an extension of my life, philosophy, and dreams trying to create a treasury of the architectural spirit."

Balkrishna Doshi commented in response to this honor that, “My works are an extension of my life, philosophy, and dreams trying to create a treasury of the architectural spirit. I owe this prestigious prize to my guru, Le Corbusier. His teachings led me to question identity and compelled me to discover new regionally adopted contemporary expression for a sustainable holistic habitat”.

He continued, “with all my humility and gratefulness I want to thank the Pritzker Jury for this deeply touching and rewarding recognition of my work. This reaffirms my belief that, ‘life celebrates when lifestyle and architecture fuse.’”

2018 now represents the 40th Anniversary of the accolade. The award ceremony will be held at the Aga Khan Museum in Toronto, Canada in May of 2018

During the ceremony, Doshi will present a public lecture in partnership with the John H. Daniels Faculty of Architecture, Landscape, and Design at the University of Toronto on May 16, 2018. 

Balkrishna Doshi: The First Indian Pritzker Laureate and Visionary Architect
Front and rear faces of Pritzker Bronze Medallion. Source: PritzkerPrize

Doshi's Aranya Low-Cost Housing Development

In the early 1980's India was facing a shortage of housing. It was estimated that around 51,000 families were either homeless or living in illegal settlements. 

To help tackle this the Indore Development Authority decided to initiate an affordable housing project. There was only one man for the job in their minds.

The result was the Aranya housing project in Indore. B. V. Doshi would later recall that this one of his favorite housing design projects.

He would later recall in a press release that "Here I knew that the houses would be occupied by several generations of the same family, that they would identify with it, that there will be a strong sense of belonging and that their needs will change, and that they may modify parts of it".

Balkrishna Doshi: The First Indian Pritzker Laureate and Visionary Architect
Source: VSF/PritzkerPrize

This scheme was to provide 6,500 homes that were intended to house 80,000 low to middle-income occupants. This system of houses, courtyards, and labyrinthine internal pathways is one the most famous housing schemes in India.

The house designs are typical of B. V. Doshi's architectural style. Each one features a range of housing options ranging from one-room units to spacious houses able to accommodate a range of incomes.

“They are not houses but homes where a happy community lives. That is what finally matters.”  Doshi would later explain.

This housing project was completed in 1988.

Balkrishna Doshi: The First Indian Pritzker Laureate and Visionary Architect
Aranya Low-Cost Housing. Source: VSF/PritzkerPrize

Doshi is also a great educator and institution creator

Balkrishna Doshi is not just famed the world over for his architecture. He is also equally known as an educator and institution creator.

He founded the School of Architecture in Ahmedabad in 1962 and served as its director until 1972. He also founded the School of Planning in 1972 and served as its director until 1979.

Doshi was also the first founder Dean of the Centre for Environmental Planning and Technology between 1972 and 1981. This center was intended to evolve Indian design and planning standards for the built environment sympathetic to indigenous culture, societal factors and its environment.

The center, today, provides a powerful link between academics and professional consultants alike. Doshi would serve as the center's Chairman until 2012 and currently serves as its Dean Emeritus.

Balkrishna Doshi: The First Indian Pritzker Laureate and Visionary Architect
Sangath Architect's Studio. Source: VSF/PritzkerPrize

He was also the founder member of the Visual Arts Centre, Ahmedabad and first founder Director of the Kanoria Centre for Arts, Ahmedabad.

Balkrishna also established and has been instrumental in building, the internationally acclaimed research institute, Vastu-Shilpa Foundation for Studies and Research in Environmental Design.

This institution has been a pioneer in developing low-cost housing and city planning. Doshi's work and that of his the institution is considered noteworthy for its contributions to low-income housing. 

He is also noted for designs which incorporate concepts of sustainability in innovative ways. 

Balkrishna Doshi: The First Indian Pritzker Laureate and Visionary Architect
One of Doshi's concept sketches for Aranya Low-Cost Housing. Source: VSF/PritzkerPrize

Doshi’s Recognition by the Pritzker Jury and His Legacy

Doshi has, over the years, created architecture that fuses modern design with traditional Indian influences. This heady mix has created an architectural style both unique and pleasing to the eye. 

He has spent more than 60 years practicing the art of architecture and made some substantial contributions to humanity as a result. 

"Over the years, Balkrishna Doshi has always created an architecture that is serious, never flashy or a follower of trends. With a deep sense of responsibility and a desire to contribute to his country and its people through high quality, authentic architecture, he has created projects for public administrations and utilities, educational and cultural institutions, and residences for private clients, among others." - Pritzker Prize Jury

Balkrishna Doshi is more than a worthy winner of the Pritzker Prize. This will put an end to and who ever doubted that he is one of the world's most influential and talented architects of all time. 

Via: PritzkerPrizeBBC