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Balkrishna Doshi (1927-2023): The master of modernist architecture goes into the light

The celebrated architect passed away earlier today at the age of 95. He was the first Indian to be awarded the Pritzker Architecture Prize

In May 2022, B.V. Doshi was conferred with the prestigious Royal Gold Medal, one of the world’s highest honours in the field of architecture. (File Photo)(HT_PRINT)

By Avantika Bhuyan

LAST PUBLISHED 24.01.2023  |  02:42 PM IST

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“Architecture is not just about line and drawing, but it also holds within it notions of space, form, proportions," B.V. Doshi had stated during a conversation last October. My call had served as an unexpected interruption during his afternoon nap. However, instead of being irritated, he reflected on the quality of light as perceived when half asleep. “When you are half asleep, you have a better conversation," he laughed. “You see everything in soft light, which removes the hardness of the skin and body. It helps understand things better, and to notice the natural dimensions of an object." This play of light and shadow served as a cornerstone to his practice, which spanned nearly seven decades.

The noted architect passed away earlier today at the age of 95. “No one loved life more than him, ‘Anand Karo’—celebrate life, as he would say," read the family’s message, as they prepared for Doshi’s onward journey. Born as Balkrishna Vithalbai Doshi in Pune, the master architect was known for his unique modernist language. He worked under both Le Corbusier and Louis Kahn, and went on to be awarded the Padma Shri and the Padma Bhushan. “Both [Corbusier and Kahn] were very different and yet very perceptive and articulate," Doshi had mentioned during our conversation about working with the two doyens of architecture.


In 2018, he went on to become the first Indian to win the Pritzker Architecture Prize, the highest award in this field. “His work in architecture to affect humanity is deeply personal, responsive, and meaningful," read the announcement by the Hyatt Foundation, which sponsors the award. The jury citation further stated: “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.Doshi is acutely aware of the context in which his buildings are located. His solutions take into account the social, environmental and economic dimensions, and therefore his architecture is totally engaged with sustainability."

Also read: Fragments of memory in B.V. Doshi’s recent works

Some of Doshi’s most remarkable designs included the Aranya Low Cost Housing in Indore (1989), which accommodates over 80,000 people today in a myriad of formats, including one-room units to larger spaces. “Overlapping layers and transitional areas and transitional areas encourage fluid and adaptable living conditions, customary in Indian society. Doshi’s architecture is both poetic and functional," added the announcement. Interlocking played an important role in his structures as seen in the Indian Institute of Management, Bangalore, and yet there was a fluidity about his designs.

Always deeply Indian in his vocabulary, he took into account the immediate environment, integrating it seamlessly into the buildings he created. He was truly one of a kind, paying heed to the impact of the sociocultural milieu on the quality of space. “Space should not be seen as one surface. Rather, it has a continuous connection with the surrounding area. Form and function are objects, and they don’t work in isolation," he said during the October 2022 interview. This was evident in his projects such as the CEPT University Campus, Life Insurance Corporation Housing and the Amdavad-ni-Gufa.

Detail from Balkrishna Doshi's 'Remnants of Memories', mixed media on canvas (2020). Courtesy: the artist and Vadehra Art Gallery

Also read: Dayanita Singh and BV Doshi's house of love and light

He established Vastu Shilpa Foundation in 1978 to research environment design and Studio Sangath in Ahmedabad in 1980 to bring together professionals from various disciplines. “In our culture we talk about relationships, sharing, compassion and aspirations but of higher order which has an impact on a larger percentage of society. So we can ask questions that are we really following any of these, either partially or fully and are we really trying to achieve this with the kind of technologies we have now and will be available tomorrow? Can our people spend less time in commuting? Can they spend more time with their families? Will there be a way to cultivate by spirit and body within natural, quiet and nourishing surroundings?" he stated in an article, B.V. Doshi: The man nature talked back to, written by Maulik Pathak and published in the Mint Lounge in 2018.


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In the last couple of years, one got more of a glimpse of Doshi, the visual artist. His paintings were shown at the National Gallery of Modern Art in 2014, at the Power Station of Art Museum in Shanghai in 2017 and at the India Art Fair by Gallery White in 2019. In 2021, one got to see a reflective side to him in the mixed media series, Remnants of Memories, showcased by the Vadehra Art Gallery at the Bikaner House in Delhi. The paintings were informed by the ideas of time and memory of his ancestral home, textiles, and more. “He thinks like an urbanist. I have observed his way of working closely. It’s almost like he is in a trance while drawing," elaborated Khushnu Panthaki-Hoof, Doshi’s granddaughter, and an architect-archivist, about these works in an interview. “He loves working on master plans and thinks of movement through spaces. That’s how his sculptures have come about—with the idea of how to make drawings more dynamic. His play of light and shadow is evident in his paintings, drawings and sculptures."

Cliched as it may sound, the passing of Doshi truly represents an end of an era, when architects thought like artists, and every line and dot in the design was impacted by the environment around them.

Also read: Sketches that reveal master architect Le Corbusier's mind