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B.V. Doshi–contributor to the evolution of architectural discourse in India–passes away at 95

Padma Bhushan and Pritzker Architecture Prize awardee Doshi worked closely with Swiss-French architect Le Corbusier and American architect Louis Kahn.

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Balkrishna Vithaldas Doshi, a distinguished Indian architect who spent the previous 70 years as an urban planner and educator, passed away on Tuesday in his home state of Gujarat at the age of 95.

“I always sensed the space as alive,” said B.V. Doshi back in 2018 after he won the Pritzker Architecture Prize, where his quote became famous, “My architecture philosophy is: Architecture is a backdrop for life.”

We all might recognise the name instantly from his reference in Mani Ratnam’s O Kadhal Kanmani (2015). Apart from that, this legend has played an immense role in structuring major projects in India.

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Designs are like festive Indian dinner

Doshi, who was born in Pune, finished his education between 1947 and 1950 at the Sir J. J. School of Art in Mumbai. He travelled to Europe in 1950 and collaborated closely with Swiss-French architect Le Corbusier on a number of his projects in Paris.

When American architect Louis Kahn planned the campus of the Indian Institute of Management, Ahmedabad, Doshi worked on the project with him and eminent Indian architect Anant Raje. He attended the Graham Foundation for Advanced Studies in the Fine Arts as a fellow in 1958. In 1962, he subsequently founded the School of Architecture.

He was one of only a handful of people worldwide and the only Indian to receive both the Royal Gold Medal and the Pritzker Architecture Prize, also known as the Nobel Prize for architecture. Doshi also received the prestigious Padma Shri in 1976, the Padma Bhushan in 2020, and the Pritzker Prize in 2018 for his exceptional accomplishments in the area of architecture.

As a tutor and mentor, he is the idol of many aspiring architects. He recalled sitting under a tree to attend some classes in school, so when he designed buildings meant for education, he aimed to connect the students with their natural environment. “We are constantly preoccupied with ourselves,” he would say. “And we are never aware of what goes on around us, or what the space is. And for me, the experiences I try to create in the work are those where people really begin to feel what is here and inside them, and what brings it out.”

Doshi mentioned the three guiding ideas for his work as ‘porosity, paradox, and practice’ while delivering the annual architecture lecture at the Royal Academy of Arts in London. Additionally, he compared his designs to a festive Indian dinner, which has several components that are designed to be devoured simultaneously rather than one after the other.

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The legacy

Doshi used his own architecture studio–Sangath–in Ahmedabad, which he completed in 1980, as an illustration. Sangath is the headquarters of the Vastu Shilpa Foundation. The studio’s iconic roofscape is quite easy to recognise. The space features a series of sunken vaults sheathed in Chinese mosaic and a small terraced amphitheatre with intricate water details.

It’s one of the most celebrated works of B.V. Joshi, apart from the famous Hussain-Doshi Gufa (now called Ahmedabad-ni-Gufa), IIM Bangalore, the CEPT University campus, the Shreyas School, the Physical Research Laboratory in Ahmedabad, Bharat Diamond Bourse in Mumbai, and the National Institute of Fashion Technology in New Delhi.

Indore’s Aranya low-cost housing project, built in 1989, was one of his most significant pieces of work. The complex–‘a system of dwellings, courtyards, and a labyrinth of interior passages’–is home to some 80,000 people, according to a statement released in March 2018 by the Hyatt Foundation, which bestows the Pritzker Prize. It was also the recipient of the prestigious Aga Khan Award for Architecture in 1996.

Another notable work of Doshi was LIC Housing, Ahmedabad. This building, which was built in 1973 for the Life Insurance Corporation of Ahmedabad, was known locally as Bima Nagar. It comprises 324 units spread across 54 plots in a duplex terraced unit arrangement. 

In 1978, Doshi established the Vastu Shilpa Foundation to develop native design and planning guidelines that were suitable for India’s socio-cultural and environmental context. Today, it acts as a crucial interface between academics and consultants in the domain.

“The loss is all of ours but we are so proud of the legacy he has left us behind. He will remain in our hearts forever,” writes Architect and Interiors India. 

Following his demise, along with the nation, Prime Minister Narendra Modi mourned and expressed his grief through Twitter: “Dr. BV Doshi Ji was a brilliant architect and a remarkable institution builder. The coming generations will get glimpses of his greatness by admiring his rich work across India. His passing away is saddening. Condolences to his family and admirers. Om Shanti.”

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