Balkrishna Doshi, one of the Indian subcontinent’s most celebrated architects, has passed away at the age of 95.
Doshi passed away on Tuesday, a spokesman for the Pritzker Prize said. He was India’s first – and so far only – winner of the prize, the profession’s equivalent of the Nobel Prize.
“Doshi was instrumental in shaping architectural discourse across India and internationally since the 1950s,” said an emailed statement from the Pritzker Prize. “Influenced by 20th-century masters, Le Corbusier and Louis Kahn, he explored the relationships between fundamental needs of human life, belonging to self and culture, and social traditions. Through his ethical and personal approach to the built environment, he touched humanity in every socio-economic class of his native land.”
Amdavad ni Gufa, an underground museum with domed roofs that protrude playfully above the ground. Credit: Vastu Shilpa Advisors
His practice, Studio Sangath, also shared the news of his passing on Instagram with a message signed by his family and business partners.
“(In India) we talk about housing, we talk about squatters, we talk about villages, we talk about cities – everybody talks, but who’s really going to do anything about it? I made a personal decision that I’m for the ‘other half’ – I would work for them and try to make them stronger.”
Born in Pune in 1927, Doshi worked under Le Corbusier in Paris in the early 1950s before returning to India to oversee the modernist master projects in Chandigarh and Ahmedabad. He settled in the latter, where he established his practice, Vastu Shilpa Consultants, and would later complete some of his best-known projects, including the Tagore Memorial Hall and Amdavad ni Gufa, an underground museum topped by a series of domed roofs.
Typical of Doshi’s pioneering residential complexes, the Aranya Low Cost Housing Project features an intricate network of interconnected passageways, courtyards and public spaces. Credit: Vastu Shilpa Advisors
But Doshi was prolific elsewhere, completing more than 100 projects in cities such as Bangalore, Hyderabad and Jaipur. Although he was internationally known, his work was almost exclusively focused on his home country. Some of his other signature projects include the Indian Institute of Management in Bangalore and the Madhya Pradesh Electricity Board building in Jabalpur.
The development of Aranya Low Cost Housing, in the city of Indore, perhaps best articulated his vision. With an intricate network of corridors, courtyards and public spaces, it provided 6,500 affordable homes for more than 80,000 people.
“(In India) we talk about housing, we talk about squatters, we talk about villages, we talk about cities – everybody talks, but who’s really going to do anything about it?” he asked. “I made a personal decision that I would work for the ‘other half’ – I would work for them and try to make them stronger.”
Premabhai Hall, an auditorium built in Doshi’s home city of Ahmedabad. Credit: Vastu Shilpa Advisors
Doshi recounted his own encounters with “extreme poverty” as a child, then reaffirmed his commitment to social housing in India.
“These people have nothing — no land, no place, no work,” he said. “But if the government gives them a small piece of land, they can feel like, ‘I’m going to work hard and find a way to build my own house.’ When you put them together as a community, there is cooperation, there is sharing, there is understanding and there is a whole spread of religion, caste, customs and occupations.
“When I visit these places after almost 30 years, (I find people) we have given 30 cm high pedestals with a water tap and a toilet. Today they have two or three storey buildings, which they built by themselves… (They are) multicultural, multifaith people – including different income groups – and they all live together. They talk and communicate.”