News Briefs | In Memoriam
BV Doshi (1927-2023): Master of the Space
The architect was able to reflect, renew and reorient himself over time
26 Jan, 2023
BV Doshi (1927-2023) (Photo: AFP)
TO WALK INTO or out of a Balkrishna Vithaldas Doshi building is to be guided by light and transported by air. Crossing the bridges that unite the buildings at IIM Bengaluru or walking up and down the steps of Sangath, his office in Ahmedabad, is a continuous journey of discovery. Would one meet a space open to the sky, a pond where the lotus blooms, a garden sheltered by trees or a terrace with the possibility of another future? Where would the patio lead, where would a courtyard open and what would be at the end of a covered walkway?
Life is what happens between a series of unexpected events, said BV Doshi, one of India’s premier architects, recipient of global honours such as the Pritzker Prize in 2018 and the Royal Institute of British Architects Gold Medal in 2022. It is in these playful surprises and hidden meanings that Doshi excelled. But he was no remote builder of epic installations. A family man, whose Kamala House was a magnet for artists, students, friends from across the world, Doshi was one of the few architects who was a star. After all, how many architects get to play themselves not once but twice in a feature film, one O Kadhal Kanmani (2015) by Mani Ratnam, and the other its Hindi remake in 2017 by Shaad Ali. Both times, he is introduced into the screenplay as the god of architecture.
Doshi was an architect who put people first. Much before the world thought of meaningful workspaces and homes where families could love and live together, Doshi created models for both with an open mind and open heart. Whether it was the richest families of Ahmedabad or the poorest people of Indore, he gave his clients equal respect and equal time. “Houses are alive, they grow, they talk to you,” he once said. Indeed. In his built spaces, you can sometimes talk to the sky, play with the sun, and listen to the trees outside.
Doshi lost his mother when he was ten months old and was brought up by his grandfather, who ran a furniture workshop out of their home, and his extended family, often walking in and out of their houses. That was to characterise his work later, which was refined by his training under modernist French master Le Corbusier, with whom he trained for four years in Paris, and subsequently, worked with as an executive assistant on building the then new city of Chandigarh. It was here that he understood the beauty of simplicity. Stripped down to the bare essentials, his spaces blended buildings with nature, a style further refined in his work with American architect Louis I Kahn, with whom he worked to build the Indian Institute of Management in Ahmedabad.
To move through Ahmedabad is to see his stamp everywhere, from the Shreyas School to the Centre for Environmental Planning and Technology (CEPT), which also housed Amdavad ni Gufa, an underground gallery that houses the works of artist MF Husain; from Tagore Hall to Premabhai Hall. To meet him was to make a pilgrimage to a guru of architecture. His initial education in science was bolstered by his study of architecture at Mumbai’s Sir JJ School of Architecture, and he remained a lifelong student, starting Ahmedabad’s School of Architecture in 1962, which became a model for several other such schools in the country. He and his 60-member practice designed 100 buildings all over India, telling the story of its past, present and future, connecting the traditional to the modern, the international to the local.
For seven decades, Doshi was the constant creator, drawing on his board, noting in his diary, remembering with his mind’s eye, alert, curious, engaged. He was a keeper of memories and a builder of tomorrow, able to reflect, renew and reorient himself over time. His school of architecture in Ahmedabad, which eventually became CEPT, realised over five decades, is perhaps the greatest example of his tireless patience which helped him nurture people and the spaces they inhabited, to protect them from the sun, while exposing them to the breeze, to help them collaborate with each other while also affording them the solitude to introspect.
About The Author
Kaveree Bamzai is an author and a contributing writer with Open
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