“About time!” was perhaps the most common refrain on social media when it was announced that the 2018 Pritzker Prize had been awarded to the architect, B.V. Doshi, the grand old man of architecture from the Indian subcontinent. He is the first Indian to win the prize and its oldest recipient. It would be impossible to write a history of the modern architecture of India or, for that matter, of the non-western world, without acknowledging Balkrishna Doshi’s seminal contributions. His career spans nearly seven decades as an educator, urbanist and an architect, and his legacy undoubtedly transcends the Global South. Yet for all the tributes that poured in, there was a eagerness to fit the contribution of the man and the significance of the award into a neat box. Robin Pogrebin’s piece in The New York Times, “Top Architecture Prize Goes to Low-Cost Housing Pioneer From India,” was particularly reductive, if not offensive, to those more familiar with the work. It is not unlike calling Beethoven, “a pioneer in concerto writing from Germany.” While both statements might be true, they betray an incredible myopia toward the breadth of their legacies. When Doshi founded his office in Ahmedabad in 1955, the Indian state was not even a decade old. Mahatma Gandhi and his ashram in Ahmedabad had served as the epicenter of a great struggle against British imperialism. Doshi arrived in this city from Chandigarh, where Jawaharlal Nehru, India’s first Prime Minister, had commissioned Le Corbusier to design a new capital for the state of Punjab. Inevitably, the landmarks of the new nation liberated from European imperialism would now be built according to the doctrines of high modernism. Doshi himself was a product of this movement, having worked for four years in the atelier of Le Corbusier in Paris prior to his arrival in Chandigarh. Even in India, modernism was seen as a tour de force that promised a new egalitarian social order, removed from the shackles of tradition. To be modern meant to embrace an architecture of European modernism and its associated dogmas of rationalist thinking, objectivism and tabula rasa planning, with an unfettered belief in progress and technology. For a nation recovering from colonialism, with great and diverse traditions in art, architecture and city form, reconciling these dogmas of modernist thinking took several decades. Doshi’s work and legacy is a search for this reconciliation, between universalism and place, rationalism and what philosopher Paul Ricoeur calls ‘the mythical nucleus of humankind.” The quest embodied in Doshi’s oeuvre has also been the quest of his peers Charles Correa, Achyut Kanvinde, Anant Raje and Raj Rewal, to name a few. It has been a quest of not one, but several generations of architects from the subcontinent and the Global South at large, to create an ontological and literal framework for an architecture that is modern and yet rooted in place. This involved acknowledging and reinterpreting elements from the rich traditions of Indian architecture –the courtyard, the jali (screen), a layered notion of enclosure, ornament and, very significantly, the plinth or the occupied ground. The treatment of the ground as a receptacle for the celebration of life is a critical aspect of Doshi’s work. It marks a clear break from the piloti and the grid–tools of Cartesian planning that favor the automobile’s hegemony over the ground. Doshi’s School of Architecture (1972), Sangath (1980), and The Gufa (1990) reveal an evolution of an autochthonous architecture of the ground, which becomes one of the most significant attributes of these buildings. The School of Architecture presents an activated ground, a constantly changing datum with tactile inhabitation. This is already a distinct shift from the Institute of Indology (1956), one of Doshi's earliest projects, or The Mill Owners Association building by Le Corbusier (1954) (a building that Doshi worked on as a project architect), which establish a strong single datum against the ground plane below. Sangath (which roughly translates as ‘working together through participation’) marks a true departure from the architectural tropes of Corbusier and Louis Kahn–the coming into being of a distinct architecture which is both modern and deeply rooted in place. The ground and the building are now inseparable and symbiotic. Landscape becomes the primary architectural mediator. The building is perceived as a rich topography of occupiable plinths culminating in vaulted porcelain mosaic roof forms that frame the sky. It is an architecture of multiplicity, tactility, ornament and myth. When the project was under construction, Doshi encouraged local craftsmen to leave their own creations in the landscape of the building, giving agency to the artisans. The waste of chiseled stone chips becomes an incredibly beautiful embellishment within the landscape. Upon entering the premises, you enter a haven–a world within a world. Programmatically, the building works not just as a studio but as a real celebration of life–a living ground for exhibitions, performances and festivities. In reflecting on Doshi’s work on housing, the French philosopher Paul Ricœur comes to mind. In History and Truth (1961), Ricoeur says, “The phenomenon of universalization… constitutes a sort of subtle destruction...of the creative nucleus of great cultures…the ethical and mythical nucleus of mankind. Everywhere throughout the world one finds the same bad movie, the same slot machines, the same plastic or aluminum atrocities, the same twisting of language by propaganda.” It is striking how prescient Ricœur is today in an era of fake news and climate change. Everywhere one finds the same twisted architectural forms, the same placelessness, the same erosion of public space and public life, the same universal crisis of housing, and the replacement of housing by speculative real estate in global cities from London and New York to Shanghai, Lagos and Mumbai. It is in this light that Doshi’s low-income housing in Aranya should be considered. The Aranya project is a highly sophisticated design for over 6,500 dwellings. For a site and services project, it breaks from typical gridded layouts that maximize rationalization and efficiency. Instead, the project provides an urban armature where a range of open spaces and pedestrian pathways intersect and connect residential clusters to a central spine. Incrementality is the defining attribute of the project. Users are encouraged to add rooms to the service core of their house over time. Eight demonstration houses were designed by Doshi to illustrate the array of available options, from one-room shelters to more elaborate homes. Cross-subsidies and financial structures were put into place to encourage people to build their homes incrementally. This they did, and Aranya today is a thriving city of over 80,000 people. The project has created common spaces where people from varied castes and diverse religions mix and cooperate. Social cohesion is fostered through the very framework of the project–a crucial aspect that is easily overlooked in its descriptions. That architecture can and should have a socially progressive agenda was, after all, a defining attribute of the modernism–to bring design to the masses, to produce not only a new aesthetic, but also a new egalitarian order. Form thus became an instrument of reducing social inequity. The canonical architects of the time engaged in feats of social housing, such as Weisenhoff Seidlung, the Unité de Habitation, Byker Wall and PREVI Lima. Aranya belongs to this lineage of architectural agency. Today, an architecture of social cohesion has given way to the architect as a celebrity superstar, complicit with neoliberal agendas, designing condominiums for the one percent. Form has utterly lost its social agency and become the perverse weapon of increased social inequity. Never before has the architect seemed more impotent in the face of global crisis–ecological, political and social. It is clear that architecture today needs less autonomy and greater spatial agency. This means a deeper engagement with forms and practices that offer modes of resistance to neoliberal orders, and less collusion with the forces of capital. For an architect who has completed over one hundred projects in nearly seven decades of practice, Doshi has yet to design a luxury condominium or a glass skyscraper! In belatedly acknowledging Doshi’s legacy, the Pritzker Prize finally brings attention to a great body of work. It also exposes a certain state of contemporary culture where practices of resistance are few and far between. Finally, in an age of toxic work cultures and the erosion of family life, the life of B.V Doshi also has something to teach us. This is reflected in his belief that great architecture is attainable not in spite of family life but because of it. Speaking at the Royal Academy of Arts last year, Doshi said that living together within an extended family remained one of the greatest influences of his life, where he "learnt about cooperation, tolerance, togetherness, humility, generosity, and interdependence." While much is made about Doshi’s associations with the masters, it is the women in his life who need to be celebrated–his three daughters, wife and mother-in-law. He is surely the only Pritzker Prize winner to have lived with his mother-in-law for 38 years. "I learnt so many things from her simplicity, humility... She was fantastic!" Doshi’s life and work are imbued with an ethos that integrates the quintessential qualities of architecture–form, space and light–with the quintessential attributes that make us human, to create institutions and places of lasting meaning and value; an architecture of place in an age of placelessness. This, in the end, is perhaps what makes Doshi so relevant to contemporary culture today, both in the east and the west. Sarosh Anklesaria is a Brooklyn based architect and Visiting Assistant Professor at the Pratt Institute. Sarosh spent eight years at CEPT University, which was founded by Doshi, and has worked as an architect at Sangath, the office of B.V. Doshi.
Posts tagged with "Ahmedabad":
When I first arrived in Ahmedabad, India by train nearly twenty years ago, loaded with a backpack and a collection of books from which to teach for the first time, I asked the rickshaw driver if he knew where Sangath was located. “Oh, you are looking for Doshi-ji?” he quipped. “Doshi-ji,” the ‘–ji’ signifying both respect and an honorific for an elder or person of standing, “is most important shiksak (a word suggesting teacher) and vaastulkar (architect/engineer).” That a driver in a burgeoning city of millions might recognize the location of Balkrishna Doshi’s famed atelier, as well as the man himself, did not occur to me as unusual until much later. Having known of Doshi-ji from gazing upon Chandigarh in a number of darkened classrooms as a student, I eventually made a pilgrimage to the “new”capital city of the Punjab upon arriving in India, which Doshi had managed. There he was in photos examining drawings alongside Le Corbusier, sitting at a drafting table in Paris, observing a construction site in Bangalore; his name echoed among those architects and students I met: “You must go to Ahmedabad,” they implored. I remained skeptical. And so it was two years later, when I returned to India, this time to teach at CEPT (which later became a university), an elegant brick and concrete architecture and planning school conceived and designed in part by Doshi, that I finally went to Ahmedabad. Until then, a number of my teachers had emphasized a rethinking of modernism’s legacies and impact. Such notions informed the first classes I taught at CEPT, one of the reasons I set off for South Asia in the first place. Here, without the distraction of every emerging trend, it seemed one might be able to both yield to and observe closely how and why architecture and urbanism informs the complexities of daily life. Yet it seemed I could not escape, in every discussion and desk crit, the mention of Doshi-ji. His name and his ideas are a force in a school that bears an unerring vision of moving architecture beyond the conventional dialectics of here and there, them and us. I was living and working within his vision of a holistic architecture bearing the imprint of (Indian) society’s inward turn toward the maintenance of mythmaking. Merging a landscape as much informed by cosmology as that of a not-so-ancient city’s sprawl, the school had become my center of gravity. By this time, I had sipped chai alongside the morphological experiment of the “Gufa,” or Amdavad-ni-Gufa, Doshi's collaboration with the esteemed artist MF Husain; I had walked past the stepped shelled-facades of his studio, Sangath, en route to my favorite dhaba on Drive-in Road. These were familiar landmarks. But nothing prepared me for my first meeting with the man whose presence had long preceded him. I had asked members of the school to introduce me to Doshi-ji. After a few months, I found myself sitting one very hot day in the cool hush of his studio. The atmosphere was charged with the silent attention of men and women working on drawings and models for the Diamond Exchange in Mumbai. Doshi-ji appeared and immediately asked me what buildings I had seen, what books I was reading. I rambled through a list, and soon was asked to sit with a group of young architects at the edge of a long table covered with books, our heads turned daily toward the making of drawings. However, I did not last long in Doshi-ji’s studio. Perhaps my hubris prevented a longer affiliation with him. I did not understand the devotional attention to the “guru,” to the “master” whose teachings were the stuff of legend. Did I think I could not learn from him? Even with all the time I had spent at CEPT and elsewhere that possessed his hallmark spirit, I was not immediately converted. On every occasion I was asked to participate on a design jury, Doshi-ji would glare at me or ignore me altogether. I tried to counter him with misplaced theory on multiple occasions, unsuccessfully. I have reflected on these decisions over the years. So much of what we think of the great architects and their embodiments happens after the fact, over time, even if immediacy does not negate experience. Rhetoric cannot hold sway with an architect such as Doshi, whose lifelong philosophy to educate through and by building drives an unerring attention to the built environment as a mirror of our knowledge...or lack thereof. More recently, I have had the great privilege of visiting Doshi-ji again at his model-filled studios of Sangath as well as at the exhibition of his work at Shanghai's Power Station of Art, organized by Khushnu Hoof. We laughed at my early inattentions. Our discussions have centered on the agency of the visual in relation to the question of inhabiting space as a universal and/or ethical condition. He has asked me how to move beyond the degradation of belief to imbue architecture with the capacity to transform society at multiple scales. With inspired words and aphorisms, Doshi insists on recognizing the self as inhabiting multiple contexts. His projects are intimate glances at the character of a man whose work is revolutionary for its ability to be present and to disappear at the same time. Doshi-ji, Abhinandana, Mubarak, congratulations on your extraordinary achievements and for teaching all of us how to see for ourselves. Sean Anderson is the Associate Curator in the Department of Architecture and Design at The Museum of Modern Art.
Balkrishna Doshi is the 45th Pritzker Prize Laureate and the first architect from India to win the prize. For over seven decades, Doshi has been committed to shaping and nurturing India’s modern architectural milieu and is an important voice in the industry’s global discourse as an architect, urban planner, and educator. He worked closely with Le Corbusier and Louis Kahn and completed over 100 projects of varying scales with his firm, Vastu-Shilpa. Doshi deftly integrates the principles of modernism within the realities of the Indian climate and context. His work addresses serious social issues, developing low-cost housing and urban planning throughout India’s cities, particularly in Ahmedabad, India, where he is based. According to the 2018 jury citation: “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.” After studying architecture in Mumbai, Doshi joined Le Corbusier in Paris in the early 1950s, returning to Ahmedabad to work on several of Corbusier’s buildings there and ultimately overseeing Chandigarh. In 1962, Doshi collaborated with Louis Kahn on the Indian Institute of Management, continuing to work with him into the 1970s. Doshi founded his own practice, Vastu-Shilpa Consultants in 1956, and later established the Vastu-Shilpa Foundation for Studies and Research in Environmental Design in 1978. He has spent subsequent years developing cities and townships as well as notable educational and cultural facilities. Some of his most iconic projects include Aranya Low Cost Housing (Indore, India), which won the Aga Khan Award for Architecture in 1996, ATIRA low-cost housing (Ahmedabad, India), his office, Sangath (Ahmedabad, India), and IFFCO Township (Kalol, India). The works are site-sensitive with protective overhangs and subterranean spaces to mitigate the extreme climate, interlocking volumes and fluid layouts to promote interaction, and overlapping spaces that connect the indoors to the outdoors. “Every object around us, and nature itself—lights, sky, water and storm—everything is in a symphony,” Doshi explained in a statement. “And this symphony is what architecture is all about. My work is the story of my life, continuously evolving, changing and searching...searching to take away the role of architecture, and look only at life.” The 2018 Pritzker Architecture Prize ceremony will be hosted at the Aga Khan Museum in Toronto, Canada, in May, and Doshi will give 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. For more information, visit the Pritzker Prize website.
There is no direct English translation for the Indian word ‘jugaad,’ but the gist of it is to “make do.” But simply “making do” does not aptly describe the clever and resourceful strategies on display in Jugaad Urbanism: Resourceful Strategies for Indian Cities, a new exhibit at the Center for Architecture that opens tomorrow night. For the most part the exhibit shirks high design in favor of “design by the people, for the people.” “The concept itself came about when we looked at the cities,” said Kanu Agrawal, the exhibit curator. “There was a tragic narrative that they’re over populated; they’re messy. But somehow things work—not in a banal way but in a creative way. We found that jugaad existed in so many ways.” The exhibit is organized around resources, such as land, water, energy, and transportation and culls the material from communities in Delhi, Mumbai, Ahmedabad and Pune. Video, photos, graphics, renderings and object displays develop a narrative detailing how NGOs and designers can draw inspiration by observing the everyday survival of the India’s poor. While some of the developed designs are relatively inexpensive, not all are cheap—especially when it comes to dealing with land. A good portion of the exhibit examines proposals for preservation and renovation of chawls, the multistoried tenements endemic of Mumbai. “Land projects are a little more difficult because of the politics and land development,” said Rosamond Fletcher, the Center’s director of exhibitions. “I think that there is some hope for the historic fabric.” The implication is that rather then leveling Mumbai’s chawls, they could be recast and redeveloped as an integral part of the city’s character, as was done with Wapping in London or Lower East Side in New York. A good portion of the exhibit studies waste management, particularly that of humans. One device on display is a porcelain toilette pan with two compartments that separates the waste for better management. Cast off tobacco packages get recycled into corrugated plastic material. Throughout the space, American milk crates get the jugaad treatment with cushions covered in gold satin. When pressed to pick one object on display that really attracted them, Agrawal and Fletcher both said they were drawn to the e-charka, an energy generating spinning machine. Besides the obvious cultural connections, to Gandhi in particular, both said the machine is loaded with symbolism. “It’s such a fascinating little piece. It’s quirky and humorous but at the same time its really serious,” said Agrawal. The energy from the machine powers a transistor radio and a small lamp with a decorative plastic shade. It’s the flourish of the shade that intrigues Fletcher. While lifting it up she points to the shade's curved outline. “Everyone needs that added layer,” she said.