Balkrishna Doshi, one of the most famous architects in the Indian subcontinent, has died at the age of 95.
Doshi died on Tuesday, according to a Pritzker Prize spokesperson. He was India’s first – and to date, only – recipient of the award, the profession’s equivalent of the Nobel Prize.
“Doshi has been instrumental in shaping the discourse on architecture throughout India and the world since the 1950s,” said a statement emailed from the Pritzker Prize. “Influenced by the 20th century masters, Le Corbusier and Louis Kahn, he explored the relationships between the basic needs of human life, connectedness 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 country.”
Amdavad ni Gufa, an underground museum with domed roofs that playfully protrude above ground. Credit: Vastu Shilpa Consultants
His firm, 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 towns – everyone talks, but who is really going to do something about it? I made a personal decision that I I would work for the ‘other half’ – I would work for them and try to empower them.”
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’s projects in Chandigarh and Ahmedabad. He settled in the latter, where he established his firm, Vastu Shilpa Consultants, and would later carry out some of his best-known projects, including the Tagore Memorial Hall and Amdavad ni Gufa, an underground museum topped by a series of roofs. domed.
Typical of Doshi’s pioneer housing complexes, Aranya’s low-cost housing project features an intricate network of interconnected passageways, courtyards and public spaces. Credit: Vastu Shilpa Consultants
But Doshi has been prolific elsewhere, completing more than 100 projects in cities like Bangalore, Hyderabad and Jaipur. Although internationally acclaimed, his work was almost exclusively focused on his home country. Some of its other flagship projects include the Indian Institute of Management in Bangalore and the Madhya Pradesh Electricity Board building in Jabalpur.
The low-cost housing development of Aranya, in the city of Indore, perhaps best articulated his vision. Featuring an intricate network of passageways, courtyards and public spaces, it provided 6,500 affordable residences for over 80,000 people.
“(In India) we’re talking about housing, we’re talking about squatters, we’re talking about villages, we’re talking about cities – everyone’s talking, but who’s really going to do anything about it? He asked. “I made a personal decision to work for ‘the other half’ – I would work for them and try to empower them.”
Premabhai Hall, an auditorium built in Doshi’s hometown, Ahmedabad. Credit: Vastu Shilpa Consultants
Recounting his own encounters with “extreme poverty” as a child, Doshi went on to reaffirm his commitment to social housing in India.
“These people have nothing – no land, no place, no job,” he said. “But if the government gives them a little piece of land, they can say to themselves, ‘I’m going to work hard and find a way to build my own house.’ If you put them together as a community, there is cooperation, sharing, understanding, and all that spreading of religion, caste, custom, and occupation.
“When I visit these places after almost 30 years, (I find people) who have been given one foot high baseboards with a water tap and a toilet. Now they have buildings two or three floors, which they built by themselves… (They are) multicultural and multi-religious people – including different income groups – and they all live together. They talk and communicate.”