At 90 years old, Balkrishna Doshi life’s work as an architect, urban planner, and educator has been awarded architecture’s highest honor. Known for his ethical approach to design that spans socio-economic spectrums, Doshi’s contributions to the modern infrastructure in India have been considerable, from low cost housing complexes to prominent cultural spaces.
Influenced by the likes of Swiss-French architect Le Corbusier, Doshi’s ability to re-interpret modernism for contemporary Indian society is unparalleled. As part of Le Corbusier’s intimate circle, the two met in London in 1950, and eventually worked together on major urban planning projects in Chandigarh and Ahmedabad. And Le Corbusier’s influence on Doshi’s aesthetic would not go unnoticed; the Pritzker Jury described his work as “serious, never flashy, or a follower of trends.”
“My works are an extension of my life, philosophy and dreams trying to create treasury of the architectural spirit,” Doshi said, after receiving the 2018 Pritzker Architecture Prize. “I owe this prestigious prize to my guru, Le Corbusier. His teachings led me to question identity and compelled me to discover new regionally adopted contemporary expression for a sustainable holistic habitat.”
Part of the process for building a sustainable holistic habitat includes attentively addressing the surrounding environment. If architecture is “an extension of the body,” as Doshi describes it, then the design must effectively (and intuitively) respond to outside stimuli and natural elements. “Climate, landscape, and urbanization” are major factors in his design dialogue, all of which are reflected in his choice of spatial overlap, fluidity, and choice of materials. And the modernist emphasis on functionality and human need is consistent.
As an ideal, architecture should reflect (and respect) the cultural and social requirements of any given society – namely, it should address real human need. Doshi’s work has not only done exactly that, but also improved the quality of life for thousands of individuals. Aranya Low Cost Housing, for instance, is home to 80,000 people, and features a “system of houses, courtyards and a labyrinth of internal pathways” that “encourage fluid and adaptable living conditions, customary in Indian society.” Functional, regionally-specific, socially-conscious design is at the core of his work.
“Professor Doshi has said that ‘Design converts shelters into homes, housing into communities, and cities in magnets of opportunities’,” commented Tom Pritzker, director and vice president of The Pritzker Foundation. “The life’s work of Balkrishna Doshi truly underscores the mission of the prize – demonstrating the art of architecture and an invaluable service to humanity.”
Integrating the built environment with human activity is all part of the architectural journey. “We are constantly preoccupied with ourselves,” Doshi recently told NPR.
“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’s other notable works include Premabhai Hall in Ahmedabad, housing complexes in Jaipur, Kamala House in Ahmedabad, Tagore Memorial Hall, and more.