Doshi’s involvement in architectural practice, which continued well into his nineties, was prolific. In the modern architecture that emerged in post-independence India, they symbolized a more artistic or romantic approach.
Architect Bimal Patel’s Tribute to B.V. Doshi
Balkrishna Doshi was a great Indian architect whose passing marks the end of an era, He contributed greatly to the enrichment of Indian architecture, not only through his many fine works but also by establishing a school of architecture in Ahmedabad, which remains a symbol of innovation and excellence. Doshi was also a great champion of the architectural profession, keeping the profession’s flag flying high through his words, writings, research projects and advocacy.
Doshi was born in 1927 and grew up in Pune. He studied architecture at JJ School of Art, Mumbai. Starting in 1951 he worked with Le Corbusier in Paris and then returned to India to represent him in Chandigarh and Ahmedabad. He started his practice in Ahmedabad in 1958 and remained there for the rest of his life. He was honoured with several awards including the Aga Khan Award for Architecture, the Pritzker Prize and the Padma Bhushan.
Doshi’s involvement in architectural practice, which continued well into his nineties, was prolific. In the modern architecture that emerged in post-independence India, they symbolized a more artistic or romantic approach. Their work spans from small homes, institutional buildings and offices to large housing projects, complexes and townships. Many of his projects, such as the School of Architecture at CEPT, the Institute of Indology, the Hussain Doshi Cave, his own office called Sangath, his own house and Tagore Hall have become iconic. They are part of the subconscious of Indian architects.
Among his many works, the School of Architecture in Ahmedabad is an absolute gem and a favourite of mine. No linear description of the building is possible. One can only list the impressions: proud and strong exposed brick walls form a 10-meter-wide bay; The exposed concrete floors extend back and forth, creating great double-height volumes; north lights taken from an industrial idiom; an iconic ramp that leads you up to two beautiful spiral staircases that take you deep into the building; a half-basement that opens onto a lawn on one side and a brick-paved plaza on the other; a magnificent alleyway made of two great brick walls that lead you to a great portal; Elevation created by arrays of handsome wood-panelled doors that open onto balconies; simple Kota stone floors; The vista that appears as one through the spaces. Like a great work of art, its enchanting beauty can only be experienced. This is a jewel in the campus of CEPT University which has been recently restored and is well worth a visit to Ahmedabad.
In the early sixties, Doshi persuaded Kasturbhai Lalbhai, a well-known Ahmedabad industrialist and philanthropist, to fund the establishment of a school of architecture. Under Doshi’s leadership and with the support of co-founders Bernard Kohn, Rasu Vakil and many other practising architects whom he attracted to the school, it soon became a vibrant centre of modern architectural education. Its pedagogy was infused with Doshi’s liberal and cosmopolitan values. It also greatly benefited from Doshi’s international vision and willingness to speak to the world. This ensured that the school was frequently visited by many renowned architects. Because of this, even when India was relatively close to the world, students remained in touch with what was going on in the world of architecture outside India. In the early seventies, Doshi collaborated with Christopher Benninger to establish the School of Planning. This school soon also became an important centre for planning education. Fifty years later, both schools are now part of CEPT University and continue to be nurtured by the values that Doshi instilled in them.
I studied in the school that Doshi founded. Though he was no longer actively teaching, his inspiring presence in the world of Ahmedabad’s architecture had a great impact on my formation. I remember visiting Doshi’s office many times when I was a student. It was like a great laboratory of architecture where many different problems, large and small, were being tackled and many different ideas explored through wonderful drawings and models. The office was incredibly vibrant and awe-inspiring and my visits left a lasting impression on me. Even now those impressions inspire me.
He was, to me, “Doshi kaka” – my father’s friend and fellow practising architect. The two got to know each other in the early sixties, soon after my father came to Ahmedabad. Doshi had already established his practice and established a new school of architecture. He invited my father to teach and our families got to know each other better. My father and Doshi were very different in terms of temperament and architecture. My father, more rational and methodical in his approach, was in stark contrast to Doshi’s more artistic and individualistic approach to architecture. But their different viewpoints didn’t stop them from respecting each other’s commitment to excellence in architecture. They admired each other and enjoyed a warm friendship. Doshi’s passing is a deeply personal loss and my thoughts are with his family.
The tribute was originally published in The Indian Express, and has been republished here with permission from the author.