Famed Indian architect dies at age 95

Written by Oscar Holland, CNN

Balkrishna Doshi, one of the Indian subcontinent’s most celebrated architects, has died at the age of 95.

Doshi passed away on Tuesday, according to a spokesperson from the Pritzker Prize. He was India’s first — and to date, only — winner of the award, the profession’s equivalent to the Nobel Prize.

Throughout his seven-decade career, Doshi, who often went by the initials B. V., championed public architecture and low-cost housing for India’s poor.

“Doshi was instrumental in shaping the discourse of architecture throughout India and internationally since the 1950s,” said an emailed statement from the Pritzker Prize. “Influenced by 20th-century masters, Le Corbusier and Louis Kahn, he explored the relationships between fundamental needs of human life, connectivity 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_ courtesy of VSF

Amdavad ni Gufa, a subterranean museum with domed roofs that protrude playfully above ground. Credit: Vastu Shilpa Consultants

His practice, Studio Sangath, also shared the news of his passing on Instagram with a message signed by his family and business partners.

“There are few words to express the deep pain and sorrow as we announce the passing away of our backbone, guru, friend, confidant and mentor,” the post reads. “He was a light in this world, and now we need to continue shining his light by carrying it within us in our own lives.”

“(In India) we talk of housing, we talk of squatters, we talk of villages, we talk of towns — everybody talks, but who is going to really do something about it? I took the personal decision that I would work for the ‘other half’ — I’d work for them and try to empower them.”

Balkrishna Doshi

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 practice, Vastu Shilpa Consultants, and would later complete some of his best-known projects, including the Tagore Memorial Hall and Amdavad ni Gufa, an underground museum topped with a series of domed roofs.

Aranya Low Cost Housing_courtesy of VSF

Typical of Doshi’s pioneering housing complexes, the Aranya Low Cost Housing Project features an intricate network of interconnected passages, courtyards and public spaces. Credit: Vastu Shilpa Consultants

But Doshi was prolific elsewhere, completing more than 100 projects in cities including Bangalore, Hyderabad and Jaipur. Although of international renown, his work was almost exclusively focused on his home country. Some of his other signature projects include the Indian Institute of Management in Bangalore and the Madhya Pradesh Electricity Board building in Jabalpur.

The Aranya Low Cost Housing development, in the city of Indore, perhaps best articulated his outlook. Featuring an intricate network of passages, courtyards and public spaces, it offered 6,500 affordable residences to more than 80,000 people.

Speaking to CNN about his Pritzker Prize win in 2018, Doshi expressed his career-long commitment to using architecture as a force for public good.

“(In India) we talk of housing, we talk of squatters, we talk of villages, we talk of towns — everybody talks, but who is going to really do something about it?” he asked. “I took the personal decision that I would work for the ‘other half’ — I’d work for them and try to empower them.”

PremabhaiHall_courtesy of VSF

Premabhai Hall, an auditorium built in Doshi’s home city of 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 employment,” he said. “But if the government gives them a little piece of land, they can get a feeling of, ‘I’m going to work hard, and find a way to build my own home.’ If you put them together as a community, there’s cooperation, there’s sharing, there’s understanding and there’s this whole diffusion of religion, caste, custom and occupation.

“When I visit these places after almost 30 years, (I find people) who we gave one-foot-high plinths with a water tap and a toilet. Today, they have two-story or three-story buildings, that they built by themselves… (They are) multicultural, multi-religious people — including different income groups — and they all live together. They talk and communicate.”

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