Written by Oscar Holland, CNN
Balkrishna Doshi, one of the Indian subcontinent’s most famous architects, has died at the age of 95.
According to a spokesman for the Pritzker Prize, Doshi passed away on Tuesday. He was India’s first – and to date only – winner of this award, the profession’s equivalent to the Nobel Prize.
During his seven-decade career, Doshi, who often bore the initials BV, championed public architecture and affordable housing for India’s poor.
“Doshi has been instrumental in shaping architectural discourse across India and internationally since the 1950s,” reads an emailed statement from the Pritzker Prize. “Influenced by 20th-century masters Le Corbusier and Louis Kahn, he explored the relationships between the basic needs of human life, connectedness to oneself and culture, and social traditions. Through his ethical and personal approach to the built environment, he touched the humanity of every socioeconomic class in his homeland.”
Amdavad ni Gufa, an underground museum with domed roofs that playfully rise above the ground. Photo credit: Vastu Shilpa Consultants
His practice, Studio Sangath, also shared the news of his death on Instagram with a message signed by his family and business associates.
“There are few words to express the deep pain and sadness as we announce the passing of our backbone, guru, friend, confidant and mentor,” the post reads. “He was a light in this world, and now we must continue to let his light shine by carrying it in our own lives.”
“(In India) we are talking about housing, we are talking about squatters, we are talking about villages, we are talking about cities – everyone is talking, but who is really going to do anything about it? I made a personal decision that 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 practice, Vastu Shilpa Consultants, and later completed some of his most famous projects, including the Tagore Memorial Hall and Amdavad ni Gufa, an underground museum with a series of domed roofs.
Typical of Doshi’s pioneering housing complexes is the Aranya Low Cost Housing Project, which features an intricate network of interconnected passageways, courtyards and public spaces. Photo credit: Vastu Shilpa Consultants
But Doshi has also been prolific elsewhere, completing more than 100 projects in cities such as Bangalore, Hyderabad and Jaipur. Although known internationally, his work has focused almost exclusively on his home country. Some of his other outstanding projects are Indian Institute of Management in Bangalore and Madhya Pradesh Electricity Board building in Jabalpur.
The Aranya Low Cost Housing development in the city of Indore perhaps best expressed his outlook. With an intricate network of passageways, courtyards, and public spaces, it provided 6,500 affordable housing for more than 80,000 people.
Speaking to CNN about winning the 2018 Pritzker Prize, Doshi expressed his career-long commitment to using architecture as a force for the common good.
“(In India) we talk about housing, we talk about squatters, we talk about villages, we talk about cities – everyone talks, but who’s really going to do anything about it?” he asked. “I made a personal decision that I would work for the ‘other half’ — I would work for them and try to empower them.”
Premabhai Hall, an auditorium built in Doshi’s hometown of Ahmedabad. Photo credit: Vastu Shilpa Consultants
Doshi recounted his own encounters with “extreme poverty” as a child and reaffirmed his commitment to social housing in India.
“These people have nothing — no land, no place, no work,” he said. “But when the government gives them a little piece of land, they can feel, ‘I’m going to work hard and find a way to build my own house.’ When you put them together as a community, there’s collaboration, sharing, understanding, and all that spreading of religion, caste, customs, and profession.
“When I visit these places after almost 30 years, (I find people) that we’ve given foot-high pedestals with a faucet and a toilet. Today they have two-story or three-story buildings that they built themselves… (They are) multicultural, multi-religious people – including different income brackets – and they all live together. They talk and communicate.”