Architects Take | January 2012
The Master's Stroke
Iconic architect Balkrishna Doshi speaks to CW Interiors about three people who made a powerful impact on his attitude and understanding of work, life, and culture, thus helping him lay the foundations of his own architectural philosophy.
Architect Balkrishna Doshi needs no introduction in the architectural world. A pioneer who has established an individual ideology and methodology, many young aspiring architects acknowledge him to be their guru or mentor. A fellow of the Royal Institute of British Architects and Indian Institute of Architects, he is the Founding Owner of Vastu Shilpa Foundation and Vastu Shilpa Consultants, functioning out of Ahmedabad.
Doshi's formidable reputation and position have been earned through five decades of stellar work, whereby he delivered the most striking marvels of architecture in almost all genres of building. His brilliance in spatial organisation and distinctive architectural language are boldly expressed at the Indian Institute of Management, Bengaluru; Centre for Environmental Planning and Technology, Ahmedabad; Matre Mandir, Matar; National Institute of Fashion Technology, Delhi; and many such institutional projects across the country. Residences like Tejal House and Maneesha House, Baroda, and his very own residence at Ahmedabad, reveal his deep understanding of scale and proportion. But, it is his mass housing projects like LIC Township, Ahmedabad or the low cost housing project Aryana in Indore that express his architectural sensitivity best. These are considered to be models of appropriate and effective designs for mass housing for a developing country like India.
What has enriched Doshi's understanding, sensitivity and awareness towards the surroundings is his acquaintance with the masters. Doshi is perhaps the only architect in the world who has worked with both Le Corbusier and Louis Kahn. In a tête-à-tête with Kruti Choksi, who herself is an architect, Balkrishna Doshi reminisces about his experiences with these timeless masters of architecture.
Do you believe that working with different people influenced your own work in any significant aspect?
I had not completed my graduation when I joined Le Corbusier and was not a degree holder. When you are not fully educated, you are open to change and discovery.
How did working with Le Corbusier affect you?
Le Corbusier influenced me greatly. I worked with him for four years (1951-54) as a Senior Designer in Paris and for four more years in India to supervise his projects in Ahmedabad. He designed the Mill Owner's Association Building, Villa Sarabhai, Villa Schodan and Sanskar Kendra Muesum here. From him, I understood how to approach a problem, how to design and enhance spaces through quality of light, texture and form. I learnt from him how to put different elements together to create a character for a building.
How did you make your acquaintance with Louis Kahn?
I met Louis Kahn at Philadelphia in 1962, when he was teaching there. Although he was famous and senior to me, we soon became close friends. He too considered Le Corbusier as his guru. Later, I worked with him when he designed the Indian Institute of Management at Ahmedabad.
How would you compare your experiences with both these stalwarts?
I met the two of them at different stages of my career - Le Corbusier in 1951, immediately after college and Louis Kahn after eight years of my own practice.
Le Corbusier was a philosopher, a lyricist, a poet. He loved to break rules. Kahn was an articulate philosopher - precise and highly spiritual. He created his own rules. Both were disciplined. Both worked with the inherent nature of the spaces.
Corbusier expressed the openness, graceful rawness and boldness of Indian artefacts and lifestyle through his simple and direct architecture. Through the manner in which he used climate, materials and technologies, he invented a new style of architecture for India. Kahn, on the other hand, used geometry and almost singular material to create architecture at IIM-A that was akin to the Mughal style.
How did these experiences influence you?
From them, I learnt freedom. I learnt to find myself and establish my distinct identity. They both opened my eyes by explaining to me Indian traditional buildings. With them I learnt to discover Indian influences like culture, history and their contradictions. I realised that the spirit of architecture can only be felt through experiencing my country's diversity, porosity and homogenous heterogeneity, which became the base for my further research and inquiry. This influenced my design of housing for the poor, townships, institutions and even my own office and house.
The great artist Maqbool Fida Husain was your close friend. How would you describe him as a person?
I admired Husain for his free spirit. He was always rediscovering himself throughout his nomadic life. We would spend hours discussing religion, human psychology, nature of life, emotions, etc, which helped us both to broaden our understanding of our respective work. For him, any place and time was opportune to paint, a way to recharge himself. A humble and simple man, he would say, "Wealth is relative. What you believe is yours, is yours."
How did the Husain-Doshi Gufa happen?
As a client, Husain had a clear brief. He demanded a subterranean space that resembled the ancient rock caves of India. The gallery was to have no straight lines. We embarked on the design with a study of the caves and the sculpting of spaces through various clay models. Primarily envisaged as a rigid brick structure, the demand of the form soon rationalised the use of a ferro-cement structure derived from the soap bubble analogy.
Bubbles can be put together in any way - some get pressed, some stand inclined, some are vertical. As they touch, they change their form and get distorted, but there is a continuity of skin. Thereby, at Gufa, the geodesic domes composing the 'panicula' shell have no foundations and are a continuous structure; their base is formed by a sand filling covered with a layer of cement flooring.
A breakthrough from his earlier works, Husain broke the barriers of every medium, and painted his imaginations liberally on the rough, undulating surface of the roof. The painting no more remains two dimensional - it is his biggest painting ever. Bold strokes of red, yellow and black on the roof tell a story of nature and the cycle of life. He was so fascinated by the sensitivity of space and light that he displayed 'Shadows' - free standing sculptures in black depicting the union of man and woman.
It was the challenge of this man that made me aware of my hidden potential to create an artefact of unimagined beauty. Challenging clients promise challenging architecture!
What message would you like to convey to young aspiring architects?
Today, when we look at the rock cut temples, ancient cities and complex cohesion of the past and present in Indian lifestyle, the challenge is to rediscover the essence of what holds them together. Only architecture that represents this essence will last. We need not reject; we must absorb and digest, reinvent not repeat. We have to adopt, make new culture a part of our own life, as if it always belonged to us. The new generation of young architects has what it takes to create an architecture that will be known as Contemporary Indian Global Architecture.
With his experience and understanding of the Indian ethos, Doshi sets a path for the next generation to follow - at the same time, he gently nudges them to find their own idiom, just like his own mentors did for him!
Meet the architect: Balkrishna V Doshi
Firm: Vastu Shilpa Consultants
Firm specialisation: Institutional, residential and urban design and planning.
Design philosophy: Architecture, like the centre of the circle, cannot manifest without the space and matter spiritualised.
Philosophy towards life: Life celebrates when lifestyle and architecture fuse!
Vastushilpa Consultants: 'Sangath', Drive In Road, Ahmedabad-380 054, Gujarat. Tel: 079-2745 4537/39. Website: www.sangath.org E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
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