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Things to learn from Doshi

On March 7th 2018, Balkrishna Doshi became the first Indian architect to win the Pritzker Prize in its 40 year life span. In this period of great pride and honour he has brought to architectural community and the country as a whole, we should ask ourselves :

What can we learn from him ? 

In a career spanning 70 years, B.V Doshi has established himself as vital to the practice and pedagogy of architecture in India. So here’s a list of the top five things that I have personally observed and learnt from him :

  1. Restraint is a good thing. 

Subtlety is one of the most underrated qualities in Architecture. “Good” architecture has no need to scream and cry for attention and Doshi sir’s buildings display an innate understanding of this. We live in an age where the easiest way to make a building interesting is through its form. Doshi’s buildings on the other hand exploit form, spatial organisation, materials and aesthetics ( all very consciously restrained) to deliver interesting, yet iconic spaces.

2. Metaphors and Reflection. 

Quite often, Doshi describes his buildings and spaces as journeys and explorations that have manifest as built forms. He turns to Hindu philosophy and mythology, amongst other fields to make sense of his thoughts. His buildings have a story to tell. To rephrase Pallassama’s view on Metaphors – It is a way to describe qualities in architecture. Metaphors help us to concretize our feelings and communicate our experience. Doshi used metaphors in his design to direct the users of the space. His introspection and self learning manifest themselves as ways to perceive a space.


Metaphors and Poetics of a space ; Photo Courtesy : Pritzker Architecture Prize/VSF

3. To strive, unceasingly.

Two years back I had the privilege of interning at Doshi sir’s firm, Vastu Shilpa Consultants. The one striking personal quality about him was his enthusiasm. He would question us and teach us, constantly asking us to be weary of complacency. At 88 then, his enthusiasm to teach and engage in discourse knew no bounds. As an architect, it is important to stay curious and active, to pursue every idea and thought and see where it leads. This is a lesson I have learnt from his attitude towards work.


Sangath;  Photo Courtesy : Pritzker Architecture Prize/VSF

4. An Ethos. A philosophy. 

Doshi sir comes across to be a deeply introspective man, constantly questioning his progress and growth. It is this introspective nature that has enabled the forethought he brings to most of his designs. There is a clear idea of what he was trying to achieve with each project and this is seen particularly with his School of Architecture. The school was begun with such a strong ideology – such a predetermined idea of the education that would be passed on within its walls. It was begun as a place to foster growth and exchange of ideas, breaking down the notions of formal education.


CEPT; Photo Courtesy : Pritzker Architecture Prize/VSF

5. Context, context and context. 

Doshi had the privilege of being guided by two stalwarts of Architecture then – Louis Kahn and Corbusier and personally vowed not to just replicate their architecture in India further. Apart from just this vow, his work arches to retain only what was suitable for the Indian context. For instance, Corbusier viewed Chandigarh as a ground for experimentation and to finally implement his ideologies on Architecture. It was an opportunity that gave him the programmatic liberty he was yearning for. Doshi, in turn, brought a more grounded approach to the architecture he imbibed from Corbusier. His projects showcase a mindful exploration through design- Mindful of the Historical, Social, Cultural, Climatic and Economic context that dictate our subcontinent.


LIC Housing; Photo Courtesy : Pritzker Architecture Prize/VSF

To a man who has dedicated his life to exploring and furthering the reach of Architecture in India, the Pritzker prize comes as an important recognition. May we all learn from him and strive, unceasingly towards better architecture.

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