Balkrishna Vithaldas Doshi or B.V Doshi, an iconic figure in the realm of architecture, departed this world just over a year ago, leaving behind a profound legacy that transcends the physical structures he created. His seven-decade career, marked by an exquisite blend of global architectural trends and India’s rich cultural heritage, has indelibly shaped the world of architecture and the built environment.
Born in Pune, India, in 1927, Doshi’s early architectural journey commenced at the JJ School of Architecture in Bombay. The transformative years that followed his graduation in 1947 saw him working alongside giants of architecture such as Le Corbusier and Louis Kahn. These formative experiences, deeply rooted in Western modernism, laid the foundation for Doshi’s unique design philosophy. This philosophy viewed architecture not as static structures but as dynamic events, mirroring the vitality of life itself.
In 2022, Doshi received the prestigious RIBA Royal Gold Medal for Architecture, a testament to his outstanding contributions to the field. This recognition solidified his position as one of the most influential architects of the 20th century. His portfolio, spanning from affordable social housing to iconic public spaces, reflects not only his poetics and purpose but also a keen appreciation for the material, cultural, and social contexts in which his creations exist.
Doshi’s architectural journey took a significant turn in 1956 when he founded Vastu-Shilpa, later evolving into Vastushilpa Consultants. This multidisciplinary practice, with five partners spanning three generations, boasts a portfolio of over 100 built projects that have left an indelible mark on the architectural landscape of India and its neighbouring regions. Beyond the physical structures, Doshi’s impact is rooted in a design philosophy that seamlessly integrates industrialism and primitivism, modernity and tradition. His designs exemplify a harmonious marriage of environmental sustainability, climate-conscious ideals, and a profound understanding of the cultural, social, ethical, and religious contexts in which they are situated.
Doshi’s humanitarian outlook completes his compassionate approach to design, viewing architecture not merely as a product but as a living organism—a backdrop to the human experience. His philosophy, eloquently articulated in discussions, resonates with the essence of architecture as a dynamic, ever-evolving entity deeply connected to the ebb and flow of life. A significant facet of Doshi’s legacy lies in his role as an esteemed educator. His teachings, disseminated through universities and the Vastushilpa Foundation, aimed at advancing vernacular design and planning in India. The School of Architecture in Ahmedabad, founded by Doshi in 1966, stands as a testament to his commitment to education. The campus, an embodiment of modernist traits influenced by Le Corbusier, is a living example of Doshi’s consideration of climate through features like slanted skylights, sliding doors, and tree-shaded recessed plazas. Doshi’s commitment to education extended further with the completion of the Indian Institute of Management (IIM) in 1992. The business school, characterized by interconnected courtyards, lofty corridors, and spaces for personal and social activities, reflects Doshi’s belief in creating environments conducive to learning and human interaction.
The loss of Balkrishna Vithaldas Doshi on January 24, 2023, marked a sombre moment for the architecture community in India and around the world. However, his legacy continues to reverberate through the architectural landscape, inspiring architects and designers across generations. His innovative designs, dedication to sustainable and human-centred architecture, and profound understanding of the Indian context have cemented his place as one of the most significant architects of the century. Doshi’s influence extends not only through his architectural creations but also through his impactful words on life, nature, and architecture. His belief that “architecture is a process, not a product” and that “a building is alive” resonates with a timeless wisdom that transcends the boundaries of his physical absence.
One of Doshi’s notable contributions lies in his advocacy for women in architecture. He championed diversity and inclusivity in the field, recognizing the unique contributions women can make to architecture. His stance on the importance of acknowledging diverse perspectives in architecture is a testament to his progressive mindset. Reflecting on Doshi’s illustrious career, it is essential to highlight his impactful works that have become landmarks in the architectural realm. CEPT University in Ahmedabad stands as a testament to his collaborative dialogue and multidisciplinary learning. The design, characterized by open spaces and a campus without doors and boundaries, exemplifies Doshi’s vision of a place for holistic education.
Aranya Low-Cost Housing in Indore, a project completed in 1982, earned Doshi the 6th Aga Khan Award for Architecture. This housing project for economically weaker sections demonstrated Doshi’s commitment to providing affordable and high-quality housing. The modular system allowed for growth and adaptation, reflecting Doshi’s belief in architecture that enables people to fulfil their potential. The Indian Institute of Management Bangalore (IIMB) showcases Doshi’s ability to draw inspiration from diverse sources, such as the courtyards and pathways of the temples of Madurai. The campus, completed in 1983, is a case study in architectural design, with its interconnected corridors, courtyards, and external spaces facilitating future extensions. Amdavad Ni Gufa, an underground art gallery designed by Doshi, exemplifies his collaboration with artist Maqbool Fida Husain. The design, inspired by a discussion held three decades prior, showcases Doshi’s ability to create spaces that transcend their initial purpose. The gallery became a living organism and sociocultural centre, embodying the unexpected challenges that arise in the interaction between an artist and an architect. Sangath, Doshi’s architecture studio and the headquarters of the Vastu Shilpa Foundation is a manifestation of his philosophy of “moving together through participation.” The landscape, integral to the design, reflects Doshi’s emphasis on the interaction between nature and built forms. The amphitheatre at Sangath, a feature visitors encounter before entering the building, embodies Doshi’s commitment to education and dialogue.
As we reminisce about Doshi’s most celebrated works, it is crucial to acknowledge the broader impact of his philosophy on architecture. His emphasis on balancing modern and traditional forms, rooted in the sensibilities of the Indian context, has left an indelible mark. His commitment to social, cultural, economic, and environmental sustainability underscores his belief in architecture as a critical instrument for celebrating life. Doshi’s legacy extends beyond the physical realm into the realm of education, where he imparted his wisdom to countless students and practitioners. His role as a benevolent educator is evident in the lessons he instilled, emphasizing a childlike curiosity and a constant eagerness to learn. His university, CEPT, remains among the world’s most prestigious design institutes, a testament to his vision of collaborative learning.
The passing of Balkrishna Vithaldas Doshi leaves a void in the architectural world, but his teachings, philosophy, and the timeless structures he brought to life continue to resonate, shaping the trajectory of architectural discourse for generations to come. As we honour the first anniversary of his departure, it is a poignant moment to reflect on the enduring impact of a man whose architectural journey transcended mere structures, leaving an indelible mark on the very soul of the built environment.