Son of the soil – Why 2018’s Pritzker Prize Winner B V Doshi’s work is more relevant today than ever?

“What we build ends up building us.” Went the words of the famous motivational speaker, entrepreneur and author Jim Rohn. I was trying to upload a photograph of a building I had taken on a vacation to Singapore earlier this year and wanted to find a quote that would perhaps be an eloquent way of expressing my feelings as I recalled the moment when I laid eyes on the piece of architectural wonder. How do you capture in words the emotions a building elicits in you? How do you do poetic justice to a work of visual art that is not on a canvas? How do you define a fine piece of architecture in a way that would make sense when architecture itself continues to be an anomaly when it comes to its ambidextrousness or is it contradiction when we try to peg it under the proverbial genres of art or engineering? So here I was looking for words and these words by Jim Rohn were what I stumbled upon. Now in hindsight they just seem to so succinctly encapsulate this year’s Pritzker Prize winner, B V Doshi’s entre architectural philosophy which he described as “man’s long-lasting development without becoming unduly centralized” It is what we have come to know as “sustainability”.

Sangath Architect’s Studio

As Architects or even laymen for that matter, when we think about sustainability in terms of architecture we tend to think of local materials, self-sustaining environment protecting construction techniques, design that respects natural conditions and circumstances. But for Doshi it was so much more than that. In an interview with Gautam Bhatia, when asked about why his work seems to have moved away from a modernist version to a more fluid and lyrical geometry and carries an impression of having blossomed into a derived consequence of his years of working with Corbusier in Paris, Doshi couldn’t have been more articulate in respecting and celebrating the connection architecture has with its surroundings in order to make it truly sustainable.

He says, “I don’t think or design in a self-conscious theoretical way. For me Corbusier was playing a game in Chandigarh. Through his buildings he made everybody aware of the sun, the rain and temperature and ground and sky – as if connecting the body mind and spirit – through space.” He then goes on to further elucidate how instrumental his association with Corbusier came to be for him in helping formulate his design and architectural language by saying “Because of him I discovered that creating an awareness of natural phenomena is the real virtue of good architecture.”

Corbusier and Doshi

In all of Doshi’s works I see a yearning. A yearning to stay rooted to where we come from and who we used to be. The courts, the verandas, the internal gardens, the spaces for community assembly – which form a spine to all his designs. He has consistently spoken about the changing face of the Indian Habitat which originally used to be these very above-mentioned spaces that face extinction in today’s era of mass production of commercial architecture that sadly no longer speaks the language of its land. He persistently speaks of the importance of man’s relationship with the built form and how in today’s fast paced rapidly changing world we have forgotten to experience what is built around us. Of course, it is the subject of a whole different discourse how much attention is this design philosophy really given in today’s times.

In a paper he presented in the Eight Annual Anytime Conference in Turkey back in 1998, which he called “Give time a break” he poignantly speaks of how the unassigned semi open and open architectural connections in the Indian Institute of Management, Bangalore signify the passage of time and the layers of dimensions the architecture of the campus had from being in a state of a work in progress for over two decades. He fondly recalls the passage along the spine that is modulated with changing light, spaces and scales in the covered and semi-covered pergolas that are designed to encourage the academicians to pause and reconsider the new and existing interactive modes of communication. To drive his point home, he also speaks of the stepped wells of Rajasthan, the central water tank in the Islamic Complex at Sarkhej in Ahmedabad built in 1466 that has interspersed linkages of spaces that allow for repose even through a vagary of activities – both intended and unintended, planned and unplanned.

IIM, B – Hiddenarchitecture.net

And that is why Doshi seems like the Son of the Soil to India’s architectural landscape. He coined this term called “Urban Galaxies” that essentially underline his work and his teachings about sustainable development and building habitats that do not blindly stem from a place of vehement commercialisation of spaces, centralisation of production units and industrial complexes resulting in the aftermath of extensive depletion of natural resources. A lifetime dedicated to building spaces that give way to organically developed interdependent habitats, each with its own unique pattern of local resources, climate and availability characteristics of the land that gave each and every space he designed its own unique character – a great departure from how buildings and the surroundings they give birth to tend to look today.

In the fast-paced life that we are so used to living today where the word “instant” tends to precede everything we have forgotten to pause. Do you remember when the last time you paused and looked up at the sky was? Spent a few spare moments staring at the cottony balls clouds and tried to find pattern in them, something you spent doing for hours as a kid? When was the last time you paused to appreciate how the scarlet light of the setting sun hit the tarmac on the road and made it look like a psychedelic play had come to life? While you were busy snapping that selfie for the Instagram post did you see how the pavement you are standing on speaks of the history it has lived? If your answer to all these questions is on the lines of no, then let the works of Doshi remind you that, let this Pritzker win spell it out for you, let a lifetime of art and architecture celebrating it be a testimony to the fact it was never more relevant than it is now in this very moment.

Exerpts from : Expanding the Horizons, Restructuring Urban Galaxies by BV Doshi, Celebrating Habitat – BV Dosh in conversation with Gautam Bhatia, Give Time a Break by BV Doshi.

Pallavini Patra

An architect by profession and a writer by passion, I thrive on making people laugh, the joy of being a mommy and peanut butter hot chocolate. Not necessarily in that order.

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