Honourable Pritzker Laureate, Balkrishna Doshi is an unprecedented Indian architect to have this prestigious title conferred upon him in 2018. He has been a rather humble protege to the architectural legend, Le Corbusier and defines his life as a series of coincidences and chances well taken.
When we talk about the affordable housing culture in India, we ought to talk about the contributions of Doshi who has looked at it with a fresh socio-economic perspective. He has strived to create things that would make you feel at home, in a world where one doesn’t know what home is supposed to be. Culture breathes at home and breeds lifestyle patterns in the restraint of the four walls that teach you how to cooperate, share, grow and enrich lives.
Let’s talk about one such contribution through his scheme for the Life Insurance Corporation at Ahmedabad.
Location: Ahmedabad, Gujarat, India
Project status: Completed
Project duration: 1973-1976
Area: 4 hectares
No. of plots: 54
No. of units: 324
Participatory Work, Play, Build Process
The Life Insurance Corporation Housing colony, locally known as the ‘Bima Nagar,’ is a new typology that allows the inhabitants to partake in a participatory process of homebuilding. The resultant of this process is that the community living there can leverage the areas by considering the changing needs, available resources and income levels.
An idea so close to his heart, Doshi himself shares his feelings about this project saying:
“One of my most favorite housing projects is the one I designed for Life Insurance Corporation, at Ahmedabad…Here I knew that the houses would be occupied by several generations of the same family, that they would identify with it, that there will be a strong sense of belonging and that their needs will change, and they may modify parts of it.”
Housing For All
Doshi has constantly addressed various income groups and social structures through design. India is the largest democracy in the world with immense social diversity and the design of this scheme made an equitable distribution of spaces without compromising on providing community spaces for 3 different income groups.
Form And Planning
All the 3 income groups are accommodated on 3 separate floors, thus making the housing block pyramidal shaped. It has reverse stacking which provides the topmost situated unit with a room and kitchen, a lavish terrace and the lowest unit with a verandah. In addition to these, there is a shared green space right at the center which is accessible to all residents and offers space for children to play.
All the units are approached using an exterior central staircase. This creates dynamic visual compositions for the viewers and people passing by the streets. Even in elevation, the building has a graceful symmetry which reinforces the idea of equitable design and modernism of thought.
- The ground floor units are about 1800 sq. ft which cost approximately 70-80 lakhs.
- The first-floor units are 1080 sq. ft. in area which cost approximately 50 lakhs.
- The second-floor units are 675 sq. ft. in area which again cost approximately 70-80 lakhs
Space Appropriation And Ephemerality
One of the most important things to learn from India’s diverse community is the transformation of spaces. A space that allows itself to reappropriate based on all the nuances of life. This ephemerality ensured social interaction and not just that, but gave room for incremental growth. This phenomenally addressed dimension of ‘time’ using design and space planning.
Spatial modifications are allowed to occur internally, however, the effective form remains untouched. Over time inhabitants have accommodated their needs by adding overhangs, roofs, windows and certain rooms which have contributed to their sense of belongingness and dignity.
Doshi explains his three years of conflict with convincing the client of his design saying:
“They couldn’t understand why I would give a person with 1,000 sq ft the ground floor and the one with 400 sq ft the topmost floor with an open terrace. Today, when I see that each owner has modified it, I’m happy,”
With his endeavors with low-cost housing, Doshi has transcended beyond aesthetics and put forth a valuable argument for the modern-day society that architecture and urban design have the potential to be socially transformative for the world of the poorest. This undeniable contribution towards affordable housing is what makes this 93-year-old architect ahead of his time and his projects become the testaments of his understanding of what we simply call ‘home.’