“Design is nothing but a humble understanding of materials, a natural instinct for solutions and respect for nature.” — B.V Doshi
The Lalbhai Institute of Indology is an institutional as well as cultural project located in Ahmedabad, India. The project was completed in the year 1962 by the 2018 Pritzker laureate, Balkrishna Doshi, an Indian architect, educator, and academician. The project was designed to house, preserve, restore and collect ancient Indian manuscripts and artefacts.
The building can be seen as a part of India’s self-discovery post Independence. Ahmedabad Education Society donated a plot close to Gujarat University for this project.
The Institute of Indology was one of B.V Doshi’s first public projects as a solo architect outside of Le Corbusier’s office. B.V Doshi, an Indian architect, a fellow of the Royal Institute of British Architects and Indian Institute of Architects, was born in Poona, India in 1927. B.V Doshi was a part of Le Corbusier’s intimate circle and has worked with him for about 7 years. He has worked on projects with him in Paris, Chandigarh, and Ahmedabad. It was this association that gets reflected in his works, that is based on a sensitive adoption of modern architecture keeping with the Indian context. This relevance of environmental and urban architectural thoughts in his works makes him exceptional as an architect, thinker, and teacher.
“I learned from Le Corbusier to observe and react to climate, to tradition, to function, to structure, to the economy, and to the landscape. To an extent, I also understand how to build buildings and create spaces and forms.” (Doshi, 1987)
One of the major challenges of this project, the Institute of Indology, was that the manuscripts were meant to be stored in a cool atmosphere for preservation, and installation of air conditioners at that time was not very common in India. How easy could this have been considering that the project is located in Ahmedabad?
Architect’s Design Philosophy And Principles
B.V Doshi’s works speak of modernism, symbolism, and timelessness. This is why his works usually accommodate a mixture of structure systems. This particular project is also such an example of different Indian elements of design. After receiving the project, BV Doshi visited archived facilities at Duke University to observe how climate control is managed there. The building is thus an example of a ‘filter’ between contemporary and traditional architecture for India.
“If you are in tune with your project and the purpose for which it is being built, then you drop your ego and ask yourself what it really is that you must do. Then the building emerges. No style, no period, pure experience.” — B.V Doshi
The main building is placed in the upper half of the site with a lot of breathing room left around due to the large plot size. The entry is monumental through a vast green garden that leads to the building, which is raised on a high plinth. The high plinth is a consequence of a half-buried basement which is one of the most intriguing architectural features of this building.
A bridge, an axis within the building, loads visitors to the building above the moat that surrounds the building. It is this moat that aids the cooling mechanism. Through the building’s axis, on the other side, a patio has been developed.
The moat, a continuous public axis from the vast greens to the hot patio, among other factors, allows a constant breeze throughout the public parts of the building. B.V Doshi constantly kept in mind the scorching heat of Ahmedabad and came up with a well-articulated climate responsive design.
The well-lighted and ventilated, half-buried basement is oriented to the North-South axis. The half-buried basement happens to be the largest space in the building with minimum divisions other than structural columns. This is how it gets indirect lighting from its other half, above ground, and natural cooling from the earth as well as the moat. The basement is thus a vast open, and well-conditioned space. The main floor, raised, is the smallest floor in terms of square footage and has circulation developed on the periphery of the building.
B.V Doshi thus developed a structure where people enter the building half a story above the ground. Administrative spaces and restrooms have been placed at this level. The first floor houses the conference hall, research classrooms, and exhibit space.
Sections and Elevations
B.V. Doshi is familiar with the Indian culture, climate as well as skills of Indian workers. The use of reinforced concrete in the construction of this building and the evolution of its form reflects that familiarity of his. The Cross-section of the Institute of Indology reveals the climate responsive design elements. BV Doshi compared the section of the building to a boat.
Further, it looks like floating because the bottom floor cantilevers over the moats on either side of the structure. The first floor also overhangs over the main ground floor. This results in the evolution of a shaded cool public space which is also referred to as the exterior circulation.
Not all but many of the circulation and public spaces of this building are peripheral envelopes.
Materials and Construction
The building was conceptualized, designed, and built at a point in time when India was exploring modern architecture post its Independence. Reinforced concrete was a fairly new material technology and hence an architectural challenge that B.V Doshi worked on during his experience of designing this building. The building is also one of the first few examples of precast concrete member construction. Sun buffer frames and thickened Brise-Socliel to evolve occupiable space are some other evident features of the construction of this highly thoughtful design.
The details and joints of the Institute of Indology are similar to that of a wooden haveli, which Doshi could have done to help the workers be at ease who were generally familiar with wood construction at that time. The building was thus a result of both precast and site-cast concrete construction.
It is believed that the design was inspired in part by the Kurashiki Town Hall project, which was built by 1987 Pritzker Laureate Kenzo Tange. There are multiple ways of looking at a structure, but the most striking factor about this building is the way it handles the harsh climatic conditions with a thoughtful design. Visitors and users of the building describe the experience of this building as cool, nestled among green well-lighted structures.
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- Archnet. (n.d.). Balkrishna Vithaldas Doshi | Institute of Indology. [online] Available at: https://archnet.org/authorities/10/sites/4962 [Accessed 17 Jul. 2021].
- Sponsored by The Hyatt Foundation Balkrishna Doshi Photo courtesy of VSF. (n.d.). [online] . Available at: https://www.pritzkerprize.com/sites/default/files/inline-files/2018PritzkerPrize_ImageBook.pdf [Accessed 17 Jul. 2021].
- 5009711 (n.d.). Contemporary Responses of Indian Architecture vol. 1. [online] Issuu. Available at: https://issuu.com/vitruvius10/docs/india_book [Accessed 17 Jul. 2021].