The palaces and the mud huts both have an equally rich architectural legacy in India. Inspired by traditional techniques as well as global trends, these contemporary Indian architects found a distinct balance in their designs that encapsulates the unique spirit of India. They have devised architectural styles specific to our climate, beliefs, philosophies, and are well rooted in the years of knowledge the country has. Listed below are 10 Indian architects who have successfully given us spaces that reflect our culture, environment, and needs rather than aping a bland Western style:
1. B. V. Doshi | Traditional Techniques
B.V. Doshi, a pioneer of modernist architecture in India, became the first Indian architect to receive the Pritzker Architecture Prize in 2018. He is famously known for humanizing modernism as he redefined Indian architecture, and for his visionary work in low-cost housing and city planning, as well as for his strong commitment to education. Before practicing in India, Doshi worked with modernist and contemporary giants, Le Corbusier and Louis Kahn. He retained that modernist edge but with a distinct Indian spirit.
His work ranges from building entire cities and townships to academic campuses, cultural institutions, private residences, interiors, and social and experimental housing. The architect’s notable projects include Sangath and Amdavad ni Gufa at Ahmedabad, Indian Institute of Management Bangalore, and Aranya Low-Cost Housing at Indore.
Charles Correa was a well-known architect and urban planner at the frontier of contemporary Indian architecture, adept at sensitively meeting needs and preserving history. He did not see tradition and modernity as mutually exclusive, honored the sacred gestures and mythic beliefs that have informed Indian architecture for thousands of years, and wanted to reinvent them in terms of new aspirations. Traditional symmetrical spaces, modernist use of materials, exemplary concrete forms, and sensitivity towards site were some characteristics of his work.
Correa’s works are deeply rooted in Indian values, even without apparent reference. His works had a traditional touch in them with an attempt to blend local cultural values in architecture. Some of his notable buildings and structures are Kanchanjunga Apartments in Mumbai, Jawahar Kala Kendra in Jaipur, Bharat Bhawan in Bhopal, and Ismaili Centre at Toronto.
3. Laurie Baker | Traditional Techniques
Laurie Baker had a deep respect for the understanding of spaces stored in Indian architectural methods. His value for vernacular, and sustainable architecture, made him use traditional techniques and materials while also devising new ones in his designs. Through these tools, he would shade places from heat yet permit sunlight and ventilation, minimize material usage, and always provide unparalleled aesthetic beauty. Influenced by Mahatma Gandhi and his own experiences in the remote Himalayas, he promoted the revival of vernacular building practices and the use of local materials and combined this with a design philosophy that emphasized a responsible and prudent use of resources and energy.
This British born Indian architect worked widely with brick jaali walls, Mangalorean clay tiles, plaited palm thatches, ponds, courtyards, and curved roofs and walls to revolutionize the Indian landscape. His notable works include the Hamlet, Centre for Development Studies, and Fishermen’s Village in Thiruvananthapuram.
4. Brinda Somaya
Brinda Somaya is an Indian architect and a conservationist who believes that development and progress must proceed without straining the cultural and historical environment. To be the conscience of the built and unbuilt environment is the philosophy that energizes her practice. Through four decades of design, the common thread connecting all her projects has been the design elements that represent the Indian architectural vocabulary: water, light, geometry, wall, and material.
Along with this, Brinda Somaya unites architecture with social equity and conservation. Her diverse typology of projects includes housing, institutions, conservation works, urban design, and social design that represent a unique non-stylistic grammar with a sense of order and appropriateness. The architect’s notable projects include Bhadli village of Bhuj, restoration of St. Thomas Cathedral in Mumbai, and Nalanda International School in Vadodara.
5. Hafeez Contractor | Traditional Techniques
Hafeez Contractor is a contemporary Indian architect who has shaped the skylines of urban India. Over almost 45 years of his flourishing and famed practice, his constant belief is that architecture should be honest and should respond to the spirit of time characterized by distinct ideas, diverse missions, varying convictions, and divergent preferences. The architect has constant eagerness to create structures that exemplify functional and aesthetic qualities.
He has shaped and changed the urban built landscape of the country through his provocative, revolutionary ideas in executing a wide range of architectural projects like residential developments, hospitals, hotels, corporate offices, institutions, commercial complexes, recreational and sports facilities, townships, airports, railway stations, and infrastructure projects. His notable works include Sarala Birla Academy at Bangalore, Topsia Kolkata, Indian Institute of Technology Bombay, and GEC Infosys at Mysuru.
6. Achyut Kanvinde
Though Achyut Kanvinde was the quintessential modernist since his days at Sir J. J. College of Architecture, it was his study under Walter Gropius, which completely altered his thinking. It was Gropius who exposed him to the power of technology on the one hand and the psychological dimensions of spatial concerns and realizations on the other.
In his vast spectrum of work spanning over five decades, Kanvinde majorly dealt in proportional geometry that imbibed fluidity, steel frames, and reinforced concrete. Along with focussing on buildings that provide ample practicality in the Indian climate, his works also express a social change. The architect’s notable projects include Indian Institute of Technology Kanpur, Nehru Science Centre at Mumbai, Ashoka Estate, ISKCON Temple, and National Science Centre in Delhi.
7. Hasmukh Patel
Hasmukh Patel helped define modern architecture in post-independence India. The key features of his architectural style include a focus on practical problem solving, providing aesthetic delight, along with achieving an efficient and balanced design. Patel designed functional architecture with an absence of extravagantly sized spaces, even where sites and budgets permitted them to be. Along with this, his buildings are intuitively navigable, with a clearly defined circulation skillfully strung with the other spaces.
Hasmukh Patel’s architectural style is minimal and neutral. The underlying tone of his style is that every combination of site and program has a unique and perfect solution. An architectural practice spanning four decades, his work covered a diverse range of projects – townships, hotels, hospitals, public buildings, commercial complexes, academic institutes, cinemas, and sports facilities. His notable works include St Xavier’s Primary School, Reserve Bank of India, and Newman Hall – all in Ahmedabad.
8. Nari Gandhi
Nari Gandhi, a friend and colleague to Frank Lloyd Wright, was an Indian architect known for his highly innovative works in organic architecture. While working in India, he continued to work on Wright’s idea of flowing space and further developed his unique style with a subtle influence of local climate and culture. The architect had a hands-on, tactile, craftsman-like approach to architecture and worked without an office and rarely made any drawings for any of his projects. He spent a lot of time on his sites and worked closely with the craftsmen and often participated in the construction process himself.
Each work of his is like a jeweled fairyland of earth, stone, shape, and color and is known for striking innovations such as stacking pots to create an archway or creating a staircase from brick. Nari Gandhi’s notable works include Mountain Lodge for Jal Gobhai at Lonavala, Korlai Bungalow at Alibaug, and Revdanda House.
9. Raj Rewal
Raj Rewal is an Indian architect and urban design consultant who is a sophisticated exponent of the Indian vernacular. His humanist approach to architecture focuses on the complexities of rapid urbanization, the needs of climate, cultural beliefs, and building crafts and technologies. The concerted juxtaposition of traditional concepts and present syntax is reflective of the architect’s fascination for weaving expressions of heritage and history into a modern vocabulary, often revealing layer upon layer of intuitive interpretation and deep meaning.
Effortlessly threading together episodes of design, Raj Rewal merges scale with surroundings and geometry with rhythm, binding space with structure, modulating form and light, and coursing the exterior through the interior to create a series of interconnected experiences that are as distinct as they are together. His built works comprise of the Nehru Pavilion, the World Bank building, the Parliament Library, and the Asian Games Village, all located in New Delhi.
10. Sheila Sri Prakash | Traditional Techniques
Sheila Sri Prakash is an Indian architect and urban designer who leads the way in maintaining a conversation about environmental and socio-economically sustainable architecture. She is an activist who practices architecture with profound attention to context, tradition, culture, art, and sustainability, along with displaying a connection between performing arts and architecture through her work. She is also interested in finding creative solutions to the pressing needs of the rising urban population of India, while always retaining the cultural heritage of the places she builds.
The architect’s designs often include green spaces and forms that can shelter from heat and rain, let in sunlight and maximize the flow of air.
With over 1200 projects under her name, she has had her hands in a variety of projects, including Shirdi Sai Baba Temple at Chennai, Silver Falls Resort at Kodaikanal, and Mahindra World City.