Ever since its existence, over 600 years ago, the city of Ahmedabad has been ruled by various dynasties. The city has been a seat of power for the Sultans, Mughals, Marathas, Dutch and the British. Every ruler contributed to the architecture of the city in its own way. The city hence got in new architectural styles with every new ruler. While the Mughals introduced the intricate jalis, the Marathas built extensively in wood and the British got in the European architectural elements in the buildings they built in their reign.
Until the British era, the city was built on various architectural styles. There was no one archetype unifying the city. The architecture in the city, given by the different dynasties ruling it, was very peculiar to the character of the ruling power. It was now when the country got its independence, came a need for its identity. With the unification of the country, came about a need to have an identity which was unified in its diversity.
It was under the secular leadership of the then Prime Minister Pt. Jawaharlal Nehru, India took to modernity as its new identity. It talked about a new identity which aimed at finding modernity in its Indianness. This gave a new trajectory to the architecture of the country.
Soon, with the textile industry on a boom, the city of Ahmedabad was at its peak. With the optimism of new-found independence and the largesse of textile riches, Ahmedabad became a laboratory of what ‘Indian modern’ would look like. The businessmen of the city invited the international and national talent to Ahmedabad to design some of the finest buildings, homes, and institutes. The new Ahmedabad wore modernity on its sleeve. It embraced modernity with open arms. The Parisian architect, Le Corbusier, who also designed the city of Chandigarh, designed four buildings in Ahmedabad, namely- Mill owners, Villa Shodhan, Villa Sarabhai and Sanskar Kendra and soon the thoroughfares of the city were dotted with modern buildings.
The architecture of the city had evolved beautifully well with the changing times and circumstances. The city had become a grand repository of various archetypes by now. This proved to be very crucial for the city of Ahmedabad. It had the unique ability to step back into the architecture of the past and simultaneously take a step forward into the architecture which was for a new identity, which was modern. This made Ahmedabad a very fertile ground to bear the seeds for architectural education. This opportunity was brilliantly gauged by one of the country’s most notable architects, B. V. Doshi, who also worked very closely with Corbusier on his projects in India.
With the support of one of the mill owners, B. V. Doshi laid the foundation of the School of Architecture in Ahmedabad, which along with other subsequently established schools for interior design and planning came to be known as CEPT– Centre for Environmental Planning and Technology.
Through CEPT, Doshi was able to attract global thinkers and foster future generations of architects, which cemented Ahmedabad’s status as a center for architecture education. He stressed on his philosophies of collective participation and dialogue as an important part of the learning process. This can also be vividly seen in the way he has designed the School of Architecture building. It could be imagined as a container of activities. Be it the studios which have been stacked in a way that one overlooks into the other through the double-height, where a senior could be imagined calling up a junior over for help, or the basement, which is a shaded semi-open space overlooking the greens, which might have coincidentally gathered a group of students over a hot debate, on their way to their respective studios on a hot Ahmedabad afternoon, or the north lawns where a bunch of people could be chilling under the tree in the evening. The building offers different degrees of openness and is designed as a space to encourage learning, sharing and growing.
Doshi believed in a curriculum that was loose. At CEPT, architecture education was often fused with multiple disciplines. This process of learning found newer possibilities in architecture and does so even today.
With an increase in the number of students opting for architecture these days, there has been a sharp increase in the number of architecture schools. Seeds of an education system, similar to that followed at CEPT have been borne by many institutions in the city of Ahmedabad today. Universities like Nirma, Anant, Sal, Indus and many more offer a course in architecture. Clearly, with an increase in architectural institutions in the city and the rich architecture exposure, Ahmedabad has become a hub for architecture education.