We are letting down the legacy of architect B.V.Doshi

BV Doshi

Mr B.V. Doshi, renowned architect who passed away in Ahmedabad on January 24 at the age of 96, was a big institution builder but towards the end of his life he had come to realise that architects should think not only of rich clients but ordinary people.

Many tend to look at Mahatma Gandhi as anti-modern, anti machinery. But he was in a sense most modern. B.V. Doshi, India’s most senior, modern, world recognised architect said that one of his most favourite places was the Gandhi ashram in Ahmedabad . While Doshi has created many modern buildings including management institutes, his favourite is Aranya a low cost housing project for the poor he built in Indore forty years ago.

One can’t get more modern than Doshi. He not only knew Corbusier, the most modern architect, but worked closely with him for long way back in the 1950s. He is a major institution builder, created the famous CEPT centre for environmental and planning technology.

Gandhi’s ashram teaches how to live, how to build, thinking of the whole community, the whole environment.

Doshi when he was 90 and in all his maturity said that we have to completely change our way of looking at architecture and the built environment from the people’s point of view, we have to take serious notice.

Prime Minister Modi pays lip service to the Mahatma but all the actions of his government are anti Gandhian especially when it comes to architecture and people.. The government has announced policies which will increase urban congestion with liberal incentives for the rich. One of these will change the coastal zone regulations and allow a forest of skyscrapers along the sea shore in Mumbai. They are already doing the damage elsewhere by creating a forest of high rises and damaging the whole urban fabric.

That is where Doshi and Gandhi matter.. Our corrupt politicians and bureaucrats and builders may one day see their folly. But before that people have to become aware of the damage that is being caused to them for the benefit of the construction industry, the biggest capitalist venture of current times.

In 1962, Prof. Doshi initiated the School of Architecture (now Faculty of Architecture at CEPT University) with support from Kasturbhai Lalbhai, Chairman, AES, and a group of professionals that included Dr. R N Vakil and Bernard Kohn among others, and presided as its first Director. In 1972 he, along with Prof. Christopher Charles Benninger, established the School of Planning and presided as its Director. In the same year, the Center for Environmental Planning and Technology (CEPT) was established under the charge of Doshi as its Dean.

He was the first Indian architect to receive the Pritzker Architecture Prize 2018, considered to be the highest honour for architects. He was a Fellow of the Royal Institute of British Architects and a Fellow of the Indian Institute of Architects. He was conferred the Padma Bhushan Award in 2020. In 2022, The Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA) conferred the Royal Gold Medal upon him, in recognition of a lifetime’s work.

Prof. Doshi influenced generations of architects, students and academicians at CEPT, across the country and around the world.

“Prof. Doshi’s body of work reflects his lifelong quest for modern architecture rooted in the Indian context. He has shaped the direction of architecture through both his practice and teaching. His buildings combine modernism with vernacular, informed by a deep appreciation of the traditions of India’s architecture, climate, local culture and craft. The School of Architecture building at CEPT University is one of the finest examples of not just his own approach to architecture, but also of the great tradition of modern architecture in India, an architect noted.

Unfortunately, not many architects trained in CEPT and elsewhere seem to respect the environment, create infrastructure for common people.

I was recently in the J.J. school of architecture in Mumbai to attend a meeting on heritage. It is the mother institution , the pioneer in architecture education in India in the sprawling campus in the prime heritage area opposite the historic Victoria Terminus and two buildings away from the Times of India heritage building where I worked for more than three decades.

The J.J. campus is unrecognisable. It looks so shabby, debris lying all over, so many heritage buildings are neglected. It is government property the government does not seem to care. The J.J. school of arts is the most neglected with lack of basic facilities for students.

Unfortunately, at least a few students of CEPT, founded by Doshi, do not seem to have any understanding of ecology. One architect based in Mumbai is responsible for destruction of several gardens in the name of beautification, imposed ugly cement and concrete and steel structures and worst of all destroyed old , shady trees.

With all the architecture and design education in India design is becoming unaesthetic, particularly when it comes to street furniture and public spaces without any understanding of ergonomics, human physiology, basic comfort.

Charles Benninger, noted architect, said Doshi was both a traditional Indian and a global man. He lived very simply within the great Indian tradition. Seeing his home one felt that he could be in a relaxed village house lost in some rural place. Yet it was his great understanding of things which made matters appear simple. He brought the reality of things down to their basics making them fundamental yet truly universal and global.

Doshi was a wise sage yet he thought like a child? Even at age ninety-five there was a child within Doshi’s face; in the way he talked, and in the way he sketched. But behind that child-likeness, that playfulness, was the ageless wisdom of an ancient sage. His truth always presented itself in the simplicity of a child.

Vidyadhar Date is a senior journalist and author of a book on public transport


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