Balkrishna Doshi: Architecture for the People
Jolanthe Kugler, Khushnu Panthaki Hoof, Meike Wolfschlag (Editors)
Vitra Design Museum & Wüstenrot Foundation, May 2019
Hardcover | 10 x 12 inches | 400 pages | English | ISBN: 978-3945852316 | $85.00
The 2018 Pritzker Architecture Prize winner Balkrishna Doshi is one of India’s most influential architects, renowned for his harmonious designs that merge the formal language of classical modernism with Indian building traditions and local craft skills. Always designed with a sensitivity to the social, environmental and economic conditions of a given commission or site, Doshi’s architecture honors the past while at the same time accommodating the rapidly changing conditions and needs of modern India. Doshi has designed more than 100 buildings—educational and cultural institutions, public buildings, private residences and low-income housing projects among them—and has taught scores of students over the course of his 60-year career, a career distinguished by a sense of responsibility and dedication to the country and communities he has served.
Balkrishna Doshi: Architecture for the People presents the first comprehensive survey of this groundbreaking architect’s oeuvre in over 20 years. With a complete overview of all of Doshi’s projects, it provides insights into the inspiration behind his work and the background to his projects through essays written by outstanding experts in the field. The richly illustrated book is further supplemented by an interview with the architect, an illustrated biography and new photographs that document the impressive timeliness of the Indian master’s buildings.
Last year, when Balkrishna Doshi won the Pritzker Architecture Prize and I was slated to write a piece on a few of his buildings on World-Architects, I ventured to the New York Public Library to look at a couple monographs on the Indian architect. James Steele’s Rethinking Modernism for the Developing World: The Complete Architecture of Balkrishna Doshi and William J. R. Curtis’s Balkrishna Doshi: An Architecture for India are both excellent books, but they are hard to find and are therefore expensive to buy. I’m fortunate enough to have the excellent research collection at NYPL, but for those who want to own a monograph on the now 91-year-old architect they now have a third option: the equally excellent Balkrishna Doshi: Architecture for the People. A companion to the exhibition of the same name (at the Vitra Design Museum until September 8, 2019, and then traveling to Munich), the large-format book presents nearly thirty selected projects spanning six decades, nine essays, an interview with Hans Ulrich Obrist, four visual portfolios, and a thorough archive with timeline, catalog of complete works, and bibliography.
Given the timing of the book and exhibition, it’s easy to think that the Vitra Design Museum was jumping on the Pritzker bandwagon. Yet the museum directors clarify in their foreword that the exhibition was in the works before the Pritzker announcement; in fact it’s an extension of Doshi exhibitions in New Delhi in 2014 and Shanghai three years later. Architecture for the People was curated by Khushnu Panthaki Hoof of the Vāstu Shilpā Foundation, one half of Doshi’s studio in Ahmedabad that is better known as Sangath. Hoof penned the descriptions for the 28 projects that make up the bulk of the book. Her words are accompanied by photographs (both archival and recent) and drawings that alone make the book worth its cover price. These projects include Aranya, CEPT, and Sangath (the “3 masterpieces” I wrote about), as well as the Indian Institute of Management, Amdavad Ni Gufa, and other projects that have circulated widely in print and online since Doshi’s Pritzker win. But this section also includes a few “myths” by Doshi: texts the architect wrote to help in the creative process.
The projects, essays (including ones by Kenneth Frampton and Juhani Pallasmaa), portfolios and other content add up to a book that is beautiful from linen cover to linen cover. Each time I pick it up I’m surprised at how light it is. This stems from the paper selection: thick, matte pages for the bulk of the book and a lighter, newsprint for the back matter. On these papers the color photos and drawings don’t pop as much as they would on glossy pages, but that seems fitting for Doshi, whose architecture exhibits an earthiness rather than a modern polish. An odd touch is the layout of the text, in which the last line of each paragraph is centered on the justified text (see spreads below). For me this took some getting used to; when skipping around the text, rather than reading it in order, I would confuse these lines as the first of a paragraph instead of the last. Yet these visual and textual details are minor quibbles in a most welcome and intelligent survey of an architect worthy of the Pritzker accolade and a traveling retrospective.
Balkrishna Doshi began his architecture studies in 1947 before working with Le Corbusier and Louis Kahn in Chandigarh and Ahmedabad. He founded his own practice, Vastu Shilpa Consultants, in 1956, combining the lessons he learned from this earlier generation of architects with an understanding of Indian architectural traditions. In 2018, Doshi became the first-ever Indian winner of the prestigious Pritzker Architecture Prize.