Low-cost housing pioneer wins Pritzker

An underground art gallery in Ahmedabad by architect Balkrishna Doshi, India's first Pritzker winner.
An underground art gallery in Ahmedabad by architect Balkrishna Doshi, India's first Pritzker winner.PHOTO: NYTIMES
An underground art gallery in Ahmedabad by architect Balkrishna Doshi, India's first Pritzker winner.
Balkrishna DoshiPHOTO: NYTIMES

NEW YORK • Indian architect Balkrishna Doshi does not talk just about his buildings. This urban planner and educator talks about how his buildings aim to foster a sense of community, how space can promote inner peace, and how cities can contribute to the health of a society.

Considered a pioneer of low-cost housing, Doshi, 90, is thrilled to have been awarded the 2018 Pritzker Prize, architecture's highest honour, which was announced on Wednesday. He is the first laureate from India and worked with the 20th-century masters Le Corbusier and Louis Kahn.

"It is a very wonderful thing that happened," he said in a recent telephone interview from his home in Ahmedabad, a city that was once the centre of the non-violent struggle for Indian independence. The award will be bestowed on Doshi, the 45th laureate, at the Aga Khan Museum in Toronto in May.

But his 70-year career has always been about much more than prizes - of which he nevertheless has many - or international renown, of which he had relatively little.

He has been consumed with larger issues such as social good and sustainability. And he bemoans a culture and profession that he sees as overly concerned with the bottom line.

"One is all the time looking at financial returns - that is not only what life is," he said. "I think wellness is missing."

What he means by "wellness", he said, are considerations such as how we can "connect with silence", how "life can be lived at your own pace" and "how do we avoid the use of an automobile".

He has brought this type of philosophical thinking to projects such as his Aranya Low Cost Housing near Indore (1989), where more than 80,000 low-and middleincome residents now live in homes ranging from modest one-room units to spacious houses, with shared courtyards for families.

He also designed mixed-income housing for a life insurance corporation in Ahmedabad (1973), which combines income groups on three floors of a pyramidal housing block approached through a common staircase.

The Vidhyadhar Nagar Master Plan and Urban Design in Jaipur (1984) features channels for both water harvesting and distribution. (The Vidhyadhar housing plan recalls Doshi's work with Le Corbusier in Chandigarh, with its wide central avenues, and a study of Jaipur's Old City.)

"Housing as shelter is but one aspect of these projects," the Pritzker jury said in its citation. "The entire planning of the community, the scale, the creation of public, semi-public and private spaces are a testament to his understanding of how cities work and the importance of the urban design."

Doshi's emphasis on communal spaces is reflected in his work studio, Sangath (roughly translated as "moving together"), which includes a garden and outdoor amphitheatre, spaces designed to foster the exchange of ideas. The mosaic tile in his studio also appears in the undulating roof of his underground art gallery in Ahmedabad, Amdavad ni Gufa (1994), which features artwork by Maqbool Fida Husain.

Doshi does not set out to design an iconic structure. Rather, he approaches his projects with an eye towards seeding miniature societies that residents can expand and animate over time.

"Architecture is not a static building - it's a living organism," he said. "How do we add on coffee shops, restaurants, bookshops, so you can use the building? Can we bring life into what we create?

"What is the role of an architect today?" he added. "Are we going to be a service provider working for a client, or are we going to be useful to the society at large?"


A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 09, 2018, with the headline 'Low-cost housing pioneer wins Pritzker'. Print Edition | Subscribe