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Intelligent design: Pritzker winner BV Doshi’s architecture has always been made to India’s measure

Whether it is a building or a street, the built environment moulds us. It is shelter, utility, pleasure and well-being, and determines the quality of our life to a degree we often overlook. Balkrishna Vithaldas Doshi winning the Pritzker prize, the highest honour in architecture, is an acknowledgement of a unique Indian imagination – both cosmopolitan and rooted.


Doshi began to study architecture in 1947, the year that India won independence. He then began working with modernist visionary Le Corbusier in Chandigarh and Ahmedabad. Corbusier influenced many, but his ideas of architecture and urban planning seeped into Doshi’s own, and it is to him that he has dedicated this prize. Doshi has also worked with Louis Kahn, another modernist pioneer. In the early nation building decades modern architecture was a break with the past, a utopian project of how to live together with dignity. Exposed concrete, for instance, was often used to convey an honest ‘truth to materials’ philosophy.


But by the 1970s modernism had been subtly tempered, and Doshi’s buildings reflected India’s own social and economic realities, local context and climate, vernacular intelligence, craft and style. From low-cost housing projects to IIM Bangalore, the Institute of Indology and the surprises of his own studio Sangath, Doshi’s creativity flows without stint. Architecture today may be showy, but it rarely has the sense of purpose that Doshi’s work embodies. Amid all the globalised identikit architecture, the glass and steel templates all around us, this prize is a reminder of why we must cherish our most thoughtful buildings, and our valuable post-independence legacy. As Doshi has asked, the architect must ask herself whether she is a service provider working for a client, or useful to society at large. Hopefully, this prize will reopen that question again.


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