The prestigious Pritzker Prize, architecture’s Nobel Prize equivalent, was awarded to trailblazing Indian architect Balkrishna Doshi on March 7. After being informed of his win, Doshi vowed to use his award to escalate his campaign for proper housing for the poor as India battles a massive shortage of homes.
And the 90-year-old has no plans of slowing down, he said, as he received well-wishers at his home in the western city of Ahmedabad, a day after becoming India’s first winner of the prize.
“If I as an architect am not able to do something for my people and provide them with what they need, then I should say my job is incomplete,” says the pioneer of low-cost housing.
In a career lasting almost 70 years, Doshi trained with Swiss-Franco icon Le Corbusier and became known for the Aranya Low Cost Housing project, which accommodates 80,000 people with houses and courtyards linked by a maze of pathways in the city of Indore.
He also oversaw the School of Architecture in Ahmedabad and the Indian Institute of Management, the country’s top business school in Bangalore.
Doshi, who now works mainly as a consultant, mixes modernism with functionality to produce what he calls a “holistic habitat” that puts India’s army of poor before profit.
“My projects have been participatory in nature and relevant to the people for which it was designed,” he says. “It was not like we have land and we just constructed a building like real estate developers do today.”
Godfather of design
With India’s economy booming and pressure mounting for homes in the country’s polluted cities, Doshi says more must be done for the poor.
“In India, whatever you do, it is always less. India is transforming fast and we need to do a large number of things which have to be ecologically sustainable and that would empower the people.”
Highlighting the shortage of housing, schools and health centres, Doshi says, “We need to create affordability, sustainability in terms of local culture, and affect people’s lives.”
The Aranya project accommodates “families within a range of poor-to-modest incomes” in 6,500 homes ranging from one room to spacious houses. The deposit to buy a home there is based on a family’s average income.
Indian architects hailed the win for Doshi. “This is very good news for Indian architects because he is our godfather. We are very proud,” says Alok Ranjan, Jaipur-based professor and member of the Indian Institute of Architects.
“What stands out about his work is that it is for all strata of society… not only for the elite group but also for the middle and low income groups.”
Beyond the functional
The US-based international Pritzker Architecture Prize, established by Chicago’s Pritzker family in 1979, bestows laureates with US$100,000 (RM390,000) along with a bronze medallion.
The Pritzker jury said Doshi “constantly demonstrates that all good architecture and urban planning must not only unite purpose and structure but must take into account climate, site, technique, and craft, along with a deep understanding and appreciation of the context in the broadest sense”.
“Projects must go beyond the functional to connect with the human spirit through poetic and philosophical underpinnings.”
The award is the latest accolade bestowed on Doshi, who has also won prizes in France and India. A major draw at lectures, the celebrated architect was the keynote speaker at last year’s Asian Congress of Architects.
“The hall was packed, bursting at the seams with over 1,200 people just to get a glimpse and hear him,” fellow architect Ranjan recalls. – AFP