Remembering Balkrishna Doshi, the Man who Defined Modernism in India


Balkrishna Doshi was born in Pune on August 26th, 1927. He moved to Mumbai in 1947 and enrolled in the architecture course at the Sir J.J. College of Architecture. In 1950, he left on a ship for London and after a few months there, he moved to Paris to work under Le Corbusier. He returned to India in 1954 to oversee Le Corbusier’s projects in Chandigarh and Ahmedabad. He eventually established his own firm, Vastushilpa Consultants, in Ahmedabad in 1955 and the Vastushilpa Foundation for Studies and Research in Environmental Design in 1978. In 2018, he won the Pritzker Prize, the first person from India awarded architecture’s highest honor.

His legacy is tied intrinsically with India’s modern history. His contribution, along with his peers like Achyut Kanvinde and Charles Correa, to name a few, has been immense. While his body of work is vast, a simple anecdote will remind us of how Doshi used to think. In the 1960s, he began to work on townships. The government agencies had laid rules to create different sets of homes in these towns, depending on the economic status of the residents to whom these homes would be allocated. “When I got a chance to do Life Insurance Corporation housing, they said, ‘We have three categories of policy holders. There are the well to do, the middle income, and the low income. So can you give us three groups of housing with separate blocks?’” Doshi didn’t want to have that kind of segregation. He spent two years trying to convince the authorities to mix up the houses. “If you give low-income families two bedrooms and another income group three bedrooms, at some point, they will all want to expand to more rooms. I mixed it up and gave options of balconies, break-out spaces, and terraces that could be enclosed when the need arose. Because in India, as families expand, houses also expand organically. For us, a house we build or buy is not a temporary place, people put down their roots there. At least, traditionally, that’s how we live,” he had said in an interview.

“A society of human beings is very similar to nature. It is diverse, with each growing at its own pace. I said, ‘Why don’t we make a forest, in the form of buildings?’” In his complex plan, Doshi had a talent for simplicity and a joyous celebration of life. 

Beyond an architect, Doshi was an institution builder. His contributied to academia as founder-director of the School of Architecture, Ahmedabad (1962-72) and the School of Planning in Ahmedabad (1972-79). He built campuses around the country, including the CEPT University in Ahmedabad, NIFT in New Delhi, and IIM in Bangalore. In short, Doshi was a natural teacher. 

It will be entirely insufficient to list the achievements of this man, without mentioning the sea of love he has inspired in people over his lifetime. At the peak of the pandemic, on his 93rd birthday in August of 2020, the editorial team of Architectural Digest India decided to throw him a “virtual” birthday party. Barely having to ask, wishes poured in from around the world, including from Tadao Ando, Shigeru Ban, and Fumihiko Maki who sent handwritten letters; Frank Gehry, Martha Thorne, Moshe Safdie, Gurjit Matharoo, and Jatin Das sent video notes. The enthusiasm was contagious, bewildering, and truly inspiring.

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