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2018 Pritzker Prize goes to Indian architect Balkrishna Doshi

Doshi has long blended a Modernist sensibility with a keen understanding of what his home country needs

2018 Pritzker Prize laureate Balkrishna Doshi.
2018 Pritzker Prize laureate Balkrishna Doshi.
Photo courtesy of VSF and Pritzker Architecture Prize.

This year’s Pritzker Prize, architecture’s highest award, has just been announced and the honor is going to 90-year-old architect and urban planner Balkrishna Doshi. The first Indian recipient of the award, Doshi lives and works in Ahmedabad in western India, and is known for his low-cost housing complexes, public projects, as well as educational and cultural institutions all over his home country.

Born in Pune, Doshi trained under iconic Swiss-French architect Le Corbusier in Paris in the 1950s, but returned to India to oversee Le Corbusier’s pioneering city-planning projects in Chandigarh and Ahmedabad. In 1955, Doshi established his own firm Vastu-Shilpa in Ahmedabad. Though Doshi was no doubt heavily influenced by Le Corbusier and Louis Kahn (whom he also collaborated with for over a decade), he worked with a deep understanding of distinctly Indian traditions and needs.

His practice has completed over 100 projects in Indian cities, some of the most notable include: the Aranya Low Cost Housing development in Indore, which holds some 80,000 individuals across 6,500 residences, the Centre for Environmental Planning and Technology in Ahmedabad, and Indian Institute of Management in Bangalore.

In selecting Doshi, the Pritzker Prize jury seems to be continuing a theme of celebrating architects who have made tremendous local impact. Last year’s winner, the trio of Rafael Aranda, Carme Pigem, and Ramon Vilalta, founders of the Catalonian studio RCR Arquitectes, also completed most of their major projects in their native country of Spain.

This year’s jury citation concludes with the following:

Balkrishna 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.

Here, Curbed’s architecture critic Alexandra Lange responds to the announcement.

Doshi is an entirely deserving winner of the prize, an architect whose work exhibits thoughtfulness and beauty, for a variety of audiences and budgets, executed over a long career. It is a surprise to read that he is the first Indian architect to win the prize because India has such a long history of exquisite modern architecture that builds on and advances the concrete trajectories of Le Corbusier and Louis Kahn.

I visited his brick-and-concrete architecture school in Ahmedabad over a decade ago and still remember the deep shadows, the collection of courtyards, the close connection between indoors and outdoors that felt so different from the concrete Paul Rudolph school of architecture I knew best.

Both modernism and use of masonry are organic traits of Doshi’s work, though he has transformed those ideas to the specifics of Indian climate, culture and construction. It shouldn’t take so long to win what is supposedly architecture’s top prize just because you happen to practice in your country of origin, with its 1.3 billion people.

That said, the Pritzker Prize committee can once again be accused of self-dealing, as Doshi was a juror from 2005 to 2007. As Blair Kamin noted, Doshi was on the jury that awarded Richard Rogers the Pritzker in 2007, and now Rogers has voted for Doshi. The jury has got to stop doing this if they want the prize to be more than an exclusive club.

Another point I have made in the past still holds as well: the Pritzker has never wavered in its belief in modernism. Giving the prize to Doshi is, by extension, giving it to Le Corbusier and/or Louis Kahn, both of whom died before the Pritzkers began. Doshi worked for Le Corbusier in Paris, and then returned to India to supervise projects for the architect in Chandigarh and Ahmedabad; he also invited Kahn to design the Indian Institute of Management in Ahmedabad, and participated in its construction.

Kahn in particular has been the focus of renewed attention in recent years, so his work as inspiration seems both historic and new. The jury’s citation mentions that Doshi’s work is “never flashy nor a follower of trends” but I’m not so sure about the jury itself. As architecture has taken a social turn, the Pritzker jury has worked to find laureates that fit both their aesthetic sensibilities and an awakened sense of political responsibility. Doshi fulfills that brief to the letter, while (in a welcome gesture) increasing the prize’s geographic inclusiveness.

Take a look at some of Doshi’s best works below.

Aranya Low Cost Housing (1989), Indore, India.
Photo by John Paniker courtesy Pritzker Architecture Prize
Aranya Low Cost Housing accommodates over 80,000 individuals through a system of houses, courtyards and a labyrinth of internal pathways.
Photo courtesy VSF and Pritzker Architecture Prize
Life Insurance Corporation Housing (1973), Ahmedabad, India.
Courtesy VSF and Pritzker Architecture Prize
To accommodate fluctuating sociocultural needs of Indian families, Doshi reverses the typical order of a multi-residential building, placing the largest residence on the bottom and the smallest on the top, allowing the upper unit to enjoy a terrace, which can also be converted into an additional living space.
Photo courtesy VSF and Pritzker Architecture Prize
Kamala House (1963), Ahmedabad, India.
Photo courtesy VSF and Pritzker Architecture Prize.
Informed by both Western and Eastern designs, Kamala House was named after Doshi’s wife, and is the architect’s personal residence. Shown here is the basement in early morning light.
Photo courtesy VSF and Pritzker Architecture Prize
Institute of Indology (1962), Ahmedabad, India.
Photo courtesy VSF and Pritzker Architecture Prize
The architect considered lighting, temperature and humidity levels to preserve the ancient artifacts stored inside. This is the top floor veranda.
Photo courtesy VSF and Pritzker Architecture Prize
Indian Institute of Management, Bangalore (1977–1992), Bangalore, India.
Indian Institute of Management, Bangalore, library interior.
Photo courtesy VSF and Pritzker Architecture Prize
View towards the library from a semi-open corridor..
Photo courtesy VSF and Pritzker Architecture Prize
Centre for Environmental Planning & Technology (1966–2012), Ahmedabad, India.
Photo courtesy VSF and Pritzker Architecture Prize
Natural light fills a studio space at the School of Architecture at CEPT.
Photo courtesy VSF and Pritzker Architecture Prize
A funnel shaped entrance is designed to direct the breeze through the building.
Photo courtesy VSF and Pritzker Architecture Prize
Spaces for interaction below the studios.
Photo courtesy VSF and Pritzker Architecture Prize
Amdavad Ni Gufa, 1994, Ahmedabad, India.
Photo courtesy VSF and Pritzker Architecture Prize
Amdavad Ni Gufa was designed to demonstrate the collaboration between an artist and architect. An underground gallery housing the works of artist Maqbool Fida Husain, Doshi’s design was inspired by a discussion between the two that occurred thirty years prior to the project. It was about a response to climate, and the benefits of interred spaces.
Photo courtesy VSF and Pritzker Architecture Prize