Architect behind iconic Indian buildings wins royal UK prize

Architect behind iconic Indian buildings wins royal UK prize
Balkrishna DoshiCourtesy: RIBA

Leading Indian architect Balkrishna Doshi will receive the Royal Gold Medal 2022, one of the world’s highest honours for architecture conferred by the Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA).

Given in recognition of a lifetime’s work, the Royal Gold Medal is approved personally by Queen Elizabeth II and is given to a person or group of people who have had a significant influence on the advancement of architecture. RIBA said that with a 70-year career and over 100 built projects, Doshi has influenced the direction of architecture in India and its adjacent regions through both his practice and his teaching.

“I am pleasantly surprised and deeply humbled to receive the Royal Gold Medal from the Queen of England. What a great honour,” said Doshi, on hearing about the big win.

“The news of this award brought back memories of my time working with Le Corbusier in 1953 when he had just received the news of getting the Royal Gold Medal. I vividly recollect his excitement to receive this honour from Her Majesty. He said to me metaphorically, ‘I wonder how big and heavy this medal will be’,” he shared.

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“Today, six decades later I feel truly overwhelmed to be bestowed with the same award as my guru, Le Corbusier – honouring my six decades of practice. I would like to express my heartfelt gratitude to my wife, my daughters and most importantly my team and collaborators at Sangath my studio,” he said.

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi took to Twitter to shower praise on the architect: “His contributions to the world of architecture are monumental. His works are globally admired for their creativity, uniqueness and diverse nature.”

RIBA said Doshi’s buildings combine pioneering modernism with vernacular, informed by a deep appreciation of the traditions of India’s architecture, climate, local culture and craft. His projects include administrative and cultural facilities, housing developments and residential buildings. He has become internationally known for his visionary urban planning and social housing projects, as well as his work in education, both in India and as a visiting professor at universities around the world.

RIBA President Simon Allford said: "It was an honour and a pleasure to chair the committee in selecting Balkrishna Doshi as the 2022 Royal Gold Medallist. At 94-four years old he has influenced generations of architects through his delightfully purposeful architecture. Influenced by his time spent in the office of Le Corbusier his work nevertheless is that of an original and independent thinker – able to undo, redo and evolve. In the twentieth century, when technology facilitated many architects to build independently of local climate and tradition, Balkrishna remained closely connected with his hinterland: it’s climate, technologies new and old and crafts.

“Balkrishna Doshi’s outstanding contribution to the art of architecture, the craft of construction and the practice of urban design establish him as a most deserving recipient of this award and I greatly look forward to him being presented with the medal next year.”

Born in 1927 in Pune, to an extended family of furniture makers, Balkrishna Doshi studied at the JJ School of Architecture, Bombay, before working for four years with Le Corbusier as Senior Designer (1951-54) in Paris and four more years in India to supervise projects in Ahmedabad. He worked with Louis Kahn as an associate to build the Indian Institute of Management, Ahmedabad, and they continued to collaborate for over a decade.

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He founded his own practice, Vastushilpa in 1956 with two architects. Today Vastushilpa is a multi-disciplinary practice with five partners spanning three generations and has sixty employees. The practice invites dialogue and its philosophy of pro-active participation even applies to their office space – which has an open door, inviting passers-by to drop in.

Doshi’s key projects in Ahmedabad include Shreyas Comprehensive School Campus (1958-63); Atira Guest House low cost housing (1958); The Institute of Indology (1962) building to house rare documents; Ahmedabad School of Architecture – renamed CEPT University in 2002 – which focused on creating spaces that promoted collaborative learning; Tagore Hall & Memorial Theatre (1967); a 700-seat Brutalist auditorium; and Premabhai Hall (1976) theatre and auditorium. Besides, he has also designed the Indian Institute of Management in Bangalore (1977-1992); Sangath (1981), the studio for his architecture practice, Vastu Shilpa; Kanoria Centre for Arts (1984), an arts and creative hub; and Aranya Low Cost Housing (1989), Indore.

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