Pritzker Prize to Doshi, Designer for Humanity
The 2018 Pritzker Prize, universally considered the highest honor for an architect, will be conferred this year on the 90-year-old Balkrishna Doshi, the first Indian so honored. The citation from the Pritzker jury recognizes “the outstanding example he has set for professionals and students around the world,” then focuses on his particular strengths by stating that he “has always created architecture that is serious, never flashy or a follower of trends.”
The never-flashy-or-trendy message is another indication from these arbiters of design that our infatuation with exotic three-dimensional configurations initiated by Frank Gehry and Zaha Hadid – and emulated by numerous others – may have run its course. They are saying that in this seemingly ever more chaotic world, we should be serving humanity with environments that acknowledge our need for order, stability and reassurance.
Unlike some Pritzker laureates, such as last year’s Spanish partnership of Aranda, Pigem and Vilalta (whose work was also rather restrained and context-sensitive), the 90-year-old Doshi will not be suddenly rocketed out of obscurity by the prize. He has been earning well-deserved respect internationally for much of his 60-plus years of practice and teaching. His three-year term as a Pritzker juror, 2005-2007, was an earlier reflection of his worldwide respect. He has served on other international juries and been named an honorary fellow of both the American Institute of Architects and its British counterpart.
Through both the influences on his work and his influence on others, Doshi illustrates the international scope of Modern architecture. As a young, aspiring architect he was privileged to work for four years, 1951-1954, in the Paris studio of the revered Modernist pioneer Le Corbusier, where he contributed to the design of the key buildings in India’s new provincial capital at Chandigarh. He then returned to his homeland to supervise construction of that architect’s projects in Ahmedabad.
In 1962 Doshi invited the American master Louis Kahn to design the new Indian Institute of Management in Ahmedabad. The two collaborated for over a decade on its extensive and inventive campus, reconciling Kahn’s concepts of architectural form with established Indian building techniques.
The influences of those close associations with his “gurus,” Le Corbusier and Kahn, can be seen in the robust concrete construction Doshi often employs. But he didn’t simply absorb the profound lessons they offered. He creatively applied that knowledge to the specific situations he addressed in India, extending those achievements into a vision of what architects worldwide could accomplish.
Doshi’s output of over 100 buildings – all in India – covers a wide range, including educational and cultural institutions, government-sponsored and cooperative housing developments, and elegant private homes. All of his work demonstrates an acute awareness of its context, cultural, economical and environmental. His own studio in Ahmedabad, known as Sangath, illustrates this local response, with its garden, amphitheater, and other communal spaces, its vaulted roofs and sunken planted areas responding to the area’s notorious heat. The campus he designed for the institute of management in Bangalore reflects age-old Indian traditions with a maze-like organization of interlocking buildings, galleries and courtyards. His Amdavad Ni Gufa, largely an underground gallery in Ahmedabad, suggests even prehistoric precedents, with its tilting columns and undulating vaults.
The honoree has shared his cumulative design wisdom with a career-long commitment to education. He designed the Ahmedabad campus of the Center for Environmental Planning and Technology (now known as CEPT University) and taught there for decades. And he has carried his design wisdom to other parts of the world, having taught architecture in the U.S. at MIT, the Universities of Pennsylvania and Illinois, and Rice University, in Canada at McGill in Montreal, and at the University of Hong Kong.
The prize will be awarded in a ceremony commemorating the Pritzker’s 40th anniversary, taking place at the Aga Khan Museum in Toronto this May.
We should wish Doshi many more years of designing place-sensitive environments and sharing his insights with the world.