Indian architect, educator wins top U.S. architecture prize

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Architect and educator Balkrishna Doshi, 90, who has been awarded the Pritzer Prize for Architecture 2018, often referred to as the Nobel prize for architecture. (Photo: Pritzkerprize.com)

Balkrishna Doshi, an Indian architect and educator, has been awarded the prestigious Pritzker Prize for Architecture 2018, which honors a living architect or architects whose work shows talent, vision, and commitment, and who has consistently made significant contributions to humanity.  The international prize was established by the Pritzker family of Chicago through their Hyatt Foundation in 1979, and is often referred to as “architecture’s Nobel” and “the profession’s highest honor.”

The award consists of $100,000 (US) and a bronze medallion. The award is conferred on the laureate/s at a ceremony held at an architecturally significant site throughout the world, the Pritzker website says.

Doshi, 90, was born in Pune into an extended family that had been involved in the furniture industry for two generations. His artistic inclinations were recognized by a teacher who exposed him to the discipline of architecture. He began his architecture studies in 1947, the year India gained independence, at the Sir J.J . School of Architecture Bombay (Mumbai), the oldest and one of the foremost institutions for architecture in India.

Doshi’s studied at the Royal Institute of British Architects, and also famous French architect Le Corbusier, returning to India in 1954, to oversee Le Corbusier’s projects in Chandigarh and Ahmedabad. Those buildings include the Mill Owner’s Association Building (Ahmedabad, 1954) and Shodhan House (Ahmedabad, 1956), among others. Beginning in 1962, Doshi also worked with Louis Kahn as an associate to build the Indian Institute of Management, Ahmedabad, and they continued to collaborate for over a decade.

In 1956, Doshi hired two architects and founded his own practice, Vastushilpa, which has since been renamed Vastushilpa Consultants and grown to employ five partners and sixty employees, and has completed more than 100 projects since its inception.

Doshi is known for infusing Western idea with Eastern culture and a deep reverence for life and the forces of nature, “laced with sights, sounds, and memories from his past” Pritzker says on its website.

“Alongside a deep respect for Indian history and culture, elements of his youth—memories of shrines, temples and bustling streets; scents of lacquer and wood from his grandfather’s furniture workshop—all find a way into his architecture,” Pritzker notes.

His built works include institutions, mixed-use complexes, housing projects, public spaces, galleries, and private residences. Doshi recalls one of his most personal endeavors, Sangath (Ahmedabad, 1980), his architecture studio. “Sangath fuses images and associations of Indian lifestyles. The campus integrates, and memories of places visited collide, evoking and connecting forgotten episodes,” Doshi is quoted saying. “Sangath is an ongoing school where one learns, unlearns and relearns. It has become a sanctuary of culture, art and sustainability where research, institutional facilities and maximum sustainability are emphasized,” Doshi adds.

A retrospective of his works, “Celebrating Habitat: The Real, the Virtual and the Imaginary,” opened at the National Gallery of Modern Arts, Delhi, India (2014), before traveling to the Power Station of Art Shanghai, China, (2017). He recently delivered the 27th Annual Architecture lecture at the Royal Academy of Arts, London, U.K. (2017).

Published texts include Paths Uncharted (Vastushilpa Foundation, 2011); “Community Building in Indore, India” in Where are the Utopian Visionaries?: Architecture of Social Exchange by Hansy Better Barraza (Periscope Publishing, 2012); and numerous works in relevant international journals such as A+U (Japan), Architectural Review (United Kingdom), and Abitare (Italy), among many others.

Doshi was a member of the International Committee for preparing the International Charter on the Education of Architects, and holds honorary doctorates from the University of Pennsylvania, and McGill University, Canada. He has been a visiting professor at several universities in the U.S. including Massachusetts Institute of Technology; University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia; and University of Illinois, Urbana Champaign; Rice University, Houston; Washington University in St. Louis.