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Indian architecture laureate Doshi has no plans to slow down

Doshi trained with Le Corbusier and became known for the Aranya Low Cost Housing project, which accommodates 80,000 people
AFP

Ahmedabad (India) (AFP) – Trailblazing Indian architect Balkrishna Doshi vowed Thursday to use his award, considered architecture’s Nobel equivalent, to escalate his campaign for proper housing for the poor as the country battles a massive shortage of homes.

The 90-year-old told AFP he had no plans of slowing down as he received well-wishers at his home in the western city of Ahmedabad, a day after becoming India’s first winner of the prestigious Pritzker Prize.

“If I as an architect am not able to do something for my people and provide them with what they need, then I should say my job is incomplete,” said the pioneer of low-cost housing.

In a career lasting almost 70 years, Doshi trained with Swiss-Franco icon Le Corbusier and became known for the Aranya Low Cost Housing project, which accommodates 80,000 people with houses and courtyards linked by a maze of pathways in the city of Indore.

He also oversaw the School of Architecture in Ahmedabad and the Indian Institute of Management, the country’s top business school in Bangalore.

Doshi, who now works mainly as a consultant, mixes modernism with functionality to produce what he calls a “holistic habitat” that puts India’s army of poor before profit. 

“My projects have been participatory in nature and relevant to the people for which it was designed,” he told AFP.

“It was not like we have land and we just constructed a building like real estate developers do today.”

– ‘Godfather’ of design –

With India’s economy booming and pressure mounting for homes in the country’s polluted cities, Doshi said more must be done for the poor.

“In India, whatever you do, it is always less. India is transforming fast and we need to do a large number of things which have to be ecologically sustainable and that would empower the people.”

Highlighting the shortage of housing, schools and health centres, Doshi said: “We need to create affordability, sustainability in terms of local culture and affect people’s lives.”

The Aranya project accommodates “families within a range of poor-to-modest incomes” in 6,500 homes ranging from one room to spacious houses. The deposit to buy a home is based on a family’s average income.

Indian architects hailed the win for Doshi.

“This is very good news for Indian architects because he is our godfather. We are very proud,” Alok Ranjan, Jaipur-based professor and member of the Indian Institute of Architects, told AFP.

“What stands out about his work is that it is for all strata of society… not only for the elite group but also for the middle and low income groups,” he said.

The international Pritzker prize, established by Chicago’s Pritzker family in 1979, bestows laureates with $100,000 along with a bronze medallion.

The Pritzker jury said 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”.

“Projects must go beyond the functional to connect with the human spirit through poetic and philosophical underpinnings.”

The award is the latest accolade bestowed on Doshi, who has also won prizes in France and India.

A major draw at lectures, the celebrated architect was the keynote speaker at last year’s Asian Congress of Architects. 

“The hall was packed, bursting at the seams with over 1,200 people just to get a glimpse and hear him,” fellow architect Ranjan recalled.

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