From a generation confronted with the task of constructing a new nation, Balakrishna Vithaldas Doshi’s ability to combine functionality and aesthetics with traditional techniques and modern technology made him one of the pillars of modern Indian architecture. A leading figure in the discussion on sustainable design, he enviably called Le Corbusier and Louis Kahn his friends. With the latter, he worked closely on the design of the Indian Institute of Management, Ahmedabad. Born in Pune into a family that was into furniture business for two generations, he has received many honours, including the Padma Shri in 1976.
What are your earliest memories of architecture?
It would be the street of my grandparents’ home in Ravivar Peth in Pune. There are wooden buildings with balconies, tile roofs and kilns outside — the memories have continued to impact my project. The mohallah was like a joint family, with lots of relatives.
You have also been inspired by ancient Indian architecture, from Fatehpur Sikri while designing IIM-Bangalore, to Ajanta and Ellora for the Amdavad-ni-Gufa.
I refer to ancient cities, from Harappa and Mohenjo-daro to existing ancient cities. I borrowed courtyard connectivity from Fatehpur, also certain elements from the Madurai temple, like the pagodas and corridors, so the courtyards are interspersed with gardens. Even though the corridors are covered, there are internal gardens. The external stone walls are covered with creepers.
I believe when you designed your office, Sangath, in 1980, it was the first time you were working on arches and conclaves (sic).
It came at the peak of my career, I wanted to break all rules. This is an office but doesn’t look like one. It is not a building, it doesn’t have a regular form, but has terraces and kilns. It looks like an ancient village with vaults that borrow light from nature. The materials used are recycled. It is a completely ecological building; double vaults on the side and insulation on the roof saved me the air-conditioning cost by almost two-third.
When you established Vastu-Shilpa Foundation for Studies and Research in Environmental Design in 1955, not many were focussing on nature. Now it is common. What do you think of the trend?
People misunderstand the meaning of Vastu. It implies balancing of energies, not necessarily following orientation and placement dogmatically. Happiness depends on the relationship between family members. People talk of environmental design as a system, not human beings as the main cause of building. The focus must be biological needs and social connectivity. Security does not come with gates, it comes from relationships.