Fresh from scooping architecture’s most august award, the champion of housing for the poor is urging greater compassion
A celebrity in India where he speaks to packed lectures, 90-year-old Doshi, who studied under Le Corbusier, has worked on other projects – including mixed-income housing for a life insurance corporation in Ahmedabad and the underground Amdavad ni Gufa art gallery – but it is Aranya for which he is best known.
Speaking to the Guardian after the announcement of his award, Doshi said that architects and urban planners involved in low-income housing projects – as well as architectural education – needed to move away from their focus on the designer as individual to being far more collaborative, compassionate and invested in the dignity of those they house.
And in the chequered history of slum clearance and relocation – including in the US after Roosevelt’s New Deal, and in countries like France and the UK in the post-war era – Doshi’s Aranya stands out as a success story in a country with substantial and persisting housing issues for its poorest citizens.
“They are not houses but homes where a happy community lives. That is what finally matters,” Doshi has said in the past of the organising credo for this project.
Doshi believes that a large part of Aranya’s success has been because instead of presenting those who would live there – often in a purpose-built house for the first time – with a ready-made design, the development allows residents the space and opportunity to adapt and improve their homes.
Built around a central spine to accommodate businesses, Doshi’s brick houses – in sizes from a single room to larger homes for wealthier families – were designed around parks and courtyards, with groups of ten houses forming inward-looking clusters.
Beyond aesthetics, Doshi argued that architecture and urban design – done right – can and should be socially transformative for the world’s poorest.
“If you empower people then what happens is that it creates incentives for people that are self-generated. The promise of a home is not a limited hope, but the sky becomes the limit.”