India’s Balkrishna Doshi, who won the 2018 Pritzker Architecture Prize, talks about his career and the future of his adopted city, Ahmedabad.
Over his 90 years, Balkrishna Doshi has seen a lot. Still, nothing could prepare him for the call he got in early March, telling him he was this year’s recipient of architecture’s most prestigious award: the Pritzker Architecture Prize. Doshi is the first Indian ever to win it.
I traveled to Ahmedabad—the city Doshi has called home for more than 60 years—to report a CityLab story about his legacy, with input from the man himself (you can read it here). But Doshi, whose sense of humor and verve belie his years, gave me more of his time than I expected. So what follows is a lightly edited version of some of our conversation.
[When] you ask somebody in Bombay or some other place, they will say, “Yes, but then what will happen? How will it be maintained? What kind of future [will it have]? Will we be able to get financed?”
I think in other places, people start their work creation with doubt. Here, we start with [the] future.
But do you think that’s gotten lost, to some extent? Was it more the case in the past?
No, I can’t say “lost.” But it has been scattered.
Even in Ahmedabad?
Yes. Because the city has grown, things have become much farther [apart]. And those people who were the pioneers, those who created Ahmedabad to be a “Manchester of India”—I think that has now more or less disintegrated in a sense. You know, the textile industries have died down, [those] people have become old. The younger generation has perhaps not imbibed this [attitude], so it is not the same.
It is still there. There are a lot of traces, and there is a temperament like that. So what one has to do is find another way to awaken this. And get those other layers, you know, which don’t have this experience, and catch them and bring them down. Then you’re back again.
So do you think the Pritzker announcement can be a part of that reawakening?
The Pritzker is a great award. Unimaginable. It’s the first time in India—that’s another story. But it is also the recognition of saying that these kinds of buildings are really wonderful, they are globally recognizable buildings. The philosophy of creating something for the have-nots, I think is one of the unique things that can happen.
But now the question is what kind of institution should we build in Ahmedabad, so that again there is a regeneration, revitalization, and resurgence of this place. So that Ahmedabad, with a younger, larger generation, can be much greater.
Being recognized as a [UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2017] was one of those things that made people begin to think that, ‘Yes, we have something.’ We have a heritage, and we have to not only conserve, but we have to preserve other things, and slowly create other heritages.
So I hope, you know, that is what will happen with the Pritzker award. That [local people] will think, “There are so many buildings that are mentioned there.” Getting that award recognizes all this, and it has now become public. All those things, if we catch them again and put them into another network, I think we would be doing a service to everybody. Because everybody will become aware that [the old buildings] are not only there; now there’s new things happening.