Doshi, who won the coveted Pritzker Architecture Prize, talks about designing Husain's Gufa and other things
The artist and legend M.F. Husain met Balkrishna Vithaldas Doshi and asked him to build a gallery for him. Doshi agreed but then Husain annoyed him by calling him a “traditionalist”. The 92-year-old Pritzker laureate — Pritzker is the Nobel equivalent for architecture — told his tale in a quivering voice that evening, even as his hotel-hall audience in Calcutta’s Salt Lake strained their ears to catch every word he said. On the dais with him was his interviewer, architect Partha Ranjan Das.
Doshi continued: “I told him [Husain] I will build something where you cannot paint.” And Gufa was born — one of Doshi’s experimental designs. The underground art gallery in Ahmedabad has domed structures that are propped up by irregular columns. Husain tried to hang his works, but they just wouldn’t stay. Says Doshi, “And that is how he decided to paint the ceiling.”
Big names recur right through Doshi’s life, experiences and anecdotes — Husain, Vikram Sarabhai, Louis Kahn — but then it is a giant’s life. Kahn, with whom Doshi worked on the design for the Indian Institute of Management (IIM), Ahmedabad, was apparently an austere man.
Says Doshi, “He would have only boiled potatoes and fish. If he bought a fabric for his wife, he would examine it to see how simple and clear it was. You see, he was thinking the other way round. You practice austerity and you find from that the zen.” Doshi turns to Das and tells him that Kahn considered Corbusier his guru. “He came to see the Chandigarh Assembly and remarked, ‘How can anyone freeze a dream like this?’”
Das himself is a conservation architect. He has worked on the restoration of the Town Hall in Calcutta and is currently restoring St. Paul’s Cathedral in the city.
He gets Doshi to talk a bit about Sangath, the design studio he built in the 1980s. Says Doshi, “I thought of doing a sustainable building and I wondered should the office look like an office? Or can the building help people experience what I want to say?”