Blocks & thoughts

Blocks & thoughts

different strokes

Blocks & thoughts

For B V Doshi, architecture is fundamentally a social enterprise, and an architect is one who constantly searches for the unknown, notes Giridhar Khasnis

Thanks to his long and distinguished career as an architect, teacher and institution builder, Balkrishna Vithaldas Doshi (born August 26, 1927 / Pune) is regarded as the father figure of modern Indian architecture. Doshi’s autobiography Paths Uncharted, in its own unique style and form captures his amazing life journey. Such is the popularity of the Padma Shri awardee that the 439-page book, first published in August 2011, went for a reprint within six months.

With an engaging text and numerous insightful drawings and sketches, Paths Uncharted provides a rare glimpse of the master who grew up in a thickly populated joint family in a modest house in Pune, before embarking upon a fascinating journey that took him to Paris and ‘almost all the beautiful places in the  world’, before settling down in Ahmedabad.

Doshi’s academic expeditions are interesting. First, he left Pune and went to Mumbai to study art, but ended up choosing architecture at the J J School of Art.  He left J J School midway when an opportunity to go to London and become an Associate of Royal Institute of British Architects, ARIBA, came by. In London, he did not wait to complete his course but packed his bags to go to Paris and work in the famous Le Corbusier’s office.

Doshi’s association with architect Le Corbusier (1887 – 1965) and later with Louis Kahn (1901 – 1974) have become legendary. Working closely with them, Doshi exposed himself to their unique approaches to architectural projects, as also their exceptional personal traits and work ethics.

While he saw precision and sensibilities of geometry and rhythms in Kahn’s work, he came to experience “the freedom, the joy, the play, the rhythm, the texture, the colour, the volume or the light,” which created a unique symphony in Le Corbusier’s works. In a later admission, he called Le Corbusier and Kahn as ‘the acrobat’ and ‘the yogi’ of architecture respectively.


Respecting traditions

As we gather from the book, Doshi was a self-confessed and determined wanderer, who never hesitated to move to different locations, experience unexpected situations and embrace different facets of life.

He writes how many challenges came to confront him, and how he gathered courage to break free from daunting circumstances. “As I now see it, at each of these stages, I was taking risks, big risks, rather than enjoy the comfort of familiar settings. It is almost like being an entrepreneur obsessed by the next big thing...”

While he continued to appreciate that life was full of surprises and paradoxes, he also came to recognise the inherent features unique to the East and the West.

His memories of living in villages and small towns, the daily life, traditional houses, local customs, religious values and an economy based on agriculture were in total contrast with the memories of life in Paris and working at 35 Rue de Sevres and very different impressions of the artistic attitudes to urban life and the world of tomorrow.

“Between these two realms lies my architectural career, searching for the constants between these two worlds, rural and metropolitan. In my life and my work, the effort has been to combine the virtues of both and to find a balance between them.”

Ultimately, a deep understanding of and respect for traditional ways of living coupled with an appreciation of Gandhiji’s life and thoughts became his guiding principles. Being frugal thus became second nature to him. “Frugality promoted the virtue of being generous or forgiving …Being frugal and foregoing is the way I have lived all my life.”


Frugality also greatly influenced his architecture, which he says, has been mostly severe in terms of the choice of materials, finishes, as well as the scales he chose for his designs. “Frankly, I would find it difficult to design using materials like very expensive varieties of marble or provide unduly large spaces than warranted.”

Doshi credits some outstanding scholars in Ahmedabad who educated him about his own heritage. In the same breath, he fondly recalls his association with artists, musicians, theatre persons, and other creative minds and says how he was enriched by the experience.

One of his unique projects led him to collaborate with artist M F Husain, and create a ‘cave’ in Ahmedabad. Known as Husain-Doshi Gufa, the five-year project (1990-95) resulted in an underground art gallery, hailed for its whimsical synergy of modern art, natural design and traditional craft.

Among many other important projects for which Doshi’s name is associated with are the IIM, Bangalore; Aranya Community Housing (Indore); Centre of Environmental Planning and Technology, Ahmedabad; National Institute of Fashion Technology, New Delhi; and Udayan – The Condoville, Kolkata.

Doshi founded the Vastu-Shilpa Foundation for Studies and Research in Environmental Design (VSF) in 1976 to research and undertake projects which clearly focus on Indian habitat conditions. Over the decades, VSF has become a revered institution, winning national and international awards.

Lessons in design

Doshi says that he is constantly fascinated, almost like a child, by the ways in which the world around him works. “I see a river and think of its journey from its origin all the way to meet the ocean or the way mighty trees grow from a small seed. I see an ant, a snake, or a giraffe and think about how their form is just one for their life in their habitat.

That surely is a very valuable lesson in design.” He believes all things in the world are interrelated. “In my field, it can mean from the design of a pin to the design of a city and everything in between.”

For him, an architect is a being who allows memory, associations and experiences to dominate his life. “In short, architecture, to paraphrase Mao, is not a dinner party, or writing an essay, or painting a picture, or doing embroidery; to be so leisurely and gently refined. It is temperate, kind, courteous, restrained and magnanimous to combine all classes of society.”

Despite all his achievements and accomplishments, Doshi remains humble. “Frankly, at this stage in life, I even hesitate in calling myself an architect because the more I think I know what architecture is, the less I feel I know about its true calling. I increasingly see myself more as a person seeking my destiny rather than being just an architect, planner or such.”


There are many take-aways from Doshi’s autobiography. It is uniquely structured, jumping with gay abandon from one place to another, one event to another, one thought to another. In the end, it is a treasure trove of many ideas, insights and concepts which should be of interest not only to architects, academics and students, but also to common readers.

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