In 2008 or thereabouts, I made an appointment to interview Balkrishna Doshi for a book I was writing on the Gujarati city of Ahmedabad. As one of the city’s most distinguished residents and also as an outsider (he was a native of Pune in Maharashtra) who had made Ahmedabad his home, I was curious about how he viewed the city.
Entering his office complex, Vastu Shilpa Sangath on the busy Thaltej Road was like arriving at an oasis after a long trek through a desert. Curved vaults with unplastered walls stood amidst greenery pitted with a leaf-strewn pond. It was an apposite setting for Doshi’s opening comments about the city: “Living simply is the characteristic of this place: sand around and not much rain, such constraints make you think of frugality, make you very astute.”
I had read a book published by his Vastu Shilpa Foundation, The Ahmedabad Chronicle: Imprints of a Millenium which catalogued the many architectural styles co-existing in the city, one of India’s oldest urban spaces. I noticed that Doshi’s office buildings were designed to funnel hot air, much like pole houses in the old, walled city. Dappled sunlight on ridged ground reminded me of Sultanate mosques while the air of quiet grandeur, despite its lack of adornment, had a touch of the Moghul era.
The overall effect though was unmistakably modern. A case study of Doshi’s studio listed the following influences: Le Corbusier, Alvar Aalto, F.L. Wright, Antonio Gaudi, Louis Kahn. Kahn and Corbusier had designed structures in Ahmedabad, notably the Indian Institute of Management and the Millowners Association building, respectively. Doshi himself trained with Corbusier in London after studying at the Sir JJ School of Architecture in Mumbai. His introduction to Ahmedabad was as a supervisor of Corbusier’s projects in the city in the 1950s.