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ARCHITECTURE

Indian architect Balkrishna Doshi wins Pritzker Prize

Pritzker Prize winner Balkrishna Doshi.

Awarding the world's top architecture prize to Doshi, whose buildings are made largely of inexpensive materials, sends the message that architecture should emphasize the local and the public good

The Pritzker Prize is going to a 90-year-old Indian architect who helped reinvent architecture in his own country and rewrite the language of Modernism.

Balkrishna Doshi was announced today as the winner of the world's leading architecture prize, which comes with US$100,000. It will be formally awarded at the Aga Khan Museum in Toronto in May, when Doshi will also deliver a public lecture at the University of Toronto (May 16).

Often called architecture's Nobel, the Pritzker is often seen as a barometer of what architecture's thought leaders consider important. This year's delivers a message consistent with the winners of the past few years: Architecture should emphasize the local and the public good, and express itself in a restrained manner.

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"With an understanding and appreciation of the deep traditions of India's architecture," the award jury said in its citation, Doshi "developed a vocabulary in harmony with the history, culture, local traditions and the changing times of his home country India."

Past Pritzker winners have included nearly all of the profession's living stars, including Frank Gehry, Norman Foster and Rem Koolhaas. Doshi had early connections with two great architects of the 20th century, Le Corbusier and Louis Kahn, but his own buildings are "never flashy," the Pritzker jury said.

Doshi, who won an Aga Khan Award for Architecture in 1995, has designed 100 buildings – including educational institutions and public housing – which emphasize social good, are built largely of inexpensive materials, and create deep connections between people, architecture and landscape.

Aranya Low Cost Housing. Doshi’s buildings are ‘never flashy,’ the Pritzker jury said.

"First of all, my architecture tends to emphasize sustainability," Doshi said in a statement. "Second, I try to use local materials, local technologies and then the nuances that happen in the traditional Indian homes or streets and cities and towns. So it becomes a very flexible fluid organism in which one can gradually get in and make it a part and parcel. It is like clothing, it is like being with yourself and with your friends. The space… gradually evolves; it modifies and acts as a catalyst."

Born in Pune in 1927, Doshi entered architecture school in Bombay (now Mumbai) just as India achieved independence in 1947. He moved to London and then Paris, where he began collaborating with the first of two profoundly influential Western architects.

The first was the Swiss-French architect known as Le Corbusier. In 1954, Doshi returned to India to oversee Le Corbusier's projects in the master-planned state capital city of Chandigarh and in the textile centre of Ahmedabad. Doshi would found the Ahmedabad School of Architecture and Planning, where he taught until 2012.

Le Corbusier was an important teacher for Doshi. In North America, "Corb" is best known for radical ideas about cities that helped shape the worst of urban renewal, but in India his work has a very different resonance, bound up in former Indian prime minister Jawaharlal Nehru's effort to design new cities for a new, modern country. Corbusier adapted his design language to borrow from local traditions and adapt to local climates.

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Premabhai Hall.

Doshi learned from those efforts as he, along with contemporaries such as Charles Correa and Raj Rewal, defined a distinct stream of Modern architecture in India. This is a large and unquestionably important, but relatively little-studied, chapter in architectural history.

His next important collaboration was with the American architect Louis Kahn. Doshi recommended Kahn for the design of the new Indian Institute of Management (IIM) in Ahmedabad, and the two worked together closely on that brick-and-concrete complex, fusing Modernist geometries with the influence of medieval Indian architecture. In particular, the IIM complex follows local models by interweaving its buildings with courtyards and shaded breezeways, creating outdoor spaces that are comfortable and social.

That continues in Doshi's work, including the Indian Institute of Management in Bangalore, which was built between the 1970s and 1992. The Pritzker jury said: "[Doshi's] solutions take into account the social, environmental and economic dimensions, and therefore his architecture is totally engaged with sustainability. Using patios, courtyards, and covered walkways … Doshi has created spaces to protect from the sun, catch the breezes and provide comfort and enjoyment in and around the buildings."

Another important stream in Dr. Doshi's work has been housing, which he has designed since the 1950s. The Pritzker jury praised his Life Insurance Corporation housing project of the 1970s, a set of multilevel apartments organized around a complex array of courtyards and terraces; the result is formally bold but resonates with traditional Indian urbanism. "Balkrishna Doshi constantly demonstrates that all good architecture and urban planning must not only unite purpose and structure," said the Pritzker jury, "but must take into account climate, site, technique, and craft, along with a deep understanding and appreciation of the context in the broadest sense."

The Life Insurance Corporation housing project includes apartments set around a complex array of courtyards and terraces.

All of these arguments – and indeed Dr. Doshi's fusion of traditional materials and practices with modernist innovation – speak to the work of today's emergent generation of architects.

The Pritzker Prize has come under fire in recent years for reinforcing the star system of the architecture world, with its attendant Eurocentricism and exclusion of women. In 2013, a student-led petition pushed the organizers, the Hyatt Foundation, to recognize the architect Denise Scott Brown – whose lifetime partner and collaborator Robert Venturi won the Pritzker without her in 1991. They did not succeed. Only three women have won out of 45 awarded prizes, two of them jointly with male collaborators.

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Doshi becoming the first Indian to win the prize does suggest a certain diversity of perspective. At the same time, it suggests insularity: Doshi has served on the jury for the Pritzker Prize (from 2005 to 2007), as well as the Aga Khan Award for Architecture. The ranks of internationally renowned architects who are committed to design excellence are few.

And yet it's difficult to argue with the recognition of an architect and teacher who has committed himself to his community, and to architecture as an art form that serves people and aims to dialogue with nature. "Every object around us, and nature itself – lights, sky, water and storm – everything is in a symphony," Doshi said in a statement. "And this symphony is what architecture is all about. My work is the story of my life, continuously evolving, changing and searching … searching to take away the role of architecture, and look only at life."

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