Building designs should make people connect to their lifestyles, advises veteran architect Balakrishna V. Doshi.

More than 300 people packed the 160-seater auditorium at the National Gallery of Modern Art and spilled out into the adjacent corridors and stairwells to hear veteran architect Balakrishna V. Doshi speak about how a builder should connect with what he creates. The 84-year-old artiste is to Indian architecture what John Lennon is to the international music world. And Doshi did not disappoint his eager audience as he spoke about a variety of issues in architecture and his own experiences centred on that theme.

Doshi has not only been an architect designing for a particular time and space, he was also making architecture for the place and for celebration. He was introduced by the organisers as someone who “...has protected the soul of our profession (architecture)…”

Rur-urban galaxies

“Over centuries, we have developed a network of Rur-Urban galaxies which sustain our culture,” he said, elaborating on the stated theme of the evening's talk (but he rarely stuck to this theme and meandered through many ideas of architecture and planning). In the development of the cities, the heritage seen in the cores of the cities is not there in the peripheries, he said. “We also have to remember that we are Indian and as developers and architects, we have to remember what binds us and holds us together.” He also said that architects should build in a way so that the local people have an affinity with their lifestyles. And his take on sustainability? “Sustainability requires adaptability and use of both local and global opportunities.”

Started as an apprentice

Unlike most architects, Doshi began his career as an apprentice and gained direct, hands-on experience before designing one of his most celebrated work, the Centre for Environmental Planning and Technology University (CEPT) in Ahmedabad, which was planned in a way that encouraged open-ended discourse between teacher and student.

For more than an hour, the octogenarian spoke lucidly to an audience that consisted predominantly of architects and designers, engaging them in an eloquent exposition of a panorama of ideas, interspersed with a slide show. Doshi raised questions like can we develop in such a way that we have a better quality of life, where we live in harmony with nature and acknowledge the importance of bio diversity.

Sense of vitality

Another provocative question he raised was do all cities have to look the same? He said in the older part of cities, like in the pols of Ahmedabad, there is a sense of ownership and vitality. But the newer parts were anonymous. He also asked the audience to think about how architects could connect their professions to life.

His other well-known works include the Centre for Science and Environment (CSE) and National Institute of Fashion Technology (NIFT), both in New Delhi. He has also been involved with the restoration of heritage sites in multiple cities including the old city of Hyderabad. Doshi's case studies for Jaipur and the representation of those ideas in Indian miniature style are now part of architectural folklore.

His foundation, Vastu Shilpa, is an architectural research facility in Ahmedabad which is an architectural practice as well as a research facility for understanding and addressing the complex issues of the Indian city. Doshi's work was the subject for American academic James Steele's book, ‘The Complete Architecture of Balkrishna Doshi'.