In remembering Balakrishna Vithaldas Doshi today, I think it is only fitting that we do so without the trappings of grief, because that would be the antithesis of what this iconic man would desire from us. Four decades ago I was introduced to B.V Doshi by common friends Chester & Davy Herwitz and M.F Husain - I was in my twenties and he was in his fifties. I cannot quite remember exactly what the occasion was, but as was the practice of those days, some event had been organised that brought old and new friends together in Ahmedabad, to meet and exchange ideas over endless cups of chaiand nashta. From the very first time I met with him, I was struck by his ability to connect with different people, finding commonalities with them where he would both listen and share. A conversation with him was always animated and lively – and he had this unique ability of making all those whom he connected with feel extremely special. Never one to be condescending nor belittling of the endeavours of others, he chose instead to illuminate his own world with positivity. He wanted to feel the joy of living, and above all, to acknowledge the joy of creativity both for himself as well as in the world around him.
Doshi has been an architect, an urban planner and an educator, shaping the discourse of architecture in India for nearly seven decades. His architecture today no longer needs any introduction. They are edifices that stand impressively within the landscapes they have been worked into. These buildings resonate his imaginative thinking that focuses on community awareness, ecological needs, sustainability and his understanding of cultural histories and social traditions –all factors that he believed were crucial to the requirements of what modern Indian architecture should embody. His primary focus was that living spaces were to be created to contain and enhance the people who would inhabit it. It was the ordinary everyday person that he saw India reflected within. His attempt was to create a holistic approach to designing buildings that therefore always kept the human spirit at the core, and where the use of natural elements like light and breeze brought an openness within the building – creating pockets for resting and silence to be realised within them. His desire was for a building to transform into a habitat that welcomes and nurtures the human presence - rather than to overpower people with grandeur and pomp. He wanted the brick and mortar to be fuelled by the dynamics of those living and using the buildings he made –making them into living organisms that adapt to the changing needs of the people. Despite being an internationally renowned architect, Doshi was never one to call attention to himself or to his achievements. Instead he always expressed that he was a product of the many influences he had encountered. Throughout his life he always credited his guru Le Corbusier for being the person who taught him the value of questioning how to approach the making of a building. His humility was not an external trope that he wore, but genuinely ingrained into his psyche. He valued simplicity and defined his life without the clutter of extravagance.
But above and beyond being one of the greatest modern architects of his time, the real the hallmark of Doshi’s greatness was the grace with which he conducted his life. A family man to the core, he was the proud father of three daughters, and deeply invested in all the relationships within the entire family –infusing each of them with the enthusiasm to be curious and independent people. To the world B.V Doshi will be remembered as one of the all time greats of modern architecture – but for him perhaps what he believed he left as his greatest legacy, was being a husband, a father, an in-law and a grandfather– embracing these roles with commitment and deep love and insight – to leave the imprint of his imaginative self in that circle of intimacy that mattered most to him.