BV Doshi’s Office, Ahmedabad

February 23, 2024

In the early 80s on a visit to Ahmedabad I had a chance encounter with architect BV Doshi who had just constructed his office ‘Sangath’, on the city outskirts. An unusual composition of concrete vaults, the new office and studio stretched along a slim deep site, forcing the visitor along a tortuous garden periphery to an entrance hidden at the very end of the building. The meandering elongated journey to merely enter was explained by Doshi as the initiation required by the visitor to visually comprehend the plan. “Once you are made to experience this elaborate sequence,” he said, “you become keenly aware of your orientation in the larger scheme of things”. The composition is unique in landscape, structure and innovation.

Indian Institute of Management, Ahmedabad:

For two years I lived and worked near Doshi’s office, on the campus of the Indian Institute of Management in Ahmadabad, a complex designed by American architect Louis Kahn. My room in one of the dormitories was a monastic shell, closed in space, open to the light – a safe room, surrounded by brickwork, that woke everyday to new light – red then pink, even white, the habits of the sun. For Kahn, a return to the origins of architecture was an essential prerogative of all building, and at IIM, brick was the only material used inside and outside all the buildings of the complex. Yet elements such as desks doorways, built in furniture, window panels – elements constantly tested by the hand and eye, by body movements and postures – were made in smoother polished teak in doing so the architecture achieved both a rugged simplicity on the public face and a sensuous tactility in the interior. The weathering of the brick, the effects of sun, rain and corrosion on the walls where considered positive attributes of buildings that revealed seasonal changes on their surface, buildings that showed their age. 

Maillot Viaduct, France

Outside India, across some of the most fertile rural landscape of France is a 120 foot high ribbon of concrete – a suspended roadway that cuts through the valley. The Maillot Viaduct is an engineered suspension so high above the ground it barely casts a shadow. Yet its eight lanes deliver two way traffic, north and south with an efficiency which would not have been possible had the road built on ground. The rarified air of its suspension is a master stroke of conservation in a country that views its farming countryside as valuable heritage. While cars and trucks hurtle at high speed above, life carries on at ground level at a rural pace. A sheep farmer walks his flock beyond the meadow. Threshing goes on a farm with a wide base tractor, a bicyclist carries fresh baguettes in his carrier. Within the same visual frame the persistence of 21st century technology in a historical 18th century scene is the deliberate juxtaposition of both eras. An inclusive approach that is as radical and experimental as it is conservative and traditional.

Red Fort, Delhi:

The monumental and the intimate are the two contrasting characteristics of many Islamic buildings, including the Delhi Red Fort. While one achieves a solid foothold on the ground in a primary geometry, the other stems from personal and whimsical considerations; the fort’s excessive delicacy balanced to suite a human scale and reflects something of the inner life of a palace. When you move from the public to the private, you feel it in the articulation of materials, in the way the heavy outer sandstone face of the building undergoes a slow transformation into marble; the pavilions that overhang the river’s edge are by contrast, structures of great sophistication and ornamentation. And the view of the place from the river’s edge reveals this most accurately in Islamic architecture’s most significant characteristic – that of balancing the two opposing dualities: the rugged and the sublime.

Old Parliament Building, Delhi

Without the Colonial saga of its commissioning or the politics of the project, it is hard not to be impressed by the old Parliament building’s mere presence. The sheer weight of its design and structure calls into play an architecture that can no longer be realized today. While elephants had carried its massive stone blocks from the quarry for its construction, many were chiseled by hand, and moved into place by chains, pulleys, and a labour force reminiscent of the building of the Egyptian pyramids. Then there is the extraordinary architectural versatility of the old parliament’s layout itself, and the carefully articulated variations of the chambers. The two main halls of the lower and upper house, along with the domed centre of the joint assembly, all engage with the outer cylindrical colonnade – a conflicting geometry so imaginatively employed that the resulting open areas inside are condensed into valuable green spaces, revealing nothing to the visitor of the surprise waiting within. Seated across the lawn outside, even Gandhiji looks on with awe at the now century old edifice.


In its six decades of existence Auroville has gratefully thrown everything into the design blender: ways of growing a 100-year old forest as well as a two week old seasonal vegetable farm, the mix of people from 60 nations, and another diverse mix from their host nation; a religious pluralism as accepting of Hindus, Muslims, Christians as Mormons, Buddhists and Atheists; a clutch of people from the French White Town and more from the local Black Town; combination of Tamil rural expertise, and German inventiveness from the Ruhr valley; philosophies of Siri Aurobindo; the occidental logic of Martin Luther; plant knowledge of traditional South India; the irrigation practices of the American South West; construction techniques that utilize steel as easily as mud; ways of cooling houses through inexpensive and passive local methods adapted to the efficiencies of a Western structural system; visual and practical ways of primary schooling, and community activity as a form of local currency. The whole premise at Auroville relies not on some continual practice of conventional reform, but a complete and explicit rejection of all existing norms.

Small House, Tokyo

A unique exercise in urban living, a Tokyo apartment today is made of a single room that incorporates living, dining, and a cupboard containing two sets of clothes and shoes; kitchen, bathroom and bed emerge from the wall when required. The minimalist apartment is a lifestyle choice, part of a growing number of Japanese couples intentionally reducing their possessions and choosing a more frugal life. For India to change direction and build small, three things need to happen. First, a revision of city bye-laws that would allow tiny homes and apartments of 200-300 square foot size to be built  in a more efficient allocation of city land.  Second, the encouragement of flexible mixed-use that would forge untested combinations such as home-office, restaurant-home, shop-office, or office-recreation. Third, the use of extreme technologies that would make possible buildings built of discarded materials, mud, compressed plastic and garbage. Used shipping containers have been used as housing and hotels in Europe and the US. Is it possible for us to put our own discarded truck chaises to similar use. In a country with a continually rising back-log of housing – currently pegged at 8 million urban homes – only radical approaches can offer partial solutions.

Individual structures or whole cities, old or new, built in steel or rough stone, constructed centuries ago or just yesterday, architecture remains a permanent and poetic message in the landscape. It remains, as with most monumental things, a marker of human progress.

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