[ecis2016.org] For noted architect Balkrishna Doshi, who has won an award considered architecture’s Nobel equivalent, a smart city, the current buzzword in urban space, should reflect its residents’ aspirations and be built with a holistic approach
According to noted architect Balkrishna Doshi, a ‘smart city’ is one that is ‘integral, efficient, uses less energy, gives more choices, is more and more independent and self-sustainable’. “When a building celebrates life, then it is called architecture,” said Ahmedabad-based Doshi, who founded the Vastu Shilpa Foundation in 1978, to research environmental and indigenous design. “Architecture is not a product. It is made to suit the conditions or styles or predilections of the users. When we talk about that, the whole question is: Is the user comfortable, or is he going to really be very happy? Would you like to go back to the place?” explains Doshi, the first Indian to win the prestigious Pritzker Prize, architecture’s highest honour.
The 90-year-old architect started working on low-cost housing in the beginning of his decades-long career, much before affordable housing became a regular theme in government policy documents. Doshi told PTI in an interview that his constant preoccupation over the years, has been to resolve issues related to cities, urbanisation and living space. The architect, in the beginning of his career, worked as an associate of the master of architecture Louis Kahn, an American, on the iconic IIM-Ahmedabad project. He then went on to design numerous institutions like IIM-Bangalore, CEPT Ahmedabad, NIFT Delhi and Aranya Low Cost Houses in Indore which houses 80,000 inhabitants.
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Doshi said designing buildings for institutes is an effort to ‘create transitional spaces for people to connect and disconnect and go into reflective mood’. Doshi said environment has been an important factor in his scheme of designs. “Last 60-70 years have been a constant discovery for me. Since I have been doing various projects and resolving issues connected to cities, urbanisation and living space, my concerns have always been how do we upgrade lifestyle, upgrade quality for life, really become helpful, and assist people who have not much resources. How would you empower them, so they can be better off over time? Second, I look at environment, as to how one creates an environment where people like to go again and again, where they would notice the seasons, see animals and birds around them,” said Doshi, who has worked on over 100 projects.
For Doshi, low-cost housing schemes are designed with an understanding that they should not only be affordable but also take into account availability of scarce resources and funds made available for them. “I started (working on) low-cost housing in the beginning of my career and the idea was not only that they should be affordable, but they should also be easy to build. If cement is scarce, if you don’t have concrete and not much funds, what would you do with minimum cost? So, I use local technology, materials and crafts and create buildings out of them, so they become very simple to live but very pleasant to be in. Then I create clusters out of them,” Doshi said.
Doshi’s architectural designs are also defined by traditions. “My buildings, whether low-cost or expensive, use elements which we have been using long, long ago, in our traditions. All our old houses were like that. They were designed on the basis of the activities and our lifestyle. I first plan activities, then I see what kind of lifestyle it will induce and benefits and then, I go beyond those activities. Then I plan the structure, which must have proper volume, proper light, it must be cool in summer, pleasant in winter,” he added.
Ruing the rapid, unplanned urbanisation, Doshi said, “Today, we are not talking of urbanisation, not even hybridisation, but creating buildings without any sense. We are doing is circumstantial development, not planned development. Smart cities should be holistic and take all the factors into account: the land, the place where people will stay, where they will work, how they rejoice, what they should do in holidays, what kind of life would they have. Would they have playgrounds, open spaces, recreation, something to do with health?” he said.
He lamented that developers have adversely affected the spirit of architecture, as they seek their ‘own pound of flesh’ for the job they offer. “When you are hunting for work, you are going to developers and developers want their pound of flesh and this is the fate we have. For example, the other half we are talking about – slums and people (living) on footpaths – we are isolating from these issues and trying to create buildings and call them architecture,” he maintains.
On the design of institutions, he said they should look like one’s second home. “They are not just merely rooms. You go there, because it is a place of interaction, a place of reflection, a place of questioning and wondering and also a place where you gradually sensitise. For example, the School of Architecture at CEPT University, was a waste land. If you go there today, it has nice mounds, trees and gardens. So, everyone who comes there says, ‘my god, what a place!’ So, they want to come often,” he said. For Doshi, an institution is a space with no doors and less boundaries, so they can facilitate greater interactions between people, nature and everything around. “Institutions must give time to students and teachers to ponder and question. The spaces have to be connected to nature and all the forces around. You induce in them some kind of feeling of silence, which would lead them to questioning,” he said.
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