BV Doshi, the child behind the magician, stirs the secret of discovery at 93

An architect extraordinaire, Pritzker Prize laureate BV Doshi celebrates the joys of discovery with STIR as his granddaughter Khushnu Panthaki Hoof takes us through his journey.

by Meghna Mehta Published on : Aug 26, 2020

Nonagenarian Balkrishna Vithaldas Doshi is one of India’s most celebrated architects, who began his architecture studies in 1947 and went on to work with Le Corbusier and Louis Kahn, who inspired his work throughout his career. His oeuvre, philosophy, and works have evolved with the times and he believes an architect must not only know about buildings, it is about how one perceives the world. Today, on the occasion of his 93rd birthday, the first Indian to win the Pritzker Prize shares with us some inspiring anecdotes on the role architecture plays in the time-space paradigm, and why it is important to keep the childlike spirit of discovery.

BV Doshi in conversation with Amit Gupta, Founder and Editor-in-Chief, STIRworld at Sangath, Ahmedabad, India | BV Doshi | STIRworld
BV Doshi in conversation with Amit Gupta, Founder and Editor-in-Chief, STIRworld at Sangath, Ahmedabad, India Image: Kavan Solanki

In an attempt to trace back the impact his work has created in India and the world over, we journey through his retrospective exhibition that has been travelling across the world since 2014. Curated by Khushnu Panthaki Hoof, Doshi’s granddaughter, the first exhibition that displayed his work in its entirety was Celebrating Habitat: The Real, The Virtual & The Imaginary, at the National Gallery of Modern Art in New Delhi (2014), further travelling to the Power Station of Art in Shanghai, China in 2017.

‘Celebrating Habitat: The Real, the Virtual & the Imaginary’ exhibited at the Power Station of Art Museum in Shanghai, China in 2017| BV Doshi | STIRworld
Celebrating Habitat: The Real, the Virtual & the Imaginary exhibited at the Power Station of Art Museum in Shanghai, China in 2017 Image: Courtesy of Vastu Shilpa Foundation

After Doshi was awarded with the most highly coveted honour for an architect - the Pritzker Architecture Prize in 2018, the exhibition was renamed as Balkrishna Doshi: Architecture for the People, and was exhibited at the Vitra Design Museum in Rhein, Germany; Architecture Museum in Munich and most recently at Architekturzentrum Wien in Austria (May 29-June 29, 2020). Doshi’s first exhibition in the US will open on September 9, 2020, at the Wrightwood 659 museum in Chicago.

‘Balkrishna Doshi: Architecture for the People’ exhibited at the Architecture Museum in Munich, Germany | BV Doshi | STIRworld
Balkrishna Doshi: Architecture for the People exhibited at the Architecture Museum in Munich, Germany Image: Courtesy of Vastu Shilpa Foundation

STIR speaks with Hoof, the curator of the exhibition as she puts together the work of her grandfather for the world to see, admire and get inspired.

Meghna Mehta (MM): The journey of this project started in 2014. Can you tell us how exhibiting at the various venues over the years was a unique experience each time?

Khushnu Panthaki Hoof (KPF): The exhibition was first convinced and designed specifically for the National Gallery of Modern Art in New Delhi in 2014. In order to make it interactive and connect to a larger audience and not just architects, I decided to build full-scale interactive installations that the visitor could walk into and around. But rather than going ahead and just replicating the spaces, I decided to show them, in fragments, with varying scales (some complete, some incomplete), like various stages of the process - conceptual, design methodology and building techniques. The careful assemblage of installations narrates Doshi’s approach as a dialogue between the visitor and the space, movement and pause-through-chance encounters, play of scale and proportion, collaborative practice and technical juxtaposition as well as his constant search to find an appropriate vocabulary for the architecture in India. These installations become the anchor points in the exhibition.

‘Balkrishna Doshi: Architecture for the People’ exhibited at the Vitra Design Museum, Rhein, Germany | BV Doshi | STIRworld
Balkrishna Doshi: Architecture for the People exhibited at the Vitra Design Museum, Rhein, Germany Image: Norbert Miguletz

From 2014 to 2020, the exhibition has been shown at six venues in six countries across three continents. The space of each museum has been very peculiar, ranging from a gallery with columns at NGMA in New Delhi (2014), a free large rectangular space seven meter high at Power Station of Art in Shanghai’s renovated Nashi Power Plant (2017), Frank Gehry’s Vitra Design Museum (2019) with a strong architectural presence, a linear gallery with one point of entry and exit at the architecture museum at Pinakothek der Moderne in Munich, ancient royal stables turned into a museum in Vienna and now at Wrightwood 659 in Chicago, which is designed by Tadao Ando.

‘Balkrishna Doshi: Architecture for the People’ soon to open at the recently rehabilitated Wrightwood 659 by Tadao Ando in Chicago, USA | BV Doshi | STIRworld
Balkrishna Doshi: Architecture for the People soon to open at the recently rehabilitated Wrightwood 659 by Tadao Ando in Chicago, USA Image: Jeff Goldberg, Courtesy of Wrightwood 659

The content of the travelling exhibition remains constant, while the venue, its constraints and architectural vocabulary become the guiding principles of exhibition design. Moreover, every venue has had its own unique character and the most crucial part has always been to understand the existing space and try to create an experience within it to perceive the spatial nuances of Doshi’s work. This approach to instigate non-linear movement, spark chance encounters by slowing down time, and stimulate dialogue was realised by creating passages and openings, by placement of models, by juxtaposing small and large photographs together and most importantly, creating a spatial landscape with the full-scale installations while generating a conversation with the existing space.

The first exhibition held at National Gallery of Modern Art, New Delhi in 2014 | BV Doshi | STIRworld
The first exhibition held at National Gallery of Modern Art, New Delhi in 2014 Image: Vinay Panjwani

MM: The responses for the work must have been unique in each of the locations. Is there any particular memory or anecdote you would like to share?

KPH: The responses have been overwhelming at each location. From the number of visitors to messages from other professionals. It has been humbling and way beyond my expectations. On the exhibition curation and design, one of the most rewarding and encouraging words were from Marina Tabassum when she sent across a text message saying that the design of the exhibition transported her back to India and if she ever does have a retrospective, she would love to have me work on it. That was a very touching compliment from someone I deeply admire. Also receiving a message from Jasper Morrison admiring the exhibition design is something that I cherish. Peter Rich after visiting the exhibition in Shanghai sent me an email saying he cried with joy and pride, which was very moving.

  • ‘Balkrishna Doshi: Architecture for the People’ exhibited at Architekturzentrum Wien, Austria | BV Doshi | STIRworld
    Balkrishna Doshi: Architecture for the People exhibited at Architekturzentrum Wien, Austria Image: Lisa Rastl, Courtesy of Architekturzentrum Wien
  • ‘Balkrishna Doshi: Architecture for the People’ held at Vitra Design Museum designed by Frank Gehry | BV Doshi | STIRworld
    Balkrishna Doshi: Architecture for the People held at Vitra Design Museum designed by Frank Gehry Image: Norbert Miguletz

MM: In a post-pandemic world, travelling exhibits may become rare in near future. What, according to you, is the way forward for the creative community?

KPH: I feel in the last months our minds have de-cluttered and our focus, interests and instincts have become much stronger. There is a sense of renewed energy to rediscover, innovate and design with a deep-rooted realisation of ourselves and empathy for the world around us. This pandemic has shrunk the world - while physical distances have increased, social and virtual distances have drastically reduced, accessibility to information has increased manifold.

‘Celebrating Habitat: The Real, the Virtual & the Imaginary’ held in Shanghai in 2017 | BV Doshi | STIRworld
Celebrating Habitat: The Real, the Virtual & the Imaginary held in Shanghai in 2017 Image: Courtesy of Vastu Shilpa Foundation

Now we can sit in the comfort of our homes and attend live talks anywhere in the world. Exposure has heightened through virtual walkthroughs of exhibitions that we would not have had the chance to visit.

Khushnu Panthaki Hoof (second from left) and BV Doshi (second from right) with visitors to the exhibition at the Vitra Design Museum in Germany in 2019| BV Doshi | STIRworld
Left to right: Mateo Kries (Director of Vitra Design Museum), Khushnu Panthaki Hoof, Rolf Felhbaum (Founder Emeritus Vitra Design Museum), Balkrishna Doshi, Philip Kurz (Owner of Wüstenrot Stiftung, the exhibition's primary sponsor) Image: Courtesy of Vastu Shilpa Foundation

I personally feel that the kind of exhibitions that will be seen in the future will in fact talk about humanity and achievements in a much more holistic and integral way. There might actually be an increase in the number of travelling exhibitions post pandemic, considering this spurt of awareness.

Click here to watch the film series 'Doshi'.

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