B. V. Doshi Lectures in New York

Seldom does one get to hear a renowned Indian architect lecture in New York. It is ironic considering that NYC is the cultural and art capital of the world and that architecture is the mother of all arts.

Yesterday was one such opportunity. One of foremost Indian architects of this generation, Balkrishna Doshi, lectured at the Center For Architecture, here in SOHO New York.

When one hears a lot of western architects, what jumps out is the polished and refined manner of lecturing. Every image, every slide and every animation is coordinated with the spoken word. Its a very professional performance, and may I add, a bit overwhelming.

That was not the case with Doshi. Here is an architect who has over the past 45 years been one of the torchbearers of a resurgent Indian architecture, post-Independance. His lecture was more a conversation, a discourse than an indoctrination. Lecturing and talking to people in this manner seems to have become a lost art. Doshi isone of the few practitioners. Of course it helps that he has the captivating method of delivery that comes naturally to academicians and educators.

He showed a rangeof projects from houses to institutions and townships. It was more in the range of a retrospective, than focussing on one particular project. Having seen a lot of his built work in my years as a student of architecture and later, I found it refreshing to hear him talk. The last time I had heard him was in Bombay in 1998.

His one comment that really stood out was that we architects are really too stuck up about the profession and that we take it way too seriously. We have lost the ability to have fun and enjoy what we are doing. I found this really intriguing, keeping in mind that in the crazy paced world of the architect especially here in NYC, there is hardly any time to enjoy.

His Bhuj Project….A Memorial to those who died in the earthquake, was interesting in its thought process, however I would love to see its realization and how it turns out in the years to come.

His frustration at the way business is conducted in India today and how the politician is still the ruler was a somber reminder that even with “India Shining” there are still things that need change and upheavel. The heartening fact is that it affects even the most prominent of architects, and hence younger ones should not get disheartened.

His observation about the power of architecture rang very true. While talking about his design for IIM Bangalore, he spoke about how students come back years later, and seek out their favourite hang out spaces. Or how past students reminisce about time spent in a certain area.

A very interesting observation was about how everything in architecture is temporary except one. He said that buildings come and go, but the only constant is the street. That especially in the Indian context is so true.

In response to an audience query about the lack of newer projects in his presentation, he was candid enough to say that he was not here to show too many projects In another query about the state of Indian cities and built architecture today, he stressed the importance of correct education to create a more educated responsible and socially responsible class of professionals. He urged the Indians in the crowd to come back to India, or at least get involved in the happenings there to create a better India.

I first heard Doshi lecture in my very first week of joining architecture school. This was at the CEPT Zonasa in Ahmedabad in Sept 1992. Since then I have had various opportunities to hear him speak. And everytime I walk away from each lecture, with a little more than what I knew going in. And this time was no different.

One Comment

  1. mahesh June 5, 2006

    Doshi Kaka’s conversational style is indeed almost a minor and (certainly a lost) art.
    But while it may be easy to claim that its pure familiarity that breeds contempt, that is not my submission.

    The very format inherently allows for digressions that (though at most times are interesting) do dilute the focus.
    And its certainly not the best strategy for a speaker when the audience has come to see a face off between two divergent ideas.
    I offer examples:
    Doshi kaka vs. Prof. Alagh (on Narmada dam economics)
    Doshi kaka vs. Surendra Patel; Chairman AUDA (on AUDA’s strategy vis-à-vis TP schemes implementation)

    Would I like Kaka to stop being himself; never!
    But then it won’t hurt to see (and hear) him once talk in a completely structured format 🙂

    Have not seen or heard him for almost 3 years now. Bless him.
    Cheers, Mahesh

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