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Balkrishna V. Doshi: What is Architecture?
Balkrishna V. Doshi: What is Architecture?
Video Transcript

BALKRISHNA V. DOSHI: Architecture is not ‘building’; it is not a built form, but it is actually life itself.

ARIC CHEN: Do you mind talking about Le Corbusier . . .

DOSHI: Le Corbusier’s work was nation-building. I followed Le Corbusier in many, many ways. And I remember that Le Corbusier comes with a little file like this, a folder, yellow folder. And on one side, the programme is written: ‘Mill Owners’ Association, conference [room] for sixty’. I had to do a conference room, and Le Corbusier comes, and he talks about [how] ‘when people come, they move like this . . . so maybe it’s here . . . but where is the speaker? So, the speaker is here . . . then there are people sitting here . . . maybe somebody doesn’t want to sit and see, there’s a window here . . . and then they sit like this . . . and then there’s a column . . .’ and then he makes it like this. And so, I learned how one creates things one by one in a sequence.

[If] you are having your own identity, if you want to be what you are, and if you know what Indian aesthetics is, then find a contemporary version of that. Then you’re already doing something. You’re already creating your own ways of expression.

CEPT campus is a free campus. So, you have students, so you put [in] tables, and you make a plan. Then the ‘doors’[windows] must open fully; there is no air conditioning. So, I made three bays. The middle bay is small, and I had to put a toilet there and a staircase there. And I was thinking that if I am there and my teachers are there, and they’re having kaapi, they were going there for tea, and I want to catch them, so I should be able to stand in the balcony above the staircase and call them. So, then, you can always look at trees. There are, there are mango trees, forty mango trees. Every mango tree which was dying because of vibrations, I planted a neem tree. So, the tree[s] is very, very important. And there was a lower level, and the other was [a] higher level. So, if you combine the levels, you automatically get steps, and you’ll get those double heights, and not likely you got disconnection. This is really how the sectioning was. So, it was a juxtaposition of these . . . several ideas of surprises.

Actually, design comes from memories. Any design. Your background and your memories. Should things look like what we think they should? Second, do you really need to go the same straight way? Third one is that if you want, how do you get such beautiful light? [The] fourth one is, can I get the impression of the whole city? So, it's a truly mélange of many things which came up here. This is really an assembly of my memories.

Then I discovered that the best light is reflected light, like what you have now. Where you don’t get a hard shadow and the face or anything that you see looks very beautiful. So, [the] most important thing is: ‘How do we get that light which is bouncing light, and can that light bounce on the walls and then create a glow of light?’ And that is what I have tried in most of my buildings. So, in order to do that, then you’re also articulating volumes of apertures into the volume, and the moment you do that, then your space begins to change.

[The Gufa] So, it’s a really a place of what you can call ‘experiential architecture’. Pure experience of light, space, form, [and] structure. I remember going to the stone caves where you go below ground and you get little light, and you crawl there. And there’s a nice sensation of space, semi-dark. Or, when you went to the stepwell, you went right down there was a very different sensation that you get. So, this is what was underground. The other thing was breaking all the rules: ‘The floor has to be flat’, ‘the wall has to be staid’, ‘the window has to be proper’, and I said, ‘I will not do that at all’. It took me two years to conceive the building, which has no definition. It's a fluid building. There are all the myths about the… ancient… Sheshnag, you know, the tortoise, other things are below, you know. And they are waiting for the cosmos to communicate. So if the signal come they will rise. So that is how that cobra is and, uh, then those China mosaic.

So, what is architecture? Architecture is not a building. Architecture is a fluid symphony of spaces and light, and volume.

The late Balkrishna Vithaldas Doshi (1927—2023) was one of the most significant Indian architects of the twentieth century. Recipient of the 2018 Pritzker Architecture Prize, Doshi saw architecture as a dynamic and evolving practice that has the potential to enrich and transform lives, offering a means of expression, not solely about the physical form, but also about the underlying ideas, intentions, and meanings embedded within it.

Under the tutelage of the Swiss-French architect, urban planner, and designer, Le Corbusier, Doshi cultivated a meticulous approach to his architectural practice. The two would work together on The Mill Owners’ Association project in Ahmedabad and the planning and design of the city of Chandigarh, India.

The exterior of Mill Owners’ Association Building, Ahmedabad, India. Trees line the walkways.

Mill Owners’ Association Building, Ahmedabad, India

One of Doshi’s notable designs is the CEPT campus, an academic institution located in Ahmedabad. The campus is designed to promote natural ventilation and foster interaction by creating a free-flowing space without imposing doors. Doshi’s dedication to integrating nature into the campus design is exemplified by his meticulous placement of trees throughout the premises. In describing the campus, Doshi has said, ‘There were 30 to 40 mango trees on the site which have been replaced by neem trees. There were guava trees. I had imagined the students would eat the fruits for lunch. One should feel like one is in a garden. People should climb the trees.’[1]

A student walks on a stairwell connecting different floors within the CEPT campus.

CEPT University, Ahmedabad, India

Doshi’s unique approach to design is evident in the Amdavad Ni Gufa, an underground gallery housing the works of artist M. F. Husain. With this project, Doshi rejected tradition and embraced fluidity, creating an experiential space where light, form, and structure converge. The Amdavad Ni Gufa’s design was inspired by underground caves and stepwells, it is here where Doshi employs reflected light to create a soft, ethereal glow, underscoring the central role light has in his designs.

The Amdavad Ni Gufa building features dome-like structures that intersect the ground-level and an underground interior, creating a unique architectural design.

Amdavad Ni Gufa

Doshi considered architecture to be more than just rigid definitions. In his view, architecture is a symphony that blends spaces, light, and volume. By means of his designs, he establishes a link between nature and architecture, representing a connection with life itself and serving as a medium for human experience.

Video Credits

Produced by



Kun Kong Wing Vision


Veronica Kuk

M+ Curatorial Research

Aric Chen

M+ Video Producer

Ling Law

M+ Text Editing

LW Lam, Amy Leung

Special Thanks

Balkrishna V. Doshi, Chris Sullivan, Mimi Cheung, Kenji Wong

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