Balkrishna Doshi becomes first Indian to win both Royal Gold Medal and Pritzker Prize

Celebrated architect, 94, has completed more than 100 projects across his seven-decade career

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Indian architect Balkrishna Doshi was given the Royal Gold Medal by the Royal Institute of British Architects in a ceremony on Tuesday.

The celebrated architect, 94, has become one of the few to have been awarded two of the world’s most coveted architectural awards: the Royal Gold Medal and the Pritzker Architecture Prize, often hailed as the Nobel Prize of architecture, which he won in 2018.

Doshi is the only person from India to be bestowed with both accolades.

Across his seven-decade career, Doshi has completed more than 100 projects, most of which were public institutions in India, including libraries, schools and art centres.

However, he is best known for his dedication to providing affordable housing in his native country. His most famous projects include the Life Insurance Corporation Housing in Ahmedabad, which he designed in the early 1970s, and the Aranya Low Cost Housing in Indore, which was completed in 1989.

The president of the Royal Institute of British Architects, Simon Allfold, flew to Doshi’s home in Ahmedabad to confer the Royal Gold Medal, as the architect could not travel to London to receive the award owing to health issues.

“Doshi had never formally studied architecture, so he learnt architecture from his family and from two great architects: Le Corbusier and Louis Kahn,” Allford told Indian media during a press conference at Doshi’s residence. “What he has done in his 70-year-old career is make architecture as a great generosity, not only accommodating life but also skilful enough, clever enough to have an identity to people who continues to adapt and enjoy architecture. He has developed philosophy of architecture as a living organism not a design object.”

Doshi said being awarded the Royal Gold Medal is one of the most memorable moments of his career, particularly because he recalls the excitement his mentor, Swiss-French architect Charles-Edouard Jeanneret, known as Le Corbusier, felt when he was given the award in 1953. Other recipients of the award include Sir David Adjaye, the late Dame Zaha Hadid, Frank Gehry and Frank Lloyd Wright. Indian architect Charles Correa also won the award in 1984.

"I am pleasantly surprised and deeply humbled to receive the Royal Gold Medal from the Queen of England. What a great honour," Doshi said during the press conference. "The news of this award brought back memories of my time working with Le Corbusier in 1953 when he had just received the news of getting the Royal Gold Medal. I vividly recollect his excitement on receiving this honour.

"Today, six decades later, I feel truly overwhelmed to be bestowed with the same award as my guru, Le Corbusier, honouring my six decades of practice. I would like to express my heartfelt gratitude to my wife, my daughters and most importantly, my team and collaborators at Sangath, my studio.”

Doshi was born in 1927 to an extended family of furniture manufacturers. He studied at the JJ School of Architecture in Mumbai, before working with Le Corbusier in Paris as a senior designer in the early 1950s. He then travelled back to India to supervise Le Corbusier’s projects in Ahmedabad, including the Mill Owners’ Association Building and the Villa Sarabhai.

Doshi said while he was expected to get into the family furniture business, his move to architecture was instinctive and inspired by watching his grandfather's house expand and adapt to his growing family.

"That growing house made an impact on me," he said. "The staircases that go across and the mohalla where you meet across and talk to people in balconies and the communities… I was interested in the community and cultural life and its impact on buildings."

Doshi established his own practice, Vastushilpa, in 1956 with two other architects. The architectural firm, which focuses on residential projects, is today one of the most esteemed in India with five partners and more than 60 employees. The firm also collaborated with famed US architect Louis Kahn to build the Indian Institute of Management in Ahmedabad in 1962.

Updated: May 11, 2022, 12:04 PM