Rough transcript

Kedar: So, sir, I have come up with five questions, and these are mainly to understand your philosophy, your thought process, and whatever you can share for this special 100th episode of Audio Again. So the first thing which I want to ask you is what's your philosophy or ideology while designing? For example, I just researched Lori Baker, who works for cost effective or energy efficient architecture, say Charles Korea, who's celebrated for its sensitivity to the needs of urban poor. So, yeah, in short, what does design as a philosophically, what does it mean to you?

Doshi: For me, design is celebrations. Because when you do design, you're already designing something with lot of optimism. And your optimism talks about the way you live, the way you think, the way you work, the way you talk, or the way you transact life. And I think design is not a straight jacketed thing, okay? For example, I don't know how our human beings are designed. Would you say they are designed or they have evolved? I think those would become the question. Second, is the design then so comprehensive that it can tackle any problem, any situation, any condition, continuously grow, continuously evolve and continuously recharge everything around. For example, if you take a human being and his habitat, but you take habitat little later. But if you take human being, how come that human being has been evolved so much that now he thinks that he can replace God in terms of design? So that kind of ability is design has design is not. Because I think in design you are talking of navarasas, you talk of dance, you talk of music, you talk of theater, you talk of prayers, you talk of creating gods, you talk of stories. No. Therefore, design is not really a straight jacketed, isolated thing. So when you design, when I design anything, I look at all this that how would I create things which would be alive, which would become alive, or which would tickle the senses of anybody who experiences that?

If that doesn't happen, I think that design is not there, it is still born. So for me, design is planting a little sapling in the house with a dream. So in ten years time it becomes really a big blossoming flower and it gives you something that you had never expected. So design goes beyond expectation. Design is constantly evolving. Design is ongoing process of surprise elements. For example, if you see a river and flowing river and it is silent and suddenly you sit there and the reflection is there and you just put a little stone. And when the ripples happen, that image, which was still now taken a different pattern and something had happened, was that image changed itself and it got you something more than what you had expected. So design combines mediums, design combines elements and design creates dynamic, enchanting experiences from very static, stable situations. To me, that is design. It is all the time alive and all the time giving you something. Let's take this glass. And if I say the glass was designed properly and supposing there was a little bend in the middle and then the water was there and it took a different shape. And slowly when you drink it and if it was a color water and you saw the whole glass changing. So design also transforms. Design adds a new dimension to a situation for which it is put in. When you wear a clothes, when you wear your shirts and jackets and whatnot your personality changes.

So it is a proactive process. Design is not something which is very, very limited, unlimited thing which changes your quality of sensations and gives you some unexpected message, either joyous or sad or depressing or gives you something which you are not thought of.

I think to me that is design. So design really is life creating life.

Kedar: Brilliant. The Pritzker jury announced that you have always created an architecture that is serious and never flashy or trendy as such. So what could be the secret behind it? I mean, just to elaborate on the same philosophical question of what does design mean to you?

Doshi: When I designed and when I designed a chair, then I would like to design a chair where a man is sitting or person is sitting and is comfortable, but the moment he is sitting there, suddenly something happens to him and he begins to relax slowly he sinks into this. When he sinks into this, that is not all chairs do.

But if you had used maybe leather, if you had used a cushion, so you're added at another dimension from what normally stands. Secondly, when you hold your hands and when you put your hand on a hand rest or when you put your back very comfortably then I think your thoughts begin to change, your ideas begin to change. You look around in a very different way because your spine, your body, your muscles are acting and giving you a sense of comfort, sense of softness so that triggers thoughts. So when I design I try to think that if I design a building or if I design an entrance or if I enter even any place would it change the thought of that person? Would it give him something which he had not anticipated? That is my process but it has.

Kedar: To always be in a very grander scale or it could be very small things?

Doshi: It can be extremely small. It can be extremely small. When I did those poor houses my design was to empower them. So what is empowering? Empowering is the person who has nothing and suddenly somebody gives him a hope. So the moment he has hope he gets excited correct? Then moment he is excited if there is a plinth given to him with a water tap and a kitchen or toilet area and electric current suddenly his wife would say that well why don't we really have something to do and why don't we go and work and get some money? Now new ideas have come, hope has come, enthusiasm come and now they want to be independent. So design also gives you choices to be yourself which are dormant within you. So it awakens. So that is the other thing that I try to do correct that if you get into a space do you get enlightened? Do you feel happy? And you go to somebody's house and suddenly there's a window and you see nice landscape which you had not noticed before while talking and if you saw your eyes go there you say my God, how beautiful the trees. So it has added conversation. New conversation starts happening. So everything that I do is I try to create dialogues, I try to expose images, I try to give them an opening for remembering or recreating or discovering the hidden things which are within them and this is the way I make my plans. Every plan that I make I walk around that plan and I think about how that person who is going to walk around where will he sit, what will happen, what kind of dialogue will happen? It may not happen, it may happen. But the whole idea is isn't the design which has to trigger the emotion? No but the underlying silently hidden inner emotions which begin to get him something else which he had not thought. And then stories happen, memories come correct associations come. Oh I remember I saw that in that place and I think that's very much like this what you are saying because I had seen such a tree there. So you begin to reconnect with your life past, present, future and the moment you do that the space that building was there. But now that building has become alive. Because in that space it happened. Like you are sitting here and there's no window but the way the light comes here.

And when you see these little shadows, doesn't it make you feel different suddenly? And you will see the change in the sunlight. You will see the movement of the sun and you will see if the clouds came. You know there's a cloud. I can talk about the sky sitting in this room and in closed space.

So this is really what I do whenever I design. I like to dream a story or a myth or something about life. So that I have done my job of creating. It is not a box, it is not a static thing. It is not lifeless. So when you make a little step, you make one step, half a step or you make three steps I think the body posture tells something else. And when there is no step and you just walk through, psychologically you feel equal. If you walk four steps, then you find that that gentleman or a lady or whosoever is standing there looks down upon you. Your relationship changes. If the door is wider suddenly you begin to feel oh, I am not in a very small house. And if the door is very high, you feel my God, how nice this place is. It looks like a grand space. So I imagine all this. Can you give them something which she normally is not available? So design also makes it exclusive way of observing, experiencing and discovering ideas for the other person to come. So design is also dialogue. So my buildings are always have a dialogue. They have a dialogue with the land, they have a dialogue with space, they have a dialogue with climate, they have a dialogue with the cosmos. And then they have also dialogue with your inner colleagues. A room is there without seats and a room has a permanent seat. There a bench, a room has a chalpoi and a bed underneath tucked in. Or a room has a niche and there is a little God of God or idol or a photograph of an actor or somebody you river. Aren't those elements create dialogues? So where is the room? So design is not a dry thing. Design is a creation of unimaginably lyrical situations.

Kedar: If you see all the landscapes or all the cities have started looking same like example Pune would look like a Bombay or Pune would look like a Belgaum. Also for that matter, they are same steel flyovers. They are same class buildings. So have spaces become more inclusive or more like, as you mentioned, the steps and the person looks differently to you. So what are your thoughts overall around why our spaces started to look the same? First question and to follow up that is that what is the role of architect architects when they are designing these structures?

Doshi: I think if we are human and if you are a poet, I think he would always look at good things and try to do that. And he would like to create his dream and that is how dreams are made. So if he was becoming an architect or architect who is a poet, he would look at things very differently. So he would try to invent something which will give joy, which will give sense of stories or sense of life, sense of activities and sense of cohesion between the place and the surrounding. So when we see now these bridges, when we see these steel structures, when we see these glass towers, it is also done by the architects. So are they really architects at all, or poets or even poets or anybody at all? Somebody who is very sensitive? No, they are the merchants of life. Merchant who is going out and selling things. He doesn't care. So you can judge an architect from what he gives, contributes to the society or the city or to the place. If that architect himself is not a right person, then he has no right to call himself like this. Because he's not creating anything. He's giving a product and product which is insensitive to the place. A product which doesn't have any regard to what people would feel, whether they would feel chaotic, whether they would food orderly, whether they would food joyous, whether they would like to really feel yes, I am now in a better place. So we don't think about it. The client don't think about it. Or people who want to have it don't think about it because they are only interested in supplying a demand which is normally given at a third rate. Thought. If you go to a good restaurant, maybe somebody sensitive restaurant, and you go there and you go to our lodge, and then you go to this Kanawa other place at a restaurant, they serve you in a wrong dish. They give you quickly somebody standing behind waiting to eat. And in another place you go and he takes you to that little place, one small corner, but there's a nice tree and there are pebbles and there's a little water tap and the water is dripping. I think there's a difference. Difference is very obvious.

And this is what we are doing, I think no education in architecture talks about good quality of life. They don't talk about the joy of living. They don't talk about joy of sharing. They don't talk about that there is a world which is outside the building which is far superior and beautiful, but they don't want to bring it inside. So they have denied raw sun, they have denied rain, they have denied wind, they have denied everything, which is really life, nourishing? And we are giving that to the people because I'm not going to be bothered about it. Whether it is a Borg or not, what does it matter? So this is the way our approach has been. We are disconnected from the project for which we are assigned and we don't even think who are the users, we don't even think that what kind of things the next generation is going to have. So we from the idea of higher sensibility, we are gradually going through our education and practice and acceptance because of survival, we are giving people something which is degrading, mediocre, agonizing and gradually allowing them to be intoxicated by depression.

Kedar: So do you think is there any innovation happened for the people who are lower in the pyramid? For example, like when there is a big structure being made, big building being made, there are still those poor people who pick up the brakes, who put the cement together. And do architectures have to be sensitive to that as well? That how are they working?

Doshi: Our ancestors were much more sensitive if they made a WADA or if they made a fort or if they made a marketplace, they thought that I'm going to give them market that they want, but I will give them something that they would like and they would linger there and they would do something and they want to frequent. And the next generation would also feel that. And slowly they will become my heritage and my symbols of my understanding of what culture is. So are we really talking about culture or building should be together? No, if you talk culture, building will come. But if you talk about building, culture won't come.

Kedar: But ideally it should come, right?

Doshi: Yes, but because in our thought it is not there. Unless you were thinking about culture all the time.

So in education we'll follow the curriculum correct. But we follow the curriculum without any idea it is a product. So our education is product oriented, our life is product oriented, our practice is product oriented. So what do you get?

Kedar: Product.

Doshi: So we are becoming robots, we are becoming crude robots, not even gentle, beautiful robots.

Kedar: So do you think this architect should think about that lower level of people who are working there?

Doshi: There is no lower or upper level. All beings are the same. People are still you don't need machineries. Our ancestors building, which were done without any machinery, if you see all the varas which have been built by people, all the streets which have been built with wooden structure and mud, walls and verandas and balconies and everything. They were done by people who were sensitive to life. They loved life, they loved resources, they loved what was available to them and they made it beautiful. So that you can see the virtue of those little wooden pieces in our culture. All the waste product of the wood I have seen which was used in making the doors and all those beadings and all those things happened and the door became very beautiful. How was it done? By somebody, a carpenter or a skillful person? Not necessarily. But he was so happy that he says, I will do this and I will add something to it. So what we should live about, what we talk about is what are the ways to celebrate life? What are the ways to give? How do we give design which will heighten our awareness, like the music or literature or art does?

Or how our ancestors did? I think we don't do that.

Kedar: So the next one which I want to ask you is how has RCC changed lives of architects and designers? I mean, has it become more challenging or less challenging? Or is it because of RCC?

Doshi: The landscape have become the question, I think is not proper. Whether it is RCC or whether it is wood or whether it is mud. Creation has nothing to do with the limitations of that material. A good artist, a good creator would exploit that material and bring the most unusual thing out of that material and he would create out of that. And that is our culture and that has been our history. So if you go back to our temples, you go back to our Hawaii, if you go to the WADA, if you go and see the streets of all the stalks of towns that we are talking about, there are so many beautiful things. But today the architect is not seeing. They have become blind. We are now entering the kingdom of the blind people.

Because otherwise, why shouldn't there be a wrong thing if RCC comes in? What is wrong with taking RCC as another material? It has its own qualities. First of all, reinforce concrete. Cement. Concrete is a plastic material. It is like mud, which you get earth.

Only this is reinforced. Also, you are using others aggregate. But it is as plastic as the mud. Mud did not have the strength, but this one has a strength. You can use it in a very different way. You can mold it and make something baby square and not round. But that is your choice. You can go as much as possible, as high as possible, as thin as possible, which the mud was not giving or the stone was not giving or a brick was not giving.

Kedar: Now, but is this the reason why everything is looking flat now?

Doshi: No, because RCC we have never used fully. Look at the people who have done work outside India, in Japan, or even in Chandigarh and others, or what Korbiji has done, I think what Nervi has done, they have given you another graceful building, as if it is natural, it is beautiful, as beautiful as flowers they have given.

No, it is a sculptural. It is plastic, totally plastic, and it can be used in many, many ways. We have lost our imagination. We have lost our desire to challenge. We have lost our desire to say that, yes, what I am going to do will stay long.

The brain has been frozen.

Kedar: Sir, I first time came to your office here and saw this beautiful structure, and also it's called Vastu Shilpa Architect. So slightly digressing. And second, last question which I have you is what are your thoughts on Vastu Shastra in general? I know it's a very broad question and we can talk for more than 2 hours on this subject itself.

Doshi: No, I think first of all, anything, any rule, any dogma, of so called dogma, or any treatise which has been developed by our ancestors or somebody else, I think there must be some purpose. And if it has lasted long, that means it has much deeper purposes.

And then if it has been followed, and if it is historically followed by ancestors and others, then that means that it has a much greater, deeper understanding of how to live life and how to create, how to make it joyous. So Vastu Shastra is the science of environment. So if the science of environment is there, it is not something which is new. I have only discovered it today, but it was there long before. And in that environment, they talked about earth, they talked about water, they talked about sky, they talked about air, they talked about sun, everything they talked about. And they talked about how do I get breeze, how do I get ventilation, how do I feel comfortable, and how do I really create my place by which I can use all these natural which are not cyclical? They are all cyclical.

When the rains come and when the heavy runs come, and when there are no rains, but you look at the temple, the temple structure, the plinth is there, and suddenly the molding becomes shadow and you get a very different pattern as the sun changes. If it was raining, the water drops and then they create another kind of pattern. The other way is that if you look at it, otherwise, when you see the wind or when you see the leaf following on this, you begin to see how the slopes happen. So all those things were done by our ancestors, and they talked it with advasu. Vastu is environment. It is up to you how to use it. It is up to you to how to heighten its multifarious, infinite possibilities. It is not a static thing at all. Like for example, if you take a measuring rule, that rule is a rule tape. It is to measure. You can use it many ways, no?

So why we are all the time talking about a thing as if it is only doing uni-functional, limited, ecetera? In most of the questions we are talking about limited life, limited thought, limited action, limited definition. And that is why we are destroying our own sciences.

Kedar: I think nobody is really trying to abstract and see what is you don't.

Doshi: You don't have to abstract, you live life. It will come automatically. You don't need vasu shastra. If you look at the sun and the rain and everything else and do the building, it will follow vasu shastra.

So it is not made by outside, it is not made as something else. It is part of you. It is only a treatise for people who are curious, who are anxious to do good things, who are willing to give welfare to the society if they follow this. That any mistake or any disorientation might have happened will be less. So these sciences are there to improve life when there is perhaps something missing. So they are guidelines, they are actually extra. But you have your own source. So it is not the main science. It is like additional spices, additional fragrances.

Now, those are fragrances. How do you use? How do you lighten it? But first of all you ask, don't you have your own fragrance that we are not asking? So all the questions that we are talking about are without having any background, we have a prejudice that architecture, science, buildings, environment, everything is happening as if it is happening by somebody else who comes and dumps on it. We are foolish to accept it, which we don't want to accept. Our environment has we are responsible for the deterioration of our environment. We are using. We have never invented RCC was not invented by us. It was invented by others outside. And we don't know how to follow it. And so we blame RCC. How can you blame this?

So these are the kind of things first of all, you see what is your ability, what is your interest and how deep you are connected to the science of art or music or poetry or literature? We are not.

Kedar: Last question. It exactly narrows down to what we were discussing so far was I've slightly come up with a broader question, which is I'll come to later, but as per my knowledge, at least artists or designers say for example, Balgandharva used to.

Doshi: Say that 1 minute there's a difference between designer and designer, designer and artist. No. Anybody Balgandarva and another artist, there will be a large of difference. Correct. Why? Was he good?

Because he was hypersensitive. He lived life, he loved life and he wanted everybody to share that glory of that beautiful life. Whether it is a drama or whether it is a poetry or whether it is an acting correct. Whether he was a male or a female, whatever it is. You follow? So I think he gave what nature had given to him and that fragrance he spread.

Kedar: Now I want to understand the other side, say in his conversations also, or one more reference. Was there's one documentary which I saw Giro's dream of Sushi? So these artists are very sensitive to the environment they are in? Yes, because the environment, the appropriate surrounding enriched them. And that's how you become more sensitive to these things. So what would be your, like, just concluding to this conversation? Like, what would be your thoughts to how to enrich ourselves? Like you mentioned about being.

Doshi: If I had to enrich myself, my office has to be giving me dreams every day. When I come here, I should feel that I have come to a temple or a nice place. So one first thing is there has to be that enigma. What can we see? What will I see today? So, trees, flowers, water, body levels of the earth. In monsoon it becomes different. In summer it is different, in winter, it is different. In spring, it is different. Then fragrance, then shadows, then monkeys coming in, the birds coming in, bird drinking water. I think if I can see that, I feel relaxed. I feel so happy.

The moment I am happy, then I move into levels up and down of different heights and rises, heights of steps. And then I wander around and I sit there and I see the shadows, I see the sunlight and I see the beautiful things happening around. The third one is when I walk and if I don't walk straight, but I move meandering ways, I can go slowly or I can go fast. And suddenly I hear music. And I forgot that I am surrounded by street and noise. And if it is somebody who is known to me, the musician, then I go back in time and look at that, what happened. So I dream and I go back in time. And then when I come inside or outside, I see these changing light, changing places and unexpected moments. And then when I see these photographs, et cetera, I go back in history, in time and I go back to Italy, I go back to maybe Kashmir or I go back to some other place or Mogul era. And then I see those wonders and I all the time see how great those visionaries were who were talking about this, that. How do you live life? How do you rejoice life? And how do you make it part of you so that one day when you close your eyes, you will always remember. And while you are doing it, you will be smiling.

Kedar: Beautiful. I have experienced that personally when I came to this Sunglass complex. All right. I think. This is a good note to end this. I'm stunned to hear a lot of things, but given just the time frame you have and the time like generally we have, I think this is a good note to end this. Thank you, sir. Once again, thank you.

Doshi: Thanks for being here. I am very happy and I hope people would think about it. Those who listen to this would enjoy and create their own environment, correct? That they would cherish even.

Questions in this episode

  • What is your philosophy/ideology while designing? For eg., Laurie Baker worked on more cost-effective, energy-efficient architecture, Or Charles Correa is celebrated for his sensitivity to the needs of the urban poor. In short, what does the word “Design” Mean to you? The Pritzker jury announced that you have “always created an architecture that is serious, never flashy or a follower of trends”. What is the secret behind it?
  • What according to you is the reason that cities have started looking similar. Same flyovers, same glass, and steel buildings? Have spaces become more inclusive as we are evolving? What is the role of architects in giving character to these structures? And has there been any innovation to improve the working style of the people lower in the pyramid? Do you think architects should address these concerns?
  • How has RCC changed the lives of architects and designers? Has it become more challenging or less? How has the landscape changed because of RCC
  • What are your thoughts on Vastu Shashtra when it comes to architecture?
  • What according to you is the difference between good and great? To further ask this question, as per my knowledge, an artist or a designer should ensure that he or she is consuming the right content, be in an appropriate environment to nurture and grow artistic sensitivities. What is your take on it? How can one go about building their own styles?

About Prof. Balkrishna Doshi

Prof. Balkrishna Vithaldas Doshi (Born in 1927). I decided to mark this 50th episode with a living legend of design and architecture. Doshi sir is considered to be an important figure of South Asian architecture and noted for his contributions to the evolution of architectural discourse in India. His more noteworthy designs include the Indian Institute of Management Bangalore and the Aranya Low-Cost Housing development in Indore which was awarded the Aga Khan Award for Architecture. In 2018, he became the first Indian architect to receive the Pritzker Architecture Prize.

Doshi's work

Reference readings

  1. Doshi on Wikipedia
  2. Doshi on Archdaily
  3. Doshi on Dezeen
  4. Balkrishna Doshi, Modernist Indian Architect, Is Dead at 95
  5. Remembering B.V. Doshi
  6. Pritzker Prize
  7. Video of Doshi on Youtube
  8. Vastushilpa
  9. Balkrishna Doshi receives the 2022 Royal Gold Medal
  10. Architecture for the People
  11. Parsmedia Documentary
  12. Doshi Films by Hinterland