Balkrishna Doshi-Peter Rich: An Encounter

On March 16, 2013, Peter Rich met Balkrishna Doshi at his house. Here is the interaction that followed.

Balkrishna Doshi: BD
Peter Rich: PR

BD: Corbusier talked to him in a different way. So then they came to talking about housing but housing was still was never considered as architecture. Because it never has that scale neither it had the prominence and of course, not the style. Because technology, the kind of articulation, the use of space, in the public realm is very different from private realm. Some are ritualistic, some are non-ritualistic; Private realm as no ritual.

PR: Yeah, yeah.

BD: Then comes architecture. And then, we teach in architecture. So, in ’62, we started talking about architecture and when went to the village, the house was not even there. Krishna Shastri was one of my first students to meet this club. So we were talking about now housing, and so here she is talking about the four people and the house is not there. (missing)

Ok, now we talk about the building typology and no more life.

PR: Yeah

BD: Ok, then you are still drawing, you are still drawing with your hand. Now they were measuring, they were looking and they were calculating. Hands, eyes, body, sense, everything was working, because you sketch. – because you think. Then now, they have the machine.  In that machine, they don’t have to do anything. First of all, your focus has changed, all your organs have numbed down and now only your brain is working.

PR: In a white space…

BD: And it is that now you are only writing a number and the line will only stop when you have written that number. And it has no scale. And no relation.

PR: No scale, you can go boom, boom, boom…

BD: And when you go to details, you can focus only on a part and the total disappears. So today, they have almost become…not much, robots are still better. They have become like that where they are hardly sensitive about anything. So what has happened? The span of understanding, the span of looking at distances has totally blurred. And so when you talk of architecture now in that kind of a sense the only thing left is what somebody says architecture is, is architecture for you. And the life is not there at all. And life is not there, so there is no story. And if there is no story, there is no memory, there is no association.

PR: This time last year, I was in Italy, and I spent a day with Palladio. And, I had a doctoral student who really hadn’t (missing) who took me around and showed me, he said that the Quattro Libri of Palladio was done much later in a perfect way …

BD: Of course.

PR: But I am going to take you to buildings whereas an architect, he had to deal with imperfections and he had no money so he had to use theatre and he had to improvise and it is much more interesting that the Quattro Libri because it deals with life.

BD: You see, Corbusier taught me because I did not know French, I had no background of architecture, like a child. He would sit here. He would come on my table, I would get up, I would stand here; He would sit on my stool, on the table and then he would have his colour pencils, and others, yellow tracing paper and he would say, ‘Now, let’s see..’. He would draw the line, clear line, ‘So, now we go here, and now here is your place, and where will you move…where will you move? Here?’ Then again, he will draw something and would say, ‘Now in the section, here is the man and the building,…Oh!, you have birds in the city, no? Ahmedabad, also birds…’ So he would draw a bird there but the birds fly in the house so he will draw one in the house and outside.

PR: And monkeys.

BD: I learnt architecture like that.

PR: Fantastic, fantastic.

BD: My architecture learning is very different. So I am not knowledgeable.

PR: That’s what I said to the Nepalese man this morning. You done the typology, you need to do the life of the village. You need to show the villager how they occupy the space. It needs to start living.

BD: Old civilization is eco-friendly, and technologically sound within itself.

PR: Yes.

BD: Recent civilisation is developed in Europe, well-settled but it is a European thing. The USA is a new society, scattered and its only priority is economy. Time is money.

PR: Yes

BD: Now, when the new one is imitated, like Singapore and Malaysia, and what is happening in India is similar.

PR: Yeah

BD: Then, if you look at it, the tools which are used today – the computer connects individually but in silence…

PR: Yeah…That’s geometry…?

BD: No, globally, and silent. Because you are working with, you know, a self-occupied, home office. You are alone.

PR: Yeah

BD: Environmentally, it is static. And, we are not concerned about its consequences. Because, there is no physical and public contact.

There is no movement, no physical contact, and no variation in your lifestyle, it’s a static thing. Machine, huh? So what it does, it eliminates society…which is very different from the old city square,…where you bargain, you lose sense of time, or any measure of place. And, in this society which is individual, tools have become very important, not the ideas. Ok? Then, you come to this, in reality, actually, what it is one should be is wellness society.

PR: Yeah

BD: You must be yourself, with body, mind and spirit and activities must lead to celebrations. Hmmm?

PR: Yeah

BD: So, ancient culture was like that which was holistic. Deep-rooted, it was psychosomatic sensibilities, …in our behavior pattern.

PR: Yeah

BD: And then, what it meant was, education, culture, technology, and resources were all part of the habitat. Hmmm?

PR: Yeah

BD: In which energy, time were part and parcel of that sustainability.

PR: We doing those 3000 houses in East Africa. Africans have always lived with a house and piece of land – the head specs. And they have got banks & developers who have come on board from South Africa, and they do just this. Its driven economically, they don’t understand the market, they want to do only what they know which is just single houses but the density has to be over a 100 which means you got to go to shared walls.

BD: Yes

PR: But they are scared to go there. What they don’t do is that they don’t interrogate what the people need. They distance themselves from what the people need. Because it is driven entirely by economic returns.

BD: That’s right

PR: In fact, it has no business serving the needs of the people. And, we have a city that’s saying we don’t want gated suburbs, we want an economic mix because it is what we are used to and this is first generation urban people. So what you are saying is absolutely correct.

BD: No, but this is what one has to talk about you know.

PR: Yes, you got to talk about it. You got to talk about it to your developer.

BD: That’s right. Also, to your students & professionals.

PR: Also, to your students & professionals.

BD: Because, they are really not following this.

PR: No…and they are falling into a trap.

BD: Nobody is interested in the other half.

PR: Yeah, nobody.

BD: Nobody. You tell me in this conference how many people talked about the other half.

PR: Yeah, yeah.

BD: Hardly any talking…I mean Bombay, 60 per cent is slums.

PR: Yes, yes.

BD: Biggest slums of the world are there. People are living in nothing in a way. You can’t find a house for anybody, you know, like you…you want to stay in a flat, you can’t. Where will you find the money? So you only go these poor as paying guests.

PR: You got the city of – to provide housing for down the pyramid, not at the bottom but just halfway and the developer says, ‘ I only know how to do this’.

You have to take the lead because what’s happening is…what’s happening in Africa at the moment, the developed world don’t have work so they sit and earn their money where they are and they come and do these little jewels and then they get patted on the back for being socially aware…they are not socially aware.

BD: No magazine publishes anything to do with the common man.

PR: No, they don’t.

BD: No, it is because it is architecture no? Capital A.

That is the problem…






Leave a Comment

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.