Balkrishna Doshi
Courtesy VSF; The Pritzker Architecture Prize Balkrishna Doshi

Yesterday morning in the United States, when the announcement went out that the 2018 Pritzker Architecture Prize had been awarded to India’s Balkrishna Doshi, Hon. FAIA, it was already late evening at the architect’s office in Ahmedabad. ARCHITECT spoke with him early the next morning, where news of the 90-year-old architect’s new global status was still sinking in.

Congratulations! How does it feel to be the most famous architect in the world?
Doshi: [laughs] What can I say? When you practice for 70 years and you get such news, it’s beyond surprise, and a joyous moment.

India is the second most populous country, but it’s taken 40 years to be recognized by the Pritzker Prize. How important is it to be the first architect from India to win the award?
I started a school of architecture in India in 1962. I thought architecture in India would be a pioneering thing, but not much happened. This award will trigger the momentum that started 55 years ago. It’s very significant for us, for our country, and also for creating a new generation to imagine what India can do, in terms of planning, and urbanization, housing, quality of life, etc. Those issues can now come out in the forefront.

You worked with Le Corbusier in the 1950s and Louis Kahn in the 1960s. What were their influences on you as an architect?
Le Corbusier’s influence was to look at the world completely fresh—like a child. Kahn talked to me about the spirit being real, the unmeasurable. This spiritual context was important for me. [They were] two different people from two different backgrounds, trying to search: What is the meaning of life, what is the meaning of habitat, and what is the meaning of architecture, as well as history?

Courtesy VSF; The Pritzker Architecture Prize Indian Institute of Management by Louis Kahn and Vastushilpa Consultants

What did you learn through practice that you hadn’t learned in school?
I did not learn much in school, because I left halfway. What I learned from my grandfather was very important. [He taught me that] space molds life and we mold space—and both create the world in which we live, which is very different from the school masters. If we can create something that can celebrate life, then we have done our purpose as an architect.

How do you approach a project?
The first thing I always ask: Is it a sustainable thing? We work with local techniques, with local crafts, and uncertainties of finance. I try to pull them together and create something else. These uncertainties become great opportunities. Experimentations became my habit. Every time there is a circumstance that is changing—and uncertainties happen—how do you deal with them and create something?

Courtesy VSF; The Pritzker Architecture Prize Aranya Low Cost Housing by Vastushilpa Consultants

Your Aranya Low Cost Housing (Indore, 1989) accommodates more than 80,000 residents. How did you establish a sense of “home” for so many?
They were migrants, and they needed a home. The government gave everybody a 30-square-meter plot and they provided services—a water line, a kitchen, a toilet, and electricity. I told them they could be empowered by certain models and ways of designing buildings. So, we built 16 model houses, with different plans, of local materials, and they became participants. Everybody began to change and add on. And it went slowly. Now, most of the people have two or three stories. A social mix happened, cultural changes happened, and slowly everyone invented their own ways of making use of the place. If you give them a chance, people evolve. People become more tolerant, more understanding, and more compassionate. It affects people psychologically, emotionally.

What’s the key to good architecture?
We only look at a specific time span—a design period, a construction period, a move-in period. We never think of the way we grow or live as human beings—from childhood to grown-up to old age. We become tolerant, we adjust ourselves, we discover. Over time, we become more and more enriched. Why not have the same attitude towards architecture? If you look at world settlements, they have gone through centuries or decades, and they look very different. They become richer.

You’re the oldest Pritzker Prize winner. What do you see for the future?
This award will go a long way in India—in the schools, in the profession, as well as the government agencies. We now have 600 schools of architecture; when I started there were only eight. We are talking about smart cities, urban renewal, building new cities, but are we doing something for the larger number of people? This is where the award will have great effect. Everyone will start thinking: If so many architectural experts have decided these projects are exemplary, then there must be some merit. Why not look at it?

This interview has been edited for clarity and length.