Le Corbusier’s eminent pupil Prof Dr Balkrishna Doshi: ‘Chandigarh must lead the way as a model city for the common man’

Going back in time, the internationally known architect recalls how Corbusier, while designing this city, had said he wanted to make a pact with nature

Written by Parul | Chandigarh | Published:October 25, 2016 9:36 am
Le Corbusier, Chandigarh designer Le Corbusier, Prof Dr Balkrishna Doshi, chandigarh news Prof Doshi. Sahil Walia

IT WAS at 4 on a cold winter morning in 1954, when Prof Balkrishna Doshi’s train from Mumbai reached Chandigarh. He took a rickshaw to go to a friend’s house in Sector 16, and remembers the white, silent, empty roads of the city. And what still remains etched in his memory is a matter-of-fact statement that the rickshaw-puller made, “you are entering a new city of the 20th century”.

“For me, this is a place of pilgrimage,” smiles Doshi, here in Chandigarh for two events and lectures. A pioneer of modernist architecture in India, Doshi began his career in the studio of Le Corbusier in Paris after studying architecture in the United Kingdom, working with him for six years.

Doshi returned to India as Corbusier’s representative and local architect in Ahmedabad, as well as Chandigarh, bringing with him a modernist approach to building design and challenging colonial architectural thoughts and trends. A recipient of the Padma Shri in 1976, Doshi recalls that when he returned to India from Paris, he was working with Corbusier on drawings for the Governor’s Palace at the Capitol Complex.

“World heritage has come to the right place. The three masterpieces [at the Capitol Complex] here have never existed before and will never after this. Great cities of the world need an anchor to expand and the Capitol Complex is that anchor for the city. Its expression and experimentation will become a model for not just this city, but many others,” says Doshi, who spent the entire morning at the Complex.

Going back in time, the internationally known architect recalls how Corbusier, while designing this city, had said he wanted to make a pact with nature, and how with the three buildings here, Corbusier created a new dimension of architecture. “A reverence to the Himalayas, the Open Hand is like Buddha’s hand, a symbol of generosity, equality, compassion, while the Assembly is a reflection of people’s aspirations without disparity. And the High Court signifies justice, order and balance. Chandigarh indirectly tells us that we should create a society with minimum disparity, one that nourishes nature and returns to nature, where we look at the value and not price of land, where there is judicious use of resources, a balance of well-being without strife.”

The need, he says, is to go beyond the Master Plan, and fulfil the needs of the common man, for the city has the finest ingredients, and Corbusier’s legacy, to give new architecture a vision and also make people conscious of their environment.

Corbusier, adds Doshi, in the form of Chandigarh, gave the world a unique space and Chandigarh, through innovations, technology and its people’s aspirations, must take that forward by becoming a model for other cities. It should lead the way.

“In my office, there is a photograph of Corbusier that I look at many times in a day, and ask myself if my guru were sitting here, what he would have said and also if I am on the right rack. From him, I learnt to observe, dissect, synthesise, transform, the guiding principles of my work. And discipline, take care of yourself and the world will take care of you,” says Doshi whose works are defined by departure from conventional norms, with the architect involved in a multitude of related activities like architectural education, integration of visual art with architecture, holistic architecture, building technology etc.

Cities have grown the way we wanted them to, Doshi says in the context of Chandigarh, “but it’s people who are using the city, and creating problems. These buildings are made like a temple, be the quality of material, light, air, beauty, sustainability. These buildings are about balancing diversity and initiating a dialogue”.

Doshi describes Corbusier as a yogi, who dedicated many hours of his day to research, study, contemplation, art, and so he could innovate and revise the order of architecture. “He taught me that we have rain, wind, light, sun, and nature thrives on this and gives us fragrance, and so don’t imitate and invent your own language and fragrance,” Doshi says, adding that he is here to revitalise himself.

The first founder director of School of Architecture (1962-72) and School of Planning (1972-79), Ahmedabad, Doshi has established the Vastu-Shilpa Foundation for Studies and Research in Environmental Design and believes there are no boundaries in learning. “The teacher is within you, open your eyes and be honest with yourself,” sums up Doshi, who believes buildings are living entities and develop their own character and we need to create communities, not buildings.

Chandigarh Lalit Kala Akademi and Chandigarh Architecture Museum will present audio-visual talks by Doshi. The first event will be held at Government Museum and Art Gallery at 5.15 pm on October 25, and the second on October 26, Open Hand, Capitol Complex, at 5.15 pm onwards.