Friday, May 28, 2010

Review: Sydney Morning Herald

The film “Doshi” follows the life and work of the famous Indian Architect Balkrishna Doshi and was conceived directed and scored by Premjit Ramachandran and Bijoy Ramachandran of 100hands who are based in Bangalore.

Doshi worked with Louis Kahn and Le Corbusier, two of the giants of 20th century architecture. Both had a profound effect on his work and life and modern day India, however he has sought to reinterpret this modernism of Europe and America to local conditions and climate, site and available technology.

At 81 years old Doshi is still very much engaged in building and in life and we are offered more than a simple outline of his work. The film and commentary give you an insight into the history and transformation of one of the 21st Centuries superpowers and the means by which its people have moved from a relatively agrarian and feudal society into a modern and technologically advanced country. It does so through the medium of architecture but I imagine the same may be applied to many areas of intellectual and technological activity.

Le Corbusier went to India to design Chandigarh, a capital city for the newly created state of the Punjab, and a post-independence symbol of progress and modernity. Doshi was a young architect at the time and worked for Le Corbusier on this and other projects in India. He thoroughly learned the lessons of modernism, but in time has modified these models with his particular understandings of the Indian way of life and its people. "India", he suggests contemplatively, "has survived and celebrated through a particular frugalness... by ingeniously finding several ways of using the same thing", this can be applied to clothing, furniture, buildings, music and technology.

His own office Sagath which in Sanskrit means moving together through participation is in essence a village, “trees, gardens and steps” and offers a real insight into how the outside world and influences are consumed, understood and reconstituted as his own. In this building or more accurately institution, you can see the influences, Chinese mosaic, Gaudi, Frank Lloyd Wright, Le Corbusier, “everything is there.... It is like a good food that you enjoy but made by the best chefs, But you are the one that is digesting this food. You have to convert this into your own blood and your own life.. Borrow everything and finally become yourself" ... Gandhi put it this way, “open the windows but see that your roof is not blown out, make sure that the foundations are strong. “…. You have to be deep inside an Indian who is frugal, who can invent, who can take a chance and who can starve”.

His institutional buildings, his schools, his low cost housing, his own home, all show a profound understanding of architecture but also of people, how they live and connect. He is full of reverence and with an Indian take on the meaning of "God", who is still profoundly wound up with his belief system and understanding of life.

“Life is to be lived not regulated” he states. But he has concerns for the future, he laments that much of the architects time is now taken up with mundane survival. “What can you give me, for how much money and in how much time?” The pragmatism of modern capitalism is also being felt in Doshi’s life and work. He notes that increasingly we are interested in conclusions; we have no time to understand process. “How can you enjoy the food if you have not aware of how it was cooked and how it all came together.”

He also asks us to consider the future and the past comparatively. How did people in the past have such profound understandings of material, scale, the size and even the kind of elaboration and joy of working you witness in ancient monuments? A place to sit, a place to rest your hand, “how come we do not think of this public realm today?” he asks.

In modern India he laments the lack of institutions, of communities, of civic spaces that inspire you. “What will we have to show as our heritage, our contemporary heritage? Yes you may have a beautiful house but what is outside it? What kind of street? Car parking, hotels, entertainment of a cheap type... we want to be alone isolated and enjoy ourselves, socially relevant architecture I do not think we have anymore, institutional architecture is gone.”

The architectural profession has become submissive and has nothing to do with society at large, Doshi feels, and apart from rare instances this is may also be true in our own society. What value to we place on the public realm? This is a beautiful film that offers some very relevant insights into the production of great architecture, institutions and what age and wisdom brings to a truly creative life.