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Eestikeelsed artiklid



Mehis Heinsaar


Vilen Künnapu

Mathura (Margus Lattik)

Harry Pye

Udo Kultermann

Rael Artel




The Indian architect and planner Balkrishna V. Doshi is one of the most accomplished and influential personalities of his country; but beyond that, his teaching philosophy and cultural theories have placed him in a prominent position on the international scene. From his early contacts and his long collaboration with Le Corbusier, when the latter was building in India, Doshi learned “to observe and react to climate, to tradition, to function, to structure, to economy and to the landscape around me.” And from Louis I. Kahn and his architectural masterpieces in India he learned about art and architecture as the achievement of universal harmony and the articulation of spaces as a meaningful social order. But Doshi realized that these great and serene lessons did not make his architecture genuine contemporary Indian architecture.

“… I have in the last two decades gradually discovered that the buildings that I have designed somehow have a foreign look.” Doshi’s reasoning for this is: “I was educated outside of India, learning from great masters, but I still was educated outside of myself.”

It was an ongoing struggle for Doshi to find not only his own identity in the process of an otherwise brilliant professional career, but beyond that the urgent articulation of what his country needed most desperately: architecture in harmony with its social and economic conditions, architecture that would have relevance beyond his own life span and the present day value system, architecture which would express, in Doshi’s words, humility and anonymity. It appears that an important step in the fulfilment of this self-envisioned goal has been achieved in Doshi’s own architectural office “Sangath” in Ahmedabad, which he designed in 1978 and completed in 1980, and which is one of the outstanding realizations of contemporary international architecture.

“Sangath”, the name given to the complex, means “moving together through participation” and purposefully goes beyond housing the architecture and planning offices of Vastu-Shilpa, the name of Doshi’s firm which in Hindi means “the skill to create structures”. It encompasses a large set of activities including the research done in the Vastu-Shilpa Foundation, experimentation in the arts and crafts, building technology and, as Doshi likes to put it, “the exploration of the artistic, social, and humanistic dimensions of technology”.

To pursue these multiple goals the complex incorporates a set of open and enclosed spaces for a variety of uses, which have in common what Doshi once described as the essentials of Indian village life, the “sharing, because you have to learn to respect that the other person’s priorities are as important as your own.” The juxtaposition of enclosed and open spaces is one of the links which makes “Sangath” a traditional building, one that receives its strength and beauty from local materials, skilled and unskilled local workmanship and local architecture values. One of the results of the reintroduction of traditional values is the outside stepped seating amphitheatre for lectures and other gatherings.

The architecturally dominating shapes of “Sangath” are vaulted forms, which, again, were derived from a combination of local traditions, local ma­te­rials and culturally prefigurated historical examples such as Indian temples and traditional Indian head-dresses. These determining elements became unified and a complex new shape resulted in the design. In addition, by sinking the floor in the main studio below ground level, the enclosed spaces were more dynamically interconnected inside and outside, giving the vaults a dominating presence. It is significant that vaulted forms are used in contemporary architecture both in buildings with high technology, such as Louis I. Kahn’s Kimbell Museum in Fort Worth and Arata Isozaki’s Library in Kitakyushu, and in buildings with low technology, such as works by Hassan Fathy and Rames Wissa Wassef in Egypt, as well as many other works in Africa, such as the development Workshops in Chical, Niger. Obviously, these architectural elements are capable too of serving contemporary needs in varying applications.

With the help of movable formwork, the vaults of “Sangath” were constructed with hollow clay tiles sandwiched into walls. Inexpensively purchased, the outer skin is covered with broken glazed tile pieces from a manufacturer’s waste material. This procedure has a precedent in the great Catalan architect Antoni Gaudi’s benches of his Park Guell in Barcelona. Doshi’s use of this traditional technique reduces the heat inside the building. So, not only is the re-use of waste material an important element of Third World methodology, it is also one of the most efficient ways to reduce the large percentage of sun-rays. Air-conditioning is achieved not by means of mechanical and expensive technology, but by reinforcing traditional cooling devices which are furthermore enhanced by water screens through which cool air is drawn and blown into the interior spaces.

As an architectural office and research center, “Sangath” transcends earlier solutions which were based on models of works by Le Corbusier and Louis I. Kahn in India. In terms of building typology, “Sangath” can be compared with architectural achievements of Frank Lloyd Wright who, not by coincidence, created his own studio in Oak Park in a vaulted shape. Another resemblances can be seen in Wright’s cooling devices in his studio and research center in Taliesin West, which in its regionally appropriate architectural plan also has analogies to Doshi’s studio and research center in Ahmedabad. So different the cultural and geographical conditions are, the works of each of the two architects are based on careful considerations of local conditions and values.

“Sangath” is, in fact, a powerful architectural manifestation of an independent and original Indian architecture, creative in its rediscovery of traditional and local elements in harmony with site, people and their past. Doshi articulated this when he spoke at the Aga Khan Seminar in Amman in 1980 about long-term versus short-term perspectives in continuity of great architecture: “There’s only one choice – that is, benefits for society at large and, therefore, a slow pace of development and hence, long-term perspective. Short-term goals compel the society to maximize gains but destroy local resources and skills in the process. This also leads to decline in self-reliance and loss of economic and social independence. Therefore preservation and conservation become very vital. In short, our design should be based on local potentials, and reliance on external help should be minimized to encourage public participation rather than in the exclusive control of monopolies.”

Doshi concluded these thoughts: “Constraint is a virtue and it must be the basis of design. Institutions are the backbone of society, and they must have the highest priorities in the development process. Buildings should avoid sophisticated technologies if they are not capable of assimilation, and the importation of technologies should be reduced so that society can remain self-sufficient.”

Even though these are general thoughts about the fate of Islamic architecture in our time, they can also be applied to “Sangath” and other recent projects by Doshi, in which this new departure towards a contemporary Indian architecture is articulated. His Mahatma Gandhi Institute of Labor Studies in Ahmedabad and the Indian Institute of Management in Bangalore are, as “Sangath”, contemporary examples of architecture with humility and anonymity, which Doshi considers crucial for re-establishing continuity with India’s great architectural and humanistic tradition, manifested – among many other buildings and urban structures – in the cave temples at Dhamnar, the Taj Mahal, the cities of Rajasthan and the courtyards at Fatehpur Sikri.

Udo Kultermann

Udo Kultermann, born in Germany, is Professor Emeritus of Architecture at Washington University in St. Louis, Missouri. He is the author of 35 books on art and architecture, including “New Directions in African Architecture”. See also his essays “Visible Cities – Invisible Cities”, “Noerdlingen” and “Robert Colescott” (Epifanio 1/2005, 2/2005, 3/2006).