Standing in a high-rise apartment, looking at the concrete jungle all around, one questions the concept of home. What makes a house a home? Is it the habitability of the structure that makes it a living entity? Or, does the value of space take precedence over everything else? Such questions vibrate through the minds of many living in urban spaces today. As space comes at a premium, it would not be wrong to say that such vertical structures, cramped together, are a result of our miscalculations.
If one asks BV Doshi, the pioneer of low-cost, affordable housing in India, the answers at least try to deconstruct our constructed realities, if not paint a crystal clear picture. Doshi was awarded the Pritzker Prize — the highest global honour for an architect and analogous to a Nobel — for his contribution to architecture in Toronto on Friday. An ardent advocate of habitats, Doshi believes his work is liveable, enjoyable and much more amenable to different choices of activities. He considers habitats and the buoyancy they bring to the lives of the people as a key pillar of his notion of architecture.
“When we say something is living, we mean it is buoyant. When architecture becomes dynamic, it becomes habitat. If I am designing a habitat, naturally I have to think about spaces that are usable for different functions and different times. I cannot shrink them beyond a limit,” explains the Padma Shri recipient.
Doshi belongs to a league of architects for whom it is the essence of the place and not the structure in itself that matters more. But in today’s time, when space comes at a premium, one questions how can architects like him build habitats in such small spaces? Drawing comparisons with New York, the city of skyscrapers, Doshi says he has built habitats in smaller spaces as well. “I have done buildings in very tight cities, like Bhadrawi in Ahmedabad. What you do when you have a tight place is to find a way to see if it has the kind of usage that you’re looking for,” he adds.
But today, when it is all about building structures that can accommodate the burgeoning populace, what choice do architects have? “The big error is that we consider architecture in a very isolated and a narrow sense.”
He adds: “In any other country, when they do any such thing, let’s say New York, they do an urban designing plan, a master plan and they conceive the buildings. Those buildings are also tall but they know how to create open public spaces too,” he clarifies.
However, architects are not be solely blamed. Monetising the space they are working with is not a choice most of them make; it is what the clientele wants from them. Doshi sees this as the biggest downside of architecture today.
“If I ask an architect to give me a habitat, he will think of people first, and then see if it is workable or not. The difference is, when we hiring an architect, we ask him to build a machine or just a structure. In doing so, we have already put him in a corner. He is going to build just a structure, which is a machine. Efficiency of use is a priority. But if I have more lobbies, better views, and even if 10% of the space is gone into this, I am getting a better life. That is the difference,” Doshi sums up.