Mexican Architects Tell us Their Experience Working With 2018 Pritzker Prize Winner, B.V. Doshi
Earlier this year, the jury of the Pritzker Prize chose the Indian architect Balkrishna Doshi, also known as B.V. Doshi, or Doshi, as the winner of the 2018 Pritzker Prize. In recent weeks a lot of information has come to light about the winning architect’s practice who, as you probably already know, was an apprentice and collaborator of Le Corbusier and Louis Kahn. Being the first Indian architect to receive Architecture’s most prestigious award, Doshi has had an active career of more than 70 years, with a poetic architectural style that is based on oriental cultural influences, creating a production that “covers all socioeconomic classes, in a wide spectrum of typologies, since the 1950s,” according to the jury’s record.
But, can you imagine what it’s like to work with Doshi in his firm? We talked with four alumni from the School of Architecture, Art and Design from Tecnológico de Monterrey, who some years ago had the opportunity to travel to India to work directly with Doshi through a professional internship program promoted by the same university. Arturo Acosta, Jeimi Cuendulain, Airam Moreno and Giovanni Llamas tell us about their experience working in the firm, as well as anecdotes that marked them both professionally and personally that helped them see and experience architecture beyond the obvious. Here are their testimonies below:
Arturo Acosta Falomir
My experience with Doshi dates from the period of August to December 2010 when I was in my ninth semester. I learned about his firm while I was on a student exchange in Bilbao, Spain, and I happened to find the project called “Aranya”, one of the best known to date, in a book. In 2009 I applied to enter a professional internship program promoted by the university, and since in that year we were already in the financial crisis of 2008 and construction had stopped, because of this I didn’t want to go to Europe, I wanted to learn how despite the crisis there were countries that found ways to keep progressing, that’s why I chose to travel to India.
Doshi’s office is located on the west side of the river, this specific part of the city began to develop in the sixties and is known as New City, it is an area surrounded by buildings and all the new wave of architecture that has been built since. However, his firm lies in a modest building with two floors, of which one is buried, where the garden predominates over the construction, like a small Eden within the city.
Inside the office there is a space for the carpentry workshop, which is a very important place within the process because that is where the final models are made, it is spectacular! They do a very beautiful job. Doshi constantly approached them to discuss the project and explain to them why the building had to be like this or that, they are the most senior members of the workshop, they know a lot about composition and architecture.
Wood is very valuable in the office, only the final models are made of wood, when I arrived we used unicel that we collected from the garbage and with that, we had to show what we knew how to do, you have to earn your place. I started looking for ways to help others in different tasks until I was assigned to represent some projects and during my last month I was assigned to work directly with Doshi exploring the idea of building a tower in the eastern part of the city, the Old City that dated from the twelfth century.
One of the things I found different and that caught my attention was tea time, chai or coffee, this was carried out twice a day, once at 11 o’clock and another at 4 o’clock. It creates a dynamic of coexistence which is very marked in the office and it was during those periods of time when Doshi discussed the progress of the projects. It is a fundamental moment in the process and it is even more important that there is a person who is exclusively assigned to serve tea.
There is also another tradition which consists of all the practitioners going to sing to Doshi on his birthday, and when it was my turn they all bowed in reverence in front of him, whereas I didn’t know what to do so I did the same, but he raised me up and embarrassedly told me that I didn’t have to do that since they were different cultures. The first time I spoke with him and he found out I was Mexican, he told me about his admiration for Legorreta and his love for Mexican architecture, he is a very humble person.
Doshi goes to yoga early, teaches at the university, goes to the office after two hours of tea and returns at dusk. It is very serene, in India they have the idea that things happen when they happen, not before or after and that was reflected in everything, even in punctuality (laughs), they are very slow, I stressed a lot because I I asked for urgent things and he said: no, relax, it’s going to happen, these computers are very good, right? so they can do it.
Traveling to India changed me a lot, day by day I could see how things changed around me, my clothes were falling apart, my shoes were getting moldy, the screen of my cell phone broke, once I almost swam to my house because of the rain, one day I realized that I lost 10kg. Working with Doshi meant a lot, but not only working with him, but the fact of living in India, I left my comfort zone, everything is different there; if I could summarize what I learned with Doshi, I would say that I learned to doubt, I learned to question myself, why are things the way they are and should they be that way?
For me, traveling to Doshi’s office was not an easy decision, I wanted to do my internship in a firm that is recognized in Europe but I also wanted to live the experience of being in India. I was researching and compiling experiences of people who had worked in several offices, then I learned about Doshi’s experience of working with Le Corbusier and Louis Kahn and I finally decided for myself.
Working in Doshi’s office was a different experience from everything I had lived until then, we ate in the garden every day, we sat on the grass, the contact with nature was elementary, there were times when monkeys passed by running in the garden. For me it was incredible, and for them, it was the most natural thing. The two tea times were very important, we all took this time off, each one decided how long he wanted to be but it was something already established, it was part of the coexistence of the workshop.
Being there is an experience that marks you, for me it represented an important cultural shock, the people in India are extremely warm, but they also demand a lot, hierarchies are very much respected. I had the opportunity to collaborate on a project at a university and I can say that I have seen the work of some firms that over time lose their essence, but Doshi doesn’t, in his firm, the concepts, values and lines of work are very clear.
I learned about Doshi because when I was looking for my internship I focused on two things: inspiration and work environment, among my options I had Vastu Shilpa, Carlos Ferrater and Alejandro Aravena. Part of my decision was based on the experiences of other people, and it was from hearing other’s stories about working in Doshi’s firm that I made my decision. I researched him a lot and I realized that Doshi’s work evoked emotions, I loved his passion for social inclusion and the forgotten sectors, I was also dying to go to India, and I knew that if I didn’t do it then, I would never do it.
I went in my ninth semester, I arrived on August 1, 2014 and I worked there until December. The office is very large, it is divided into the technical area (software installation), the kakas that are the craftsmen in charge of making the models, the consulting area and the urban planning area. It is a multidisciplinary office and there is a lot of inclusion of both local as well as foreigners; the values that we see in Doshi’s architecture is also applied in the firm, they are not separate things. I had the opportunity to participate in the Guggenheim contest and I got to do the production because I was already very advanced at it, but then I participated from the beginning in another contest on a smaller scale that was an art school in Badadora, where I was able to contribute to the design and I realized that all ideas are taken into account. They keep up to date in competitions, it is a very relaxed work environment, people walk barefoot in the office, this is something cultural but the office encourages these customs.
Doshi is an architect who for over 60 years has remained true to his principles, we have a very interesting profession and as architects we also have benefits that we must apply positively to create efficient solutions in the short, medium and long term, all this impacted my way of living and how I see architecture, not only working in the firm but to live in India as well.
In Mexico you do not see the lag so much, in India the classes are more mixed and it is easier to help this, and this really impacted me and made me realize that I want to do something about it. When Doshi worked with Louis Kahn or Le Corbusier he did not try to copy or imitate them, but he took what interested him and adapted it to his principles, to his philosophy, to the needs of his country. I would like to do the same with my country without forgetting that there are people who do not have the resources, there is much to improve, we must not forget this.
I was in the ninth semester of my degree in 2011 and besides Le Corbusier, my hero, there was Louis Kahn, I saw a documentary called “My Architect” and that was the first time I heard about Doshi. The university offers many options for traveling and at that time it was very fashionable to go with Renzo Piano, but I was interested to know what was happening in India and my admiration for Louis Kahn was so great that I remembered the words of Luis Barragan “do not see what I do, see what I saw”, I wanted to see what Louis Kahn saw.
As an intern, you arrive at the house that Doshi gave to his daughter, then to the small oasis that is the office and at that moment I realized that the things that Louis Kahn had done would not have been what they are without Doshi’s contribution. India has many well-recognized architects but it was he who promoted the modern movement in the country.
Doshi was always touching everything, he is very aware of what is happening inside the firm and not only in terms of his projects but he wanted us to ask ourselves what we were doing there. On occasion he asked us what our purpose was but he didn’t expect us to answer what he wanted to hear, it was thought that Doshi would not want to listen to the opinions of interns or recent graduates, but it was just the opposite, he reflected on everyone’s ideas. For example, once we discussed what the company Apple is doing with design and Doshi said that, on the one hand, that was what architecture had to start doing: getting involved in the daily life of people but without being a luxury product.
During my stay I worked on five different competitions, it was a job that did not stop, winning never meant stopping work, quite the opposite, but it was not something you were obligated to, everyone fell so much in love with the projects that it was up to them how much time they wanted to invest. Doshi frequently told us about order in the workspace, and I was chaotic at that time, when he asked me why I did it this way, I explained that it was a way of leaving things on pause to resume them the next day and he listened to me, he reflected on what I said in a very humble way.
I was surprised to see an office so well organized, what I learned was that it is necessary to be present at all times, on a technical level but also on an emotional level. Doshi taught me that to be an architect was not to dominate the construction of buildings, to be an architect is to try to generate an impact on everyone’s life. Once he asked me to show him my drawings and when he saw them he advised me to make them with ink so that I could see all those mistakes in the future to continue learning from them.
Arriving at the office was a time to slow down, there was a bell at the door that sounded every time someone entered, for me, to ring that bell was to stop the chaos of India and enter the sanctuary that the firm represented. Doshi said that architecture was a celebration of life and that was his office, you left chaos behind to work on the celebration itself; It is not an environment of exploitation like in many other firms but, based on my experience I could see how Doshi and the entire firm tried to make the people who worked there grow.
On my last day in the office Doshi called me to ask me if I had read the book about his work, I answered yes and asked him to write a dedication to which he agreed but, in addition to that copy, he gave me another one, one dedicated to my parents asking me to thank them for their part in allowing me to be there. This meant a lot to me, Doshi, more than a boss or the head of a firm, is a teacher.
We thank Alfredo Hidalgo, Diego A. Rodríguez Lozano and Nora Sotres Villegas for their support in making this publication possible.