2018 Pritzker Prize Goes To Indian Architect Balkrishna Doshi The Indian architect has been awarded the Pritzker Architecture Prize, known as the Nobel for architects. His buildings reflect an investment in local materials, social change and the environment.
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'Architecture Is A Backdrop For Life,' Says 2018 Pritzker Winner Balkrishna Doshi

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'Architecture Is A Backdrop For Life,' Says 2018 Pritzker Winner Balkrishna Doshi

'Architecture Is A Backdrop For Life,' Says 2018 Pritzker Winner Balkrishna Doshi

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ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

A 90-year-old Indian architect has won what's often called the Nobel Prize for that profession. NPR's Neda Ulaby introduces us to this year's winner of the Pritzker Architecture Prize.

NEDA ULABY, BYLINE: Balkrishna Doshi was named after the child form of the Hindu deity Krishna by his family back in 1927.

BALKRISHNA DOSHI: They wanted me to remain young (laughter).

ULABY: That's Doshi on the phone with NPR after learning of his Pritzker. He says he grew up in a house designed by his grandfather.

DOSHI: This is what I remember all the time, that I always sensed the space as alive, alive element.

ULABY: The alive elements within the house kept expanding as the household grew to include the families of three uncles. They kept adding more and more levels and rooms. In a lecture to the Royal Academy of Arts last year in London, Doshi said living in such a structure remains one of his greatest influences - as an architect and a person.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

DOSHI: Living in a joint family, I learned more about cooperation, tolerance, togetherness, humility, generosity, interdependence.

ULABY: Doshi's family made furniture. As a child, his eye for scale and proportion was noticed by a teacher who helped get him into architecture school in India. In 1947, the year of India's Partition, Doshi went off to Paris to work with one of the greatest architects of the 20th century - Le Corbusier. Doshi says his guru, as he calls the elder architect, taught him to think of buildings as porous, filled with the motion of the people in and around them. He still thinks of that while drawing his designs.

DOSHI: So for me, the space and the form and my hand - they move together as if there are people moving inside the space.

ULABY: Doshi came back to India in the 1950s and for a while worked with another great architect, the American Louis Kahn. Doshi would go on to design more than a hundred buildings.

AARATI KANEKAR: I worked in his office as my first job.

ULABY: Aarati Kanekar is now an architecture professor at the University of Cincinnati. She worked with Doshi in the 1980s.

KANEKAR: Oh, my goodness. He's the most energetic person I have ever come across.

ULABY: Kanekar says Doshi married modernism's restrained, meditative approach to the inventive, chaotic space of Indian city streets. He designed blocky, bright orange low-income housing on a system of pathways intended to make people interact and challenge the caste system. Aarati Kanekar says Doshi taught her that people and sustainability are intrinsic to design.

KANEKAR: You would always think of materials. You would always think of craftsmanship. You would always think of natural light and ventilation. It was not something that - oh, you designed and you inserted things in.

ULABY: And, she says, he's passed on his socially conscious values to generations of Indian architects. He's so famous in India, he's even played himself in Bollywood musicals.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "O KADHAL KANMANI")

DOSHI: (As Himself) And the idea was that we should have only limited light. It contrasts so that the sunlight - you know, when it comes, it moves.

ULABY: Balkrishna Doshi says his work reflects a country and culture defined by order and disorder. His office, he says, is intentionally designed to throw off visitors. They're made to meander through a garden. The door is hidden. It's meant to adjust their attitude coming from the chaos of the streets.

DOSHI: I think it's like a journey. Architecture is a journey. A journey of discovery.

ULABY: And what is it he wants his guests to discover?

DOSHI: I want them to forget why they came (laughter). Actually, it's such a wonderful thing to do. Why should we take architecture seriously?

ULABY: Balkrishna Doshi says architecture, like life, should be experienced with exuberance and wonder and with an abiding sense of its endless possibilities.

Neda Ulaby, NPR News.

(SOUNDBITE OF MARK REDITO'S "SO MANY THINGS TO TELL YOU")

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