In March I was asked to interview Mohamed Makiya, the great Iraqi architect of the modern period, for Bidoun magazine’s Summer Issue. There were many reasons to agree and I spent most of the month with Makiya, his work and his words, our conversations eventually being reduced to a 3-4000 word piece published in August 09.
Throughout I was reminded of Balkrishna Doshi, another great architect of the modern period who remains under-appreciated beyond the ‘warm world’. In 2002-03 I spent a significant amount of time with Doshi [in Ahmedabad, Gujarat] his work and words and have written about him in my forthcoming book about India’s most interesting state; A Gram of Gujarat.
It took many mentions of Doshi’s name before Makiya -now in his mid-90s- picked up on it, his hearing not as sharp as his mind.
MM ‘Ooh he’s a friend of mine! Yes!! [laughs very happily] He’s the best man, he was a very close friend, I supported him in every way. He produced a project with Corbusier I think at that time [late 1950s in Paris and Chandigarh but most significantly Ahmedabad -vanguard of Indian modernity]. But he’s one of my very close friends, who believes in my ideas. Amazing that you mention him! To me he’s a school of thought and he knows what I think of him …’
GMA Forgive me, but I think Doshi is a better architect than Charles Correa [MM had mentioned CC to me before, also with affectionate respect].
MM ‘Yes! of course, oh yes [laughs] … Yes, Doshi is a different scale.
GMA I think you and he-
MM Yes, Doshi is … a copy of me, more or less, in feeling, funny you mention him! How did you know him? He is the closest architect to me!’
This closeness is real enough and took me back to a conversation with Doshi at Sangath, his remarkable office built partly below ground on the outskirts of Ahmedabad. We were trying to invent a term for his architecture’s unique solution of the deeply indigenous with the subcontinent’s historical syncretism [he often compares Ahmedabad’s labyrinthine old city to Baghdad’s bazaars, for example] and the urgently -sexily/sleekly/intelligently- contemporary. An impossible challenge, but any such term would also describe the work of the “deeply Baghdadi” Makiya.
Both of these giant global figures are sophisticated architectural innovators who cite trees for inspiration. Doshi enjoys paradoxical upside-downs and inside-outs, continuities and cosmology. Makiya describes the Iraqi palm as a perfectly structured dwelling, a “blessing from God”. With both, I’ve found myself archiving the future as the world turns and our new century re-orientates us all to the East again. It’s a notion that anyone familiar with or influenced by their work understands instinctively.
Neither MM nor I were aware of a documentary film being made about Doshi last year. For more information check its makers’ lovely blog which includes stills, clips and promise of a dvd. The figure that Doshi cuts in the clips below is familiar to me; notably articulate about his work and world, great riffs! -and can be researched through his office website here. There are two well illustrated books on Doshi -now in his mid-80s- from the end of the 20th Century. The best of them is by William JR Curtis; BD An Architecture for India, Rizzoli NY 1988. However, it’s out of print, a quarter of a century out of date and requires a follow-on volume to begin to do Doshi justice.
I’m linking to 2 clips made a couple of years apart, which only slightly overlap. The first [on Vimeo] is the more recent, includes Graham Morrison [Allies and Morrison] and footage towards the end of the stunning complex at Sarkhej -a 15th Century legacy of the Sultan of Gujarat- one of Doshi’s inspirations. The second includes Yatin Pandya and Rajeev Kathpalia, and footage of the Gufa/cave-like structure which Doshi designed for the great charismatic artist [Maqbool Fida] Hussain, now in exile. In both, Doshi speaks from inside his own office at Sangath, hands resting on a table that is level with the ground outside.