A world of imagination: drawings by BV Doshi

A world of imagination: drawings by BV Doshi
Apartamento Magazine - A world of imagination: drawings by BV Doshi

‘Doshi isn’t a man of grand strokes or monumental architectural statements. From public projects to educational institutes, villas to low-income housing, his work reflects the quality of humility and a sensitivity to the site and its people, as if emerging organically from the ground to provide shelter and a perspective on the outside world.

He recalls his time with Corbusier as a kind of “theatre” that he was witnessing, his childlike curiosity—which is refreshingly evident still—absorbing the current of the times. His buildings in turn are like street plays: a commentary on the culture and politics of a time and people. Perhaps that is why, as we talk this day—while Kamala practises Hindustani classical music in another room— his home feels like home. It has a sense of warmth and familiarity, as if one had been here before. It is a representation of who Doshi is himself: wise, funny, and full of stories that live between reality and mythology, past and present, architecture and life’. —Komal Sharma, from issue #22 of Apartamento magazine.

A world of imagination: drawings by BV Doshi | Apartamento Magazine
A world of imagination: drawings by BV Doshi | Apartamento Magazine
Apartamento Magazine - A world of imagination: drawings by BV Doshi
Apartamento Magazine - A world of imagination: drawings by BV Doshi
Apartamento Magazine - A world of imagination: drawings by BV Doshi
Apartamento Magazine - A world of imagination: drawings by BV Doshi
Apartamento Magazine - A world of imagination: drawings by BV Doshi

In my grandparents’ garden, watching monkeys play, peacocks and peahens dancing, and the tortoise getting comfortable under the winter sun, while we sit and wonder about the miracles of life, is a family ritual. In the evenings golden light filters through a big neem tree from the garden into the house. My grandfather sits there every day, almost religiously, watching this tree and conversing. I often join him, and then the dialogue begins. Childlike fascination, curiosity, and wonder take over, and logic has no meaning. He takes me into a dream world every time, through the narration of imaginary stories, intertwined with mythology and the entire atmosphere begins to feel like a theatre performance. Engrossed in the words of this storyteller, I lose sense of history, time, and place. I begin to discover the unfathomable world and the magic of life that fascinates him even today, at age 91.

Apartamento Magazine - A world of imagination: drawings by BV Doshi
Apartamento Magazine - A world of imagination: drawings by BV Doshi

The sparkle in his eyes and the way his face lights up when he narrates stories is priceless. He stirs up curiosity in me, through his endless imaginary stories. They twist and turn, and take us on beautiful and meaningful journeys, filled with laughter and lessons for life. It wouldn’t be wrong to say that he lives in a real and imaginary world, simultaneously, constantly reinterpreting everything he sees through his drawings and absorbing it into his works. Sometimes the lines in his drawings are very delicate, sometimes exaggerated, and at times almost fluid. They have nothing to do with reality, but they talk about the fluidity of life.

Apartamento Magazine - A world of imagination: drawings by BV Doshi

Working with feeling rather than defining, the paper becomes sacred and the pen just a medium to convey the story. The sense of life force and the movement become apparent in his sketches, which appear ephemeral at times and at other times intense. Dressed in a detailed four-pocket shirt that he designed for himself, to carry notepad and pens, he jots down his inner dialogues, whenever there is a fleeting thought that crosses his mind. A firm believer in the fact that there are moments when grace descends and thoughts appear, he never writes what he hears, however, but what he thought he heard—reinterpreted.

Through his drawings, he creates his own world of imagination through the association of various known and unknown encounters. Nature has always been his greatest source of inspiration, while the feeling of compassion, reverence, and togetherness are his constant principles of design: ‘I am constantly fascinated, almost like a child, by the ways in which the world around me works. I see a river and think of its journey from its origin all the way to meet the ocean or the way mighty trees grow from a small seed. I see an ant, a snake, a monkey, or a giraffe and think about how their form is just the perfect one for their life in their habitat. That surely is a very valuable lesson in design’.

Apartamento Magazine - A world of imagination: drawings by BV Doshi
Apartamento Magazine - A world of imagination: drawings by BV Doshi

He is like a child with no preconceived notion, wondering about nature’s infinite forms and creations with innumerable permutations and combinations. His drawings and works express a certain degree of uncertainty, growth, and vagueness left for the imagination. The stories from Ramayana and Mahabharata fascinate him, so do the ones from Arabian Nights. For him, a building is created out of memories, associations, sounds, forms, spaces, and images, porous and open-ended in nature.

He works with intuition, and while drawing it almost feels like he is in a trance, when the movement of the eyes and the hands aligns and the paper comes to life, as if he is an instrument of a higher force. One can never predict what he will draw next. The idea of merging and evolving a new pattern, a new entity, fascinates him. Evolution, absorption, modification, and transformation in nature all enchant him and are evident in his work and drawings.

Apartamento Magazine - A world of imagination: drawings by BV Doshi
Apartamento Magazine - A world of imagination: drawings by BV Doshi

As a constant reminder to stay grounded, reinvent, and work hard, he often recalls Le Corbusier’s quip from a conversation they once had: ‘Every morning I am born in the skin of a donkey!’ His desk at home is always full of paper, notes, and pens; it is where new thoughts and ideas keep emerging. Sometimes, he works for 12 to 14 hours a day, writing and reflecting.

I share a very special bond with him as a grandfather, an architect, a teacher, as a socially committed individual and sometimes a child. A good teacher teaches, but in the presence of a great teacher, you just learn without being taught. That has been my journey with my grandfather telling us to be adventurous and to dream, to be childlike, and to shed away all conditioning. For him, architecture is a living organism, which celebrates life.

Apartamento Magazine - A world of imagination: drawings by BV Doshi
Apartamento Magazine - A world of imagination: drawings by BV Doshi

BV Doshi’s granddaughter, the architect Khushnu Panthaki Hoof, shares with us here the importance of drawing and sketching in the life of the Pritzker Prize winner. We are very grateful to Khushnu and her family for this story and for allowing us to publish this account of their lives.

architecture, illustration, issue 21, issue 22
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