The cosy living room nook in Kamala House, Ahmedabad

Left: A section of the bedroom with a painting by Maneesha Doshi ; Right: Library and study room on the mezzanine

Left: Steps leading to the mezzanine; Right: The semi-circular dining table
Photography by Amit Mehra, Produced by Mrudul Pathak Kundu

BV Doshi celebrated his 90th birthday on August 26, 2017

Inside BV Doshi's minimalist home in Ahmedabad

by Sonal Shah Aug 28, 2017 Meeting Balakrishna Doshi is always a privilege, and to spend a quiet morning with him at his home listening to anecdotes and wisdoms surrounding the hows and whys of Kamala House that he constructed way back in 1959 is special indeed. As we sit in his living room below the Husain painted directly on the wall, light filters through the skylight and many uncurtained windows and doors casting dappled shadows on his face.

“There were certain principles on which I built it,” explains BV. “My first consideration was reducing dependency on artificial illumination. So I created many sources by which sunlight could stream in directly and indirectly. Second was temperature. I could not afford air conditioning in those days, therefore, I oriented the structure to make most of the natural South Westerly winds. I also insulated the periphery with double walls, creating a wrap around, thermos effect. This was the first time in India that anyone had done cavity walls – two parallel brick walls with a gap in between to trap heat. My third thought was how to maximise volume with minimum expenditure and this led me to draft the one-and-a-half storeys on four columns in the centre with a cross-like grid radiating from it, containing all the fundamental amenities. The cross resulted in four neat squares, which became the four basic rooms – drawing, dining, kitchen and bedroom. The steps led to a mezzanine housing my library and workspace. The fourth parameter was privacy and safety of our two daughters as they grew up. Going against the prevailing vaastu ideas of the time, I planned a garden at the back rather than the front. Finally my understanding of temple architecture helped me determine my roof overhangs and ledges to ensure that rainwater never came in.”

In a more philosophical vein he continues, “A house must respond to the biological needs of the human being. The first rule an architect is taught is about humanism and whatever affects the human spirit has to be treated as important….”

Twenty five years later, BV added an extension – another square space with a basement that merges seamlessly with the original. “This fulfilled an aspiration of mine, to pay homage to my guru Le Corbusier. The layout and link have overtones of Villa Savoy, his masterpiece in Poissy (France).The basement is my meditation and prayer room, embodying my deepening spiritual understanding: To go within to find the inner self.” 

We traipse through the residence while he points out artworks and other elements of interest with an energy and enthusiasm that belie his 80 plus years. “Le Corbusier was one of the first visitors and told me it had a wonderful light…Louis Khan validated my theory of building that had a similar thrust to his…Charles and Ray Eames have also been my guests…I am totally blessed, everyone from all over the world comes here, what more can I want?”

Awed by the simplicity, candour and vision of this great man, I am also saddened. Reflecting on the pattern of climatically unfriendly construction that seems to be gaining ground across India, I am reminded of the hymn “Lead Kindly Light” and wish fervently that he is able to inspire the ever larger numbers of practioneers.

BV Doshi celebrated his 90th birthday on August 26, 2017