Vāstu-Shilpā Consultants was set up in Ahmedabad in 1956 by Balkrishna Doshi, an Indian architect, planner and educator. Doshi is considered one of the leading exponents of appropriate technology, whilst also being a key figure in the development of a modern Indian architecture, combining modernist influences with traditions from the East, specifically Doshi's interest in Hindu philosophy. The name of the practice refers to the Vāstu-Shilpā Shastras, the Hindu metaphysical design philosophy based on a system of rules related to the environment, cosmology, proportion and directional alignment. Doshi combines these influences with his experience of working with Le Corbusier, and his later collaborations with Louis Kahn, to produce an architecture that is adapted to its context, both in terms of climate and culture. As an educator he has taught at various institutions and also set up the School of Architecture and Planning in Ahmedabad, including designing its building. He is also a founding member of the Vāstu-Shilpā Foundation, a non-profit research institution that deals with issues of sustainable design, appropriate technology, vernacular architecture and urbanism.
Although Vāstu-Shilpā have designed private residences, offices and institutional buildings, it is perhaps their housing and urban design that is most relevant to the question of spatial agency. During the 1960s, India promoted a policy of regional industrialisation, where new factories with associated housing were to be built on the outskirts of existing towns or close to local villages. In this context, Vāstu-Shilpā developed a methodology for designing new townships which combined the demands of a growing economy with traditional skills and modes of living: prefabricated concrete elements were mixed with local materials and craft skills and a number of typologies of housing were designed that could be added to and adapted by the inhabitants. In the 1980s this model was taken further in the design of a new township, where much like the later work of Elemental, they took advantage of the latent construction knowledge and self-building skills that low-income, squatter families acquire through need. The Aranya township incorporates a variety of income groups on an 85 hectare site, where basic infrastructure, including electricity, water and drainage are provided. Whilst in some instances whole houses were built, for poorer families there were a range of options, including purchasing a plot only; a plot with a plinth to build on; or a built 'service core' of kitchen, washroom and an additional room. Here owners could add to the given infrastructure at their own pace and with down payments related to the average income of each family, the Aranya project tried to create a model of housing which could be afforded by those with very few resources.
It was Vāstu-Shilpā's organisational structure of a research institution affiliated to a design practice that allowed them to produce a design so well suited to the needs of squatter families. They were commissioned by the Indian government to spend a period of intensive research on such settlements gaining a thorough understanding of their physical, social and economic structures, a knowledge that was then applied to the design work.
Balkrishna V Doshi and Foundation for Studies and Research in
Environmental Design Vāstu-Shilpā, Give Time a Break
(Ahmedabad, India: Vāstu-Shilpā Foundation for Studies and Research
in Environmental Design, 2006).
Witold Rybczynik and Vāstu-Shilpā Foundation, How the Other Half Builds (Montreal: McGill University, 1984).
Balkrishna V Doshi and Foundation for Studies and Research in Environmental Design Vāstu-Shilpā, The Acrobat, the Yogi and the Sangathi (Ahmedabad, India: Vāstu-Shilpā Foundation for Studies and Research in Environmental Design, 2006).
"Vāstu-Shilpā Foundation," http://www.vastushilpa.org
Kazi Khaleed Ashraf and James Belluardo, eds., An
Architecture of Independence: The Making of Modern South Asia
(New York: Architectural League of New York, 1998).
Maria Vittoria Capitanucci, "Balkrishna Doshi," Abitare, no. 463 (August 2006): 108-113.
William Curtis, Balkrishna Doshi: An Architecture for India (New York: Rizzoli, 1988).
"Balkrishna Vithaldas Doshi," ArchNet Digital Library, http://archnet.org/library/parties/one-party.jsp?party_id=12
Vicky Richardson, "Interview: Balkrishna Doshi.," Blueprint (London), no. 273 (December 2008): 72-73, 75-76.
James Steele, The Complete Architecture of Balkrishna Doshi: Rethinking Modernism for the Developing World (London: Thames and Hudson, 1998).
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