Celebrated Indian architect B.V. Doshi built his studio and garden in Ahmedabad as a place of reflection
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The journey into Sangath, the architecture studio founded by celebrated Indian architect B.V.Doshi in Ahmedabad, takes you down a transformative garden path — reinvigorating the senses and invoking the divine. Brisbane based designer Clare Elizabeth Kennedy shares her thoughts and photographs of the garden she passed through each day while working at Sangath.
Behind a tree-lined fence, off a chaotic arterial road in Ahmedabad’s dusty west, lies an architecture studio that redefines what it is to go to work. Sangath was designed by B.V. Doshi to house his flourishing architectural practice, and was completed in 1981, three decades into Doshi’s career. At the time Doshi had already contributed a great deal to the urban fabric of Ahmedabad, having designed many significant buildings himself, and also played a pivotal role in the realisation of Le Corbusier and Louis Kahn buildings in the city. Sangath is said to be an emblem of Doshi’s philosophies — a synthesis of his influences and ideas.
From his earliest sketches Doshi thought of Sangath as both a traditional subterranean network of vaulted spaces (the studios) and a village climbing up a hill (the garden). It was never intended to just be an office but also a public square, an amphitheatre, a garden and a work of art. Doshi is now 87 and still practicing at Sangath. He’s an incredibly generous spirit and Sangath was intended to be a gift both to his city and to his profession. Within the grounds countless designers, artists, educators and students have collaborated — each having been touched by the undeniable spirit of the place.
Sangath draws together many themes from Doshi’s earlier works. The wonderful garden that wraps around and over the vaulted studio spaces (below) is an example of his preoccupation with movement.He takes people on an unexpected journey, using key views to guide them along a route which offers up a generous series of places for visual and social interaction. The aim is to surprise and enliven. As Doshi himself put it, ‘The approach is never axial but diagonal, to make one discover and absorb the building before entering it.’ The garden at Sangath is a glorious example of this approach. In fact Sangath itself means ‘moving together through participation’.
Doshi’s work always offers countless spaces to just ‘be’. He invites you to experience the pause points and ambiguous spaces within his designs. In Sangath seats line the perimeter walls and the inviting lawn, shaded by lush foliage from trees above, is dotted with fountains and sculptures creating limitless places to be seen or unseen. The entire scale of the garden is very accommodating with a series of platforms encouraging people to sit and chat or just relax and be still. His idea to house the studio spaces partly below ground allowed for the creation of an informal amphitheatre with steps rising onto the building’s roof. On these steps Doshi can often be seen talking quietly to groups of guests, explaining his philosophies — so wonderfully illustrated in the garden that surrounds them.
Doshi’s work also seeks to connect man and nature, dramatising the natural elements of sky, sun, rain and earth. He has created both a procession into the earth and a platform to reflect the sky. One watches the vaults’ crescent shadows move eastward throughout the day as sunlight plays on their white china mosaic roof surface. Almost the entire roof can be traversed. It is a maze of seats and ladders, and affords the garden’s visitors voyeuristic views into the studio spaces below where workers can also be seen climbing ladders to access mezzanine levels suspended within. When monsoon rains hit, water splashes over the vaulted roofs and slips into overscaled gutters and channels, filtering into a network of ponds that at night reflect the moon’s glow off the glittering white mosaic surfaces.
Each day, staff emerge into the garden to find their lunch waiting. Each stainless steel tiffin is personally labeled and packed with dahl, curry, rice and bread.
The garden is a perfect synthesis of architecture, urbanism, planting and water features. A joyous symphony of the ideas and influences of a man who constantly seeks to enrich and enlighten. Often local laborers or passing families stop to relax in the shaded grassy mounds, or to watch birds swim in water-filled clay pots, getting lost in Doshi’s dream and forgetting the dusty screaming street from which they came.
About the Writer
Clare Elizabeth Kennedy
Clare is a Brisbane born architectural graduate who recently returned to her hometown after five years spent working as an architect in London, India and The UAE. Clare has an interest in alternative building materials, having just spent the last six months in India learning and researching various earth techniques. She has recently established her own Dirt Laboratory in an old brass foundry in central Brisbane, optimistic that Australia holds massive opportunity for further earth-based experimentation. Clare has also taught Architectural Design in universities both in the UK and Australia and is lover of architecture schools, students and debate.