Exclusive: Architect BV Doshi on how homes can be places for accidental dialogue
When I decided to build a house in Ahmedabad in the late ’50s, I wondered what kind it would be for us and our daughters. They were very young and had started school. I thought it would be good to plant some trees to invite the birds and butterflies. Then the flowers would come and we could talk about seasons and colours, the habits of plants and animals. And if all this could be given to them, then they would look at the sky, feel the rain, and find a place to play. In that way, they would be a part of a world that is constantly changing and growing.
The best part about life is change. It’s the sense of wonder and curiosity it allows. Today, when we make houses with glass and air-conditioning, we have forgotten what it is like to feel the heat and the cold, what rain sounds like or what seasonal flowers smell like. We have forgotten to think about our own skin. If one walks barefoot, one feels the pressure of walking over stones, the softness of sand, the splash of water on the feet. We dress up ourselves and our spaces so much now that we don’t feel the changing seasons any more.
So, how do we find ourselves in our homes? How does one know there are dark clouds in the sky, and thunder, and suddenly, there is rain. If that were to happen, and you feel like going out and playing in the rain, we don’t know how our bodies will react. Can we dance and sing in the rain? All those things that we had as a response to our environment have become mechanical now. Our organs were designed for evolution and experience which touches our hearts. If we can give that to people, then we have given them back their lives.
At the moment, I’m sitting in my house, it’s 4pm, and there’s such beautiful light streaming in as the sun sets. The shadows are changing as the light is changing. A house must make you feel alive, it should be a living organism that breathes and gives tonality to the elements and seasons.
The other thing about houses today is that we don’t know our neighbours. We don’t even hear them, we have only our TV sets. Life is to be seen and celebrated. And that celebration can happen only if we can integrate nature with humanity, with all its sounds and sights.
When I was growing up in Pune, every house had a verandah and a balcony. Neighbours were close enough to hear sounds from their houses. People would come and go through our homes — the carpenter, the goldsmith, the milkman and vendors. Festivals and birthdays belonged to everyone. Today, the terrace is gone, the balcony is gone.
In my childhood home, our doors were always open because we only had fans to keep the place cool. So, we were present with our neighbours, with all the sounds, we were fully alive. And whatever food they made, I could smell it in my house, and would invite myself over to my neighbour’s. There was always the element of surprise. There was sharing — of joys, of sorrows, of scarcity and life. This not only made us feel secure but it fulfilled every social, emotional and cultural need. We were never lonely.
Festivals were tied to seasons, to dance, drama, and dialogue. Men and women got together to gossip; I think the world needs gossip. Instead, we’ve become quieter and lonelier now. Rooms and living areas were shared, but now it’s his bed and her bed, his room and her room.
Homes must become places where accidental dialogues can happen, they have to once again become places of serendipity, of discovery.
(As told to Shiny Varghese)
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