‘I need 30 minutes to meditate before giving the lecture’ stated Balkrishna Doshi, ‘and a quiet room in which to do so, and, oh, some tea please’.

I’ve always been somewhat taken by this, my first (and only) meeting of Doshi. This was not the request of an architectural tyrant making petty demands, but an essential aligning of thoughts, removal of distraction, and focusing on how he might respond to the audience. It was a process he mirrored in his architectural work – bring forth a determined idea, eliminate any confusion and put the ‘audience’ or the ‘user’ at the centre. Doshi was in Liverpool to give a lecture to coincide with a Le Corbusier exhibition arranged as part of the European Capital of Culture year. The lecture covered parts of his biography such as his time with Le Corbusier in Paris (and surviving on a meagre subsistence) working on the monuments of Chandigarh, as well as his work with Louis Kahn at the Indian Institute of Management in Ahmadabad. Had his career ended there it would have been remarkable but he would go on to make significant advances in both formal and social aspects of architecture.


Mill Owners Association Building by Le Corbusier

On 7th March Doshi was awarded the Pritzker Prize, the first Indian to receive the award, and we send our hearty congratulations.

Together with his studio he has designed well over 100 projects in the Gujarati city of Ahmedabad and many more throughout the rest of India. He has chosen to focus on India rather than developing an international portfolio of work, and he has contributed much to low-cost housing provision and town planning.



Ahmadabad, with its wealthy merchant class, has proved an eager patron of architecture and the city is astonishing for its quantity of bold design. They readily embraced Corbusier’s work and he received three commissions in the city. Doshi’s own work emerged out of this context. He wasn’t a mimic or somehow bound by Le Corbusier – on the contrary, he developed his ideas further and pursued the playfulness that is rarely discussed in Corb’s later commissions.

Working out of his self-built studios ‘Sangarth’ for the last 40 years, Doshi created a series of half-round concrete parasols clad with ceramic.  These vaulted spaces were quick to construct, eliminate complicated details and components, and offer flexible enclosures that can easily be extended. The vaults offer protection from the intense heat of the Gujarati summer as well as channeling the monsoon rains into a series of pools. The landscaping is equally important with large scale planting, shade trees, and a small amphitheatre carved out of the terrain. The campus is a lesson in how to design with care and beauty whilst minimising materials and maximising spatial impact.



Although more sculpted and at a larger scale similar themes were explored at the Centre for Environment, Planning and Technology [CEPT].  Here there is an encouragement of procession and movement through the various structures and landscapes. Gathering spaces open up amongst the strong, yet simple brick masses. The climate here permits few enclosures and the building envelope is perforated and rarely defined. Wandering through the campus exposes the students to the work of others, and one stumbles upon critiques, exhibitions, models being tested, and class discussions. Circulation is no longer a corridor or a staircase. There are elements of Kahn’s IIM, but the CEPT campus is more compact, more urbane and less of a‘set piece’ than IIM – whilst both use the humble brick and deep shadowed reveals to great effect.


Critique at CEPT

There are of course many more projects that we could discuss (see William Curtis or James Steele’s monographs for more on the work), but two that immediately spring to mind are Premabhai Hall (1972) and the Tagore Theatre (1963-65).


Premabhai Theatre

Premabhai was a brave project, situated in the heart of old Ahmadabad’s Badra, a large public square lined with historical works and old city gates. The theatre seems to leap up and cantilever out over the square.  It confidently dominates the space, rewarded for its quirky form, and the blank gables acting as a foil to its ornate neighbours.


Tagore Theatre, Vastu Shilpa Foundation 1967

The Tagore Theatre is a rigid frame, folded plate structure, and achieves an impressive 33m span enabling the interior to remain free of columns (as well as containing all of the services). At first sight it appears too much  – the scale and lack of surrounding context makes for a foreboding approach. But the delicate folds of the concrete and precision casting seems to soften and give the theatre a more starched-fabric feel upon close contact – plus it’s impossible not to smile at the acoustic clouds that line the interior.

Inside the Tagore Theatre

Inside the Tagore Theatre, Vastu Shilpa Foundation, 1967



The Transnational Architecture Group Blog is 5 Today!

It’s five years since our first tentative blog post. Since that day we’ve posted over 200 articles, calls for papers, and general research updates on all things architecturally transnational.

One of our major research interests has of course been the work of Maxwell Fry and Jane Drew, with the publication of the monograph in 2014 and international conference. But that was just the start. Since then we’ve covered Shama Anbrine and Yemi Salami’s PhD work in Pakistan and Nigeria respectively, as well as Cleo Robert’s PhD work in India. Rachel Lee tested and developed our Timescape App in Bangalore and also published a wonderful monograph (with TAG Press) on Otto Koenigsberger. She was also responsible for a major heritage symposium in Dar es Salam. Ola Uduku has been our most prolific ‘commenter’ as well as providing many research updates on our findings in Ghana and organising numerous workshops on the Architecture of Africa. Our current research project has been sponsored by the British Academy and we’re delighted to be collaborating with Rexford Assasie Oppong (KNUST) and Irene Appeaning Addo (Legon University) on this work.  There is going to be a lot more research stemming from this initial project, not least the cataloguing and archiving of the major drawings collection at KNUST, with Łukasz Stanek from Manchester University.

Other forays have taken us to Thailand and the work of Nat Phothiprasat, as well as to Sri Lanka and the plans of Patrick Abercombie.  We’ve posted abstracts and links to many other papers and projects, not least Johan Lagaes and Kathleen James-Chakraborty’s papers. Killian Doherty and Edward Lawrenson’s film on Yekepa promises to be one of the highlights of 2018.

More recent posts have revealed the rich architecture of the Middle East, including Levin’s paper on Ashkelon, William A. Henderson‘s work at Little Aden,  Ben Tosland’s research into Kuwait, Alsalloum’s moving paper on Damascus and Jackson’s paper on the PWD in Iraq. There’s surely a lot more to investigate here.

It’s been great fun, and here’s to the next five years of exciting research, difficult questions, dusty roads and even dustier archives, and of course new discoveries that make everything worthwhile.

We’d like to thank all of the blog contributors (please do continue to send us your updates, research findings and short articles). Thanks also to our committed readers and for all of your kind comments and emails.

Iain Jackson.



We included an article on these structures exactly one year ago today – and were still hopeful that the Indian Government would see sense and agree to retain these important pieces of architecture. Alas, they made a terrible decision and sent in the wrecking ball.

There was no real justification for this act of cultural vandalism. It is a disgraceful destruction of modern heritage, not to mention the environmental waste.

Next month the AHRC and Indian Council for Historical Research will be sponsoring a workshop on ‘Cultural Heritage and Rapid Urbanisation in India‘ in Delhi. Its too late for the Maidan but let’s hope the workshop can provoke some much needed change.


Read and see more at the Hindustan Times.

Urban Heritage Activism
Thursday 16 March – Friday 17 March, 09:00-18:00
TU Berlin, Hardenbergstr. 16-18, 10623 Berlin


The two-day Urban Heritage Activism conference will focus on heritage ‘from below’–urban history as it is lived, represented and transformed by local communities in diverse geographies and cultural contexts. Speakers from grassroots movements, academic and cultural institutions will address political ramifications and power struggles related to heritage and introduce the failures and solutions of various activism projects, especially in postcolonial contexts. Contributors will debate contemporary tensions and future strategies for interventions through a roundtable discussion at the end of each day.

In addition to the stimulating conference programme, the Simulizi Mijini / Urban Narratives exhibition Juxtaposing Narratives: Dar es Salaam and Berlin will open at 8pm on Friday 17 March with a cooking performance, live music and a DJ. Walking tours and film screenings will round off the programme of events.


Speakers and moderators: Erica Abreu, Jully Acuna, Yaşar Adanali, Awami Art Collective, Comfort Badaru, Diane Barbé, Shraddha Bhatawadekar, Vittoria Capresi, Jerome Chou , Rebecca Corey, Gabi Dolff-Bonekämper, Matthias Einhoff, Anne-Katrin Fenk, Zinovia Foka, Susanne Förster, Benjamin Häger, Maj Horn, Anooradha Iyer Siddiqi, Sehr Jalil, Leila Javanmardi, Claudia Jürgens, Georg Krajewsky, Rachel Lee, Farah Makki, Sarita Mamseri, Srdjan Mandić, Mansion, Avehi Menon, Philipp Misselwitz, Monika Motylinska, Rishika Mukhopadhyay, Laura Murray, Marcelo Murta, Naira Mushtaq, Cord Pagenstecher, Luise Rellensmann, Ana Luisa Ribeiro, Juliane Richter, Gözde Şarlak, Jona Schwerer, Annika Seifert, Gülsah Stapel, Samaila Suleiman and Mike Terry

Artists: Rehema Chachage, Cloud Chatanda, Tellervo Kalleinen and Oliver Kochta-Kalleinen, KUNSTrePUBLIK and Jan van Esch, Umesh Maddanahalli, Michelle Monareng, Patrick Mudekereza, Paul Ndunguru, Nadin Reschke, and Alex Römer

The Road Less Traveled is the overarching title given to a  yearlong series of exhibitions programmed at the Kohler Arts Center to celebrate its 50th Birthday Anniversary  – including a major exhibition on Indian artist and visionary environment creator, Nek Chand. The Arts Center has the largest collection of Nek Chand sculptures outside of the Rock Garden in Chandigarh – and they’ve put 200 sculptures on show in an extraordinary exhibition.


Curator Karen Patterson was looking for a more collaborative and creative approach to curating the shows and selected a responder for each exhibition to bring new and unique insights to the work and the final shows.

Karen asked me to send her a few ideas on how Nek Chand’s sculptures might be presented and exhibited. We met in Liverpool and discussed a range of concepts, including developing a virtual reality film of the Rock Garden [something I’m really eager to do]. We spoke about the experiential, almost cinematic nature of the Rock Garden – and how it is arranged as a series of distinct ‘outside rooms’ or events. Moving through the space and watching the sculptures being ‘revealed’, hidden, and glimpsed through this process is crucial in Nek Chand’s work.

It was also a decade since I completed my PhD research – and I felt it was a good time to revisit my measured drawings and catalogue of the Rock Garden. Karen agreed to exhibit my survey work and I got the catalogue reprinted at A3 size and its 250+ pages hard bound. I really enjoyed ‘re-discovering’ my old work. The survey drawings had been kept rolled up in a plastic tube for ten years, and I carefully extracted the coil of drawings, not knowing in what condition they might be in. Thankfully, they were exactly as I’d left them- tattered at the edges, full of rips, holes and dog-eared corners. I sent them off to the Arts Center, hoping they wouldn’t get lost in the post…


The catalogues of Nek Chand’s work


I arrived at the Arts Centre a few days before the official opening, having seen the CAD drawings of the proposed show, produced by the exhibition designer and co-curator Amy Chaloupka. There’s always a disconnect between an architectural drawing and what it represents – and this was no exception. The scale of the exhibition is vast – and the amount of work required to produce, install and prepare the ‘terrain’ is incredible. One really gets a sense of what it is like to be in the Rock Garden – without there being any sense of pastiche or mimicry. The sculptures are arranged according to type on a series of terraced podiums that sweep through the space, compressing the visitor into a narrow gorge-like passage where the sculptures are densely arranged facing into the walkway. This approach puts the sculptures at eye level and really enables a dialogue to emerge between the viewer and the figures.  As well as the concrete sculptures there is a collection of the cloth works – an often overlooked component of Nek Chand’s work – they are again arranged as a group and tightly gathered so that they read as an ensemble of works that need to be walked around, and examined.

In addition to Nek Chand’s sculptures there is an archway reminiscent of the Phase-3 part of the Rock Garden. Contained within this segment of the exhibition are four panoramic photographs, the catalogue and the survey drawings.


Installing the Drawings…


Panoramic photos and drawings. The catalogue sits on the perspex stand.


Survey drawings of the Rock Garden

You can find out more about the other wonderful exhibitions here: and there will be a conference on 26th-28th September 2017. None of this is to be missed….



Testing the Timescape Bengaluru app at Kempegowda Tower in Lalbagh Park. Watch the video here

In November and December 2016 Rachel Lee and Anne-Katrin Fenk were in Bengaluru working on the augmented reality Timescape app that the Envisioning the Indian City team developed for Kolkata in 2015. Supported by Goethe Institut Bangalore (Max Mueller Bhavan) and MOD Institute, and partnered by Bygone Bangalore and Centre for Public History at Srishti, we spent five weeks looking through image collections, selecting locations, conducting interviews, geo-referencing photographs, writing entries and testing out and evolving the app in the city. We discussed our progress and the interim results at a public presentation at the Max Mueller Bhavan on 16 December.


Real time transparency corrections at the Ashoka Pillar with Martin Winchester of Liverpool University

Timescape, a smartphone/tablet app, draws on the real, existing fabric of India’s cities, combining it with archival image material and historical data to communicate urban heritage through an immersive augmented reality experience. Using geolocation services and push notifications Timescape is a serendipitous tour guide, an armchair heritage portal, and an educational resource. Informative and easy to navigate, the AR app brings evocative, vintage photographs from museum collections, such as the British Library, online databases, like the Facebook group ‘Bygone Bangalore’, and family archives to India’s streets, living rooms and classrooms. Images of tangible heritage, such as buildings, are complemented by documents relating to intangible heritage, for example music recordings, poetry, and recipes. Timescape aims to become an innovative forum for recording, exchanging and remembering the evolving urban cultures of Indian cities across the subcontinent. Timescape will develop an infrastructure that enables people to upload their own historical photographic collections and stories.


Screenshots of the app taken while walking up Avenue Road

As Bengaluru continues growing at an unrelenting pace, the historical fabric of the built environment is increasingly threatened. When, for example, nineteenth century bungalows are demolished to clear space for office towers, places that contribute to the foundations of the city’s and its citizens’ sense of collective identity and public memory are destroyed. In Bengaluru we focused on a central area including Chickpete, the Fort, Jayanagar and MG Road, which is particularly threatened by redevelopment. Features on buildings, such as the Rice Memorial Church or Krishna Rao Pavilion, were augmented by cultural institutions like the Indian Institute of World Culture, monuments like the Ashoka Pillar or the statue of Maharaja Chamarajendra Wodeyar X, and legendary local cultural hubs such as MTR Tiffin Rooms, Vidyarthi Bhavan and Koshy’s. As well as historic images, textual descriptions accompany the points of interest and in some cases sound files were added. We would like to expand the app to include edited oral histories collected in the neighbourhoods. Some of the points of interest have been archived on the MOD blog.


Google map showing chosen points of interest and a screenshot of the app showing geolocated images in map mode

The presentation at Max Mueller Bhavan began with Anne-Katrin Fenk giving an introduction to archiving and curating urban history. Rachel Lee followed with a report on how the time in Bangalore had been spent and what progress we had made on the app, then Kiran Natarajan of Bygone Bangalore talked about the need for the app through his rather amusing “shock therapy” presentation, and finally Avehi Menon from Centre for Public History discussed the importance of oral history and how it could be integrated into the app through sound files.

In 2017 the next step is to apply for funding to move up a level and be able to devote adequate time to the development of the content and technology. We have a great team in Bengaluru, Berlin and Liverpool who are very enthusiastic to take it further.


The Timescape Bengaluru team and friends celebrating in Indiranagar after the presentation at Max Mueller Bhavan. From left to right: Kiran Natarajan, Anne-Katrin Fenk, Avehi Menon, Katerina Valdivia Bruch, Vivek Jain, Cop Shiva and Rachel Lee

A short video of Anne-Katrin Fenk and Kiran Natarajan testing the app in Lalbagh Park is available on youtube.

Article in the Times of India from 20 December 2016.

Article in The Hindu from 10 January 2017.