Balkrishna Doshi: Speaking urgently to our times

08_VDM_Doshi_IIM hostel block
Balkrishna Doshi, Indian Institute of Management, Bangalore, 1977, 1992 © Iwan Baan 2018

The excellent Balkrishna Doshi: Architecture for the People exhibition currently on display at the Vitra Design Museum offers a welcome and different take on what usually constitutes an architecture exhibition in our day and age. It is, in more than one sense, a breath of fresh air, and I was happy to review it for the June 2019 issue of Icon magazine – an excerpt can be found below. Thank you to Priya Khanchandani for the invitation!

Doshi’s architecture shows an urgency to address concerns that are more relevant than ever today, most notably his understanding of social spaces, of the necessity to create moments for encounters and conviviality. His most powerfully idealistic work – created in the early 1970s, a time of social and political transformation – manifests its utopian values in spaces that are inspiring and transformative. Faced with the impossible task of transporting visitors from Vitra’s museum on the German-Swiss border to these freewheeling triumphs of spirit, the exhibition nevertheless makes us dream.

Dear gatekeepers

Dear Gatekeepers by Foreign Legion
“Dear gatekeepers”, in Icon Magazine, March 2019 

Right after our A Woman’s Work symposium, Matylda Krzykowski and I were thrilled to be able to take the conversation on design and gender politics further, as we jointly authored an op-ed in the March 2019 issue of Icon magazine, titled “Dear Gatekeepers”.  The op-ed can be read in the Foreign Legion website, below an excerpt:

On 18 January this year, we made our first attempt to dismantle such structures, organising a collaborative conversation at the Museum of Applied Arts in Dresden. Titled A Woman’s Work, the event gathered voices from the discipline of design to discuss the roles and influence of female practitioners. The symposium took place alongside the exhibition Against Invisibility, which rewrote a fraction of modern design history by rescuing the nearly-forgotten stories of female designers working in the Deutsche Werkstätten Hellerau in the early decades of the 20th century.

What are the differences between them and us? As design critic Alice Rawsthorn pointed out in the symposium, “we need to build on [past achievements] with a dynamic and critical discourse … While many skirmishes have been won, others await.’

We must ensure that our stories won’t get lost like theirs. We must create spaces for their – and our – voices to be heard once the present generation is long gone. We must ensure that the current enthusiasm doesn’t get lost, and after an object designed by a woman is sold, exhibited, commissioned and exchanged for inflated sums of money, women – and their stories – will remain.

It is the responsibility of the gatekeepers – who write, who teach, who collect, who curate, who sell, who promote, who advocate – to open the gates for the dismantling of past and present conditions, in order to make women’s work, contributions and visibility a permanent condition.