Experiments Gone Right
- Pritzker Prize-winning architect Balkrishna Doshi learned a lot about his craft as a bedridden 10-year-old.
- Tori Marchiony finds out why Amy Seiwert is constantly pushing against boundaries—seen and unseen.
- Actor/writer/director Josh Radnor and singer-songwriter Ben Lee were friends for a decade before they decided to make music together.
Balkrishna Doshi is an influential architect known for designing sustainable housing developments for mixed income groups. In 2018, he won the prestigious Pritzker Architecture Prize, the first Indian architect to do so.
Doshi was born in 1927 in Pune, India, into a family of furniture makers. He studied at the Sir J. J. School of Art in Mumbai then apprenticed in Paris under Le Corbusier. In the 1950s, Doshi worked with the renowned modernist architect designing the planned regional capital city of Chandigarh before starting his own firm in 1944. In 1962 he founded what is now the Centre for Environmental Planning and Technology in Ahmedabad, India, where he served as director until 1981.
Doshi is highly regarded in India and beyond for his low-cost sustainable urban planning, incorporating concepts of sustainability, livability, and adaptable design. These ideals are exemplified in his Aranya Housing Project, which provides low-cost housing for 80,000 residents and won the Aga Khan Award for Architecture in Muslim societies in 1995.
Ben Lee is a noted musician and actor. He was born in Sydney, Australia, in 1978, and began playing music as a teenager in the band Noise Addict. He recorded his first of twenty solo albums in 1996. His 2005 release Awake Is the New Sleep reached number 5 on the Australian album charts.
Josh Radnor is a well-known actor, filmmaker, and musician. He is most familiar for his role as Ted Mosby in the hit CBS TV show How I Met Your Mother (2005–2014). He was born in Columbus, OH, and studied at Kenyon College and New York University. He starred in the Broadway adaptation of The Graduate in 2002 and had guest roles in a number of television programmes before landing the main role in How I Met Your Mother. He has directed two feature films, Happythankyoumoreplease (2010) and Liberal Arts (2014). In 2014 he starred in the Tony-winning play Disgraced.
Radnor and Lee met each other on the set of How I Met Your Mother in the mid-2000s and began writing songs together a decade later. They have released two albums, the self-titled Radnor and Lee (2017) and Golden State (2020)
Amy Seiwert is a celebrated choreographer for ballet. Her works have been performed by such high-profile dance groups as Ballet Austin, Atlanta Ballet, Washington Ballet, and the American Repertory Ballet.
Seiwert grew up in Cincinnati, OH, and began dancing when she was 6 years old. She created her first ballet at age 16. After apprenticeships at the Garden State Ballet and the Princeton Ballet, she joined the Sacramento Ballet in 1991. She moved to Smuin Contemporary American Ballet in 1999 and danced for nine years under choreographer Michael Smuin. After retiring from the stage in 2008, she spent a decade as choreographer in residence at Smuin before returning to Sacramento Ballet as artistic director, a role she held 2018–2020.
She founded her own company, Amy Seiwert’s Imagery, in 2004 and launched its in-progress SKETCH Series in 2011. In 2017, the Joyce Theater in New York commissioned Seiwert’s first evening-length work, Wandering. That same year, she choreographed the Philip Glass opera Les Enfants Terribles for Opera Parallèle in San Francisco.
- Stage & Screen
Welcome to Articulate, a show that explores how really creative people understand the world. On the episode of Articulate, the Pritzker Prize-winning architect, Balkrishna Doshi learned a lot about his craft as a bed-ridden 10-year-old.
Tori Marchiony finds out how Amy Seiwert is constantly pushing against boundaries seen and unseen.
Amy Seiwert: We’re looking for these things that express the unknown, that go beyond the singular eye and connect to the greater scope of humanity.
Actor, writer, director, Josh Radnor and singer/songwriter Ben Lee were friends for a decade before they decided to make music together.
Josh Radnor: It’s interesting to be such good friends with someone and a collaborator with him and also be a fan of theirs. It’s really fun.
That’s all ahead on Articulate.
At 91 years old, the Indian architect, Balkrishna Doshi has seen a lot, from India’s overthrow of British rule in 1947 to the country’s more recent transformation into a hotbed of technology, industry and innovation. But Doshi has not allowed the ups and downs of the past century to distract him from his life’s work, providing affordable, adaptable, sustainable housing for mixed income groups and educating the next generation of Indian architects to do the same. His prodigious talent was recognized at the highest level in 2018 when he won the Pritzker Architecture Prize, sometimes also referred to as architecture’s Nobel. But for the great magnitude of his impact, Balkrishna Doshi has remained remarkably humble and profoundly compassionate.
Balkrishna Doshi: When you give somebody, as education or culture, don’t give it a price. It is not a charity, it is your obligation, because you come here to give not to take.
Balkrishna Doshi was born in 1927 in Pune, India to a family of furniture makers, he describes his grandfather as an early influence and the person who introduced him to elements of Indian culture that would become important themes in his work.
Doshi: He would take me to the temples, and then he would talk about the glories of our epics and our myths. I think I was fascinated by those things. He was giving me a glimpse of the world that I should somehow pick up in my life.
Doshi’s mother died when he was very young, but he describes her absence as a perennial influence.
Doshi: When I was almost eight-nine months, she passed away. But she haunts me all the time, and somewhere, she’s the one who guides me. There was one photograph that I saw—only that photograph was there, and that photograph os the only memory that I have, which I carry with me. But the most important thing was that the relationship that the family had with her and what my grandfather talked about her, I think created a great impact for me. There were a lot of myths after her. So those things made me think that she’s there. So it’s like haunting, you don’t know. You are searching, but you don’t know where.
Besides his mother’s absence, there were other events in his early life that would turn out to be highly influential. It was while recovering from a nasty childhood injury that a bedridden, young Doshi began to see buildings in a new way.
Doshi: I was lying alone for six months in a room, and there I realized the quality of space, light, silence. Because when you are in an absolute agony and days pass and night passes, time lingers, and you wait for the early morning sun to come, and then gradually the light changes.
After studying architecture in Mumbai, a 20-something-year-old Doshi went to London, where he met with Le Corbusier. Soon after, he moved to Paris to apprentice under the now legendary modernist architect. Doshi spoke no French and was, as he remembers it, quite naive.
Doshi: I had not known about Corbusier when I joined him. Neither I was very much educated in architecture, because I did it halfway. So from all those points of view, I went there as a curious thing.
Today, Doshi describes Le Corbusier as a guru, one who taught him new ways to think about space, structure, form and light. In the 1950s, the master architect was commissioned to design Chandigarh, a planned city that would serve as capital for the Northern Indian states of Haryana and Punjab. Le Corbusier tasked Doshi with overseeing aspects of design and construction. The project would transform them both.
Doshi: The first thing that I saw in his office was a big climatic chart—a chart which said about 12 months of the year and the seasons, the temperature, humidity, orientation of breeze. So when I met him, he says “I have to have a pact with nature.” A man who never talked about nature that way, he says “I’m going to have a pact with nature.” But nature doesn’t mean only climate. Nature also means people—their habits, their patterns. In his sketches, one could see insects and animals and tortoises and shells and woman dress and religious. So he was looking at the kind of fragility of life. Actually, the most precious thing, is most fragile.
When their work in Chandigarh was completed, Doshi moved south to a Ahmedabad. There in the 1960s, he founded the architecture school that is today called The Center For Environmental Planning and Technology.
Doshi: The Indian mind is very, very capable, very ingenious. When I started the school, I realized that the mind which comes from the rural areas or unexposed areas are brilliant because the think, they innovate ideas,
Students at his school learn practical aspects of architecture, as well as more ephemeral philosophies. Doshi believes that at their best, spaces should be designed to feel genuinely inviting.
Doshi: What you are doing is creating situations by which whosoever uses it, whosoever comes there, should feel at home. I think the most important thing is, do we create? Do we think that we can give them a feeling of homecoming? I think that “homecoming” word is quite different from a visitor or a guest.
Ahmedabad is also home to some of Doshi’s other well-known works. In 1963, he built a home for his family, Kamala House, named for his wife. In 1981 came his studio called Sangath, a Sanskrit word which means moving together. But the work that best exemplifies Doshi’s ethos and maybe his crowning achievement, is 250 miles or so east of Ahmedabad in Indore.
Completed in 1989, the Irania low-cost housing project is a masterpiece of sustainable, urban planning, designed to house 80,000 mixed-income people comfortably and humanely. The houses, made with local materials, are separated by exterior corridors and courtyards, which welcome the breeze and protect against the sun. And each home is designed to be easily adapted as the family within grows.
Doshi: Change doesn’t mean that it is ruined. Change, it means that it has been alive and it has been now made for another kind of expression or experience. I think change is not an abuse. Change is the use of things for something, which is now required, but it is a heightening level of understanding.
AJC: Many architects believe that when they design a building, that that is it, that it is perfect—it is the perfect expression of their ego and that the people who are—nobody else afterwards can mess with it, their not aloud to mess with this work of art.
Doshi: Well, they want to make it a stillborn baby. It’s a stillborn child. Which you can’t do much about. I think the one which is made, what you call “subject to modification” or “change” to me, is, living organism.
In Irania, as in all of Balkrishna Doshi’s projects, his early influences are evident. His life-long mission has been to engender compassion, especially for the poor.
Doshi: I would like everybody to be happy, because my childhood, you know, somebody took care of me, and I think I should do the same. That, I think, I try.
Balkrishna Doshi has been widely regarded in India for decades and today, the rest of the world is at last recognizing him.
Of all the adjectives one might use to describe the virtues of ballet, experimental is probably not the first one that comes to mind, but for choreographer Amy Seiwert, the dance is perhaps most importantly a way to explore uncharted territory. In 2017 alone, Seiwert choreographed her first narrative work, the Philip Glass Opera, Les Enfants Terribles and first evening-length work, Wandering, set to the song cycle Winterreise by Schubert and in 2018, she was named Artistic Director of Sacramento Ballet, where she had previously danced for eight years. Indeed, Amy Seiwert is always pushing herself, but on her very first day of ballet class, as a six-year-old, self-described tomboy, she was mostly pushing back.
Amy Seiwert: I cried, I did not want to take ballet. Ballet was pink and it was girly and I didn’t wanna do it.
But once class began and Seiwert realized just how much athleticism ballet demands, she was hooked for life.
Seiwert: The amount of training, the amount of dedication that you had to do at such a young age, it’s not a hobby. There’s so much strength, there’s so much tenacity that is needed to excel in this artform. Yes, it’s our job to make this look effortless, but what actually goes into it.
Seiwert put in almost 20 years as a professional dancer. In that time, her view of her instrument was not always kind, but these days, she’s found peace with her body.
Seiwert: I don’t have a traditional ballet dancer look. I’m pretty short. I like to say I’m 5’3″, it’s not true. I’m very compact, like a little more muscular and I always thought that was bad. I did not look like the waif that people were used to seeing on stage. That said, one of the reasons I got to dance so long is that my body was able to handle the demands pretty well. I didn’t have a major injury until I was 30. That’s lucky and so this body that I was like, oh, it should be thinner and it should be waifier and it should be more flexible actually really served me so well. So it takes a while to appreciate the strengths that you have.
AJC: So if you didn’t have a ballerina’s body, why not go into a different kind of dance?
Seiwert: So I loved point shoes. To me, working in the classical ballet technique and working with the point shoe, you can have greater speed. There is a different sense of approaching lines from above that you just have a different lever, a differently physicality with it.
A shared mastery of point technique is what keeps Amy Seiwert’s relentlessly-adventurous eight-dancer company, Imagery, within the bounds of ballet. Still, Seiwert’s work is constantly evolving, while always retaining an essence that is uniquely her own, but learning to trust herself took time. She points to her nine years with Smuin Ballet in San Francisco as the period when she truly came into her own, both as a dancer and a choreographer.
Seiwert: So Michael Smuin was amazing as a mentor to me, and I think one of the main reasons was that what I was doing was so different than what he did. His work often had a Broadway kind of flare, often was super accessible. He had a love of showmanship and then here’s me who especially when I was younger had a love of being moody and a little weird and he thought that was great. One of my favorite memories of him is that I had been home for the holidays and showed my grandmother this ballet I made called The Melting. It was not in point shoes, it was on flat. It was really weird, it was a lot about just exploring what the body can do. It was abstract, but dealing with the nature of water and how molecule changes depending on the environment around it and I was so proud of it and I showed it to my grandmother, and she was like, “Have you ever thought about being more like Michael?” So then I come back to San Francisco and Michael’s like, “How was your break?” I was like, “Oh, it was great. Showed my grandmother The Melting, she asked me if I ever thought about being more like you,” and he just shook his head and he said, “Does she have any idea you’re doing really well just being yourself?”
Smuin died in 2007 and Seiwert retired from dancing the following year, but stayed with his company as she moved into choreography full time. In 2011, her own company, which had been a loose collective since 2004, finally became an official entity. The same year, she launched the Sketch Series, a showcase of in-progress works designed to give ballet choreographers a forum to try new things and risk failure all for an audience prepared to come along for the ride.
Seiwert: You need to be able to know what we can’t do. So, yeah, Sketch.
AJC: How did you get comfortable with that idea of failure ’cause it’s—
Seiwert: Oh, I’m not.
AJC: You’re not?
Seiwert: No, not at all, and you know, it doesn’t feel good to fail. When you step out of the realm that you know and you’re creating here and this whole thing might be a failure, but maybe there’s the smallest little nugget of creation that happened, that becomes the seed for something else, and you can’t get to that something else without going through that awkward growing stage of that particular, again, I’ll use the quotes, failure. You gotta walk through it, you gotta step into what you don’t know and maybe you just step into it and be like, yes, I’m never doing that again, but if you don’t know, you’re never gonna go beyond that first sphere.
And so, Seiwert continues her search for something profound, even divine, though she hesitates to use that word.
Seiwert: I’ll always describe it as the moments that make your soul sing. You can describe it as looking for God. You can describe it as finding the moments that transcend. We’re looking for these things that express the unknown, that go beyond the singular eye and connect to the greater scope of humanity.
(‘Wider Spaces’ by Radnor & Lee)
Be ready heart
For new endeavors
It won’t last forever
Saying yes to the new is a virtue, yet fear of the unknown can often be cause for procrastination. Not so for writer, director, actor, and recently musician, Josh Radnor.
Josh Radnor: After being on a hit television show for nine years, there’s no one in the world that would say, you know what you’re next move should be? You should form an Indie band with Ben Lee and make some beautiful, spiritually-based folk music. Like there’s no one who would say that. That is an absolute weird move to make, but for me, from like whatever GPS is guiding me, that’s 100% the right move.
Radnor met the Australian singer-songwriter, Ben Lee, a full decade before they decided to work together in 2015. The music of their partnership, says Lee, is driven by the same kind of deep, existential questing that fuels their friendship.
Ben Lee: Collaboration is two people checking each other out and going, we’ve kind of got a similar mission, we could be strong together. There’s like an alliance, an allegiance, and so what I’m always looking for with collaborators is people that are as concerned with consciousness and proliferating consciousness through their work.
(‘Be Like The Being’ by Radnor & Lee)
Be like the being
Free like the being
Being like the being ’cause the reason
For the being is to be like the being
Free like the being
Being like the being ’cause the reason
For the being is to be
Radnor: It’s interesting to be such good friends with someone and a collaborator with them and also be a fan of theirs, it’s really fun. The older I’m getting, there’s something nice about male friendships. I didn’t have brothers, I have two sisters. I really value my male friends to kind of check in along the way and go like, you feeling any of this, like how are we supposed to do this?
(‘Doorstep’ by Radnor & Lee)
Told me I was looking for you
Now we’re standing at the doorstep
Lee: Male friendships are kind of a bit of a sticky subject in a way because masculinity is so sticky in our culture. It’s kind of hard to, most of us didn’t see our dads and go like oh, wow, I really saw a great model for how to have intimate, creative, male friendships, you know? This is sort of new territory. So Josh and I had a moment where we were harmonizing on stage and we had this very tender moment at the end of a song and we were doing ‘ooohhs’. We were harmonizing and a woman started laughing, but it wasn’t mean-spirited.
Lee: I’m not sure if it was even uncomfortable, it was just new. It was funny to her, and I said, I made a joke, I said, “Is it so funny just seeing two bros just singing some ohs in harmony together,” and she said, “Yes,” and we all laughed, and it was great, but what I realized is that like honoring that this is a journey that two friends are on together where we’re not afraid to ask big questions to each other and to the audience and in song, there’s a vulnerability in that that I think is resonating with the audience.
Radnor and Lee’s eponymous 2017 debut album was released on the same day as Taylor Swift’s chart-topping Reputation. Far from discouraging the duo, Radnor says the contrast with Swift’s massive commercial success only made them more earnest about their own humble endeavor.
Radnor: I have no idea how many people are listening to the Radnor and Lee record right now. We’re hearing really nice things from people all over, but it’s out there, and it’s doing its work, and it’s gonna be out there forever. So I don’t know when people are gonna find it, at what moment they’re gonna need it, at what dark night the song “All Shall Be Well” will come to them and give them some hope or faith in a really trying time. I don’t know if someone’s gonna use it in a movie, one of those songs and then it will explode. I have no idea which way this stuff goes.
Lee: The biggest ambition is truly like to touch the human heart. There is something that happens to an audience and to a performer when there’s the experience of genuinely seeing each other, and I think our songs. It’s not music just to put on and go out to the club and party to. It’s songs to connect heart to heart and in that moment when a audience and a performer are in their heart and connecting and sharing values, suddenly anything’s possible, and that’s what we want with our audience.
(‘Wider Spaces’ by Radnor & Lee)
The great unknown
Seeks not to restrain us
But lifts us stage by stage
To wider spaces