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The defining few—Women in Architecture

AUG 26, 2019 | By Sakshi Rai

Traditionally perceived as a male-dominated industry, architecture today, breaks away from conventional stereotypes with many female leads who beg to differ. At par with their male counterparts in every step along the way right from concept to execution, these inspiring personalities have carved a niche for themselves in the design industry. We take a closer look, into the moulding of these legends as they share with us personal insights and memories from their journey and speak their mind on the current outlook of Indian and global architecture. Abha Narain Lambah, Abha Narain Lambah AssociatesA leading name in architectural conservation and restoration, Abha looks back at some of the memorable milestones in her path as an architect. Winning the highest UNESCO Asia-Pacific Award of Excellence in 2007 for restoring the 15th-century Buddhist temple in Basgo, Ladakh tops her list. Working on the management plan for Ajanta caves, finally seeing the Royal Opera House restored and reopened to the public and being invited to give the Geoffrey Bawa memorial lecture on my work in Srilanka are some of her other proud accomplishments. Although she has a distinct design language of her own, she has been greatly inspired by the works of many architects such as Joseph Allen, Le Corbusier, Charles Correa, Geoffrey Bawa and Tadao Ando. When asked what was one stereotype aspiring female architects should be free from in today’s context, she only aims at the progressive growth of the industry, void of gender disparity. “ I believe there are good and bad architects, not male and female architects. Gender is not a factor when it comes to compromises with your craft, your calling or your design. Being an architect is a very challenging job that involves a lot of deadlines, stress, responsibility and travel but stop allowing yourself to be less than your full potential just because you are a woman,” says the celebrated architect.Sheila Sri Prakash, Shilpa ArchitectsSheila Sri Prakash is recognised as the first woman in India to have started and operated her own architectural practice in 1979. This dynamic individual traces back her journey to 1987 when she was given an opportunity by the World Bank to design a prototype for the theme—“Shelter for the Shelter-less”, resulting in prototypes of “Incremental Housing”. She received global recognition after being invited to join the “Design Innovation Council” by the World Economic Forum for their Global Agenda Summit in 2011. Her more recent victory was when her company Shilpa Architects won a competition to design an upcoming town in Dubai. Inspired by the Indian arts, crafts and culture, Sheila’s father always brought her up to believe that everything was achievable through dedication and hard work. When asked what was one stereotype, aspiring female architects should be free from in today’s context, she shares, “The feminine instincts of women serve as our key strengths and differentiate our approach from that of our male counterparts. These include the ability to empathise, to nurture a positive environment for the overall growth of humanity, in harmony with our planet, amidst compulsions and constraints with innate motherly instincts.”Maithili Raut, reD ArchitectsMaithili fondly recalls her days at CEPT, unravelling the history, science and poetry of space-making, as a strong founding stone to her architectural career. She further broadened her horizons and scales of thinking at the graduate program in urban design at Columbia University. Working with strong women like Odile Decq and collaborating with firms like RPBW helped her cultivate her design skills and find her style—sensitively designed spaces fitting their context. The old city of Fatehpur or Mandu, Liebeskind’s trade center masterplan, the highline interventions by Diller Scofidio +Renfro and a lot of Renzo’s work as well inspire her way more than just grand sweeping structures. When asked what was one stereotype aspiring female architects should be free from in today’s context, she says, “A misconception that people should do away with is that women are shy of experimenting with new technology and bolder structural designs. Exceptions like Zaha Hadid have excelled at this way more than their male contemporaries. Personally, my conscious attempt has been to keep abreast with smarter building technology and incorporate it to make the built environment more responsible, both in terms of economics and sustainability.”Husna Rahaman, Fulcrum StudioRaised in Bengaluru, Husna grew up in a household with predominant female figures. The nurturing presence of her grandmother, her ever-resilient mother and stories of women whose potential has been buried under circumstance and convention were a constant source of motivation. When asked what was one stereotype, aspiring female architects should be free from in today’s context, she doesn’t shy away. “Irrespective of what gender, an individual should be confident, a quality arising out of competence,” she declares. “Any reservations or frivolity about the physicality, misconceptions regarding the endurance of the job on sites or the incisive ability to get the job done are upstaged by the cerebral thrust. I enjoy seeing that rupture when the conversation begins,” she adds. Sapana Jain, I Heart HomezNot often can an individual meet their expectation of setting up their brand to the exact vision they had in mind. Sapna begs to differ. Her constant source of inspiration comes from various sources—travelling, interacting with people from different walks of life and even American designer Kelly Wearstler—who she adores for her design and fashion sense equally. When asked what was one stereotype, aspiring female architects should be free from in today’s context, she shares,” Being a working woman in today’s time is different than what it was in the past. It should not still astonish people that an increasing percentage of women are embarking on their professional careers. Times are changing and so are the situations. Also, it is important to learn the other practicalities of running a business apart from design. Yes, designing plays a major role but so does executing, client relations, logistics.”