Zaha Hadid herself has said that architecture is ‘a man’s world’. The talented powerhouse that she was, Hadid managed to break many glass ceilings in her lifetime to become a household name in architecture. Given the incredible heights that Hadid has achieved, the least we can do is avoid restraining her in an unequal correlation of men is to women architects- Hadid was crazy talented, and no match for any of her male contemporaries. Women architects in the West may slowly be getting their due, but the lack of attention given to Indian women in the field is a lingering concern. We look at some of the sharpest and artistic architectural minds that have shaped our buildings.
Perin Jamshedji Mistry
The first professional female architect in India, Perin was born in Bombay into a family that had been in the construction business for four generations. Mistry is credited with building the first runway for the country’s busiest airport, in Bombay. In the 50 or so years she spent building, she designed everything from churches to factories, to houses.
Urmila Eulie Chowdhury
Another pioneering personality, she is best known for her close collaborations with Le Corbusier in planning and building the North Indian city of Chandigarh, the new capital city of post-Partition Punjab. She was also appointed the Director of the School of Architecture of Delhi in 1963. She was also an avid furniture designer, like many other female architects of her time.
Sheila Sri Prakash
A natural genius and a born artist, Prakash gave her first Bharatanatyam Arangetram (official showcase) at age six. With the kind of personality that turns everything it touches into gold, her entry into architecture, which took place sometime in her 20-year performance career, was quite phenomenal. She is the first Indian woman architect to start her own firm, Shilpa Architects, and is credited for founding the modern discipline of Spaciology, the study of spaces and the way people interact with them. A conservationist, she is known for her thorough insights into the micro-constraints that define each construction. As a professional performer, she excels in Bharatnatyam, Kuchipudi, Veena, Classical Indian music, painting and sculpting. Oh, and she also makes movies.
Read an interview with Prakash here
The queen of mud architecture, Kamath is, like any true genius, uncompromisingly versatile. She is responsible for introducing the concept of the ‘Evolving Home’, a home that is able to absorb the changes that occur to it over time. Her 33 metre high steel JSPL Gateway in Chandigarh incorporates tribal patterns, and shows off her unique capability to bridge the traditional and the modern.
- Neera Adarkar
Neera Adarkar is a visionary academic and urban planner. Her pathbreaking contributions include the study of public and private spaces from a gendered perspective, and close case studies of the relation between people and spaces. Her seminal paper Gendering of the Culture of Building, calls for gender-equal interventions at the policy level.
Architect Chitra Vishwanath is perhaps the most interesting personality to make this list. She blurs the lines between mainstream and alternative buildings. Chitra’s projects also reflect a deep sensitivity towards ecology and architecture. Her constructions not only interact with the people that inhabit them, but also with the environment. These images of the architect’s works using various methods of Earth construction drives home our point.
Brinda Somaya was documented by Mary Woods in Women Architects in India: Histories of Practice in Mumbai and Delhi as one of the pioneers paving the way for a smooth transition from the traditional to the modern, and for the conservation of vernacular building styles. The challenge faced by India is very peculiar, and spans the spectrum between the upgrading of slum settlements, to the sustainable building of high-rises, as firm’s website poignantly points out. She is one of those rare architects that dreams of the future with an open admiration and respect for historical heritage, while keeping two feet planted firmly in the present.
Samira Rathod is an award-winning architect and teacher, known for her conscientious building techniques that attempt to lift the pressure on the environment, in terms of resources, and the optimization of spaces.
Check out one of her mind-blowing home designs here.
Like Samira, Anupama is both an architect and designer, a wholesome combination of things. Her speciality is material research, and she is constantly filled with ideas on how to make construction and urbanization more socio-economically and environmentally beneficial.
Mehta’s interests were diverse, ranging from politics to design, and this multi-faceted perspective is what makes her stand out. Her political activism (which once got her into jail) helped her contribute unparalleled insights into the building of post-Independence Navi Mumbai. Her saying, “When a woman is truly committed to her career, when there is an inner compulsion, she ceases to regard herself as a woman but only acts as a professional”, poignantly reflects the very struggle for self dignity that female architects face, even today.