“I have always been very optimistic and there are great young architects in our country today and I am sure they will take India on to the world map of architecture; I have no doubt about it. I just hope that everybody keeps their feet on the ground. We should also remember that half of our population needs are very severe and being an architect cannot be just for the rich and famous and our responsibility should also be to build in the rural areas and in smaller towns and for people who are less privileged”, says Dr. Brinda Somaya, Somaya & Kalappa Consultants, Mumbai in an exclusive interview with Sawdust
Dr. Brinda Somaya-min
You have been involved in the restoration and rejuvenation of many heritage structures. Which one was the most difficult project for you and why? Which one was the most satisfying?
Restoration has its many challenges because there are many types of conservation. One is the reverential conservation like if you conserve the Rajabhai Towers which we have restored or the VT station and buildings of that importance. Then there are types of progressive conservation or reuse or re-architecture or recycling or retrofitting where you are expanding existing buildings or changing the use of the building. So, the challenges are also varied.
There is not one set of challenges for conservation. It depends on the condition of the building, whether any interventions are taking place, what was the old use of the buildings, what is the new use going to be, how to change the internal aspects of the building and how to make it relevant to 2012 or 2020 because people’s requirements have changed. Technology has changed. The world is changing, so the interiors of the building also have to change to accommodate the changing needs of young users. Each restoration project that we have done is different from the other. The Cathedral project involved restoration and expansion, then we have done Tata Consultancy Services Headquarters, in which we kept the shell. We have won the competition for the ‘Restoration and Upgradation of the historic Louis Kahn Buildings of the Indian Institute of Management, Ahmedabad (IIM-A)‘ and are looking forward to a challenge of a different kind as they are 20thC Buildings.
When you started your profession in 1970s it was male dominated. Whether things have changed now? Is there any, in your opinion, gender bias in the profession?
Architecture is a profession that I enjoyed and loved. I just went ahead and did what I thought I believed in. I studied in Mumbai, which instilled confidence and independence in young people. There was a quiet confidence that we just believed in ourselves and if you want something and want to do it, you should go ahead and do it. Of-course, we worked hard and it wasn’t easy.
Problems exist for men and women and one has to move ahead. It was true that there were very few women architects in the earlier days. We were only 10 percent of our class and now it is 50 per cent. I did not start a big organisation overnight. I built it up slowly with my work, built a relationship with clients, then had a lot of repeat clients and proved my capability. It was similar to building up a practice for a doctor or a lawyer or an architect at that time.
Where do you see the architecture profession in next ten years with smart technologies and smart cities becoming a reality?
Well I think India is changing, the scale of projects is changing with more ambitious projects, bigger projects. Lifestyles are changing, people have higher and unique aspirations. Educational campuses are coming up, IT campuses, institutional buildings, recreational buildings, shopping, hospitals, there are so many new cities coming up. Therefore, I see huge opportunity for young Architects.
The scale has grown as there is more money in the country and new materials and technologies are available. Knowledge with the internet has revolutionized every profession.
What is your suggestion and advice for the young architects, especially those who want to take up heritage conservation as a profession?
Young architects are doing good work and I have full faith that they will protect our environment and our heritage and yet contemporize design and take it forward into our new tech-savvy world. As an architect, you need to understand people’s needs and anticipate changes. One needs to focus on the aspirations of young people and the changes happening in technology and their lives.
I have always been very optimistic and there are great young architects in our country today and I am sure they will take India on to the world map of architecture; I have no doubt about it. I just hope that everybody keeps their feet on the ground. We should also remember that half of our population needs are very severe and being an architect cannot be just for the rich and famous and our responsibility should also be to build in the rural areas and in smaller towns and for people who are less privileged.
I believe that an inclusive practice that spans our diverse population, be it economic or cultural, provides us with great satisfaction. Therefore, the motivation for inclusion and diversity should come not only from the desire to create a just society, but also because it leads to better and more powerful creative processes and solutions.
I hope that when history books look back at the first few decades of the twenty-first century they will find an architecture that responded to the wonderful traditions of India combined with the needs of its people.