Inspiring women in design

The past decade saw the rise of feminism with more recognition of women at workplaces and long due appreciation of their work. Continuing the same spirit into the new decade, women architects, designers and thinkers from all around the world conglomerated at an international three day conference called Women in Design 2020+.

The conference was organised by the HECAR Foundation with leading architects, urban conservationists, urban planners and designers of multiple and diverse disciplines from India and the world.

It featured more than 35 women speakers and panellists who shared their stories, thoughts and ideas with the audience of some of the most respected esigners and cultural practitioners.

Brainchild of Brinda Somaya, chairperson of the HECAR Foundation and principal architect at Somaya and Kalappa Consultants, she believes in telling women stories around the world.

In the year 2000 she had organised a first of its kind conference celebrating the work of women architects from countries like India, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, Australia and Pakistan — fittingly, at the dawn of the new millennium.

The conference was opened by ‘Design Manifesto Exhibition’ that not only included the works of architects but also photographer, Chirodeep Chaudhuri and designer Vinay Narkar.

The exhibition effectively delved into discussions on a wide spectrum of disciplines such as photography, art, film and literature that relates to the architectural profession.

The opening discussion titled “Retrospective — Then and Now” included eminent architects such as Brinda Somaya, Abha Narain Lambah, Shimul Javeri Kadri, Hirante Welandawe, Eli Giannini and Neera Adarkar as they reflected on the past 20 years in the field.

Women make up 65% of the students in architectural schools across the country, but their presence in the field — which remains largely dominated by men — scarcely reflects it.

The WID 2020+ conference aimed to make up for this. Not only did it show their strength in the field by numbers, but through the various talks and events, it positioned them as the leaders that they are.

The panel discussions touched upon various topics, but the one thing that definitely stood out was the profession has accepted women in the last few years.

While Australian Architect Eli Giannini spoke about how in her times, she was hesitant to mention she was mother at her workspace, Conservation Architect Abha Narain Lambah shared how she took her daughter at a very young age to her sites for work.

Following the panel discussion, were lectures that were delivered by international architects. Architect Salma Samar Damluji from Yemen gave an interesting lecture on what pushed her into the field of architecture and the rehabilitation work she has been doing in Yemen and Middle East since the time of war.

Other architects like Elizabeth Vines and Johanna Gibbons spoke about the need for sustainable development and the importance of interacting with the community at the grassroot level.

It’s another feeling of empowerment that one gets sitting amidst such great minds and listening to what it took for them to create a milestone. Having various students of architecture as attendees, this event gave them stories they could draw inspiration from.