Nandini Somaya Sampat
When architect Brinda Somaya with HECAR Foundation curated the ‘Women in Architecture’ (WID) conference in 2000, she brought together architects from Asia and the subcontinent. Two decades later, Somaya reconnects these women designers as they stop by to tell their stories, at Nehru Centre, Mumbai, from January 8 to 10, for the ‘Women In Design 2020+’ conference. Alongside the event is the exhibition “20 Year Manifesto”, at the Goethe-Institut Max Mueller Bhavan, Mumbai, which will showcase practices led by women from various creative fields. Curators Nandini Somaya Sampat and Ruturaj Parikh talk about the need for such a conference, how women approach design and what makes for women-centric spaces. Excerpts from an interview:
What is the idea behind organising the conference?
Nandini Somaya Sampat: Architecture no longer functions as an independent silo. At the heart of WID 2020+ lies the journey of architecture through the eyes of the master practitioners, academicians, sustainability experts, conservationists, urban and rural designers, landscape architects and authors. Women who have the courage to work in war-torn countries, and in bureaucratic environments, and those who competed with and built for the best in the world, will come together. It is also important for men to be present to understand the challenges and be an integral part of the movement for the way forward.
Internationally too, women architects had to fight for a place on the Pritzker table. Do you think such discrimination begins at school?
Ruturaj Parikh: It is difficult to come to this conclusion but the statistics suggest that majority of students in an architecture school are women. But, very few of the women students end up practising and an extremely small number end up running independent practices. Young women architects also have to battle a strange, wider perception that women are better suited to practice interior design. The challenge of establishing an independent office for women, we think, is much greater and this shows in the known practices in India led by women — it is rather rare to come across mediocre work done by a woman-led studio.
Being a woman, does it affect behaviour on site?
NSS: Architecture and construction is a technically and physically challenging profession and industry. Even as more women are found working successfully in these spaces, we are still the minority. Whether it is ensuring the safety and working conditions for women labour, to women supervisors being able to manage male labour, female site supervisors or architects or design consultants that have to lead projects — the challenges in the space are many.
Does the choice of research and scope differ for women?
NSS: As women, we find ourselves delving into the nuances of life as we begin projects. The ability to multi-task, and sensitivity towards the inclusion of arts and crafts in projects presents a deeper connection.
Also, as a woman, one ensures that project sites include creches and labour conditions specific to women on construction sites, are integrated into the work-scope. Until factors like these become the norm in the industry, women will continue to work differently.
Movements such as the Garden City were introduced as a way to bring women out into the work space.
Can India dream of such interventions that make spaces more conducive for women?
RP: There is a great case to be made for making urban spaces conducive for women. Why can’t women, just like men, take leisure bike-rides at 3 am? Why can’t women loiter around the city too? Why can’t women have more claim to our city spaces? The primary effort should be in changing societal perceptions towards women who work. Urban design and sensitive planning can make a huge difference in this. One can almost map the places in the city for women and cross-reference them with good urban design.
For details, visit: wid2020plus.org