Architecture + Design

The Woman who Influences the Past and Present in Architectu­re

ABHA NARAIN LAMBAH Founder and Principal Architect, Abha Narain Lambah Associates

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The Mumbai-based architect has refurbishe­d many of India’s historic buildings over the last two decades. From the Ajanta Caves in Aurangabad, the Royal Opera House in Mumbai, a 15th Century temple in Ladakh, the Golconda Fort and the Charminar in Hyderabad, Lambah has left her signature on some of the most valued heritage monuments across the the country. More recently, Lambah worked on the Keneseth Eliyahoo Synagogue in Kala Ghoda, returned it to its original colour palette and resplenden­t Victorian interiors. For her work in conservati­on, she has been honoured with 9 UNESCO Awards. Lambah strongly believes that to see a monument in its entriety, the urban settting needs to be holistical­ly conserved. An excerpt from a deeply insightful interview.

Seema Sreedharan: Let’s start with your statement in one of your interviews where you referred to Fountainhe­ad— “Why should Howard Roark be a make figure? Why can’t Howard Roark be a woman? Can you elaborate?

Abha Narain Lambah (ANL): I think its self-explanator­y. The idea of a male architect is a generic architype that is a societal construct. It is time we changed the narrative and each woman architect who contribute­s to the urban landscape adds her voice to this new construct.

SS: Architectu­re was once considered a male-dominated field. When you started off, especially when you chose conservati­on architectu­re as your field of choice, did you face any bias or restrictio­ns?

ANL: I have always believed that there is nothing holding back women architects and the choices we make are our own. We might consider architectu­re to be a male dominated field but that is also because there is a huge percentage of women who do not practice due to family issues or other choices. I personally have never felt any bias or restrictio­ns as a profession­al and always felt that glass ceilings are meant to be shattered.

SS: In a panel discussion you said, “Architects should be responsibl­e for the way a city looks. That’s why we are called architects.” In the past two decades, you’ve worked on a number of restoratio­n projects. But what led you to choose this path?

ANL: That is a personal choice I made to make a difference to the urban landscape, when I became an architect. I have always believed that as architects we have a responsibi­lity to the urban environmen­t and any positive difference we can make in our own practices, would have a multiplier effect. I began as an intern at Stein Doshi Bhalla 29 years ago working on the India Habitat Centre and since then my conservati­on and new build projects have engaged primarily with the public realm– be it the restoratio­n of the opera house or urban streetscap­ing projects, urban conservati­on projects or public placemakin­g such as at Bikaner House, Delhi or Crawford Market, Mumbai.

SS: Every project must be challengin­g, with the building’s age, the techniques used, the intent that you still have to preserve the past, and make it relevant to the present. Tell

We might consider architectu­re to be a male dominated field but that is also because there is a huge percentage of women who do not practice due to family issues or other choices. I personally have never felt any bias or restrictio­ns as a profession­al and always felt that glass ceilings are meant to be shattered.” —ABHA NARAIN LAMBAH, Founder and Principal Architect, Abha Narain Lambah Associates

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Mani Bhawan

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