Mumbai-based ar­chi­tect and ur­ban con­ser­va­tion­ist, Brinda So­maya started her prac­tice, So­maya and Kalapa Con­sul­tants, in 1978. She shares her thoughts, in­sights, views and path-break­ing jour­ney.


Ar­chi­tect Brinda So­maya's body of work is as in­ter­est­ing as it is vast. She shares her in­sights, ideas and ar­chi­tec­ture vi­sion.

Nu­mer­ous tro­phies and cer­tifi­cates adorn the of­fice of So­maya and Kalappa Con­sul­tants in Mumbai’s Bal­lard Es­tate. The ac­co­lades by var­ied bod­ies, a doc­toral de­gree by Smith Col­lege, US and the Babu­rao Mha­tre Gold Medal for Life­time Achieve­ment by In­dian In­sti­tute of Ar­chi­tects bear tes­ti­mony to the vast work that ar­chi­tect and pro­fes­sor Dr Brinda So­maya, 68 has done ever since she first be­gan her prac­tice in 1975 from her stu­dio in a gar­den shed. In four decades, she has built sprawl­ing cor­po­rate and ed­u­ca­tional cam­puses, homes, re­stored and con­served her­itage struc­tures and spear­headed move­ments for a bet­ter planned Mumbai. Her re­cently pub­lished book Brinda So­maya Works

and Con­ti­nu­ities doc­u­ments the 200 plus projects she has worked on, most of which, she proudly says “are still in use and have not been de­mol­ished.” She’s an ar­chi­tect of the ‘bridge gen­er­a­tion’, a term she coined to de­fine the gen­er­a­tion that bridged the ar­chi­tec­tural space be­tween the mas­ters and the cur­rent gen­er­a­tion and grew in the wake of a free In­dia. So­maya chose ar­chi­tec­ture at a time when there were few women in the field and worked her way to be­com­ing one of In­dia’s lead­ing ar­chi­tects. She speaks to us about her de­sign vi­sion and in­spi­ra­tion.

An ar­chi­tect in the early sev­en­ties

As a child, I trav­elled ex­ten­sively with my par­ents and de­vel­oped a keen in­ter­est in art, his­tory, ar­chi­tec­ture, ar­chae­ol­ogy and tra­di­tion so all this was a part of my grow­ing up. A visit to Na­landa in­spired me and that’s when I de­cided that I wanted to be an ar­chi­tect. Com­ing from a fam­ily with many doc­tors, that was seen as the only wor­thy pro­fes­sion and my grand­fa­ther even en­ticed me with a scooter to study medicine. In­stead, I chose ar­chi­tec­ture.

The role of an ar­chi­tect

It means dif­fer­ent things to dif­fer­ent peo­ple. The way ar­chi­tec­ture is seen changes all the time but an ar­chi­tect needs to go be­yond build­ings. Like I al­ways say, an ar­chi­tect is the guardian of the built and the un-built en­vi­ron­ment. By un-built I mean open spa­ces, rivers, rocks and moun­tains. Ar­chi­tec­ture is a pro­fes­sion that builds for oth­ers so it’s a com­bi­na­tion of cre­ativ­ity and what so­ci­ety needs. An ar­chi­tect needs to strike a bal­ance to build some­thing that is worth­while, raises the spir­its of peo­ple who use those build­ings. Build­ings are kept alive by peo­ple who use and love them.

The way for­ward for ur­ban ar­chi­tec­ture

We must not de­stroy the em­bod­ied en­ergy ex­ist­ing within the city fab­ric. We also need to have more po­lit­i­cal and bu­reau­cratic will to push projects which are for the peo­ple of the city. When I con­cep­tu­alised the Mumbai Es­planade Project with Pro­fes­sor Sidhu, we wanted to build a con­tin­u­ous pedes­trian realm from Church­gate to CST sta­tion link­ing the three maid­ans and con­nect­ing 102 acres of open spa­ces. But it never took off be­cause there was no will. To­day many cit­i­zens are com­ing to­gether and fight­ing for what they want. So, an ar­chi­tect also needs to be an ac­tivist.

You have been a cham­pion of women work­ers. Do you be­lieve women are play­ing a big­ger role now?

It is a topic of per­sonal in­ter­est to me so when­ever I take on a project I at­tempt to en­sure de­cent hous­ing and san­i­ta­tion for all work­ers but es­pe­cially women work­ers. The con­struc­tion in­dus­try must em­ploy women in dif­fer­ent ar­eas as—ma­sons, welders, pain­ters and ar­chi­tects. Thirty years ago, women work­ers would come to the site in saris and to­day I see them dressed smartly in saris but with sneak­ers, jack­ets and hel­mets.

How do you make a project con­tex­tual?

I have built all over In­dia in dif­fer­ent to­pogra­phies and cul­tures and I al­ways build tak­ing into ac­count the lo­cal land­scape. For a 100-acre cam­pus in Indore for TCS, we cre­ated a metaphor of the flow of the Nar­mada river. The build­ings com­mence densely as the source of the river does in Amarkan­tak, and then the ar­chi­tec­ture turns an­gu­lar as do the jagged mar­ble rocks of Jabalpur and the built form spread wide and in­te­grated within the land­scape as the river ex­its the delta at the Gulf of Kham­bat. I work with lo­cal crafts­men to bring in fab­rics, jaalis, sculp­tures, art works or stone sculp­tures. While do­ing a ho­tel in Kumb­hal­garh, I used lo­cal crafts­men to cre­ate the crafts for ev­ery room; In a Mumbai cam­pus, I got in­tri­cate stone jaalis made. We must sup­port crafts­men and we can al­ways find a place for them in mod­ern ar­chi­tec­ture. If we let them con­tinue mak­ing only small ob­jects, the next gen­er­a­tion will move on to other more lu­cra­tive pro­fes­sions and the art will be lost for­ever. I al­ways get them to rein­ter­pret their art and make it ap­pro­pri­ate for the space.


BODY OF WORK So­maya’s re­po­toire in­cludes the Ra­jabai Clock Tower and Li­brary (left); and this spe­cial ex­hibit at the In­dia and The World Ex­hi­bi­tion at CSMVS (be­low, left) both in Mumbai.

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