Building with a touch of tradition

Building with a touch of tradition

Building with a touch of tradition
For more than 3 decades, Brinda Somaya has merged architecture, conservation and social equity in projects ranging from institutional campuses, rehabilitation and restoration.

A graduate of Smith College, USA and Sir JJ College of Architecture, Mumbai, Brinda has designed several corporate, industrial and institutional projects that have extended to public spaces, which have been rebuilt and sometimes reinvented as pavements, parks and plazas.

“My first dream was to become an archaeologist. However, when I was 13, I decided that architecture was something I wanted to be a part of. Having designed a swimming pool and support facilities for the Bombay Presidency Golf Club as my first project, I set out into the world of architecture with my own beliefs,” recalls  Brinda. In 1975, she started Somaya & Kalappa Consultants with her sister, Ranjini Kalappa . The architectural firm is known to offer clients a combination of imaginative design, expertise and intense involvement. In a conversation with Deccan Herald, Brinda tells us more about her work and the future of architecture. Excerpts:

The architect as a guardian...

I believe that development and progress must proceed without straining the
cultural and historic environment. An architect plays the role of a guardian who can merge the built and unbuilt environment together. Also, whatever you design, you must be willing to live in it. I would love to go back to any of the spaces that I have designed and enjoy being there.

Is there a need for architecture to be more inclusive?

An inclusive practice that spans our diverse population, be it economic or cultural, provides one 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.

My learning experience, however, was difficult and rather isolated. It was an uphill task trying to make it in a man’s world. People were unable to associate women with anything other than interior design. They found it hard to believe that women could be serious architects and perform as effectively as their male counterparts.

What is the greatest challenge when it comes to designing for environmental sustainability?

The concept of green is more than just a fashion statement. Everything has to come a part of a bigger whole; one can’t design a glass box, add a windmill and claim to be eco-friendly. I also feel that the success of attaining an eco-friendly environment is measured by the sustainability of that environment.

Many aspects of a project may prove to be eco-friendly when newly installed, but the true test is visiting that project 4 to 5 years down the line and making sure everything works. Sustainability is achieved through understanding the site, designing appropriately, the judicious use of materials and various other parameters that need to be respected.

What inspires you?

My contemporary work is inspired by so many things, including the sights and sounds around us. As architects, we need to be sensitive to the site, be creative and understand client requirements as well as of those who will be the end users of the spaces. No building can be built without a context to its surroundings.

Our involvement has ranged from low-income housing to the restoration of magnificent vernacular and colonial buildings. Every project becomes a journey and a learning experience in itself. While designers need technology and have to build contemporary buildings, they also need to connect with traditional elements and a conventional design wisdom to give a unique identity to the work. However, our inspiration has to come from within.

What changes do you expect to see in Indian architecture in the future?

The next decade, if I had to speculate, will involve many changes in India. These will include buildings that need to be built for the new patterns of behaviour of the people in the cities — new housing, lifestyles, shopping and recreational patterns, with the shift from manufacturing to service industries within cities.

Second homes for the rich Indians and NRIs will create gated complexes within cities, like in Bengaluru, and also country homes near Mumbai, and around Gurgaon and Noida.

However, the residents within the older parts of town and cities are becoming more active and vocal to fight for their rights of public spaces, protection of heritage buildings, salt pans and mangroves. Thus show the slow but steady power struggle between the state and the people.

Determinants of good design...

Sensitivity to the environment, availability of materials, effective land use, urban issues and of course, architectural vocabulary are all important determinants of good design. However, India is changing, as is the scale of projects. They are getting bigger and becoming more ambitious. People’s lifestyles are changing and now, we are having higher and unique aspirations. However, I also see an enormous need for low-cost housing. Hence, there is a huge opportunity for young architects.

Advice for young architects...

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. Architecture has to raise the human spirit.

We should remember that half of our population’s needs are very severe and being an architect cannot be just for the rich and famous. Our responsibility should also be to build in the rural areas and in smaller towns and for people who are less privileged.

I have always been an optimist and I see promising young architects in our country today. I am sure they will take India on to the world map of architecture. I just hope that everybody keeps their feet on the ground. I have full faith that they will protect our environment and our heritage and at the same time, introduce contemporary designs and take it forward into our new tech-savvy world.