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Women in architecture: Anonymous no more

A Tod Williams Billie Tsien design

A Tod Williams Billie Tsien design  

Bringing together leading names from across fields, Women in Design 2020+ will offer a snapshot of contemporary design

Twenty years ago, at a time when women architects were mostly “anonymous designers”, and their body of work were not recorded or exhibited anywhere, architect Brinda Somaya curated ‘Women in Architecture - 2000 Plus’, a conference that brought together South Asian women shaping the field. “We had women from India, Pakistan, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka,” recalls the 70-year-old. “Then some from Singapore and Australia also wanted to [join].” Today, as she puts together the second edition, Women in Design 2020+, in Mumbai, the participation is far wider — with 35 panellists and speakers from around the world eager to expand on the conversations from two decades ago.

Organised by the HECAR Foundation, the conference, and a parallel exhibition, will push the boundaries of architecture and design, diving into their intersections such as photography, art, film and literature. “Architecture goes beyond being a technical [profession],” says Somaya, “Did you know, some filmmakers [and set designers] are trained in architecture (like Anshuman Prasad, who has worked in films like Captain America: Winter Soldier and The Hangover)? Their films are created in connection with human beings and spaces.”

Brinda Somaya

Brinda Somaya  

Archive in the making
  • An exhibition will display works submitted to the Design Manifesto 2020+, a digital curation of generations of works by women designers from around the world, which serves as a snapshot of contemporary design and the beginning of an archive of women’s contributions in the field. It will also include works by city photographer, Chirodeep Chaudhari, who documents the metropolis’ quotidian charms, and installations by textile revivalist Vinay Narkar. January 7-February 20, Goethe-Institut Max Mueller Bhavan.

Celebrating sisterhood

When Somaya started her firm, Somaya and Kalappa Consultants, in 1978, “in the days without internet”, there were few opportunities for peers to network and share stories. “It was a lonely journey because there were not many women at the time who headed their own studios,” she says, explaining that she wanted the conference to be a celebration, where women found mentors and confidence in themselves. “When I was in college 40 years ago, only 10% of the class was women. Today, it is 65%! A generation from now, the majority of architects may end up being women. Unfortunately, the percentage of women heading their own companies is still very small, which is where we want to see a change.”

The first edition saw the likes of Yasmeen Lari, the first woman architect of Pakistan, attending. “For me it was like recording history,” says Somaya, “I was determined to find out what was happening in the countries around us.” The event culminated in a book, An Emancipated Place, that documented the conference. This time, the conference will bring together names like Billie Tsien — one half of the Manhattan studio, Tod Williams Billie Tsien Architects, who are designing the Obama Presidential Library — Annabelle Selldorf, who designed the Rubell Museum, and Mumbai-based conservation architect, Abha Narain Lambah, among others.

January 8-10, at the Nehru Centre. For registration and details, visit

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Printable version | Feb 28, 2020 2:41:43 PM |

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