The architectural legacy of the Indian subcontinent is immeasurable. We cannot afford to build everything anew. However, there can only be a future for buildings from the past if the conservation movement works in tandem with planning and development strategies. Only then can deterioration be prevented leading to the final steps of restoration and rehabilitation.
Steadfastness defines quiet tenacity in a woman. And when this uncommon quality is complemented by a soft-spoken demeanor and a silent, committed deliverance, aspects of implicit trust and dependability naturally fall into place. Brinda Somaya of Somaya & Kalappa Consultants delineates the aforesaid. A persona of many shades, Brinda is one of the most accomplished architects and urban conservationists on the Indian scenario today.
It is impossible to dissect an emotional attachment. Likewise, it is difficult to separate a professional from her vocation when love and passion for her work are the drivers. From a little acorn meant to be the partnership of two sister architects – Somaya & Kalappa – is today a 60 -member rich practice with offices in Mumbai and Bengaluru. The silhouette of the architect against the backdrop of her muse – the rich legacy of a developing country – reveals parallel facets in the economy and in the woman architect at the helm of a male-dominated vocation. Savitha Hira traces Brinda Somaya’s evolving mindset from her days as a young go-getter to a three-decade-old mistress of building design wielding her baton with one eye on securing her country on the global map and the other on the inseparable fact that ‘man is… therefore design is…’
Her first architectural assignment was to create the swimming pool and recreational facilities for the Bombay Presidency Golf Club, Mumbai in 1975. From there to housing and corporate design, institutional works and community projects, hospitality design and commercial projects, the practice soon began to leave its mark. One of the oldest hospitality havens – The West End, Bangalore – was a princely project for S&K. Lending a unifying style to this best-known example of colonial architecture via restoration and renovation with due respect to traditional
salient architectural features was a distinct feather in her cap in the 1980s. It also paved the way for several other restoration and conservation projects in the future like St. Thomas Church (winner of the UNESCO Asia-Pacific Heritage Awards), the Cathedral and John Connon School, etc., that involved diligent interventions to be successfully captured in the pages of Indian architectural history. Connoisseur of art, Late TP Issar, in his book The City Beautiful has stated of the West End, “…its recent additions are a model of architectural integration, displaying studied regard for the value of the setting”. This indeed is key terminology in the S&K portfolio – ‘studied regard
for the value of the setting’. Majority of the projects disburse this maxim and due accolades have come early in the practice. The firm has time and again borne testimony to their combined skills in architecture and interior design, the two areas – symbiotic and overlapping, balancing the delicate scales of innovation with professionalism.
And especially so since the S&K focus has always run parallel with urban planning, conservation, and contemporary design simply because the practice has grown with corresponding social, cultural, political and economic changes in the country. Decidedly, the last three decades have seen an emerging India, a people who were initiated into a self-confidence mode that took its inspiration from the stalwart leaders of the nation and manifested their positive energies in the seedlings of all-around development. The company, too, proves its prowess under three major categories: community, conservation, and contemporary projects.
A pride that she has passionately manifested complemented by oodles of talent and joy in giving back to society: It was the year 2001 when the massive earthquake hit Bhuj in Kutch district, Gujarat. A disaster of this magnitude necessitated a massive rehabilitation programme for the village of Bhadli, 40kms west of Bhuj. S&K headed the rehabilitation within two months, on the same land and on the footprints of the existing houses and lifestyles. The earthquake, a tragedy, was turned into an opportunity by sensitizing people into building their own sustainable environment. The design criteria included issues like caste and religious sensitivity, proximity to the fields, reuse of recoverable materials – mainly doors and windows from the rubble. The facilities of basic sanitation in each house, watershed management and photovoltaic cells for the village were also taken care of. While a new school with the Community Center and the Women’s Center was planned and built, a temporary school was set up interim to prevent children from dropping out of the educational system. The school is featured in the Phaidon Atlas of 21st Century World Architecture – 2008 under ‘All the greatest buildings of the 21st century’.
Humane aspects of architecture have been an integrated part of S&K projects and continue to seep through the fabric of generic and individual needs in the practice. At Bhuj, the use of appropriate materials and construction techniques
influenced the process of design evolution with an attempt to address materials and structural issues with contemporary techniques and a sense of history. Rehabilitation in the true sense, resurrected for the villagers, their
original though evolved lifestyle. It won the honorable mention of the Union Internationale Des Architectes-UIA-Vassilis Sgoutas Prize 2008 for Alleviation of Poverty.
Community issues like improving the facilities for and skills of women laborers were initiated by S&K in their projects as was a healthy respect for local crafts and artisans. Even today, although the village crafts are gradually dying out, S&K ensures their manifestation into the contemporary scenario in a bid to establish an aesthetic vocabulary that is distinctly rooted in the rich heritage of our country. The Nalanda International School at Baroda,
for which S&K won the Leaf Award by the Leading European Architects Forum in 2006 in a highly commended category for the use of traditional methods of environmental control and was nominated for the Aga Khan Award for architecture in 2007, is the perfect example of inclusive architecture spread on an area of 8,71,000 sq. ft. With this
project, S&K successfully established that the relationship between architecture and environment has historically been and continues to be a complex interaction of site, technology, climate, and other natural forces, building materials and human presence.
Sustaining her belief that development and progress must proceed without straining the cultural and historic environment, Brinda’s involvement and contribution to developing technology have manifested through her projects on Educational and IT campuses. Zensar Software Technologies Campus is a greenfield project of 10.9 acres. Designed for 3,500 executives, the concept was to link individual buildings through landscaping comprising stonewalls, sunken courtyards, an open-air amphitheater, waterbodies, and greenery. S&K worked this through a simple integrated premise by accomplishing a sense of harmony and balance using clean lines and contemporary detailing.
On the one hand is S&K’s distinct flair for the traditional, and on the other, its fast-paced progress in installing and maintaining technological and state-of-the-art engineering systems in place. S&K has piloted a course across the gamut of building design from aspects of individuality and project-specific solutions to massive IT campuses. Landscaping has been an integral facet as has the application of local crafts and materials; women empowerment
has been the third, but these are only a lining on.