working in the 70s and 80s, when one felt there had been no
earthshaking changes in the gender composition of our profession,
it seemed the 90s was the decade when women came into their
own in the field of architecture in our country. If this change
had made any impact in India, it would logically have done
so in our neighbouring countries to some extent, even if not
to the same degree. I found that after two decades of practically
no interaction with other women architects in India, and even
less contact with women architects in South Asia generally,
suddenly great changes were taking place. I also felt, like
other architects here, that I wanted to meet women like Yasmeen
Lari (by then I had had the privilege of meeting Minnette
De Silva, both in India and Sri Lanka) and the only way seemed
to be to organize a meet. By then I had also come across the
varied and invaluable work women were doing in India and yet
most were relatively unknown. It seemed as though the time
had finally come for a conference and an exhibition.
first shared my thoughts with Urvashi
Mehta, an architect and friend, and once we both felt confident
about this venture, we decided to go ahead and announce the
conference and exhibition. By then the Sir Ratan Tata Trust
had committed funds for the exhibition and its documentation
and it was not difficult to raise the remaining funds we needed
for the conference. A small committee was then formed to take
this further and we have to thank Pradnya Chauhan, Shimul
Javeri Kadri, Abha Narain Lambah, Ajay Sharma and Gita Simoes
for all the hard work and support we received to make this
was prepared for some (relatively minor,
I must admit) opposition to a women architects' conference.
The only consideration that I was absolutely clear about in
my own mind was that it should be a celebration and not a
conference on gender issues. One way I had to ensure that,
was to insist that all papers and exhibition material should
be about the built form. So we intentionally excluded, which
is a pity, all interior and landscape projects. This was not
because we considered them a 'softer' option, but because
we felt the greatest impact of this conference would be felt
within the profession and amongst the general public if it
were about 'architecture'.
was not an easy task to locate women who had worked independently
in South Asia, and we often had to contact friends in the
West for help. We also had to decide whether we should only
include women who had an independent practice or also those
who headed studios with men and women as principal partners.
We then had to ensure the work they talked about and exhibited
were projects where they were the design heads. Though there
were overlapping situations, delicate situations and minor
problems, we believe we did our best. The conference was a
got several women from Pakistan, Sri Lanka and Bangladesh
to attend and of course with our Indian women we had a full
house every day. Together with architects, the audience was
made up of a wide spectrum of professionals including archaeologists,
historians, environmentalists and sociologists, and I remember
Yasmeen telling me that apart from being so pleased with the
quality of work being done all over South Asia, she was amazed
by the quality of the audience and the interaction that took
place. Words like 'electric', 'overwhelming', 'exciting',
'stimulating' and 'moving' were heard by us from the participants.
It was all worthwhile.
conference covered women who in the last two decades have
upgraded slums, conserved heritage buildings, improved urban
spaces, and built private and public buildings of every possible
type. Women who have worked in India, Pakistan, Bangladesh
and Sri Lanka. Working in developing countries with constraints
often brings about the most creative solutions. These wonderful,
exciting and fulfilling tasks have taken many of us from being
hi-tech professionals to being 'barefoot' architects, and
from working in large urban sprawls to deserts and wilderness.
We have all had common traditions, problems and aspirations,
and the Conference re-established the links between architects
in the subcontinent. It showed that a common thread runs through
the women architects of India, Pakistan and Sri Lanka and
we intend never to let this thread fray again!
the conceivers of this document, Urvashi and I decided to
follow the same format as the Conference itself. The Committee
had spent a lot of time and effort in deciding the various
sections and the speakers for those sessions. We also took
a decision to follow each speaker's talk with her panel, even
if the two were not directly related, to ensure a continuity
of purpose. The remaining panels we decided to group alphabetically
rather than by country or chronologically. Our focus was Women
in Architecture: 2000 Plus. It was about practising women
today. This resulted in the works of some well-known women
architects, such as the late Urmila Elie Chowdhary and the
late Pravina Mehta, not being included. However, for some
historical reference we have included the work of the first
women architects of India and Sri Lanka, the late Perin Mistri
and the late Minnette De Silva. We realize the importance
of a chronological historical record of the work of women
architects in South Asia and we intend to bring out another
document as a sequel to these proceedings. We would therefore
be very happy to get information and feedback for any possible
inclusions and request to be forgiven for any omissions we
may have made in this document.
now have to see where we go from here. We have had several
invitations for the exhibition from India and abroad and perhaps
these proceedings will lead to an in-depth study of various
projects from the subcontinent. I thank all the architects
whose papers and work are published here for making their
work available to us for this document, and Professor Raman
for his essay, 'Towards an Emancipated Place'.
exhibition is now part of the IAWA (International Archive
of Women in Architecture) at the Virginia Tech in Blacksburg,
USA. The purpose of the IAWA is to preserve and record the
work of all women in the field of architecture and design
and to ensure scholarly access to students and scholars in
Art and Architectural History.
HECAR Foundation which hosted 'Women In Architecture-2000
Plus' was created to celebrate Mumbai's multi-faceted historic
tradition. The Foundation seeks to educate the public about
architecture (including heritage and urban issues) through
talks, publications, exhibitions, scholarships and seminars.
This document was made possible by the generous and spontaneous
support of the Sir Ratan Tata Trust. The HECAR Foundation
would also like to thank MK India and The Travel Corporation
of India Ltd., the two other main sponsors of this conference.
To all of them 'Women In Architecture' is grateful.
this has been a very personal journey for me, but it has also
been a lot of hard work and fun, and I am sure that all the
architects who attended the conference will reflect on the
issues and ideas discussed here and initiate the change that
is necessary. For as W.B.Yeats said, 'In dreams begins responsibility'.
Chairperson - WIA.
Founder Trustee - The Hecar Foundation