Perin Jamsetjee Mistri, is known to be the first woman architect of India, graduated in 1936. One of her works is St. Stephen’s Church. Pravina Mehta, upon finishing her degree in architecture and participation in the struggle of independence of India, came back to Bombay and worked with Charles Correa as an urban planner of Navi Mumbai along with the upliftment of slums.  

Women Architects of India - Sheet1
Architect Perin Jamsetjee Mistri, first woman architect of India (Source: ©https://www.designstri.com)
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Architect Pravina Mehta (Source: ©https://www.re-thinkingthefuture.com)

The freedom movement against the colonial settlement in India stands as a major turning point for the socio-political-economical change and evolution in the education system that opened significant opportunities for the women of the country. With this evolution, came the shift from the ruling colonial architecture to modern architecture to give free India its new identity.

As time passed, the architectural styles and their relevance changed with an awareness of bringing back a place’s culture and tradition with vernacular architecture along with modernism, thus giving rise to terms like alternate and hybrid concepts. However, the participation of women during this progress has been extremely limited owing to several factors prevalent in India and the world.

In India, while there has been significant growth in the number of women graduating from architecture schools, there is a significant drop in the employment of the architects. As per the survey by the Council of Architecture in 2013, the percentage of women architects has increased from 34% to 40% but only 22% of them are self-employed. According to a survey conducted in 2017, 59.02 % of women architects are employed in the private sectors while only 1.44 % of them work in the government sectors and 0.23% are teachers. 

The above data along with other surveys conducted regularly, show certain non-merit-based factors that act as issues against the demand of parity. Those issues include access to dominant socio-economic patronage, capital, alternative income sources, social networks, along with the advantage of family ties which are often prevalent in a working environment. 

While the job of designing is often designated to chief architects, female architects are assigned for drafting and 3D modeling and have minimum earnings. They either prefer working within the office premises or are asked to do so, due to the security issues of a woman on a construction site. However, this should not have been the reason for her vulnerability or insecurity in the first place. 

There is also a significant number of women who get experience from renowned firms or educational institutions and have established their practices. They are mostly located in metropolitan cities and have a strong economic background. They belong to the most empowered group of women architects.

In the history of the most important recognition of the architectural fraternity, only four Pritzker laureates happen to be women. The rejection of Denise Scott Brown by the Pritzker jury alongside Robert Venturi, followed by her work “Room at the Top? Sexism and the Star System in Architecture”, along with other significant voices raised over time, say that the disparity is being felt strongly due to the deep-rooted patriarchal society around the globe.

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Architect Denise Scott Brown, author of Room at the Top? Sexism and the Star System in Architecture (Source: ©https://www.knoll.com)

While most of them do not prefer being called “women” architects, as an architect is beyond one’s gender, the segregation and differential treatment remains to be prominent within the field. This bias roots not only from the common tendency of undermining women’s capability in the field of engineering but also to a deeper problem of patriarchy. The lack of education beyond the regular school curriculum has led to the persistent violation of human rights, dignity, and justice. The issues faced by women on construction sites cannot be blamed solely on the foreign notion of workers to abide by the orders of a woman employee but also their lack of awareness despite working in majorly developed cities.

Opening up of placements in private sectors for women as well as greater opportunities in the government sectors is crucial for the availability of projects in the business and upliftment of the women entrepreneurs. The analysis of the relation between architectural schools and professional practice, especially during the prevalent economic crisis is extremely important to dissolve the barriers of gender and bring absolute professionalism within educated architects.

Architects like Chitra Vishwanath, Brinda Somaya, Anupama Kundoo, Abha Narain Lambah, Revati Kamath, Sheila Sri Prakash, Shimul Javeri Kadri have broken the glass ceiling by their astounding works in the field of conservation, urban design, sustainability, interior design, and vernacular practices. They have not only created an identity for themselves but also have helped the younger generation of women to evaluate their prospects in the 21st century. 

Women Architects of India - Sheet4
Professor Rajagopalan’s Residence designed by Chitra Vishwanath Architects (©http://www.earth-auroville.com)
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Conservation project of St. Thomas Cathedral, Mumbai by Somaya and Kalappa Consultants (Source: ©https://www.snkindia.com)
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Volontariat Home for Homeless Children, Pondicherry designed by Anupama Kundoo Architects (Source: ©https://urbannext.net, Photographer: Deepshikha Jain)
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Restoration of Sir JJ School of Art, Mumbai by Abha Narain Lambah Associates (Source: ©https://www.anlassociates.com)
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Tallest Stainless-Steel Structure of India designed by Kamath Design Studio (Source: ©Indian Stainless-Steel Development Association)
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Cholamandal Centre of Contemporary Art, Chennai designed by Shilpa Architects’ (Source: ©http://shilpaarchitects.com)
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Architecture and Interior design of Nirvana Films’ Studio, Bangalore by SJK Architects (Source: ©https://www.homedsgn.com)

The women of the millennial have started on an ambition to establish architecture as a profession which is not bound by a societal category but the services and contribution rendered to the common people and the community. Being an architectural student, I am extremely grateful for the educational and working environment where I was taught to value mutual respect and dignity along with the equal role of architects in society. The awareness of the violation of the basic rights should be imbibed within the coming generation so that there are greater efforts to bring parity within one’s immediate surroundings.

References:

  1. Women Architects of Modern India: Their Long Search for Identity by Madhavi Desai (Source: https://yalepaprika.com)
  2. Empowering Women in Architecture: A Study in India by Akankshya (Source: https://www.ijsr.net)
Aratrika Sarkar
Author

Aratrika Sarkar is an architectural student who strives to be an architect and a student forever. She loves the unfamiliar streets of an unfamiliar but a safe city. She aspires to be a sensitive human being and wants to spread love and peace through her works, written or designed.

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