A pioneer with bold ideas and bolder actions, Sheila Sri Prakash opened her Architectural Practice Shilpa Architects in 1979 when India was still under a curtain of patriarchal beliefs, making her achievement even more pronounced. Apart from paving an uncharted, yet necessary path for female architects in India, she is an inspiration for women all over the world.
She is a sustainable activist who practices architecture with profound attention to context, tradition, culture, art, and sustainability. She displays a connection between performing arts and architecture through her work.
A 1977 graduate of the School of Architecture and Planning (Anna University), she attended a 12-week educational program at Harvard University, against the strong opinions about women in the field. Fighting off the tag of ‘Interior Designer’; as women in architecture were frowned upon and considered incapable, she started her firm Shilpa Architects in 1979, which has recently acquired SGBL Studio with offices in Chicago, New York, and Seoul and an international web of projects in the U.S.A., Belgium, Norway, China, Japan, Kuwait, etc. Shilpa also executes high-end turnkey design-build solutions through a wholly-owned subsidiary called Stone Lotus.
Her design philosophy combines Architecture with social and cultural impact, human psychology, preservation and conservation of heritage, holistic spatial planning, and the impact on urban dynamics and environment.
Her firm ideas and beliefs make her stand out, as is evident by her increasing number of achievements over the past 35 years.
Sheila Sri Prakash was the first Indian woman to be a part of the World Economic Forum’s Global Agenda Council on Design Innovation in 2011 as one of the 16 international experts in design and innovation for her signature work in artistic, cultural and heritage architecture. Here she formulated the Reciprocal Design Index, a sustainability matrix linking the parameters and metrics of sustainable design in terms of environmental, sociological, and economic impact.
Seeking a new paradigm for design-inspired solutions that address some of India’s threatening socio-economic problems, Sheila Sri Prakash started the Reciprocity Wave Movement, an art and design competition to raise awareness about holistic sustainability, initiated at popular public places in Chennai and Bangalore. With the intention of emphasizing the growing need for attention in social and environmental issues, the first competition was conducted in Chennai in 2013.
In 2016, She received the Role Model Architect Award from WADE India, which began a wave of appreciation in the form of Sustainability Champion of the Year for 2019, Lifetime Achievement Award from Builders, Architects and Building Materials (BAM) in collaboration with Confederation of Indian Industry, Bene Merenti Award from the University of Ion Mincu in 2017, Honorable Architect Award from the Indian Institute of Architects (October 2015), and more.
Apart from awards, Sheila Sri Prakash was named as the Top 10 Most Influential Architects by Construction Global Magazine, Top 100 Architects in the world by Il Giornale Dell’ Architecture, 50 most influential names in Architecture by Architectural Digest and Top 40 Architects of the 21st century by Archute, among other popular titles.
A confident and inspirational public speaker, she has been invited to many architectural events such as Tampere Design Week in Finland, 361 Degrees Architecture and Design Conference in Mumbai, Design Summit organized by Corriere Della Sera in Milan (Italy) in April 2013, etc as a keynote speaker. In May 2015 she addressed the Women in Architecture Summit by the Universitat Politecnica de Valencia, Spain. She has led a discussion at the World Economic Forum’s Special meeting on Urbanization in Tokyo and was a “Break-out thinker about the future of Sustainability” at the 2012 Global Green Summit by Bloomberg in Singapore. In the 2012 Annual Meeting of the New Champions or the Summer Davos in Tianjin, China, she was a “rapporteur” for a panel on the role of arts in bridging the urban-rural divide around the world. Unafraid to speak about her strong opinions when it comes to sustainable architecture, she is widely consulted on matters of urban sustainability by several governments and is closely associated with the Chennai Smart City (board of the SPV), as an Independent Director and Urban Expert.
Sheila Sri Prakash was also a key charter member who was instrumental in establishing the Indian Green Building Council. Shilpa Architects practice what they preach when it comes to sustainability. Their LEED Platinum-certified office is designed to influence the well being of users. “This building has been envisaged as a living organism that facilitates creative thinking. It provides you the envelope, gives you privacy, allowing collaborations with others, but at the same time does not disconnect you from the outside”, says Sheila.
With over 1200 projects under her name, Sheila Sri Prakash’s Shilpa Architects has had her hands in a variety of architecture, from reciprocal small-scaled housing for the socio-economically underprivileged to pioneering energy efficient commercial, industrial, civic, residential and hospitality projects.
Silver Falls Resort, Kodaikanal (2018)
Located in the pristine hill station of Kodaikanal, this 4.9-acre site is located adjacent to the Silver Cascade Falls and a nearby forest. The Site lends to the creation of interactive programs and has multiple ways of access at different levels. The planning has been driven by the challenging contours of the site. The resort caters to mid and premium segment customers. The main entry to There are around 40 to 50 cottages under three categories; Cottages, Suites, and Premium Rooms. The architectural language is inspired by English cottages with exposed random rubble masonry and sloped roofs. The idea was to let these buildings blend into the surrounding landscape.
The Shirdi Sai Baba Temple, Chennai (In Progress)
The Shirdi Sai Baba Temple by Sheila Sri Prakash (Shilpa Architects) is an institutional project and is being proposed as part of the master-plan for 338 Acres in Chennai. The Sai temple in itself measures 11.11 acres and is designed to be practical, spiritual, and experiential. The temple was built on the Vastu Purusha Mandala and comprises 4 zones: Front promenade, Temple Complex, Rear Promenade, and Statue. Inspired by the ‘Gode’ Neem tree of Shirdi, Maharashtra, a single existing tree on-site formed the start of the design and a series of mathematical progressions resulted in an Agama-Shastra based plan as the foundation for the design. The concept was to provide a form that is as pure and perfect as possible on earth in color, texture, and philosophy. The proportions and sizing of all aspects of the design rely heavily on the understanding of the golden ratio and principles of mathematics and origami.
Bahai Temple (2018- Competition Entry)
This design by Sheila Sri Prakash is inspired by principles of Sacred Geometry and the description of the House of worship according to Abdu’l-Bahaì- promoting the “oneness of humankind”. Emerging from oneness – the starting point for the form of the MaSriqu’l-Adhkaìr is a simple circle. From here the design evolves into a Nonagon forming the base of the plan by using the sacred geometry technique to construct it with 19 circles forming the “flower of life”. The materials are simple and are familiar to the people of rural Bihar. Stepped brick Corbels are reminiscent of the Kesaria Stupa; the mud, tiles, cow-dung cakes, and thatch are used extensively for local homes – thereby a mathematical solution that combines beauty, grace, and dignity while being modest, functional and economical is unraveled.
Defense Museum (2016- Competition Entry)
The design celebrates the victories and pays tribute to the combined energy behind major defense forces – The Army, Navy & Air Force. Visitors will experience the marvels of the forces through spaces that look and feel like part of a military/base camp. Within these forms will be large galleries that portray military campaigns through multi-sensory displays. All of this is achieved through respecting the proposed site, its many trees, and the climate of the city. The Main Building is inspired by the armored vehicles of the military such as the tanks or submarines. With all exterior walls as solid masses, the building has unpredictable openings that allow glimpses of the sky. Perforated walls add lightness to the building.
MMA Management Centre, Chennai (2018)
The Madras Management Association is a state of the art building located at a prime locality in the city of Chennai. The building was inaugurated on 15th April 2018, in the presence of the dignitaries from the Madras Management Association such as the President, Ms. Kavitha D Chitturi, Building Committee Chairman Mr.Srinivasan K Swamy and many others.
Since the organization is associated with the old ‘MADRAS’, Sheila Sri Prakash has brought a traditional “Madras” look to the building.
The zoning has been done such that the traffic and accessibility are controlled within the building.
Sheila Sri Prakash is an inspirational pioneer, influencing architects around the world to break free from barriers and social pressures. Her approach towards inculcating tradition and culture in green architecture while considering urban impact and sustainability has resulted in unique and virtuous architecture. In a world where development and power are calibrated through modern and contemporary architecture, she teaches us to build local, empowering nature, heritage, and context above westernization and globalization in architecture.
“I take my role as an architect seriously because my thoughts and actions are bound to have a lasting impact on people, society, and the planet. What I’m striving to achieve is holistic sustainability through design.” -Sheila Sri Prakash