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Poonam Verma Mascarenahs on Brinda Somaya
5 April, 2021
As a second year architecture student in 1986, I have this picture memory of me reclining in my dorm, flipping through an architecture magazine, (‘Architect and Builder’ or ‘Architecture + Design’), when I literally sat up. I was looking at the portraits of two saree-clad women! The facing pages featured projects by two architect sisters, Brinda Somaya and Ranjini Kalappa. The names struck me, as I had never heard them before, having been brought up in North India, and the pictures too – that was my first encounter with works by women architects in print. One of the projects featured was a swimming pool with a stadium that has stayed with me because up until that moment in time, sports-related buildings were domains of civil engineers in my experience. Perhaps this is because I grew up in Roorkee, home to Thomason College of Civil Engineering (1847-1949), which became University of Roorkee (1949-2001) and is now Indian Institute of Technology Roorkee. Amongst other accounts of Thomason College that I heard from my alumnus grandfathers (both maternal and paternal), was one about the students that offered to pitch in with their labour to help build the swimming pool – to make up for the deficient funds – as they wanted a pool in the college. This was the same pool where so many of my friends and I learned to swim as kids.
Thus, the published works of two women architects smashed two barriers that I wasn’t even aware of up until that point. First, the nature and scale of the projects: a stadium in exposed concrete for 1,000 people, a factory and a hotel effectively opened up the entire spectrum of the kinds of works I could engage with. Second, that work gets noticed irrespective of the architect’s gender – or so I thought for a long time. Regardless, a seed was sown within me that day for realising my potential.