Stories of intention, aspiration and imagination form a gently woven fabric of implicit and explicit meanings that often transcend into a collective reality. Architecture enables these stories.
Narrated by Principal Architect of Somaya and Kalappa Consultants (SNK) Brinda Somaya, BRINDA SOMAYA: Works and Continuities is an inspiring autobiographical account of stories of a gratifying practice.
As the practice enters its fifth decade and India completes 71 years of Independence, the SNK practice has quietly but steadily built a body of work that speaks volumes of Brinda Somaya’s steadfast nature. Situated amidst a kaleidoscope of built environments; the rich, exuberant fabric of Mumbai inspired a conservationist attitude from the very beginning of her practice. The portfolio offers a walk down memory lane in the restored historic sites of erstwhile Bombay State to a more recent skyscraper culture of Mumbai, in the modest community spaces, to a new-age boutique culture. The diversity is formidable.
In an intriguing conversation between historian Kamu Iyer and Brinda Somaya on ‘Working from Mumbai”, the two discuss the commonalities in their influences growing up in Bombay.
Kamu Iyer points out that the city’s architecture and urbanism captured their imagination in many forms because, “……what’s important and different about the city is that you are often part of something that is a part of something much bigger, and for which you have a responsibility too.”
Working on a seminal project involving the conservation, restoration, and rejuvenation of her alma-mater The Cathedral and John Connon School– there were important lessons that became learnings for all projects of conservation in the future. Amidst a reservoir of incredible heritage structures in a rich urban context came the realization of the ability of a cluster of buildings to become a single source to effect change in a neighborhood- establishing the important distinction between restoring buildings as monuments and restoring buildings meant for active use. Successively, SNK went on to become architects of the Tata Consultancy Services building in the same neighbourhood.
The architecture of Brinda Somaya is a design process that strives towards an appropriate response to each project. If one were to study her work closely, it is possible to find subtle but readable patterns – select elements that she really enjoys constantly exploring and that have in the process given her work a sense of identity.
Reflecting on a practice spanning four decades and two generations, the Monograph includes dialogues that revisit a time in post-independent India that marks the formative years of what she refers to as the “Bridge Generation”. Each of these conversations discuss architecture with respect to a political, social, and cultural climate in India and Bombay respectively.
Reminiscing about a childhood spent travelling to the culturally diverse historic sites of India in conversation with Arun Shourie, Brinda Somaya reveals how,
“Modernity is not necessarily an architectural definition…….it is understanding everything that has gone before to the best of your capability and seeing how it is right for the time and for the future.”
This sentiment resonates with a time when music, art, visual imagery, sculpture, and architecture were not separate things.
The firm has endured lasting relationships with clients over the decades and still continues to work for many of them.Patronage is viewed as a long-term commitment towards the welfare of the client and the society at large. Drawing from her own experience Brinda Somaya shares instances of receiving patronage whenever a client has trusted her vision, and likewise when the architect has become a patron of collective good. The Monograph revels in this significant act of engaging with the client and community at large while nurturing creative pursuits with tact across a lifelong career.
Community Projects have been a prominent part of the SNK portfolio. Whether it is rehabilitating the villagers of Bhadli post 2001 earthquake in Gujarat, designing for the city in Colaba Woods or rebuilding shops for flower vendors in the Nityanand Ashram Temple Complex– each of these projects provide an insight into the network of stakeholders involved and a process that allows for architecture to become a catalyst of change.
The projects featured in the book follow no particular chronology. Instead each chapter discusses the critical role of architecture in the words of the architect herself as stories of a people and their contexts- both tangible and intangible. It may be worthwhile to pause and reflect on the definitions of architecture articulated at the onset of each chapter as a way of self-assessing our capacities as professionals endowed with an ability to reinvent, recondition and realise aspirations.
“I am an Indian and all what I am comes from my heritage. It is an intrinsic part of my being and will naturally reflect in my work in many ways. The architect’s role is that of a guardian, he or she is the conscience of the built and the unbuilt environment.”
In my reading of this Monograph, the most important learning is what enables this interface- a graceful orchestration of a truly collaborative effort. And this is why the architecture of Brinda Somaya finds a unique place in the method of Process as Practice and a significant Practice as a Process ♦
Title: Brinda Somaya: Works & Continuities
Curated by: Ruturaj Parikh; Edited by: Nandini Somaya Sampat
Publisher: Mapin Publishing, in association with The HECAR Foundation
ISBN-13 : 978-93-85360-23-7 (Mapin Publishing)
ISBN-10 :978-81-92819-01-3 (The HECAR Foundation)
Year of Publication: 2018
Reviewed by: Hrushita Davey
Drawings and Images: © Somaya and Kalappa Consultants Pvt. Ltd
Photography: Ishita Parikh & Noshir Gobhai
Spreads: From the book; © Mapin Publishing Pvt.Ltd. [The Publishers]
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2 thoughts on “Book: Brinda Somaya: Works & Continuities”
Brinda: I am so glad you are sharing your work and your career with all of us. I really look forward to sitting down and going through this very carefully. Hope to catch you soon somewhere.. xx xx