Architecture's Mary Woods Publishes New Book on Women Architects in India

The cover of Mary Woods's Women Architects in India

Women Architects in India, a new book by Mary N. Woods, studies women architects from independence through today. photo / provided

October 5, 2016

Professor Mary N. Woods, architecture, has just released Women Architects in India: Histories of Practice in Mumbai and Delhi (Routledge, 2016). The book is the first study of women architects in modern India. Educated in the 1930s and 1940s, the very first women architects began practicing when modern architecture and female emancipation were central to building  the new nation after independence in 1947.

"This is a study of women architects from the struggle for independence until today, as well as an account of modern architectural education and practice in India," says Woods. "These two histories are not only relatively unknown in the West but also in India."

The book recounts the work and lives of Indian women as not only architects, but also as builders and clients, delving into complexities of feminism, modernism, and design practices in India, and exploring gender and modern architecture in a more global and less Eurocentric context.

"Like many female professionals in the West, women architects in India object to being categorized in terms of their gender," Woods explains. "They want to be known simply as architects. But many are proud to be described as Indian architects and they move fluidly between traditions of craft and sustainability, and high-tech design and fabrication."

Set in Mumbai and Delhi, historic centers of architectural education and practice in India, the book examines the diverse practices of women who have built a modern India — from the factories, housing, and museums of post-independence to today's IT campuses, metro systems, pilgrimage hotels, and wildlife sanctuaries. But, as Woods explains, these architects also conserve, sustain, and resurrect traditional crafts and materials, empower marginalized communities, and create sustainable architectures. "They show us other ways of being an architect apart from just the design of iconic buildings," she says.

While researching and writing her book, Woods had support from the AAP Dean's Fund along with grants and fellowships from the Graham Foundation for Advanced Studies in the Fine Arts, Fulbright Foundation, American Council of Learned Societies, American Institute of Indian Studies, and Cornell's South Asia Program.

"I would never have gone to India, much less worked there, had it not been for the generosity of my colleagues in City and Regional Planning — Professor and Historic Preservation Planning Director Michael Tomlan, and Professor and Dean Emeritus Porus Olpadwala," says Woods. "When they invited me to join an exchange group of colleagues traveling to India, they opened up a whole new world for me. And I am still returning to India to work on film and photography projects with colleagues there."

Woods will celebrate the publication of her book on October 13, at the opening event of "Currents in Indian Architecture," the architecture department's 2016 Preston H. Thomas Memorial Lecture and symposium. The lecture series explores areas of knowledge related to architecture and brings outstanding speakers to campus whose presence, thoughts, and expertise might otherwise not be available to AAP students. This year the series was organized by Woods; Luben Dimcheff, the Richard Meier Assistant Professor of Architecture; and Mark Cruvellier, the Nathaniel and Margaret Owings Professor of Architecture and department chair, with assistance from Apexa Patel (M.Arch. '16). The two-day event features keynote talks by Kaiwan Mehta, editor of Domus India, and Brinda Somaya of Somaya and Kalappa Consultants; presentations by architects with emerging and established practices from cities across India; and an exhibition of the architects' works as well as books from the Cornell libraries dealing with Indian modern and contemporary architecture.

By Patti Witten

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