Symposium Showcases Architectural Practice and Design in India
Architects, scholars, and students gathered at Cornell over the course of three days in late October for the 2016 Preston Thomas Memorial Lecture Series symposium, "Currents in Indian Architecture: Contemporary Practice + Discourse." The symposium was hosted by the Department of Architecture and organized by Luben Dimcheff, the Richard Meier Assistant Professor in Architecture; and Mary N. Woods, professor of architecture, with assistance from Apexa Patel (M.Arch. '16).
The event featured keynote speakers Brinda Somaya, of Somaya and Kalappa Consultants in Mumbai; and Kaiwan Mehta, editor of DOMUS India, who each presented crucial narratives of contemporary Indian architecture.
Somaya discussed the evolution of professional practice in the country over the last 70 years since India's independence. An architect and urban conservationist, she started her firm Somaya and Kalappa Consultants in 1975 in Mumbai and has merged architecture, conservation, and social equity in her work for over four decades.
Professor Mary Woods, one of the event's organizers, noted how Somaya wove her years of practice into the fabric of Indian life, design, history and culture during her address. "Somaya deftly connected our audience to the other symposium speakers from different generations and from across India. They all move fluidly among the currents of high design and sustainable building, digital and handicraft knowledge, and discourse and practice," said Woods, who launched her new book, Women Architects in India: Histories of Practice in Mumbai and Delhi (Routledge, 2016) at the symposium's opening.
During his address, Mehta, who is a theorist and critic in the fields of visual culture, architecture, and city studies focused on critical curation and architectural discourse in India.
In addition to the keynote addresses, lectures were presented by Sanjeev Shankar, architect, Bengaluru; Abin Chaudhuri, Abin Design Studio, Kolkata; Shimul Javeri Kadri, SJK Architects, Mumbai; Sarosh Anklesaria, Anthill Design, Ahmedabad/NYC; Madhav Raman, Anagram Architects, New Delhi; Revathi Kamath and Ayodh Kamath, Kamath Design Studio, New Delhi; and Sameep Padora, sP+A, Mumbai.
Architecture student Anamika Goyal (M.Arch. '17) and Dillon Pranger (M.Arch. '15), a teaching associate, attended the symposium. Goyal, who is an Indian-American, said that she was especially inspired.
"I was filled with a new sense of pride for India and very excited for its future," said Goyal. "The work that was shown this weekend was bold, inventive, and compassionate. Each of the presenters clearly had a strong set of values that guided their work, which is necessary in a country where the architectural profession is especially undervalued."
The symposium was capped by a panel discussion moderated by Sean Anderson (B.Arch./B.S. '96), associate curator in the Department of Architecture and Design at MoMA in New York City. Anderson's lifelong course of work, travel, and thinking about South Asia was inspired by the introduction to Indian architecture he had while a student at Cornell.
Reflecting on the symposium, Anderson said, "With the unmistakable essential voices of Somaya and Revathi Kamath — two prolific women architects — in addition to those designers who are at the beginning of their careers, I found among all of the speakers' works a singular and strong commitment to locality with associated notions of labor, equity, and materiality in a range of works and contexts."
Pranger was also impressed with the panel discussion. "It was an excellent conversation highlighting the importance of values in design," he observed. "The discussion provided an opportunity to spotlight how the invited speakers dealt with the struggle to instill these values in their work while responding to the needs of their individual clients and those of the Indian population."
Enhancing the symposium was an exhibition in Milstein Dome — curated and designed by Dimcheff and Patel — of books and publications drawn from the collection of the Cornell Fine Arts Library, all related to India's vernacular architecture and diverse cultural landscape.
Woods concluded, "I am grateful to the speakers as well as Department of Architecture Chair Mark Cruvellier for the chance to organize this event. Thanks are also due to our students and teaching associates for making the sessions and exhibitions such a success, and our visitors feel so welcome."
The Preston H. Thomas Memorial Lecture Series was established in 1975 by the parents of Thomas, who was an architecture student at Cornell when he was killed in an automobile accident.
By Patti Witten