Women in architecture and their contribution to breaking the stereotypes

The art & practice of designing buildings has been prevailing since the times undocumented. The needs for safe and secure human settlements were slowly infused with creativity, making Architecture a profession of great technical and artistic skills.

The architecture was recognized as a profession in 1857. But, women in this profession are under-represented and gender-inequity has been a topic of debate over many years. Their role and contribution to the field have been overlooked often.  Yet, there have been many strong-willed and successful women architects, who have worked endlessly to break those stereotypical grounds.

M. Rosaria Piomelli

Starting in Finland at the end of the 19th century, certain schools of architecture in Europe began to admit women to their programs of study. In 1980 M. Rosaria Piomelli, born in Italy, became the first woman to hold a deanship of any school of architecture in the United States, as Dean of the City College of New York School of Architecture. The earliest documented examples are of  Katherine Briconnet (ca 1494-1526; influential in designing the Chateau de Chenonceau, France) and Lady Elizabeth Wilbraham (1632-1705; architect of Wotton House in Buckinghamshire).

However, only in recent years have women begun to achieve wider recognition with several outstanding participants including two Pritzker prizewinners since the turn of the millennium. Activism and protests through their dedicated work have given a more diverse character to the profession.  From the early likes of Louise Blanchard Bethune  ( the first American woman known to have worked as a professional architect) and Julia Morgan(first woman to study architecture at Ecole des Beaux-Arts, Paris), to  Mahony Griffin (First woman architect to be officially Licensed and the first employee of Frank Lloyd Wright ) and Zaha Hadid (First woman architect to win the Pritzker Prize).

Back home, India too witnessed the rise of women architects who proved to be trailblazers.  The fast-changing face of India is partly due to these brilliant pioneer women architects that have achieved international fame and awards and are working towards a sustainable society.

Here are a few noteworthy mentions:

  • Perin Jamsetjee Mistri (1913–1989), believed to be the first woman to graduate in architecture in India
  • Eulie Chowdhury (1923–1995), the first woman to qualify as an architect in Asia and worked in close collaboration with Le Corbusier in planning  & design of the city of Chandigarh
  • Shimul Javeri Kadri (born 1953), She runs own firm in Mumbai and has won multiple International and National Awards including the Prix Versailles Award (2016) & the World Architecture Festival Award (2012)
  • Revathi Kamath (born 1955), a forerunner of mud architecture practices and also credited for building tallest stainless steel structure in India.
  • Anupama Kundoo (born 1967), Internationally recognized and award-winning, an innovative architect working in Auroville, with works focusing on low environmental impact and appropriate to the socio-economic context, utilizing material research, waste materials, unskilled labor, and local communities.
  • Pravina Mehta (c.1924–c.1990), urban planner, architect, and political activist; involved in the conceptualization of New Bombay plan in 1964 with Charles Correa and Shirish Patel
  • Sheila Sri Prakash (born 1955), internationally acclaimed Architect Urban Designer and Sustainability Expert; the first woman in India to have started her own architectural firm; winner of ‘Bene Meranti’ (2017 Medallion by The University of Architecture and Urbanism, Bucharest, Romania and the Ministry of National Education and Scientific Research. Also, associated with Chennai Smart City as Urban Expert.
  • Sonali Rastogi (born 1967), founding partner of Morphogenesis, a fellow at Indian Institute of Architects, Royal Society of Arts (UK) and Delhi Urban Arts Commission; Winner of Singapore Institute of Architects SIA Getz Award (2014)
  • Brinda Somaya, Architect & Conservationist, UNESCO prize for restoring St. Thomas Cathedral, Mumbai and Baburao Mhatre Gold medal for lifetime achievement; Her Philosophy: The Architect’s role is that of guardian – he is the conscience of the built and un-built environment.
  • Chitra Vishwanath, established her own firm in 1991, Her philosophy: To employ local resources in an optimized way, to plan considering the natural elements, passively and actively, and to render the social impact of construction positive, improving lifestyle quality of both, the doers and the users.

Women-led projects and initiatives remind us to stay open to a far-reaching reforming of the field of architecture and design and to support inclusiveness.

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