After working in the 70s and 80s, when one felt there had been no earthshaking changes in the gender composition of our profession, it seemed the 90s was the decade when women came into their own in the field of architecture in our country. If this change had made any impact in India, it would logically have done so in our neighbouring countries to some extent, even if not to the same degree. I found that after two decades of practically no interaction with other women architects in India, and even less contact with women architects in South Asia generally, suddenly great changes were taking place. I also felt, like other architects here, that I wanted to meet women like Yasmeen Lari (by then I had had the privilege of meeting Minnette De Silva, both in India and Sri Lanka) and the only way seemed to be to organize a meet. By then I had also come across the varied and invaluable work women were doing in India and yet most were relatively unknown. It seemed as though the time had finally come for a conference and an exhibition.

I first shared my thoughts with Urvashi Mehta, an architect and friend, and once we both felt confident about this venture, we decided to go ahead and announce the conference and exhibition. By then the Sir Ratan Tata Trust had committed funds for the exhibition and its documentation and it was not difficult to raise the remaining funds we needed for the conference. A small committee was then formed to take this further and we have to thank Pradnya Chauhan, Shimul Javeri Kadri, Abha Narain Lambah, Ajay Sharma and Gita Simoes for all the hard work and support we received to make this a reality.

I was prepared for some (relatively minor, I must admit) opposition to a women architects' conference. The only consideration that I was absolutely clear about in my own mind was that it should be a celebration and not a conference on gender issues. One way I had to ensure that, was to insist that all papers and exhibition material should be about the built form. So we intentionally excluded, which is a pity, all interior and landscape projects. This was not because we considered them a 'softer' option, but because we felt the greatest impact of this conference would be felt within the profession and amongst the general public if it were about 'architecture'.

It was not an easy task to locate women who had worked independently in South Asia, and we often had to contact friends in the West for help. We also had to decide whether we should only include women who had an independent practice or also those who headed studios with men and women as principal partners. We then had to ensure the work they talked about and exhibited were projects where they were the design heads. Though there were overlapping situations, delicate situations and minor problems, we believe we did our best. The conference was a great success.

We got several women from Pakistan, Sri Lanka and Bangladesh to attend and of course with our Indian women we had a full house every day. Together with architects, the audience was made up of a wide spectrum of professionals including archaeologists, historians, environmentalists and sociologists, and I remember Yasmeen telling me that apart from being so pleased with the quality of work being done all over South Asia, she was amazed by the quality of the audience and the interaction that took place. Words like 'electric', 'overwhelming', 'exciting', 'stimulating' and 'moving' were heard by us from the participants. It was all worthwhile.

The conference covered women who in the last two decades have upgraded slums, conserved heritage buildings, improved urban spaces, and built private and public buildings of every possible type. Women who have worked in India, Pakistan, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka. Working in developing countries with constraints often brings about the most creative solutions. These wonderful, exciting and fulfilling tasks have taken many of us from being hi-tech professionals to being 'barefoot' architects, and from working in large urban sprawls to deserts and wilderness. We have all had common traditions, problems and aspirations, and the Conference re-established the links between architects in the subcontinent. It showed that a common thread runs through the women architects of India, Pakistan and Sri Lanka and we intend never to let this thread fray again!

As the conceivers of this document, Urvashi and I decided to follow the same format as the Conference itself. The Committee had spent a lot of time and effort in deciding the various sections and the speakers for those sessions. We also took a decision to follow each speaker's talk with her panel, even if the two were not directly related, to ensure a continuity of purpose. The remaining panels we decided to group alphabetically rather than by country or chronologically. Our focus was Women in Architecture: 2000 Plus. It was about practising women today. This resulted in the works of some well-known women architects, such as the late Urmila Elie Chowdhary and the late Pravina Mehta, not being included. However, for some historical reference we have included the work of the first women architects of India and Sri Lanka, the late Perin Mistri and the late Minnette De Silva. We realize the importance of a chronological historical record of the work of women architects in South Asia and we intend to bring out another document as a sequel to these proceedings. We would therefore be very happy to get information and feedback for any possible inclusions and request to be forgiven for any omissions we may have made in this document.

We now have to see where we go from here. We have had several invitations for the exhibition from India and abroad and perhaps these proceedings will lead to an in-depth study of various projects from the subcontinent. I thank all the architects whose papers and work are published here for making their work available to us for this document, and Professor Raman for his essay, 'Towards an Emancipated Place'.

The exhibition is now part of the IAWA (International Archive of Women in Architecture) at the Virginia Tech in Blacksburg, USA. The purpose of the IAWA is to preserve and record the work of all women in the field of architecture and design and to ensure scholarly access to students and scholars in Art and Architectural History.

The HECAR Foundation which hosted 'Women In Architecture-2000 Plus' was created to celebrate Mumbai's multi-faceted historic tradition. The Foundation seeks to educate the public about architecture (including heritage and urban issues) through talks, publications, exhibitions, scholarships and seminars. This document was made possible by the generous and spontaneous support of the Sir Ratan Tata Trust. The HECAR Foundation would also like to thank MK India and The Travel Corporation of India Ltd., the two other main sponsors of this conference. To all of them 'Women In Architecture' is grateful.

Finally, this has been a very personal journey for me, but it has also been a lot of hard work and fun, and I am sure that all the architects who attended the conference will reflect on the issues and ideas discussed here and initiate the change that is necessary. For as W.B.Yeats said, 'In dreams begins responsibility'.

Chairperson - WIA.
Founder Trustee - The Hecar Foundation












































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