Designing international projects is a matter of pride, but for Brinda Somaya that quest is met right here. When people ask if she has worked abroad, she is quick to explain, “Working in India is like working in a new country with every project!” An alumnus of Sir JJ College of Architecture and Smith College (USA), she set up Somaya and Kalappa (SNK) in 1978 with her sister Ranjini Kalappa (who later moved out of India). Her studio back then was actually an old maali’s shed and one her earliest projects was for the owners of Parle Products, which enabled her to set up the practice. She proudly says, “They have been my clients now for 40 years. So, for me, industrial work and patronage from an industrial family like theirs was only possible in a city like Mumbai. In those days, who would give a young woman an industrial project?”
A optimistic attitude kept her going — and still does. “I didn’t begin my practice thinking about difficulties. I don’t think we should worry about the negatives but focus on how to move ahead in a positive manner.” The outcome was a diversity in projects that came her way because no job or project was too small or big for her. “It didn’t matter if it was a paid project or pro bono. I believed that one will balance the other and that is why we have a huge diversity of work,” says Somaya whose work includes corporate, industrial, institutional design and public spaces. Her buildings speak about her beliefs and ideas of sustainability— but more prominently, they speak of their Indian heritage. “It is an intrinsic part of my being… I see myself and hence my work straddling the old and the new, the large and the small. I don’t think I can separate India and the Indianess from myself.”
If there’s one way SNK has truly grown is by making pragmatic research an important part of their practice. “This aspect of our work has grown considerably with Nandini’s (daughter and director at SNK) enormous interest and abilities in systematic research and the analytical tools she has created in the studio. Everything begins with a thorough process of documentation, research and analysis,” discloses Somaya.
A pure personification of optimism, she is convinced that young architects in the country will take India on to the world map of architecture. “I just hope that everybody keeps their feet on the ground… I believe that an inclusive practice that spans our diverse population, be it economic or cultural, provides us with great satisfaction.”

Looking Back

SNK is known for Rajabai Tower and TCS House in Fort. But the recent ‘India and the World: A history in nine stories’ exhibition design was truly special for them. “The design primarily focused on the visitor’s experience of aesthetic enjoyment with a robust academic underpinning,” explains Somaya.

Looking forward

The Tata Consultancy Services Campus in Indore is a project to watch out for. An IT facility located on the outskirts of the city, its conceptual planning is based on the Narmada River. The architectural forms are derived from the physical features it creates as it winds its way down from its source and through the campus.

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