As a new entrant in the world of architecture in 1979, when Shilpa Architects came into existence, principal Sheila Sri Prakash had to strive hard to continue designing in an environment that was hostile to women. Irrespective of the situation, she nurtured every project with a lot of emotion and care — most of her early projects were independent homes, small offices, nursery schools, neighbourhood clinics and industrial manufacturing units.
“My designs were appreciated as unique and responsive. My office grew with the scale of the projects. We started designing for multiple families who opted to live in a community, as in apartments and row houses. Contractors and corporates found it lucrative to develop land parcels to maximise returns on their investment,” recalls Sri Prakash, whose practice grew with the real estate industry. She designed projects in Tamil Nadu as well as pan-India.
As the practice began to grow, their focus on being responsive to location and people became more challenging and satisfying to achieve. Sri Prakash, who studied architecture at the Anna University School of Architecture and Planning (and also attended the Executive Education Program at Harvard University’s Graduate School of Design), remembers, “I was not given a chance to design glitzy and glamorous projects due to a gender bias. In retrospect (it was) a blessing in disguise.”
Thus, opportunities to work on projects like homes for the economically weaker sections under the World Bank’s ‘Shelter for the Shelterless’ scheme came her way. Through it all, “responsive and sensitive architecture that reciprocates to all concerned” remained at the core of her practice.
Sri Prakash is no stranger to the idea that change is the only constant, and she is gearing up for the next wave of change that will dominate the architecture scene. “We are in the midst of the fourth industrial revolution and are experiencing the disruptive energies. The rapid pace of technological advances in IOT, AI, 3D Printing, Machine Learning, etc, is rapidly influencing living. We will be balancing the technological advances with our core learnings, and exploring new design solutions for humanity [that are] in sync with our planet,” she expounds on the future direction her practice will take.
The architect exhibits no aversion to technology, but she urges fellow architects to not get carried away by trends and fads, or swayed by peer pressure. Instead, she recommends that they interpret the client’s vision “through the prism of the values you hold dear to your heart, heritage and culture.”

Looking Back

There are many projects that encouraged Sri Prakash to work with “inspired vigour.” A model EWS (Economically Weaker Section) house, a factory for her husband, her own office space in Chennai, and a family home, “every milestone set a target to pursue more,” she explains.

Looking forward

In their upcoming township project, the firm is working on a design that blends spiritually empowering spaces with efficient and sustainable conveniences. “The museum for the Cholamandal Artists’ Village, built around a banyan tree which forms its anchor element, is also special,” adds the architect.

 

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