Nobody responded to the first attempt of Brinda Somaya to organize a conference for female architects in 1990. Ten years later she was overwhelmed by the interest shown in the inaugural “Women in Architecture 2000 Plus” conference – and two decades later 600 delegates and more than 30 speakers from around the globe have converged upon Mumbai, India, to celebrate the diversity and richness of women-driven design practices. “Some women architects from South Asia have transformed their offices into creative powerhouses,” explained Brinda Somaya. “Much has changed – but much more must still change,” she said in the opening panel discussion.
40 per cent of the nearly 100,000 registered architects in India are women – a ratio higher than most other countries. Although many of these women have the aptitude and aspire to run their own office, practical issues make this difficult. “Two years ‘investment’ per child influence the rest of our lives,” explained Shimul Javeri Kadri, speaking for many female Indian architects: “We must ‘humanise’ our men and make them participate in daily life including childcare,” she demanded.
Abha Narain Lambah added: “We are 50 per cent of the population, so don’t be apologetic about being a female architect.” Making reference to the necessity of meeting deadlines in construction, Nandini Somaya Sampat commented with a smile: “Only women know to deliver in just nine months!”
Empowering women in construction and as beneficiaries of projects
Sustainability in design and construction remains a priority on the agenda of all architects. “We know how we should be building and how to achieve sustainability,” explained Hirante Welandawe (Sri Lanka). “It’s the developers that often have a different agenda.” The panel agreed that sustainability means more quality and a better balance of all social, environmental and economic issues involved in construction.
It is against this background that the LafargeHolcim Foundation for Sustainable Construction supported the “Women in Design 2020+” conference and enabled experts from its network to share stories of women from around the world who have excelled in architecture and related design fields, including Global LafargeHolcim Awards 2018 Silver co-winner Yasaman Esmaili (Iran/USA) and regional Awards Bronze winner Middle East Africa 2017 Joana Dabaj (Lebanon/UK). The prize-winning projects of both architects are strongly focused on empowering women in the construction phase but also as beneficiaries of the completed buildings.
LafargeHolcim Foundation and Awards: A traditional platform for female professionals
Further affiliates of the Foundation who contributed to the Mumbai meeting as speakers include Laila Iskandar, former Minister of Urban Renewal & Informal Settlements in Egypt, who delivered a keynote speech at the international LafargeHolcim Forum 2019 in Cairo; Neera Adarkar, leader of one of the mobile workshops at the LafargeHolcim Forum 2013 in Mumbai; and J Meejin Yoon (USA), member of the LafargeHolcim Awards jury Asia Pacific 2017.
Above all, the LafargeHolcim Foundation is proud that Brinda Somaya has been an engaged member of its Board since 2017; she brings wide professional experience and a global vision far beyond gender diversity to the body where currently the majority of members are women. The same goes for the winners of the Global LafargeHolcim Awards 2018: the design teams of all three main prize-winning projects in Niger, Mexico and the USA were led by women!
The 6th International LafargeHolcim Awards for projects and ideas in sustainable construction remains open for entries until February 25, 2020: for female and male professionals, for students of all ages, and for people from around the globe.