One of India’s topmost architects, whose design sense had won the heart of Vijay Chauhan at just 24

It was around the late 1970s that Prakash Chauhan of Parle Agro picked up on the creative streak of the then 24-year-old architect. She presented a plan to the committee at the Bombay Presidency Golf Club for a swimming complex, and he offered her the job to work on one of the FMCG brand’s factories. “The Chauhan family had the confidence to give a young sari-clad woman an industrial project to do. It was only a part of a factory back then, but today, 40-years later they are still my clients,” beams Brinda Somaya, founder, Somaya and Kalappa Consultants.

All it took was a few solo projects for Somaya to gain the confidence of setting up her own practice. In 1978, Somaya’s elder sister, Ranjini Kalappa, a JJ School of Art and Pratt Institute of Architecture alumni, returned to India – and that’s how the Chinappa (maiden name) sisters set up their design studio in a tiny garden shed in Mumbai. “We had hired one architect to work with us part-time, and once I remember going to the office in the afternoon to find him asleep. Because we did not have much work initially,” she recalls.

Conservation, city, culture, community and contemporary – the five Cs as Somaya likes to call them – define her extensive body of work. There are the residential projects, then the hospitality projects for the Mahindra Club and other properties such as Westin Bangalore, the UNESCO-awarded restoration of the John Connon and Cathedral School in Mumbai, the campuses of Tata Consultancy Services across the country, luxury apartments for the Lodha Group, and on-going work at academic institutes such as IIT Bombay and IIM Ahmedabad. The iconic headquarters of salt-to-software conglomerate, Tata – Bombay House in south Mumbai also bears the Somaya stamp. Somaya manages a team of over 50 architects, designers, engineers and quantity estimators with her lawyer turned architect daughter. According to Zauba Corp, the firm clocked a revenue of nearly Rs.110 million in FY18.

The only Indian among 20 names listed as an AD White professor at Cornell University and she’s on the master jury of Zurich-based LafargeHolcim Foundation for Sustainable Construction. She’s received an honorary doctorate from Cornell University – and she’s been successful in creating a network of women architects who call upon each other for professional advice.

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