One of India’s topmost architects, whose design sense had won the heart of Prakash Chauhan at just 24: Meet Brinda Somaya

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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