Madhavi Desai’s latest book, Women Architects and Modernism in India: Narratives and Contemporary Practices, charts the history of modern Indian architecture in relation to the abiding problem of gender inequality in this area. If you are a woman practicing architecture in India, then, in Desai’s words, “there is resistance on a daily basis”. This was as true in the previous century as it is in our time.
Desai herself is a professional architect, and so is well-placed to comment on the issue. Women Architects and Modernism in India, which is her sixth book, offers a feminist take on a subject that has long remained, so to speak, the preserve of the man.
At the Delhi launch of her book on 15 February, Desai talked about her research alongside a group of Indian women architects who have been instrumental in bridging the gender gap in their professional field—one idea, one presentation and one design at a time.
While tracing the past, Desai referred to women pioneers who carved out a niche for themselves in the architectural domain back in the day as “rebellious, head-strong and visionary”. She said, “Their value as pioneers goes way beyond the buildings they designed.”
Talking about the future of women in Indian architecture, she said, “There is a definite paradigm shift with social and professional conditions in the social structures. Younger women are now more ambitious than ever before, with far greater awareness of their career paths and a better sense of self-worth. Travel has become easier for single women. Parents are now ready to send their daughters out of town to work before marriage and the young women are clear about pursuing the discipline.”
Desai has many achievements to her name: an adjunct faculty of architecture at the CEPT University, Ahmedabad, for the past 22 years; receiver of numerous research fellowships and grants in India and abroad; founding member of Women Architects Forum; and also a visiting scholar of gender and women’s studies in the University of California, Berkeley, USA.
Elaborating on the vision behind this book, the accomplished architect said, “In the West in the 1980s and ’90s, they started looking at women in architecture and the issues concerning women architects. The truth is, even in the 21st century, they still don’t have anything much on the subject. In fact, no architectural archives existed in this country till the CEPT University began one a couple of years ago. My main motivation was to get such concerns out to the masses.”