By : WADe Bureau | 26 May 2018 | TRENDING WADe TOPICS
It was a special moment for WADe Asia to host and listen to some wonderful Women Architects across South Asia such as Ar. Dorji Yangki (Bhutan), Ar. Shamima Sharmim (Bangladesh), Ar. Patama Roonrakwit (Thailand), Ar. Anju Malla Pradhan (Nepal), Ar. Patama Roonrakwit, Ar. Anupama Kundoo (India & Spain) on a common platform ably chaired by Dr. Anuradha Chatterjee (Sydney). Diverse yet connected, how is the architectural & design scenario in these countries, are we more similar than diverse, do we have common issues and how do we innovate in our own spaces and circumstances, these and more ware the agenda of this panel. This issue of SURFACES REPORTER presents to you some of the key extracts from this discussion. Please write to us with your queries, questions and feedback regarding the subject at email@example.com
Design Journeys, Shared Values & Economies
To start with, it is imperative to mention the diverse backgrounds, all these women come from as well as their different styles of practice. Anju Malla, after graduating in 1993, first worked in private firms, even did many projects for free that belonged to her relatives, later, winning the first prize in the National Design Competition in Nepal for Municipal Building. Her first project when she opened her own practice was a large school project, considered to be the first big project handled by a Woman in Nepal and that started the journey.
Shamima Sharmin was clear about creating a solid base before starting her own practice even as a student. Attending a lecture by famous architect Rafiq Alam, she had made up her mind to work with him which she did for about 4 years. Pregnancy and child care meant tough decisions for her as it was increasingly becoming difficult to manage work & home. A universal issue for women all across the globe, taking a break meant, coping with technological advances, rapid changes in the design field, tough getting back to mainstream architecture and so on. Eventually, she opened her own firm and is successfully running it.
“The biggest issue is without knowing the depth of our internal problem we are just following the western attraction and seeing what people in west are doing. But our climate is different, geography is different we cannot blindly follow that”- Ar. Shamima Sharmim
Anupama’s journey started with Mumbai, having studied at the JJ College of Architecture, a city she says taught her so much. A conscious decision to not take up projects that she didn’t believe in, led to her to living and practising in Auroville which eventually led her to teaching offers and developing academic & research side of her work in cities like Berlin. Anupama also says the saying ‘No’ to certain things led to take bigger risks in life which she still continues to take.
“Asia having a rural culture has rapidly being urbanized to such an extent that at least in India everything looks similar, like Gurgaon everywhere. Anupama finds it a biggest challenge on how to keep the slow yet good values that Asia has, and still retain the identity and local culture.”
It all came natural to Patama, after graduating from Thailand and completing Masters from England, she came back to Thailand to finish her consultation and started working with the urban poor and has continued to do so ever since. She runs a small office in Bangkok. Her practice primarily focuses on housing design and trying to explore more options for the middle class as well – a class she refers to as former poor who she feels find it tough to live in a developing country.
Dorji was the literally the third graduate in Bhutan. Instead of working with private firms or the urban planning section which would have offered her more, she made a conscious decision to work with the Ministry of Culture, with the intention of being able to get back to her roots. A choice, she thoroughly loved, learning with traditional craftsmen, painters, masons, etc. After 15 years, she quit to become a fellow at Harvard. Then she started her own practice, which opened newer avenues. She worked on the first Green Building guidelines for Bhutan, Traditional Guidelines for Architecture in Urban areas, took projects like resorts, restaurants, private temples, projects that she had never done before.
Dorji feels, having worked with lot of traditional crafts people, we kind of want to have a DNA of who we are. A sense of space. Who we are as India, as Bhutan, or Sri Lanka.
What Are The Top Concerns In Different Countries
Mindless rapid urbanisation is a major concern, feels Anupama citing how we are losing our identity. “We are operating at such high speeds that it is a big challenge to keep those slow good values that we have and still retain our identity and local culture,” she says. Dorji seconds Anupama’s views adding ‘Buildings that could be anywhere have come across cities and that’s a pity.’ Shamima added, “Our rivers are impacted and our lands are becoming drier and we are not nourishing it.” Another key issue Anupama highlight in this whole region is the affordability of housing as we all are urbanizing now. Social segregation due to affordability is a big problem, she maintains.
A very scary development in Nepalese Architecture after the earthquakes’s of 2015 is the influx of concrete and steel for almost all buildings. In general if people feel that concrete is the only solution and that’s scary, says Anju.
Patama says, “We don’t want to mix up high-end technology, we try to adapt with local material or we use some local skills.”
How Are Asian Designers Bringing In Innovations?
Working with the urban poor and middle class means using materials that are readily available and skills that are easily accessible to come up with great solutions as Patama explains. “We don’t want to mix up high-end technology, we try to kind of adapt with local material or whatever we find in the industry and we use some local skills that we can use.” Dorji, applauding Patama’s effort goes on to say, what Patama is doing is likely to bring in the vernacular development, as urban vernacular would be something that may be a solution.
Anupama talks about innovation in two aspects – Materiality & Urban aspects. In one way, new technologies that can be produced with less impact to the environment but in non-material aspect the innovation is in the process itself. “People have affordability issues and we have to find innovation in the base we collaborate or allow people’s participation empower them.”
Terming what is happening in Nepal as more invasion than innovation, Anju Malla says, “I somehow try to convince the clients to have at least something traditional something that rural craftsman make like stone carving and others inside in the interiors so that it helps in the survival of our traditional craftsmen skills. That I would call as Innovation.”
Dr. Anuradha Chatterjee summarized the comments of the panellists, saying that Asian architecture is ‘Asian,’ because of the sheer diversity of issues and practices. She also said that innovation in architecture in Asia is defined not by the use of high technology, but by the way in which we invent new ways in which we use traditional architectural types, and push the limits of local materials.
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