By : wadeindia | 19 Aug 2018 | TRENDING WADe TOPICS
11 Women Gurus of Ar Benninger
One of the most fascinating talks at WADe Asia 2017 was by Ar. Christopher Charles Benninger, Founder, CCBA, Pune, a world renowned, multiple award winning American- Indian Architect and planner. SURFACES REPORTER is fascinated to present this talk. Deliberately, we have put most of his words as it is so that readers can grasp the essence without generation loss.
The GURUS he is talking about are all women who influenced and changed his life.
Barbara Ward was the Editor of Economist at one time, a very eminent woman economist who even wrote speeches for the Pope and Kennedy. She organised the Habitat One Conference in Vancouver as well as UNCHS Habitat in Nairobi. Another Conference she organised with Maurice Strong was the Stockholm Environmental Conference, the first UN Environmental Conference. Barbara argued that all of these organisations should get out of Geneva, New York and Rome and they should be in Emerging countries. “She was an amazing person,” says Christopher, adding “I met Barbara Ward for lunch, when I was a student at Harvard in 1966, at the end of the lunch she asked ‘Why don’t you come for the Delos Symposium in Greece’ which had people like Margaret Mead, Buckminster Fuller, Arnold Toynbee. When I said, I would love to but I can’t afford, she said ‘Don’t bother, I will pay your air fare’. Wonderful! Isn’t it? So these are the kind of people who change your life. Up until the time I met Barbara Ward, I was a small town boy, lucky to be studying at Harvard and I met this woman who was incredible that she said ‘I’ll take you to Greece.”
Christopher was highly influenced by Barbara Ward when he designed the Mahindra United World College in India, a global college with global thinking with students from usually over 60 countries. “She was globalist and she gifted me a window into Internationalism as a positive thing,” he added. When he started the institute Centre for Development Studies in Pune, Barbara Ward became its first President.Edit Edit date and time
Jaquline Tyrwhitt was the Editor of a Journal called ‘Ekistics’, one of the Founders for the movement on Urban Design and she taught Christopher at Harvard. On his trip to Greece, Christopher had stayed at her home and got to know her. She had lived in India for 3 years as an UN Consultant helping Nehru start the Ministry of Housing, and she was very familiar with India. “She is the person who told me at one point in my life ‘Why don’t you go to India, you will learn a lot there’. So how did she change my life? Well I came to India,” he says.
“Suddenly, I had started thinking Internationally, I was doing things I would have never done before and I learn about people’s relationships, how they work and I think it’s very exciting to me”
When he started Centre for Development Studies, it focussed on poverty alleviation, environmental change and quality, people like Barbara Ward and Jaquline Tyrwhitt were his influences.
While attending the Delos Symposium Seminar, Christopher made friends with Margaret Mead and her daughter Mary Catherine Bateson. Margaret Mead invented something called the ‘Sexual Revolution’ with her book ‘Coming of Age in Samoa’ where she made very famous arguments about sexuality. When she came back to America in the 1950’s, the Women’s Liberation Movement was well on its way and so was the sexual revolution. She was a woman who had no hesitation to talk about sex and she was the woman who had no hesitation to talk about alternative lifestyles, women’s role & women’s rise.
As a young man, teaching at Harvard University, Christopher worked with Jane Drew and became close friends. Jane was the President of AA at that time. They (Jane & Maxwell Fry) had lived in Chandigarh for more than 3 years and saw to it that Chandigarh project moved forward while Le Corbusier traveled back and forth. Christopher points out, “It’s actually Jane Drew who brought Le Corbusier into Chandigarh, it’s documented but nobody gives her credit.”
Christopher says he always looked towards Jane Drew and her works on environment, working in climates which are humid, hot and dry while designing Suzlon One Earth.
When he came to India, he met Kamla Chaudhary, a PHD from Michigan University, an industrial psychologist, she introduced in India the concept of motion studies, work motions and efficiency and she helped set up ATIRA – Ahmedabad Textiles Industry’s Research Association in Ahmadabad.
Kamla Chaudhary was influential in putting Indian Institute of Management in Ahmadabad through Vikram Sarabhai.
“When I designed the Indian Institute of Management in Calcutta, definitely I thought of Kamla Chaudhary and I thought of her daringness in life. A young woman married in Lahore whose husband was murdered shortly after her wedding, she came to India, went abroad and did a PHD and had an extremely fantastic life.”
TARA ALI BAIG
Tara Ali Baig was another woman who influenced Christopher and his works. She was the woman who founded SOS Children Villages in India, a leading socialite, who wrote books on Woman, an advocate of Women’s right, Children’s right in India way back in the 50’s.
“She was my client to design two orphanages, one in Calcutta, one outside Delhi, an inspiring woman,” says Christopher.
Mrinalini Sarabhai, a famous dancer, and wife of Vikram Sarabhai (famous scientist and founder of ISRO). Mrinalini ran the Darpana Dance School and she was one of the greatest exponents of Bharat Natyam. She studied in Shanti Niketan and her classmate was Kamla Chaudhry. “When I was designing the Bhutanese Dance Ground where 20000 people can sit around this big urban space and dance during the Tsechu season, Mrinal was always in my mind,” added Christopher.
Jaya has been in politics and has promoted India’s arts and crafts cottage industries. Dastkari Haat Samiti (Arts & Crafts Market) was founded by her in year 1986, to enable rural artisans of traditional Indian crafts to gain confidence in the marketplace through many innovative strategies. Her work brings together artisans of India, Pakistan, Vietnam, Africa, Asia and has been taken up by the Indian government as an instrument in diplomacy to bring together crafts practitioners from all over the globe to share their skills and assist in capacity building. She also authored and published books on the Crafts.
Christopher admired how she devoted her whole life promoting crafts. “In Delhi we did this Institute of Social Sciences, she was my client and I have known her for more than 25 years,” he informed.
Kiran Joshi taught Architecture her whole life, at the Chandigarh School of Architecture, never taking a single leave for 35 years. She once told Christopher how, she had her child during a holiday period and so she could spend a week or so with her kid and she went right back to work.
“I think that’s admirable and she did it to prove that Woman Work Harder than Men. She was the only woman to write very serious works on Chandigarh such as ‘Documenting Chandigarh.’”
When I was designing the Centre for Children, a lot of the ideas came out from Corbusier, Josep Lluis and I think Kiran’s work was always with me.
Hema Sankalia was one of the first practising Woman Architects in India, she worked with Praveena Mehta and started the contemporary arts shop on Peddar Road, Mumbai. It was like a museum of contemporary furniture & beautiful things of all kinds. She moved to Pune after her husband passed away, a sort of the place in India if you wanted to see really well designed chairs, furniture, rugs, anything.
“She was a wonderful person, madly in love with her husband and I always liked that about her, even after he passed away, he was always there with her,” he adds.
Hema did beautiful work around Bhopal and in Madhya Pradesh. “She got very small projects but they were always out of exposed bricks, very environmental. When I did the Buddhist Learning Centre in Nagpur, I always thought of her,” added Christopher.
Christopher had known Mallika ever since she was a teenager. Daughter of Mrinalini & Vikram Sarabhai, a free spirited soul, once married to Bipin Shah, and they started Mapin Publishing, an architecture and art publisher. A famous actress and dancer like her mother, Mallika had tried to enter Bollywood but left in disgust because of its sexist men. She also stood against LK Advani in the Gandhinagar Constituency for MP. “She is a person who vocally speaks about oppression on minorities and she is the person who gives me a sense of life. Mallika was in my mind when I was doing the Supreme Court of Bhutan,” he said.
As a closing note, Christopher signed off saying…
“I think Women have more to give to men than men have to give to Women. Gentleman sitting here in WADe Asia (with a broad smile) find the right women, they will make your life.”
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