Home Interviews 'Architecture is not an impossible industry at all', Ar. Shashirekha

‘Architecture is not an impossible industry at all’, Ar. Shashirekha

Ar. Shashirekha, Chief Architect, Space Studio Chennai

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What made you pursue architecture?

I have a brain that gets bored very easily; the challenges offered by the field of architecture and the endless learning opportunities to explore appeals to me. Architecture offers unlimited creative potential and spikes my interest even more every time. The more time I spend in architecture the more I fall in love with the field and this fuels by passion continuously and constantly. I see opportunities for more dynamic buildings in the future. Thanks to technology concepts like mobile walls, elaborate mobile homes, dynamic buildings, self-sustaining spaces and productive spaces now have a potential for actualization.

As a young woman, who or what had an influence on your way of thinking? Your work?

My first and foremost inspiration is always from within and it comes out of pure passion and a need to create something original.  I admire Architect Pritzker Laurette Peter Zumthor. He creates a whole new material or a whole new dimension to an existing material in almost all of his projects, his way of manipulating a known material almost to the point of impossibility is awe inspiring. He is cool and collected unlike other architects and I enjoy watching him at work in videos. When an architect is clear on what he or she wants then a composure comes in and it is a pure joy watching them work and build up what they dreamt of. 

What is your take on the state of women in architecture today?… does gender inequality still persist? 

Gender inequality is real and I feel it is caused mostly by the unwillingness on the part of women architects themselves to practice the profession than by anything else. Perhaps they do not prioritize practice. There are always avenues and opportunities for women architects who wish to contribute to the profession.  It is up to the women to claim their position.

All-men network does exist. Most architectural practice, close to 98%, is fronted by men. Women architects who choose to marry someone from the same profession usually remain in the   background limiting themselves to handling interior projects and they do not always appear in the forefront.

Tell us about yourself, your journey into this industry, and who would you consider as your constant mentors?

I have always been in love with buildings for as long as I can remember. I like the smell of fresh concrete and the smell of plastered walls during curing right from early childhood. The idea of seeing something new being built where nothing existed before excites me.

Eileen Gray (Kathleen Eileen Moray Gray) is one of the earliest women architect whose works I admire. Her buildings, though very few in numbers, are as stunning as the works of any of her male contemporaries and I have always wondered how she did not go on to become as famous as any of them. Her furniture designs are classy, minimal and modern. She is a pioneer in the modern movement in architecture and furniture design.

From the most recent times, I admire architect Dame Zaha Mohammad Hadid. While I am bigger fan of her earlier works than her later ones, I have always admired her as a woman surging ahead in architecture. She was an unstoppable force who went away too soon and I do miss her presence in the industry.

Almost 47 per cent of women claim that men get paid more for the same work, and almost two-thirds believe the building industry has yet to accept the authority of the female architect – comment.

This may not be true. The industry does not discriminate at all based on gender. Technical field is a place where knowledge is always valued and respected. When the industry understands your capabilities, they do come forward to support you in your work. It is up to the individual to update themselves and to stay ahead of the game in their respective field. When a woman architect plays to her strengths in terms of technical proficiency and knowledge the industry simply respects the value addition and is willing to work together. Architecture is more of team work, about finding building solutions together and has little to do with authority. It is about leadership and team work. When you are pleasant and to the point and if you are able to communicate your ideas clearly to the team then there is only cooperation, productivity and progress at the site.

What do you see as key for overcoming the issues (lack of sanitation-health-dignity-safety) women face in the architectural profession? 

Lack of access to sanitation could be a problem.  When the site work is going on there is limited sanitation facilities. Most builders shy away from investing in sanitation as the structures become an intrusion during and after construction. The installation of mobile toilets should be made mandatory at sites especially in remote locations.

How did you get your first project? What were the challenges you faced then and is it still the same – or has it comparatively eased?

I got my first project through a reference from a client who has worked with me from my previous office. When clients notice and understand that you are passionate about architecture they prefer working with you and the process becomes an enjoyable one. What is challenging in the profession is ensuring continuous stream of projects as the awareness on architectural services is still growing in our country and most people fail to understand the value additions they receive by investing in a good architect for their dream projects. Some clients expect to see free presentations whereas any planning and design work always comes at a cost for the architect.

It is said that ‘Good design does not cost; it pays’ and it will benefit all architects when the architect themselves understand and acknowledge this, which will in turn help the market understand the idea better.

‘Self-selecting out’ – Do women practically disappear either after marriage or children in this profession? 

Most women opt out of architecture soon after graduation. We could say less than 10% of graduate women architects have an active practice or take up a job as an architect which is quite unfortunate.

Personally, in my case from a class of 10 women graduates, especially from India’s premier engineering institute, I am probably the only woman architect with an active practice from the batch of 99. The story repeats itself across many batches. Self-selecting out is a serious problem and it might not exactly be due to social pressure or lack of understanding by co-workers but is mostly due to the high demands of the nature of architectural practice itself. It requires continuous learning, enormous investments in terms of time, an extraordinary level of focus, perseverance and tenacity to continue the practice.

What advice would you give your women architects to invest in their career?

Stay the course. Architecture as a practice is as challenging as any other field is and is certainly not an impossible Industry at all. I would like more women to be willing to come forward and claim their position as the makers of our built environment. Perseverance is the key to succeed in this profession as it is in any profession. I would request women architects to come forward and enjoy the wonderful experience of building our infrastructure. A willingness to contribute is all is needed from them.

Architecture over the years – then and now: Elaborate.

The creative process of designing is instinctive and it helps to retain it across all ages. However, the design process has evolved over the years as technology and access to technology. The advent of software has released the designers from the cumbersome process of corrections and has made planning a lot easier than before. As for designing, sketching is still the easiest way to convey a design intent while the modelling and simulation tools certainly give an advantage in terms of communicating the design intent clearly to the client.

What is missing in architecture today?

Architecture, the literal meaning of the word as defined by the dictionary is ‘The art and science of designing buildings’. To me, architecture is all about making our living conditions better, our built spaces more enjoyable and about giving a unique spatial experience to the user. Architecture offers an opportunity to express my love for people and the spaces they inhabit.

Architecture, like any field of art and science, cannot exist by itself. It is intrinsically connected to a web of engineering services, structural frameworks and other fields.

In an effort to get noticed easily most architects seek more to stand out than to blend in. We must understand that complex compositions and convoluted shapes do not necessarily make for great buildings. It is important to keep in view the purpose for which a building is being built and to create a building that facilitates a dialogue with its surroundings.

A Passion to create something original is missing as well.

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