Architect and Professor of Architecture Madhavi Desai recently published a new book titled Women Architects and Modernism in India: Narratives and Contemporary Practices (Routledge 2017) detailing the history of women architects in South Asia. Desai was a member of the Berkeley-Rupp nominating committee that awarded Spanish architect and educator Carme Pinos the 2016 Berkeley-Rupp Architecture Professorship and Prize.
The book attempts to recover the stories of women architects whose careers nearly parallel the development of modernism in colonial and postcolonial India. These stories have largely been ignored in the history of the discipline, and Desai writes their experiences into the narrative of mainstream architectural history. Shedding light on seven pioneering women in the field, Women Architects and Modernism describes the achievements of women who broke barriers to go beyond the traditional female roles of their time from the 1940s onward.
Desai also examines 28 contemporary practices to demonstrate the ways in which architectural modernism in India was shaped by the contribution of women. The book uses a format that weaves together social, professional and biographical factors into a productive account; pluralizes various concepts of design; and redefines the idea of “work” of women through a greater range of activities, including pedagogy, mentoring and activism. Alluding to challenges faced by women, Desai’s book celebrates practices in diverse regional settings.
Desai is currently an adjunct faculty member at the Faculty of Architecture, CEPT (Center for Environmental Planning and Technology) University, Ahmedabad, Gujarat, India. She is also the author of Traditional Architecture: House Form of the Islamic Community of the Bohras in Gujarat (2008); co-author of Architecture and Independence: The Search for Identity, India 1880 to 1980 (1997), The Bungalow in Twentieth-Century India: The Cultural Expression of Changing Ways of Life and Aspirations in the Domestic Architecture of Colonial and Post-colonial Society (2012) and Architectural Heritage of Gujarat: Interpretation, Appreciation, Values (2012); and editor of Women and the Built Environment in India (2007).