Architect Sonali Bhagwati tells us about her architectural career and the people who have influenced her life
Architect, award winner and active participant in city-level solutions, Sonali Bhagwati remains a force to be reckoned with. In her career spanning 30 years, she has been acknowledged amongst the top 20 architects of India. As president of DPA—an amalgamation of her 1990s-established Spazzio Design with Design Plus—she undertakes planning and design for structures ranging from 500 sq-m to 50,000 sq-m across the country. In this chat, she tells us how being an architect wasn’t even a conscious decision and what she has now come to love about it.
What’s your earliest memory of wanting to become an architect?
I cannot recall when I decided to study architecture. After completing high school, the only course I applied for was architecture at Vadodara’s MS University. Since Ahmedabad was only a few hours away, I bought myself a 15-rupee ticket on a state transport bus and came to Ahmedabad. My first visit to CEPT was a life changer—I was absolutely awed by the exposed concrete and brick edifice. So powerful was its influence that it was the only place I wanted to be in. Fortunately, I got admission and the rest is history.
And how did DPA come into being?
I met Sohrab [Dalal] on the first day at CEPT. After our course, we started our professional practice and formed Spazzio in the early 90s. Then, in 2010, Spazzio and Design Plus merged to form DPA, a combination of the design-oriented practice of Spazzio and the large format work of Design Plus.
What kind of projects excite you the most?
Any (project) that provides an opportunity for creativity and out-of-the-box thinking. It is due to this very reason that we take up projects that range from 500 sq-m to 50,000 sq-m. Although, I do lean towards projects that deal with city-level issues. My dream project is to ‘fix my city’.
The project you consider the turning point for your own venture?
While each project is a turning point in itself, providing a plethora of new experiences, problems and challenges, there was a house that I did in the beginning of my career that brought me face-to-face with the issue of discrimination against women in the profession. The client was outright mean and condescending. But I stuck on against all odds and completed the project for which he received many accolades. I will never forget that experience.
Your biggest source of inspiration?
My father. He had the courage to leave a lucrative legal practice to follow his dreams and went on to become one of the greatest jurists of the modern world.
Do you have a mentor?
I have always looked up to BV Doshi as my mentor and guide.
How would close friends describe you?
Disciplined and hardworking.
The first thing you do, when you start your work day?
Exercise. I hit the gym and spend the best two hours of my day there.
During a project, which part do you enjoy the most?
An occupational hazard is…
Long and arduous car rides.
Your pet peeve is…
Lazy and indisciplined people. I hate it when people don’t meet their commitments.