‘Architecture must stimulate a reaction’

Expressing her views on being called as one of the successful woman designers in the country, Nandini Sampat, Director, Somaya & Kalappa Consultants (SNK), responds to Architecture Update and shares the tale of her share of struggles.

It’s a drastic shift from political science to law, how did you move to architecture? More importantly, why?
My grandfather would say that no learning is ever gone wasted. When I look back at my decisions I consider myself fortunate to have experienced learning across different professions. Law was an intriguing profession for me as a child. Possibly it appealed to my idealistic belief in justice and my empathic nature. Academia and practice are different and the realities of the profession only set in when I began working. I was surrounded by inspiring people and created friendships that remain strong today. But there was something important missing. I had grown up seeing two professional parents- a doctor and architect, inspired by their work every single day. To truly love what you do is a privilege. I also found that I missed colour, art and design that I had grown up with. I found the courage and support of my family to pursue Architecture. I now identify with what my parents have been experiencing all these decades of being inspired each day by the profession we chose.

How different has it been like working in India as compared to USA & London?
It was my undergraduate degree in liberal arts that I completed at Smith College, USA, that gave me the joy of experiencing a wide array of subjects. I delved into Art history, political science, religious studies, mime and archery! I do believe that the diversity offered by a US undergraduate program serves as a comprehensive foundation builder for an individual. My education in London was a profession oriented both in law and design. There are more striking similarities in structure to our Indian education system, while still ensuring a high level of technical and academic rigour. London as a city is an inspiration to learn in and perhaps it is the fusion of the culture and history of the London synthesised with the academia that makes it a defining experience.


Nandini Sampat completed her Bachelor of Arts in Political Science from Smith College, USA, she then went to study law at the College of Law, London and returned to India to practice as a corporate lawyer. Upon moving back to London, she left law and pursued design completing her Postgraduate Diploma in Architectural Interior Design from the prestigious Inchbald School of Design. She returned to Mumbai in 2007 and joined Somaya & Kalappa Consultants while also completing her Bachelor of Architecture from Rizvi College of Architecture in Mumbai. As the Director at Somaya & Kalappa Consultants, Nandini is involved in all aspects of design, coordination and execution of projects. She has worked extensively on projects of different scales and typologies. Her involvement includes master planning and architectural design for institutional campuses and hotels to detailed interiors of museums and luxury homes. Her expertise in research, concept design and architectural interiors provide the framework for original and innovative solutions. Having worked in various parts of India, the need to include local arts and crafts and elements of vernacular architecture has been an important part of her work process. Nandini has also participated in several collaborative projects with international architects and practices resulting in a greater understanding of international standards and requirements and the integration of these aspects into an Indian scenario. Nandini is the award recipient of the IGEN (Innovation Generation) 50 award in 2013, that felicitated the top 50, next generation architects and interior designers.

You would have seen your mother work, how different are your style and management? Is it contrasting or complementing?
Learning through observation is an important process. Shadowing my mother for the first few years gave me insight into a better understanding of architecture and engaging with the studio. Architecture is a synergistic practice and is a culmination of the ideation and creativity of many. It is through discussion and debate that we arrive at the appropriate solution.

I have grown up as Brinda Somaya’s daughter and it is with pride that I have always and continue to be addressed as so. The work that SNK is producing is reflective of the synergy of us. My responsibility lies in ensuring the studio continues to thrive and be passionate about the projects. Rather than there has to be a distinct identity I believe that our identities can be interpreted by the output and quality of work that we continue to do.

How difficult has it been to create your own identity as a designer? How do you deal or react to people referring to you as Brinda Somaya’s daughter? What is your inclination and reception towards conservation/ restoration like?
As a research-based architect, conservation has always been of importance. Part of the process that I enjoy is uncovering the intricately woven story of buildings through their history. It is a responsibility we have as architects to ensure that we are able to conserve and preserve this heritage. Having grown up in Mumbai and being brought up by my architect mother surrounded by magnificent architecture, many of which she restored and preserved, it has inculcated a sense of guardianship for them. I believe we must all continue to actively participate in the process of conservation and restoration to ensure the buildings continue to tell their stories to the next generation.

As a woman, what would you like to suggest to the young designers in our country with respect to establishing themselves in the industry? An old saying still holds good – ‘There is no substitute for hard work.’ This combined with an ethical approach, humility at all times and a barrel load of passion, there are few who will be able to hold you back.

Nandini Sampat with her mother Brinda Somaya
Nandini Sampat with her mother Brinda Somaya

How does one deal with criticism, surely you would have received plenty?
To get a reaction to our works is what we look for. Architecture must stimulate a reaction. Constructive criticism and otherwise is part of the journey. On one hand, there is learning to be had and on the other, it can only make you stronger.

As a woman, what would you like to suggest to the young designers in our country with respect to establishing themselves in the industry?
An old saying still holds good – ‘There is no substitute for hard work.’ This combined with an ethical approach, humility at all times and a barrel load of passion, there are few who will be able to hold you back.

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