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Sheila Sri Prakash (Shilpa Architects): Life, Works and Philosophy

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Best described as an activist who strives to give due attention to the culture, tradition, art, and environment, Sheila Sri Prakash is an architect who connects the performing arts with architecture.

An internationally acclaimed architect, urban designer, and sustainability expert, she is India’s first female architect to start her own firm, Shilpa Architects Planners Designers in 1979.

While the world was referring to women as ‘Interior Designers’, she fought off the tag, started her own firm, broke the mold, and created a path for future female architects who dreamed.

The firm has grown in scale and numbers, having offices in the U.S. and South Korea and working on projects worldwide. The firm’s dedication and skilled approach toward efficient design has earned numerous prestigious awards and recognition, globally.

Sheila Sri Prakash and her team of architects follow the below design factors that have made them a benchmark in sustainable architecture:

Design Principle 

Architect Sheila is a trained Bharatanatyam and Kuchipudi dancer and has also mastered the art of the Veena. This inclination towards traditional art forms and our culture is the anchor for her design philosophy. 

Throughout her career, she has designed with the art forms and local culture of the surroundings as the inspiration.

This also motivates her to design sustainably, and use local materials.

Her design principle is to combine architecture with

  1. Social and Cultural Impact 
  2. Human Psychology
  3. Preservation and Conservation of Heritage
  4. Spatial Planning
  5. Impact on Urban Dynamics

Her firm and designers firmly believe in this design principle to design holistically and sustainably.

Furthermore, she has identified and researched the field of Spaciology. The term, as defined by her, is the impact of space design and planning on society.

Stemming from her experience as a dancer, Sheila Sri Prakash compares the relationship between the space occupied by each dancer with the relationship between a designed space and the user. The architecture and space give expression to the user’s aspirations.

The design philosophies can be best understood when her work is studied and analysed.

Projects

Residential

1. Elysia by Meenakshi, Hyderabad

  • This state-of-the-art apartment building is designed to exemplify larger-than-life living.
  • The building towers over the cityscape to give a view of the entire city.
Towering over the City
Towering over the City
  • The exterior facade is designed with symmetry both horizontally and vertically, which adds to the luxurious aspect of the building.
  • The interior has ample openings for natural light, which leads the building toward sustainability
  • The copper-coloured finish adds luxury.

2. Private Villa

  • This private villa designed for an anonymous client strongly exemplifies the firm’s design philosophy.
  • The villa has a central courtyard for natural ventilation.
Central Courtyard
Central Courtyard
  • There are large openings and corridors that connect the inside with the outside.
Corridors that give Indoor-Outdoor Connect
Corridors that give Indoor-Outdoor Connect
  • There is extensive use of local material.
  • The form and spatial planning of the villa are vernacular in nature.
Vernacular Architecture
Vernacular Architecture
  • There is ample natural light that illuminates the villa.

Civic

1. Defence Museum

  • The museum is designed to reflect on the lives of the defense forces.
  • The exterior and the form is inspired by the tanks and submarines. It's a solid mass with small openings to allow light in.
Solid Mass Form
Solid Mass Form
  • The walls are perforated to add lightness and bring in natural light.
  • The galleries are designed to resemble submarines rising from the water. They have walkable green roofs.
Submarines Inspired Gallery
Submarines Inspired Gallery
  • The tunnel and court are inspired by hangars and bunkers, treated with metal sheets, and solar panels. The structure is a metallic grid.
Hangar Inspired Court
Hangar Inspired Court

2. International Residential School

  • The school is designed to be self-sustaining and eliminate the use of conventional energy sources.
  • The various strategies adopted are
    • Green roofs to reduce urban heat island effect.
    • Stormwater drainage layout that aids in water conservation.
    • Water-efficient landscaping helps in drainage and increasing the groundwater table.
    • Evaporative cooling helps cool the interior through the removal of latent heat as surface water evaporates. This reduces the cost and energy of mechanical cooling.
    • Renewable energy sources by the implementation of solar panels.
    • Passive shading by designing and orienting the buildings in accordance with the sun's path.
    • The facade has exposed concrete, exposed brick, and vertical gardens.
  • These strategies help the design aim for a LEED Gold rating.
  • Furthermore, the colours of the building are inspired by Lego blocks.
Colorful Facade
Colorful Facade
  • The facade of the administrative block is inspired by Tambat art, thus resulting in a dynamic wall that changes to give auditory and visual movement.
Tambat Art Facade
Tambat Art Facade
  • The overall layout has an integrated ground plane.
Integrated Ground Plane
Integrated Ground Plane
  • The plaza has a leaf-like structure that is visible from all the spaces, creating a sense of natural landscape.
Structure in Plaza
Structure in Plaza

Sheila Sri Prakash is indeed an inspiration in many ways; a beacon of hope for young female architects, an example of sustainable architecture, and a visionary in vernacular architecture.

Her works are a reflection of the awards and accolades that she has deservingly won, and speak of her achievements in architecture.

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