SUNITA KOHLI: SPACES, ART AND LEGACY |Best Women Architects | Ar. Mohsin Sheikh


Welcome back to the blog. We are here with yet another blog on again an interesting topic. Some weeks back we wrote a blog on 10 best women architects in India. If you haven’t read that blog you are missing out on something exciting. This is the extension for the same starting with Padma Shri Sunita Kohli. Yes, you heard it right she has received the Fourth Highest Civilian Award, is an excellent restorer and a Diverse Author. We’ll be taking a tour through Sunita’s life.

Sunita Kohli
Sunita Kohli

Growing up in the post-independence Lucknow, in a noted Victorian building of Lakshmi Mansions, little did Sunita Kohli know, that her visits to numerous auctions and sales with her father, her interest in classical music, and much later her antiquarian business of Davenport desks and Regency wine tables would collectively lead her to becoming one of the most celebrated interior designers and architectural restorers of the country, for which, she has been honoured with the Padma Shri in 1992. She achieved this despite being an autodidact and without any formal training in design. Interestingly, she learnt restoration from the local craftsmen.

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It all began with her establishing ‘Sunita Kohli & Co.’ (furniture manufacturing cell) and ‘Sunita Kohli Interior Designs Pvt. Ltd’ (Interior designing cell), in New Delhi in 1971 and 1972 respectively. These both now come under the larger multidisciplinary umbrella of K2 India, along with ‘Kohelika Kohli Architects’ (Architecture and Project Management cell), established in 2004.

Besides restoration and furniture design works, in 1970’s, she also began working on hotels when she established in partnership, another design firm which was commissioned to design a small hotel for the Oberoi Group, near the Khajuraho temples, The Oberoi in Bhubaneshwar and the Hotel Babylon in Baghdad. This firm closed but other hotel design projects followed in Cairo, Aswan and El-Arish in Egypt- The Oberoi Marriott Mena House Hotel and Casino, two luxury hotel cruise boats on the Nile for the Oberoi Group.

The Oberoi Aswan in Upper Egypt and The Oberoi in El-Arish.She has helped preserve national treasures in forms of numerous heritage buildings, forts and palaces in India, Pakistan, Bhutan and Sri Lanka. The most prominent ones being the Rashtrapati Bhavan (1985-89), the Parliament Building, the Prime Minister’s Office and Secretariat as well as the official residence of the Prime Minister – Sir Edwin Lutyens, Sir Herbert Baker and Sir Robert Tor Russell’s foremost architectural legacies from the British Raj in the capital city of Delhi.

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Her innate attention to detail and efforts are evident owing to the fact, that before setting out on this mammoth task, she made several private trips to London to study Lutyens’ original drawings, which are archived at the Royal Institute of British Architects. In the reupholstering of the furniture, she used khadi – the homespun, handwoven fabric, symbolising the freedom struggle and national pride. She was also involved in the second restoration of the Rashtrapati Bhavan, in 2010, with Charles Correa.

In 1988, she designed the National Assembly Building of Bhutan, in Thimpu, on which K2 India worked again in 2010 for the SAARC summit. The building is an amalgamation of delicate geometry and motifs of the traditional Bhutanese architecture, housing various spaces and volumes.

K2India is driven by the pursuit of excellence and quality. They strongly believe that one’s surroundings directly influence the quality of one’s lives – whether in the work place, at home or the public spaces in between. Their approach is rooted in a firm belief that design is fundamental to improving the quality of life, and with an integrated and unified approach, it can become a total functional and living WORK OF ART.

This philosophy is well evident in their interior design projects and product designs, which are combinations of aesthetics and functionality that yield warmth and comfort. They have designed for several private residences in plush neighbourhoods of Delhi, examples being, the German ambassador’s residence, The Aravali House, Gauri Apartments, The Terrace apartment, Delhi etc. Commercial projects include Underdogs Sports bar and Grill, Warehouse Lounge, Flagship office of Indian Express, Gyms in Mumbai and Delhi etc.

Apart from being a highly accomplished professional, Sunita Kohli has regularly lectured at universities of institutions of high merit globally, including Harvard Kennedy School and at Emory University, Atlanta. She also has books on diverse topics (such as cooking, architecture, interior design etc) to her credit and has regularly presented papers in leading museums and universities across the world on ‘Sir Edwin Lutyens and the Planning of New Delhi’; on Design, Architecture and Historical Conservation; on Literature; on ‘Traditional Mughal Jewellery as a Statement of Empire’; on ‘Social Entrepreneurship’; and on ‘World Heritage Cultural Sites in India and the Subcontinent’.

She is also associated with several NGO’s and foundations which work for women and children welfare. Ms Kohli is a Founder Trustee of ‘Satyagyan’, (an affiliate of ‘World Literacy of Canada’), an organizationthat works in over 400 slum communities in Varanasi and its environs with children’s education and women’sempowerment through literacy and Vocational training.

She is also the Chairperson of the Governing Council of ‘SAVE-A-MOTHER’, a leadingNGO which is dedicated to decreasing maternal and infant mortality rates in India in 1200 districts in India. She was the first Indian architect invited to give a seminal lecture on India at the National Building Museum in Washington DC. As we mentioned earlier, she’s a diverse Author, here is one of her books which shows the versatility it’s a cooking genre of book.

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