Passion and ideas have many takers, if there is commitment and communication. This is not a lone journey—find mentors and collaborators, and learn to delegate. -Shimul Javeri Kadri
SJK has always given me abundant freedom and opportunities to grow. Partnership is a big extension of the same - Vaishali Shankar
I have witnessed my entire journey at SJK Architects from being a young woman to becoming a mother. While working together for years, we have developed certain ways of bonding with each other.- Sarika Shetty
My attitude towards so many things in life, outside of work, has changed due to everything that I have learned here and the way I have grown here. - Roshni Kshirsagar
Shimul Javeri Kadri
Thirty two years ago, when Shimul Javeri Kadri founded SJK Architects, she started out as a one-woman army. Now, as three of her long-time colleagues join her at the helm as partners, the renowned architect demonstrates how power, when shared, can only grow more incandescent as a guiding light. Vertica Dvivedi meets the four women torchbearers of SJK to understand their individual journeys that led to this remarkable evolution, and how they intend to support and inspire each other at the intersection of authority and partnership.
Shimul Javeri Kadri has long been in the habit of questioning norms—be it as an architect in a maledominated building industry in India, or as a woman refusing to shrink her dreams in a patriarchal world. In the late 80s, fresh after her marriage to architect Rahul Kadri, most people expected her to join the family enterprise headed by her father-in-law, I M Kadri, the stalwart who drew the blueprint for numerous landmark institutions in India and around the world. Shimul, though, decided to rough it out by starting her own firm, SJK Architects. At a time when it was easier to take on interior designing projects for residences, she sought architectural assignments. Long before sustainability became a fashionable word, she worked on a building ethic that was rooted in an uncommon environment consciousness and a deep love for the earth.
Now, with a prolific career behind her filled with prestigious accolades and an enviable roster of top-league projects—just when one would expect her to bask in that sunlit space of hard-earned glory and prominence— the 59-year old architect has nudged her crown aside by forging a partnership with three of her long-time colleagues: Vaishali Shankar, Sarika Shetty, and Roshni Kshirsagar.
When you ask her the reason behind this unexpected move, her answer is steeped in minimalism just like her signature designs: “I have great faith in the power of the collective. Architecture is all about team work—which is what we have been doing at SJK. This is a way to formalise the structure, and reward people who show commitment, talent and responsibility. Over the years, all these three individuals have shown tremendous initiative. They are part of the reason the firm is where it is today.”
Though Shimul refrains from glorifying her decision, over several online meetings SURFACES REPORTER delved into the many moments of empathy and team spirit that eventually paved the way for the new story of SJK Architects.
The Dasavatara Hotel
Hospitality I Tirupati, Andhra Pradesh
Client: Marasa Hospitality Pvt. Ltd.
Area: 1.15 Lakh Sq. ft
Photographer: Rajesh Vora, Himanshu Sheth
Team: ShimulJaveri Kadri, Sarika Shetty, Michelle Pereira
Boat Club Apartments
Residential I Chennai, Tamil Nadu
Area: 16,500 Sq.ft
Status: Completed 2020
Photographer: Niveditaa Gupta
Team: Shimul Javeri Kadri, Sarika Shetty, Nikita Shahadadpuri, Priyata Bosamia
What were the early challenges that you faced? How different was the real action from what was taught in architecture school?
Shimul: There is so much that you don’t learn in architecture school! I recall a project to transform a burnt-down shed in Kala Chowki into an office. It was the first-of-its-kind prototype of an industrial shed that was converted into a designed commercial office space. New details and innovations were required at every turn. A product manufacturer—of a watch or a handle—makes endless prototypes before the product is launched. In architecture, where are the prototypes? You build an entire building incorporating millions of products and services without any prototypes. And the building must withstand all the forces of nature over several decades.
Though you married into a family of architects, you started your own firm and did not join IMK Architects.
Shimul: I have had no role in that firm, whatsoever. I considered myself fortunate that I didn’t inherit a practice—that can be difficult. Personality-wise, my husband Rahul is able to handle that better. When we talk about somebody who is larger than life—a father-son practice like that—it can get difficult to create your own identity and establish your voice within that. Rahul has been able to do that in his own gentle way. For me, being part of a family practice was not even an option.
I seek a lot of clarity at all times, and I hate clutter of any sorts— whether it’s visual, emotional or mental. I think those aspects are also reflected in the work that we do at SJK Architects
Automobile Design Studio
Workspaces I Mumbai, Maharashtra
Client: Mahindra & Mahindra Ltd
Area: 25,000 Sqft
Status: Completed 2015
Photographer: Rajesh Vora
Team: Shimul Javeri Kadri, Vaishali Shankar, Roshni Kshirsagar, Nidhi Shah, Riddhi Shah, Amal Roowala, Vrinda Khaitan
Actually, I cannot tell you how glad Rahul and I are that we practise separately. We have very different things to talk about at the end of the day. We don’t get in each other’s way. I continued my work through those difficult years of bringing up my two children. I had started a practice and intended to keep it going and make it work. Had I been a part of the family practice, it would have been really easy to step back a little at that time. I never stepped back. It was mostly ‘go, go, go’ through it all.
You have said ‘no’ to many clients when the equation wasn’t working. What is your advice for young firms that may not find it easy to turn down projects when they run into friction with a client?
Shimul: In the early years, it is difficult to reject a client. However, over time, one learns that it is an important decision. Whenever I sensed that I would not be able to work with a client or there was an incompatibility, I always chose to make an exit.
I think that’s a very important lesson for anybody to follow—to listen to your instincts. The client is the person who hires you but also society at a larger level, because the building will remain in the public realm well beyond the lifetime of the client.
If the triangle that includes society, your client’s aspirations, and your aspirations isn’t a fairly equilateral one, the pulls and pushes can become difficult to maneuver. So, the patronage and the nature of the client, as well as their ability to absorb and understand, coupled with your ability to enjoy their aspirations, can come together to become the most precious part of a project.
If the triangle that includes society, your client’s aspirations, and your aspirations isn’t a fairly equilateral one, the pulls and pushes can become difficult to maneuver.
When we look at our most successful projects, it is that meeting of aspirations that has ultimately shaped our best work.
That said, even at this stage of my life, I make mistakes. It is a difficult one, Vertica, and I am glad you questioned it because even though intuition does play a big role, sometimes you have to kiss a lot of frogs to get that handsome prince. Maybe those mistakes are meant to be, and are a big part of one’s growth.Don’t try to be superwomen!
I see you as a strong and clear-headed person. How do you see yourself?
Shimul: Clear-headed sounds fairly appropriate. I seek a lot of clarity at all times, and I hate clutter of any sorts—whether it’s visual, emotional or mental. I am always looking to de-clutter my head and my emotions. That is one reason I journal a lot. But I don’t see myself as the rock that most people see me as. I can be very vulnerable and sensitive, and I think those aspects are also reflected in the work that we do at SJK Architects. I see myself as being very open and collaborative. SJK Architects does not represent a single typology that gets repeated across places and projects. Even the approach to problem-solving or design varies so much with each project.
You have a women-dominated office. Is that a direct outcome of your ardent belief in feminism?
Shimul: From a very young age, I have been headstrong and opinionated. My views often clashed with those held by my father. My first eye-opener to feminism was when I landed a job as a teaching assistant for Women’s Studies at University in the USA. I studied Urban Planning but took classes in theories of feminism, race, class and gender in Latin America, and other issues related to development in the third world. Even when I came back to India, I was fortunate to work with many strong women and feminist groups.
Having said that, I never consciously pursued any objectives of having a women-dominated team. But I am proud and glad anyway to have nurtured a workspace full of strong women.
What is your advice for young women architects?
Shimul: Low pay and long working hours are detrimental aspects of the profession. Let’s just say there are two magnets at work here. One, you have to work your way up to earn a significant amount as pay. During that phase of working your way up, the other magnet comes into play. This involves the demands of your personal life—childbearing and childrearing. When the first magnet of income is not good enough, the second magnet can just take over and pull women out of their professions. Unless that changes, architecture will continue to be a difficult profession for women to practice. But then I also wonder why should a woman subjugate her life and her fantastic brain and capabilities for two years of child-rearing? Why is it her sole responsibility?
Young women can communicate their ambitions, their joys and their ideas to friends, family and other potential collaborators. Passion and ideas have many takers, if there is commitment and communication. This is not a lone journey—find mentors and collaborators, and learn to delegate. This is true of childcare, homecare and of the power of professional teams. We have to create these bridges with husbands, fathers, clients, consultants and & contractors. Don’t try to be superwomen!
Hotel at Bodhgaya
Hospitality I Gaya, Bihar
Client: Marasa Hospitality Pvt. Ltd.
Area: 76,000 Sq.ft
Status: Completed 2020
Photographer: Niveditaa Gupta
Team: ShimulJaveri Kadri, Vaishali Shankar, Roshni Kshirsagar, Ipsita Mallick, Aparna Kale
The Leaf House
Residential I Alibag, Maharashtra
Area: 6,500 Sqft
Status: Completed 2012
Photographer: Rajesh Vora
Team: Shimul Javeri Kadri, Vaishali Shankar, Roshni Kshirsagar, Sonali Bhargava, Priya Dedhia, Foram Vakani
The idea about architecture being iconic is so misleading. I would say, just focus on architecture that generates relationships and is gentle to the earth.
Among all the projects, will you name five that instantly come to mind?
Shimul: The Textile factory in Karur, an office of Nirvana Films, The Leaf House in Alibaug, the Automobile Design Studio for Mahindra’s, The Dasavatara Hotel at Tirupati, and the Hotel at Bodhgaya.
What about the projects that you are working on at present?
Shimul: There are many projects that I regard as very dear to my heart. One of them, under construction, is a Museum for Jain Heritage. Then there is a Boat Club Road apartment that we worked on last year. We are also working on a beautiful commercial office building in Nagpur, besides another computer science academic building in Warangal. There are many other exciting projects, but let me just stop at these for now.
Any message for the architecture and design fraternity?
Shimul: The idea about architecture being iconic is so misleading. I would say, just focus on architecture that generates relationships and is gentle to the earth.
What is your message for the Surfaces Reporter team?
Shimul: Support work and people that you think are doing meaningful work. The strongest thing about being a journalist is that you are communicating what is right. You have the power to give energy to something that you think should be believed in. So, think carefully about what to believe in and focus on that.
The Crafted Workspace
Industrial I Karur, Tamil Nadu
Client Synergy Lifestyles Pvt. Ltd.
Area: 30,000 Sq. ft
Status: Completed 2004
Photographer: Pallon Daruwalla
Team: Shimul Javeri Kadri, Vaishali Shankar, Rubel Dhuna, Sonali Bhargava
Vaishali started out at SJK Architects in 2000, fresh after completing her research programme on sustainable architecture from IIT-Mumbai. Under her leadership, the firm designed M & M Design Studio, the Hotel at Bodhgaya, and the Karur Factory (which is also a testament to her abiding passion for sustainable architecture). Vaishali has also been involved with several educational buildings in Warangal that largely rely on wind and shade to create comfortable environments for social interactions. Currently, she is working on a multi-use commercial building in Nagpur that uses radiant cooling systems (and has all the makings of a Leeds Gold win)
“SJK has always given me abundant freedom and opportunities to grow. Partnership is a big extension of the same.”
“Shimul was deeply considerate and empathetic when I gave birth to my son, Anirudh. She could relate to and resonate with what I was going through and the difficult choices that I needed to make. She helped me find solutions to many challenges that I faced as a young mother. I could bring my son to office and manage work at the same time. Our office is a professional environment, but to be able to bring a child as young as a one-year-old into that environment and still be able to keep things fairly professional—that is something Shimul could visualise. She has a nurturing nature that helped me bridge that gap. I think it’s easier for women to relate to us. Of course, irrespective of gender, it’s important for anyone joining the firm to understand our bonding and the connections we establish.”
Sarika joined the firm as an intern in 2001, and was guided by both Shimul and Vaishali. With her passion for design plus a rich experience of 20 years in project execution, she has all that it takes to be a natural leader. Some of her remarkable projects include creating a brand identity for Fabindia’s flagship home store at Kalaghoda; the awardwinning office building for Nirvana Films in Bangalore; the Dasavatara Hotel in Tirupati (winner of the 2016 French Prix Versailles Award for Architecture & Interiors); a 100- bed rural community hospital in Raigad; a luxury duplex apartment building in Chennai; a multi-generational home amid a mango orchard; and a museum for Jain heritage in Ahmedabad. Her two latest projects include a house in Alibaug and a set of public pavilions, made from sustainable timber, in the Jain pilgrim centre at Palitana.
“This partnership is special because it is the future that we all are seeing together.
“When I joined the firm, Shimul’s kids were very young. That was also a time when Vaishali and I were thrown at the deep end, quite often. We learnt and stood up for ourselves, to try and grab our individual projects. Shimul was completely embracing of every situation that unfolded, and she trusted us with what we did. I think that’s how we really grew. We were a firm that did everything from brief-taking, to costing, to BOQs, to integration, to setting up the space for a handover. Those were back in the days when PMCs were not an established entity. We learnt the tricks of the trade because we were a practice that saw architecture holistically right from its inception to handover, valued what matters most to the clients, focused not just on the client’s aspirations but figured ways and means to deliver those aspirations within their budget.
“I have witnessed my entire journey at SJK Architects from being a young woman to becoming a mother. While working together for years, we have developed certain ways of bonding with each other. People who connect with humanity, and men who have looked up to their mothers and sisters will appreciate our value system and understand how womencentric firms work.”
.“My first project was a large engineering campus for which I did the grills of the entire first block. Twenty years down the line, that project is still close to my heart and we continue to build on that campus.
We learnt the tricks of the trade because we were a practice that saw architecture holistically right from its inception to handover, valued what matters most to the clients, and figured ways to deliver those aspirations within their budget.
Roshni, the youngest partner who joined the firm in 2007, is the head interior designer at SJK Architects. Her portfolio includes hospitality, retail, cultural, commercial, and residential works. Recently, her interior design for the Hotel at Bodhgaya drew wide attention for its core concepts of Buddhist studies and symbology and their influence on spatial design. Besides this, her range of innovative work during the pandemic, such as retail design for Forest of Chintz, the office space of a leading headhunting firm, and a new space for Penguin Random House India, has cemented her position as a formidable powerhouse of talent.
My attitude towards so many things in life, outside of work, has changed due to everything that I have learned here and the way I have grown here.”
“I joined SJK Architects as a 22-year-old; I was between jobs at that time. A friend who was working with the firm asked me if I would like to attend the ‘12 on 12’ event that year; they had an extra ticket and the entire office was travelling to Ahmedabad where Shimul and the SJK Architects team were among the presenters. I was familiar with the format of the event, and this seemed like the perfect opportunity. The overnight train journey, during my return, was when Sarika did an impromptu interview with me. It lasted through the night. When I reached home the following day, I got an official interview call—and the rest is history
“Much later, we realised that it was Vaishali’s ticket that I travelled on since she had to change her plans. It feels incredible to look back now and see how everything aligned for me to find my spot here.”
Nirvana Films Studio
Workspaces I Bengaluru, Karnataka
Client: Nirvana Films Studio
Area: 8,000 Sqft
Status: Completed 2011
Photographer: Pallon Daruwala
Team: Shimul Javeri Kadri, Sarika Shetty, Poonam Sachdev
SOME PHOTOS FROM THE PROJECT VISITS BY SJK TEAM
SURFACES REPORTER wishes Team SJK Architects all the best!