© Agnese Savito
London-based architect, Sohanna Srinivasan, was born and brought up in Dubai to a South Indian father and a Sindhi mother. Inheriting her father’s technical know-how and her mother’s creative streak, she found herself leaning towards architecture as a career. “Studying architecture is a risk, you never know what you’ve gotten yourself into until you’re in class.” Growing up in a country like Dubai formed the basis of her pursuit for the field. She fondly recalls herself as a young student, reading an article on Alejandro Aravena’s elemental housing scheme. The kind of design being focused upon was in stark contrast to the incredibly private and luxurious, shiny architecture found in Dubai. Just the very fact that architecture could be a force of social good and an enabler of good urban design pushed Sohanna to the field she thrives in today.
When it comes to her philosophy in design, the premise is simple; Sohanna works on projects that help improve people’s lives. “Architecture and design is all around us. It completely defines the spaces that we inhabit.” Her practice stems from her personal childhood experiences. In Dubai, she was made to feel Indian and surprisingly in India she wasn’t Indian enough and in the UK, she still felt like an outsider. As someone who grew up with a fractured sense of self in terms of her cultural identity, architecture for her ought to create a sense of belonging. “The most important strand of my work is to foster a sense of community for those people who have previously been othered.”
One of her most recent and celebrated projects includes Monuments to Mingling, benches she created for the London Festival of Architecture earlier in the year. The context of Aldgate with its rich history and multicultural diaspora community really spoke to Sohanna. She wished to further represent the communities that live there. “There are multiple themes I worked with. This was around the time London was coming out of lockdown. The idea was to bring people together. Rather than designing a single bench, I designed three. I wanted my benches to foster interaction between communities who may not speak to each other on a day to day basis.”
Some of the motifs on these benches are also a play on the schedule released by the State listing specific dates for the city reopening. These motifs for Sohanna are monumental in themselves, representing stepping out of the phases of loneliness and lack of interaction. “Each of these benches have Roman numerals engraved because of Aldgate’s Roman past. The purple bench has scissors that stand for when the salons reopened. The yellow one has an airplane and this was when we could finally travel again.”
Photo: Agnese Savito
Multifaceted in nature, Sohanna’s benches are a curious melange of the different architectural styles Aldgate stands for. Ornate and laden with bright hues, they are emblematic for the different societies and communities of the neighbourhood. “There’s the Roman gate on the yellow bench, there’s the east London mask and the Aldgate pump.” By replicating these symbols from the past in contemporary society, Sohanna had a clear cut aim. “I was trying to allude to the idea that they are new signifiers of shared toleranceand identity. I hope they encourage conversations between communities through intervention in the public realm.”
For the architect, good design is something that speaks loud and clear to the people it’s meant to serve. She strongly believes that it should not only bring about profound change in the way they live but also spread joy. “Good architecture should be about how it embeds itself in the social fabric of the locale. It shouldn’t feel alien to the context it is built for.” As an individual, deeply passionate about the work she does, Sohanna has her plate full. Bit by bit the architect is working hard and is hopeful about the future.
This article is an all exclusive from our Bookazine. To read more such articles, grab your copy here.
Text Unnati Saini