Kohelika Kohli always knew that she wanted to be an architect, design being in her blood because of her mother. Sunita Kohli, Kohelika’s mother, won a Padmashri in 1993 for her outstanding work in Interior designing and restoration. She is self-taught and is probably one of the first women to enter the field. “She has a very successful career and continues to head our company K2India,” Kohelika told SheThePeople.TV.
And yet, Kohelika says that her mother’s work did not influence her to become an architect. “I was brought up with a very open mind that I could do anything but I was always drawn towards design. And probably a good thing because I don’t think I am doing too badly in the field,” said Kohelika, a graduate from Pratt Institute of New York.
Her childhood was spent in Delhi, but Kohelika travelled around the world to have a greater perspective of life. She was a complete sportsperson in her youth and competed as dressage and a show jumper. She even got a scholarship in a riding school when she was competing for India internationally at 16. But then she left all that and took a year off to travel and build her portfolio to learn architecture.
“I honestly feel that work should speak for itself and if it does, you’ll eventually get the recognition that you deserve.”
Talking about the challenges she had to face as an architect on the job, she explained, “One of the reasons is because my mother is a designer and I wanted to set myself up as an architect, so I worked for myself when I moved back to India after graduating. I set up my own company and had to work doubly hard because of being a woman in a male-dominated arena.”
She added, “There is a great gender bias, not just in this industry, but just generally. You will see politicians commenting about women in a certain way but never about men. But I honestly feel that work should speak for itself, and if it does, you’ll eventually get the recognition that you deserve.”
About gender-related issues, she said that it will always be harder for women like it is now. But Kohelika overcame these challenges through her work. “I worked very hard and I worked quietly hard. I ensured that my work spoke louder than other people’s work. I think the mistake some people make is their voice should be heard but if you can listen to the voice of your work, then you don’t need to prove anything to anybody.”
“Women have to be a lot more firm to get work done. Because this is the pretty part of the work (she gestured towards her products and furniture) but to get here, you have to deal with workers, you have to deal with people you employ, the vendors, etc and yes, as a woman, it is harder to be heard and understood.”
“For example, a man can take his clients out for a drink at 10 in the night without the fear of being misunderstood, but as a woman, you can’t do that because there is a great risk of being misjudged. So as a woman, you have to be a little uptight.”
She has also worked for Zaha Hadid, the highly accomplished Iraq-born British architect who died in March last year. About the way Hadid worked, Kohelika recalled, “She was very clear, strict and hardworking. She did not tolerate bullshit.
Young and yet one of the most sought-after architects in the country, Kohelika speaks with passion when she talks about her designs. But in her opinion, to get where you want to be at, you have to be seriously passionate and do what it takes.
For Kohelika, the most definite high is when she hands over a project to a client and you see them appreciating and enjoying the work. “You know awards are temporary but when you meet a client, you have done their home and you see the happiness on their faces, it is a different level of joy. It’s like having won the Olympic medal but the high is actually getting the work done. The journey is very fulfilling,” articulated Kohelika.
Inspiration is the soul of creativity and for Kohelika, Berlin is her current inspiration. “I was there in the summer and we spent 10 days there and it is a very inspiring city full of art and architecture. It has got some great buildings and a lot of history which is highly inspirational. So a lot of inspiration for my work comes from travel and the people I meet.”
Kohelika’s designs are very modern in approach and if you like something like that, then head over to India Design 2017 exhibition to have a look at her amazing designs.