Skill, capacity & talent know no gender

Architect Ponni M Concessao, a practicing architect based in Chennai, India, always dreamt of becoming an architect since childhood. “I could not imagine doing anything else. Every great career path is often built by dreaming about it during early childhood. A master plan of my career with different time frames of my life with milestones of achievements was formed in my mind whilst in school and it is a great feeling in achieving it,” she says.

She has the distinction of being the first girl student to join the undergraduate architecture program at the National Institute of Technology, Tiruchirapalli, Tamil Nadu in the late eighties. Subsequently she travelled to the USA to pursue post graduate studies in architecture at Cornell University and Harvard University. Following that she lived in New York City working at the prestigious firm of Edward Barnes and John Lee Architects where she got the opportunity of gaining significant international work experience in working on large scale global projects of
different typologies.

A recipient of many prestigious national and international awards, Architect Ponni was also conferred the Women Icons Asia award in 2019 and here she shares her thoughts and experiences in what has a trailblazing career so far.

On setting up your current business activity
Following my nation-building dreams and business entrepreneurship ideas, I moved back to India in 1996 and founded Oscar & Ponni Architects along with Architect Oscar Concessao and started practice in the mid-nineties in Chennai.

We specialize in Urban design, Architecture and Interior Design stressing on Green Building norms and sustainable architectural design. Our project typologies include institutional, hotels & resorts, IT parks, government building complexes, museums, 100 acre plus housing projects, luxury homes and all types of commercial projects.

We have also been involved in the Prime Ministers Pradhan Mantri Awas Yojana project and also built noon-meal centers, toilets for underprivileged girl students as well as schools for leprosy afflicted patients children.

My professional work experience in India has spanned more than two decades and we have built projects all over the country as well as abroad. At Oscar & Ponni Architects, I spearhead projects right from inception.

I draw inspiration from nature, my clients brief, site conditions as well as contextual factors. I strongly believe in contextual architecture. I also believe in technologically allied design and combine it with elements of our Indian heritage, sustainability and contextual factors while designing.

Your motivation to get this going
My return to Indian shores and to set up a business was part of a larger master plan that involves nation building. I do believe that every Indian is a nation builder regardless of the scale of work that he or she does. It is important to be part of a larger scheme and work towards it with a pure heart devoid of expectations of rewards. My international education and work experience made me realize one thing – that India is a great country with a wonderful heritage
and it is our duty to uphold our ancient values and build our country despite challenges.

Your experiences running this business
My experiences in running business in India has been largely satisfying. I believe that one must face challenges without giving up and work around them to achieve results. It is important to rely on ones inherent strengths, eliminate weakness, and never lose sight of your goals. Gender bias of course is a challenge, but my clients have taught me that skill, capacity and talent knows no gender.

It was my work experience in New York City, USA, that gave me a great exposure to global architecture and the courage to battle male chauvinism and prejudice. An American approach to design innovation and business strategies to survive in challenging economic climes is the hallmark of our success in India.

Important factors that keep you going
A constant sense of wanting to achieve more, contributing towards womens empowerment and be a nation builder are the important factors that kept me going. Architecture is a synergy of various disciplines such as art, engineering and philosophy. The creative process of lasting building edifices is a joy like none other. An architect is literally a nation builder and game changer. For me, it has been a challenging as well as a rewarding experience personally and
professionally.

Challenges you have faced being a woman
Of course, I have faced numerous challenges being a woman, especially in a field like building construction which has tremendous gender bias. Social conditioning is one of the most dominant elements that keep Indian women from achieving more especially in entrepreneurship. It is the governments prerogative to eliminate social conditioning by way of public education / awareness and using technology to provide security to women. Perhaps a
greater representation of women in law and legislation making bodies would help in creating solutions.

I strongly believe that the rise in a nations GDP is directly proportionate to number of women in the nations workforce. Freedom to make personal choices of education, lifestyle, career and a socially accepting ecosystem conducive to working women can upgrade a nations GDP in no time. Government needs to focus on the empowerment of women across all strata of society to achieve results that have a larger impact on society.
Your source of inspiration As a professional architect I find inspiration from nature, historical context and the infinite cosmos.

On a personal level, I have been inspired by the teachings of Adi Sankara and the vedas. I have also been inspired by global and Indian women leaders in business, politics and social service.

Your proudest moment thus far
My proudest moment was receiving an International award – The Women Icons of Asia 2019 in Singapore along with 11 women from Asian nations. Another memorable moment for me was receiving a national award from Dr A.P.J. Abdul Kalam, former President of India. 

Your definition of success
People achieve “perfection” only if they find joy in their work, say the Vedas. Achieving perfection in work is the definition of success for me.

Your advice to aspiring entrepreneurs especially women?
Capacity, energy and passion are the key factors for being a successful entrepreneur. The power of conviction on a right idea, determination, positive thinking and never letting men decide anything for you are the parameters of success for women.

Believe in yourself first if you want to make others believe in you. Avoid naysayers, identify your weaknesses and eliminate them. With the right amount of patience and perseverance, you will be able to succeed.

Stay inspired and motivated always. While you cannot ignore your family and work, never ignore your health. I was very fortunate to have supportive parents, spouse and son who encouraged me to achieve greater heights. I wish that will be the case in the families of all women coming from every city, town and village in India.