Indian modernist architect, academic, furniture designer and writer, Urmila Eulie Chowdhury worked with Corbusier on the Chandigarh project. However whilst others surrounding him have become known in their own right, Eulie’s name is rarely mentioned outside of the conversation about Indian architecture.
Perhaps she had the best of opportunities available to her, the daughter of a diplomat, an education in Australia, Japan and the US, however, what is clear is that she was extraordinarily gifted in her own right – described as a polymath.
Born in Uttar Pradesh, educated at the University of Sydney, she worked in the US and in 1951 returned to India to work as part of the team put together by Corbusier for the planning of the City of Chandigarh (the only other female on the team was English Modernist, Jane Drew – Corbusier was not known for having enlightened views about women). Eulie Chowdhury worked on this project at two different points in its development, first until 1963. As well as her work on the overall planning, she is credited with the design of the Home Science College (a women’s Polytechnic featured in the header) and for a series of residential complexes for Ministers. ‘She helped to prepare detailed drawings for Capitol Complex, Geometric Hill, Tower of Shadows, and the Martyrs Memorial, all of which today are exemplary monuments of contemporary architecture’*. She returned to the project again in the 1970s.
From 1963-65 Eulie was the Director of the Dehli School of Architecture and Planning and wrote a book about her experience of working with Corbusier called Those Were the Days.
A fluent French speaker, more than simply the translator of Corbusier’s Three Human Establishments from French to English, she became an invaluable component in the conveying of ideas from Corbusier to the local team and is acknowledged for her translating of correspondence between Corbusier and Prime Minister Nehru. Her french connection continued when she became the first President of the Alliance Française de Chandigarh in 1983.
In 1970 she became Chief Architect of Haryana and later Chief State Architect of the State of Punjab, a huge accolade in such a male-dominated society. Eventually, she returned to Chandigarh to go into private practice.
Urmila Eulie Chowdhury 1923-1995
First Indian Woman elected Fellow of RIBA
Fellow of Indian Institute of Architecture
*with thanks to Rethinking the Future
Image of Government Home Science College, Sector 10, Chandigarh (CC BY SA 4.0 Sarbjit Bahga)