Remembering Didi Contractor

The President, Shri Ram Nath Kovind presenting the Nari Shakti Puruskar for the year 2018 to Ms. Delia Narayan Contractor, on the occasion of the International Women’s Day, at Rashtrapati Bhavan, in New Delhi on March 08, 2019.

Didi Contractor

Delia Kinzinger also called fondly, Didi Contractor, was a self-taught American architect known for her work on sustainable building in India with a unique approach to building that synced with the cycles of nature.

Didi Contractor whose real name is Delia Kinzinger was a self – taught American architect known for her work on sustainable building in India using adobe, bamboo, and stone for materials. She was born in 1929 in the USA to her father, Edmund Kinzinger who was a German national, and mother, Alice Fish Kinzinger who was an American. Both of them were renowned painters belonging to the Bauhaus group in the early 1920s.

Didi Contractor grew up in Texas, USA, and spent some time in Europe also. They moved to Waco, Texas in 1935. She grew up in New Mexico and Texas and took a year off from school to work in theatre. At the age of 11, she started to listen to Frank Lloyd Wright and saw an exhibition of his works along with her parents. This made a lasting impression on her mind and developed her inclination for the profession of architecture. She was first trained in art by her father and Hans Hofmann in New York and then studied art at the University of Colorado Boulder where she met her husband, Indian building contractor Narayan Contractor. They moved to Nashik in the 1950s, and to Mumbai in the 1960s, raising three children. After separating from her husband she moved to the Kangra Valley in India in the 1970s.

She was a self-taught architect who specialized in buildings that fit into, rather than contrast with, the landscape, and are made of natural local materials: mainly mud, bamboo, and stone, with small amounts of deodar wood. In about three decades, she has designed and built 15+ houses in and around Dharamshala, Himachal Pradesh, India, and some institutions which are perfect examples of sustainable structures: Nishtha Rural Health, Education and Environment Centre at Dharamshala, Dharmalaya Centre for Compassionate Living at Bir, Sambhaavnaa Institute of Public Policy and Politics at Kandwari.

She also got in touch with the local artisans and other artists who were assisting her in restoring the Indian art forms. With a mission to create eco-friendly architecture, Contractor invented a unique approach of following the ‘rhythm of the universe’ or the ‘cycles of nature.

She always tries to sync the process of building construction with the cycle of nature, so that the end products are in perfect harmony with the environment. In 2017, she received the Women Artists, Architects, and Designers (WADe) Asia Lifetime Achievement award.

Contractor was the subject of two feature films, Earth Crusader (2016) and Didi Contractor: Marrying the Earth to the Building (2017). In 2019 the President of India gave her the Nari Shakti Puraskar, India’s highest civilian award for recognizing the achievements and contributions of women.

Didi trained young artisans teaching ecological values and reviving local skills for three decades. She died on 5 July 2021, in Sidhbari, a suburb of Dharamshala town, situated in the foothills of Dhauladhar mountains, in Kangra district of the state of Himachal Pradesh, India.

Remembered fondly by the entire design community, she remains a true visionary who was way ahead of her times.

Featured Image: Courtesy ManojKumar (cc), Wikipedia

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