Book Announcement | A Call to Return: A Journey with Didi Contractor, by Lakshmi Swaminathan

'A Call to Return: A Journey with Didi Contractor' chronicles the life of Didi Contractor, a self-taught architect born in 1929, who was renowned for her eco-friendly adobe buildings in Himachal Pradesh. Celebrated globally, Didi's legacy includes numerous articles, books, documentaries, and prestigious awards.


Book Announcement | A Call to Return: A Journey with Didi Contractor, by Lakshmi Swaminathan 1

A Call to Return: A Journey with Didi Contractor offers a record of the life, values, and creations of an extraordinary self-taught woman architect. Born in the United States to Expressionist painters in 1929, Didi met an Indian student at college, married, and moved with him to India in 1951. She remained in India for the next seventy years and became a legend to many: as a painter, interior decorator (particularly of the Lake Palace Hotel in Udaipur), furniture and textile designer, and early proponent of solar energy. Her youngest child, Kirin Narayan, has evocatively described Didi’s magnetic personality at the intersection of cultural exchanges in Bombay in My Family and Other Saints (2007). With her children leaving home, Didi moved to Kangra in Himachal Pradesh. In her sixties, she began building adobe homes and institutions with respect for local materials and traditions; by her eighties, she was gaining students from India and across the world and became widely celebrated for her visionary contributions to vernacular architecture as a senior woman and a radical outsider to the architectural establishment. In addition to being featured in multiple articles, theses, a book (An Adobe Revival: Didi Contractor’s Architecture (2018)), as well as two documentary films (Didi Contractor: Marrying the Earth to the Building (2017), Earth Crusader (2016)), Didi was honoured with multiple awards including the Nari Shakti Puraskar (2019).

A Call to Return emerges from a collection of transcripts of conversations that Didi had with students and admirers in the last decade of her life. Pushed into the limelight and asked to share her insights, Didi had begun asking her interlocutors to keep records of these conversations. With her passing in 2021, the emerging transcripts coupled with published interviews and articles continue to offer a source of knowledge and inspiration for diverse undertakings. Collated by her student Lakshmi Swaminathan, this book that spans 168 pages, covers Didi’s biography, philosophy, approach to architecture, ecology, tradition, and the creative process. Each chapter moves between Didi’s words and anecdotes of her everyday life.

Lakshmi Swaminathan is an architect from Chennai. Seeking inspiration for her own practice, she came to Kangra intending to spend a day with Didi in 2017. She ended up living with her for the next four years, and assisting her on multiple projects. With a close focus on Didi’s lived experience and the ethics manifest in her relation to the natural and material world, this book offers insights for all who are committed to a more sustainable way of life. Also, as the chronicle of a vibrant exchange across different generations, A Call to Return reminds us to cooperate with nature in all of our endeavours.

Book Details:

Title: A Call to Return, A Journey with Didi Contractor
Pages: 168 pages
Author: Lakshmi Swaminathan
Publisher: Banyan Tree (an imprint of Takali)
Price: INR 350 (for Indian orders) | $20 (for International orders)
Availability: Banyan Tree Bookstore (for Indian orders) | Takali (for International orders)

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