Published on July 16, 2021

AHMEDABAD: Gira Sarabhai (98), one of the eldest members of the Sarabhai family, breathed her last at her residence ‘The Retreat’ in Shahibaug area of Ahmedabad.

She possibly died due to health-related complications, said family members. She was daughter of textile magnet Ambalal Sarabhai and sister of space pioneer Dr Vikram Sarabhai.

Sarabhai is best known as an institution builder – she played a pivotal role in founding the National Institute of Design (NID) along with brother Gautam, and also established Calico Museum of Textiles, housing some of the rare specimens of textile from different parts of the country and the world.

Kartikeya Sarabhai, environmentalist and her nephew, said that she was active till her last breath.
“She was overseeing activities of the Sarabhai Foundation. Since the start of the pandemic, she was working from her residence,” he said.

The family members mentioned that the death took place between 12pm and 1pm. The cremation took place on Thursday evening in presence of close family members and long-term associates.

An architect by training who also worked with celebrated American architect Frank Lloyd Wright, she is credited with bringing modernist architecture to India, and also collaborating with some of the major names of her era. She along with Gautam Sarabhai also designed Calico Dome as an experiment.

As the book ‘50 Years of the National Institute of Design: 1961-2011’ by Dr Shilpa Das, a faculty at NID, chronicles, her imprint on India’s first design school was very strong. Genesis of the institute could be found in the ‘India Report’ by Charles and Ray Eames as philosophy, but the Sarabhai siblings gave the idea a concrete shape in the city.

‘Gira’s training as an architect with Frank Lloyd Wright and her understanding and sense of space were instrumental in realising the vision that she and Gautam shared for the institute’s new building… Gautam and Gira Sarabhai personally supervised the primary tasks of getting material and equipment as well as building administrative resources,’ mentions the book.

But as the old-timers at the celebrated institute remember, the influence of the duo was not limited to the frame of the institute, but also soul as they appointed the first faculties, brought in the best of the world talents from diverse fields – architecture to music and crafts to education – and inculcated high standards in budding designers. They also remembered her as a disciplinarian who would not accept anything but perfection.

Pradyumna Vyas, former director of NID, told TOI that her contribution should also be seen from the lens of ‘design for development.’ “The western world now wakes up to the need of design for the larger good – as the formative years of design were focused around industrial revolution and the needs of the market. But Giraben’s vision has always led NID to remain oriented towards social good through design interventions,” he said.

“There would be no one who would have created institutions such as NID and Calico Museum,” said Subrata Bhowmick, a city-based designer and an associate since her Calico Mill days. “She has touched so many lives through her work, and created the first of India’s trained designers. Her contribution in diverse fields is immeasurable.”

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