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Dr Tania Sengupta

Dr Tania Sengupta

Lecturer in Architectural History and Theory

The Bartlett School of Architecture

Faculty of the Built Environment

Joined UCL
11th Sep 2011

Research summary

Situated broadly within postcolonial and transcultural studies, my research explores architectural histories and urbanisms of ‘non-western’ worlds, their encounters and entanglements with the West, as well as with each other. In specific, I focus on interconnected histories and theories of colonial, post-colonial and contemporary architecture and urbanism of South Asia. My expertise and interests cover a range of subjects: architectures of everyday governance; provincial identity and urban-rural relationships; spaces of domesticity; histories of architectural expertise; and the relationship between architecture, material cultures, and people’s ‘life-worlds’. I am particularly interested in hitherto invisible or uncharted sites and paradigms within postcolonial architectural studies.

My early work for my PhD thesis explored the architecture and urban development of provincial administrative towns of nineteenth century Bengal, colonial India. It was shortlisted for the Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA) President’s Award for Research for Outstanding PhD Thesis 2011. I have since then developed it further for my forthcoming book Colonial Margins: Spatial Cultures of Provincial Governance in Eastern India (Bloomsbury Visual Arts and Culture, expected 2020).

My recent research on the architectural/spatial implications of British colonial ‘paper-bureaucracy’ in India won the 2019 RIBA President’s Award for Research in Architectural History and Theory, as well as the 2019 RIBA President’s Medal for Research across all categories. Amongst other recent works is a substantial chapter on the architecture of colonial South Asia 1750-1950, in the Sir Banister Fletcher’s Global History of Architecture, 21st Edition (2019), which narrates an accessible survey-type history through a critical postcolonial frame. Presently, I am looking at questions of field and archivewithin postcolonial histories; and at the role of civil engineers – a comparatively understudied group – in building knowledges and built-landscapes of c. 1900-late 1960s Bengal, India.

In keeping with my interest in the marginal, the everyday and the ephemeral, I was also part of a collaborative research project (2016-2019) – alongside academics from University of California, Santa Barbara (PI) and University of Wisconsin, Milwaukee – on the architecture and urban geography of community-built temporary pavilions erected for Durgapuja, a vast, city-wide annual festival in Calcutta. In June 2019, together with Prof. Jane Rendell, I initiated the groundwork for the Bartlett School of Architecture (BSA) Centre for Architectural History and Theory. I was also an active collaborator in the recently created curriculum entitled ‘Race and Space’ meant for the Bartlett Faculty staff and students. 

Teaching summary

Having taught in design studios and history/theory courses for the past 15+ years, both in India and the UK, my current pedagogical approach draws actively upon my background, experiences and transdisciplinary research. As such, I deal with architecture and urbanism in diverse, (mostly) non-western contexts; but more generally with the relationship between built-form and cultural practice; ‘ordinary’, ‘small-scale’ or ‘peripheral’ spaces and practices; and alternative historical discourses within mainstream architectural history. I enjoy drawing active links between design and history and theory and combine architecture-specific approaches with those from history, anthropology, geography, cultural studies, and postcolonial and critical theories.

Since early 2019, I have also served as the BSA’s Director of Architectural History and Theory for the school’s 20+ programmes and about 80 teaching (full and part-time) staff, taking on various administrative, coordination and mentorship roles. 

My teaching at the Bartlett has spanned undergraduate, postgraduate and doctoral levels, thus encompassing BSc Architecture Year 2, M. Arch Years 1 & 2, MA Architectural History, and PhD in Architectural History and Theory programmes. I also coordinate both small and large-cohort architectural history and theory modules, and supervise masters and PhD dissertations on South Asia and the Indian Ocean world, South-east Asia, East Asia, South America, Africa and the Middle East.

Amongst ~50 postgraduate dissertations that I have seen through to completion, several have won awards, e.g.  the RIBA Research Awards 2018; MAD Travel Fellowship 2018; the BSA’s MA Architectural History Prize 2017; and M. Arch History and Theory Prize 2016. My PhD students’ works span(ned) diverse contexts and themes: spaces of Somali migrants in post-Apartheid Cape Town, architectural pedagogy in China 1919-1949, early twentieth century critical architectural modernity in India, and the architecture of late 19th/early or 20th c. New York Chinatown. 

A key, recent pedagogic engagement of mine, as part of a collaborative Faculty (Equality, Diversity, Inclusion) working group, was the ‘Race’ and Space curriculum for Bartlett Faculty students and staff.  The curriculum/ resource sparks crucial questions around Eurocentrism, racism, inclusive curricula and institutional practices.

Biography

As an architect, urban designer and academic, I have earlier taught both architectural design and history/theory courses: at the TVB School of Habitat of Studies and other institutions in New Delhi  and then in London, on the Architecture, Globalization and Cultural Identity Masters course at the University of Westminster. In 2011, I was appointed Lecturer in Architectural History and Theory at the BSA, UCL, and subsequently became the school’s Director of Architectural History and Theory in Jan 2019. Over the years, I have pursued a view of architectural education that is geographically, culturally, socially and paradigmatically plural. 

I am/ have been engaged in various external platforms, such as: visiting research fellowships  at the Centre for Modern Oriental Studies Berlin (2010) and the Karl Jaspers Centre for Advanced Transcultural Studies, Heidelberg (2011); invited talks at e.g. the Oxford University Wellcome Unit for Medical History Research, University of Rennes France, National Cheng Kong University Taiwan, School of Planning and Architecture New Delhi; and keynote lecture at the Architecture and Bureaucracy conference in Brussels. I also serve as Co-editor-in-chief of the journal Architecture Beyond Europe (ABE, Sept 2019-); have been academic referee for e.g. Journal of Architecture, Urban History, The Society of Architectural Historians Journal, ABE Journal, Architecture and Culture; and contribute to public architectural discourse e.g. through ‘In-Conversation’ events and BBC Radio programmes. 

I served as external examiner for M. Arch dissertations at Cardiff University (2016-2019); M. Phil/PhD dissertations at Cambridge University (2016-2019), University of London and National Cheng Kong University Taiwan. I represent the BSA at the Architectural Humanities Research Association (AHRA), am on the advisory panel for the AHRA Architecture and Collective Life Conference, Dundee, 2019, and am an active member of UCL Centre for the Study of South Asia and the Indian Ocean World.

 


Publications