The Bartlett School of Architecture


Kirti Durelle

Image: Kirti Durelle, based on Michel Raunet, Le milieu physique et les sols de l’île de La Réunion (1991).


Landscape and relations of production in La Réunion (1663-1863)

First and second supervisors 


My research investigates the historical formation of landscapes and social relations on the Indian Ocean island of La Réunion, from the inception of its slave society until the transition to free labour regimes. During that period, the population of this hitherto uninhabited island grew from twelve to 175,000, comprising forced and voluntary migrants from East Africa, Madagascar, India, Western Europe, and locally born ‘Créoles.’ Amalgamating status (free or enslaved), ethnicity, colour, and eventually ‘race,’ new subject categories emerged to describe social classes and the hierarchies among these communities.

While the landscapes of this fledgling society adhered to the requirements of crop production and the management of slave and indentured labour, they were also determined by the geomorphological and environmental attributes of island terrains. From coastal slopes to the abrupt island interiors, Réunion’s previously unencountered topographies supported specific modes of occupation, mobilities, and infrastructural interventions, which themselves influenced the organisation of production and social relations. 

Following a historical materialist approach, my thesis seeks to understand how Réunion’s landscapes came to be organised by its society, what subjectivities emerged from this process, and how material terrains affected these historical developments. Furthermore, it explores the relationship of these historical conditions and the emergence of racial epistemologies, during the transition from slavery to ‘free’ labour practices.


Kirti Durelle is a PhD candidate in the Architectural and Urban History and Theory programme. He previously studied structural engineering, architecture and architectural history at the University of Sheffield and the Bartlett, and has worked as an architect in London and Paris. He teaches design and history/theory at the University of Westminster, and is a regular guest critic at Central St. Martins, the AA, the LSA and Syracuse University.


  • Durelle, K. (2022) ‘A Global History of Runaways: Workers, Mobility, and Capitalism 1600-1850, Edited by Marcus Rediker (Book review)’, Architectural Research Quarterly 26 (no. 2), pp. 109-112.
  • Durelle, K. (2017) ‘Agency at the threshold: maronage, landscape and geographic knowledge formation in Bourbon-La Réunion (1663-1787)’, in MA Architectural History Symposium (eds.) Building Ruptures. London: The Bartlett School of Architecture, UCL, pp. 36-38.

Image: Kirti Durelle, based on Michel Raunet, Le milieu physique et les sols de l’île de La Réunion (1991).