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Material Texts: Anuradha Mathur (Landscape Architecture, Penn) and Dilip da Cunha (Graduate School of Design, Harvard): “Designing the Place of Water”
Monday, October 16, 2017 - 5:15pm to 7:00pm

Class of 1978 Pavilion in the Kislak Center
6th Floor of Van-Pelt Library

We will be welcoming Anuradha Mathur and Dilip da Cunha for a talk entitled: “Designing the Place of Water.” Anuradha and Dilip write:

We focus this talk on a specific line and its time: the line that separates water from land on the earth surface. This line is deeply inscribed in text, image, and imagination across disciplines even as it is enforced by regulation and infrastructure on the ground. Amidst the outcry and battle over climate change and concern for the devastating consequences that will come with water crossing this line, we call attention to the sighting and drawing of this line as a choice and first act of a pervasive design practice. While there is no question that this line has brought great success, we ask if it has worked to conceal failures such as flood by defining them as exceptional, even natural, events. We also ask if there are people who live without the literacy of this line and therefore without the vocabulary of land and water. We sense their existence in cracks and interstices and in tension with a mainstream that enforces the line, particularly in places of rain. Their situation is all too easily reasoned as chaos, underdevelopment, informality, or otherness. Do they offer another literacy, another time of design, another imagination? 

Our method of inquiry operates between three environments: field, archives, and studio. Each propels us toward the other two in a bid to celebrate and challenge the line of separation. In the field, we walk, draw, photograph with an eye and ear tuned to meter and movement, material and horizon; but as much to rupture and dissonance where things don’t fit lines tasked to contain. In the archives we extend the present to include a past that drew the line, enforced it, and made it ordinary and everyday. In the studio we re-visualize place, make sense of our traverses and transgressions in the field and archives, and venture possibilities that push against the limits of the real in a bid to be inventive yet effective.

Anuradha Mathur is Professor in the Landscape Architecture Department, University of Pennsylvania. Dilip da Cunha, an architect and planner, teaches at Harvard University, Columbia University, and at Srishti School of Art, Design, and Technology in Bangalore. They are authors of Mississippi Floods: Designing a Shifting Landscape (Yale University Press, 2001), Deccan Traverses: the Making of Bangalore’s Terrain (Delhi: Rupa & Co., 2006), Soak: Mumbai in an Estuary (Delhi: NGMA and Rupa & Co., 2009), and editors of Design in the Terrain of Water (A+RD Publishers, San Francisco, 2014) that grew out of a symposium at PennDesign ( Da Cunha’s new book titled The Invention of Rivers: Alexanders’s Eye and Ganga’s Descent is forthcoming from University of Pennsylvania Press in 2018. Mathur and da Cunha are recipients of a Pew Fellowship Grant for 2017 (