Cornell University

SAP Speaker Series, A Modern Architecture of the Past: Reading Minnette de Silva, by Anooradha Siddiqi

Monday, April 22, 2019 at 12:15pm to 1:30pm

Uris Hall, G08

Few careers invite critical investigation of India’s modern architectural forms and history as does that of Minnette de Silva, a Royal Institute of British Architects Associate, a member of the CIAM network (International Congress of Modern Architecture), and an agent of pre- and post-Independence modernism in India and Ceylon. Some of De Silva’s most interesting yet problematic contributions stemmed from her unexpected incorporations of diverse claims to autochthony using crafts and handloom forms that projected a situated modern architecture. She arguably developed this orientation during her program of education, training, and early practice from the 1930s to the 1950s in institutions and in the company of figures based in Ceylon and India (Presidencies and Princely States). These intellectual anchor points drove national and international practices, thought, and cultural assertions around an Asian modern, which informed and contoured local and international movements concerned with the politics and aesthetics of indigeneity and regional authenticity. De Silva’s writings and the institutions she engaged in the early years of her career offer reflections on modern architecture’s connection to two related areas of study. The first is craft, as a basis for practice, pedagogy, discourses concerned with the past and historical representation. The second is the archive, as well as various media and forms of gathering and institutionalizing objects and ideas. This paper focuses on a reading of history through these two areas, in large part through reading de Silva’s meticulously constructed pictorial archive and memoir, The Life and Work of an Asian Woman Architect.

Anooradha Iyer Siddiqi joined the faculty of Barnard College, Columbia University, in 2018. She specializes in histories of architecture in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, with focus on African and South Asian questions. Her work examines modernity, urbanism, and migration through diverse forms of aesthetic and cultural production. She is interested in problems of historicity and archives, decoloniality, heritage politics, and feminist historiography. Her book manuscript Architecture of Migration analyzes the history, visual rhetoric, and spatial politics of the Dadaab refugee camps in Northeastern Kenya, and a long tradition of migration and coloniality. Siddiqi is also developing a manuscript that engages the intellectual work of Minnette de Silva, a cultural figure from Ceylon/Sri Lanka, and one of the first women to establish a professional architectural practice. Professor Siddiqi is the co-editor of Spatial Violence (Routledge), and her recent writing appears in The Journal of the Society of Architectural HistoriansThe Journal of Architecture, and e-flux Architecture. She holds a Ph.D. in the History of Art and Archaeology, and a Master of Architecture degree and professional license. She practiced architecture in Bangalore and New York and her professional background includes work for the Women’s Refugee Commission.





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Mario Einaudi Center for International Studies, Asian Studies, South Asia Program, Architecture



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