SEA Annual Conference

Devising Architecture Amidst Entanglements and Exigencies

Prasad Khanolkar

On the occasion of completing ten years in architectural academia, the 2023-24 SEA International Annual Conference was held around the theme of ‘devising architecture, amidst entanglements and exigencies’. The basic premise was that the past ten years of SEA have coincided with the intensification of dominant operations across the world and produced exigencies, including the hard lining of right-wing politics, deep sedimentation of differences, augmentation of corporate capitalism, erosion of democratic institutions, violent production of cities and large infrastructural networks, and the intensification of challenges posed by climate change and epidemics. These operations, mobilized through law and media, have exacerbated multiple forms of spatial disparities: displacements, polarizations, segregations, incarcerations, dispossessions, forced migrations, ethnic cleansings, and unequal exposure to toxicities. Alongside these spatial disparities, we have also witnessed the proliferation of micro-narratives from different geographies in our everyday life. These are stories of  joy and celebrations, of empathy and care, of cruelty and violence, of detentions and abandonments, of movements and lockdowns, of experiments and accidents.
Situated in this flux, the International Conference 2023-24 asked the following questions: How do we devise architecture in response to the current exigencies of intensifying spatial disparities, while being situated amidst and holding onto the entanglements? In asking this question, the conference aimed to not only produce shifts in our understanding of matter, form, and space, but also speculate on new architectural theories, pedagogies, and practices for creating spatial forms that can hold entangled lives.

Four spatial practitioners working in different geographies using different methodologies were invited: [1] Sandeep Virmani from Hunnarshala, Bhuj who works with local contractors, communities and organizations; [2] Eunice Seng from Hong Kong University, who works as a academic, researcher and runs an architectural practice in Hong Kong and Singapore; [3] Khondaker Hasibul Kabir, who works with local communities and ecologies across Bangladesh and teaches at the Bengal Art Institute in Dhaka; and [4] Gauri Bharat, an architectural historian who also teaches at CEPT. Each of them drew on their practices to make specific provocations, which were then extended into conversations with different faculty members at SEA.

The conversation between Sandeep Virmani and Rupali Gupte brought out three provocations based on the repair and retrofit work in cities at SEA and Hunnarshala’s building practices across rural North India: the need for architects to partner with local contractors and communities, the need to rework architectural forms, methods of drawing, and building differently in the contexts, and lastly, to write architectural stories and songs that push the boundaries of architecture in postcolonial contexts. The conversation between Eunice Seng and Prasad Khanolkar built on Seng’s study of composite buildings in Hong Kong and SEA’s study on mass inhabitations to focus on the question of architecture itself as a composite of form, technology, materiality, and most importantly spatial practices of inhabitants that push the former beyond their limits. It also raised the question of how architects could build different forms of “practices” across different situations and contexts.
The conversation between Gauri Bharat and Rohit Mujumdar built on their individual research on architecture and indigeneity and raised three questions: How do architects study indigeneity beyond the parameters, nomenclatures, methods, and types set in modern architectural theories? How does one bring in immaterial forms and practices of life into architecture that focuses primarily on material forms and practices? And what is the role of and form of architectural research in today’s context as well as its limits? The last conversation between Khondaker Hasibul Kabir and Anuj Daga built on SEA’s ongoing architectural collaborations with organizations in Mumbai and Kabir’s grounded practice with families and organizations across Bangladesh. The conversation raised three provocations for architectural practices: one, the importance of slow practice, whereby humans and non-humans are provided space to act; second, the importance of devising new forms of collaborative practices across organizations and communities; and third, creating tactical forms of spatial ownerships among politicians and communities.