October 2023

5:00 PM IST

Room 400, School of Arts and Sciences


Brokers of modernity? Architect-entrepreneurs Building Pune, 1930-1992

Humanities and Languages Divisional Seminar
Speaker sarah melsens

Sarah Melsens

Marie Sklodowska-Curie Postdoctoral Fellow
French National Centre for Scientific Research (CNRS) and FLAME University

In India, qualified architects are the 'youngest' among several building professionals in charge of the design and construction of buildings. By the time the first diploma in architecture was awarded in Bombay (now Mumbai) in 1917, generations of Indian engineers, surveyors, and draftsmen had established successful careers as building designers, often after training at colonial civil engineering schools or the Public Works Department. In consequence, for most of the twentieth century, architects remained a proportionally small group that vied for recognition. By tracing the personal histories and the daily work world of self-employed architects active in the regional city of Pune (formerly Poona), this talk asks: On what competencies did architects lay claim and by what means? In parallel, I draw links to the products of architectural practice, a series of everyday buildings in the city of Pune, to propose a novel reading of architectural modernism in India. Contrary to the prevalent idea of architects as 'changemakers', I highlight how the profession and architecture itself have been shaped by intense processes of social and political change.


Sarah Melsens

After training as an architectural engineer at the Vrije Universiteit Brussel and as an urban designer at the Architectural Association in London she obtained a PhD in Architecture from the University of Antwerp in 2020. Her research centres on the history and ethnography of architecture and construction in the city of Pune and highlights the contributions of 'forgotten' city builders such as labourers, Indian engineers in the British colonial service and unsung architects engaged by speculative developers. Sarah is co-editor of 'ABE Journal - Architecture Beyond Europe' and a member of the editorial committee of 'Construction History, International Journal of The Construction History Society'. She currently teaches a Research Studio at CEPT University, Ahmedabad.