A Building Scholar-Professor Swati Chattopadhyay is honored for a lifetime of achievement in the study of architectural history
By Amy Bentley
The UC Santa Barbara Current
8 March 2018
Photo courtesy of Darrell Hoemann
In February, College of Environmental Design alumna Swati Chattopadhyay (Ph.D. Architecture ‘97) received a lifetime achievement award in the study of architectural history. The Society of Architectural Historians has added Chattopadhyay into its 2018 class of fellows recognized for a “lifetime of significant contributions to the field of architectural history,” including scholarship, service to the society or “stewardship of the built environment.”
Chattopadhyay is one of four individuals to be honored. She will be inducted at the society’s 71st Annual International Conference awards ceremony on April 20 in St. Paul, Minnesota.
Chattopadhyay is a professor in the Department of History of Art and Architecture, and in the Comparative Literature Program, at UC Santa Barbara. She is interested in the intersection of space, culture, and history and how these factors influence class, gender, racism, and politics.
Rather than designing buildings, Chattopadhyay enjoys studying spaces in a broader historical context, while offering another perspective apart from the Western lens.
Chattopadhyay was pleasantly surprised by the new honor, and explained that “it was somewhat unexpected, because usually those who get it are closer to retirement or are retired.”
Chattopadhyay, who has taught at UCSB for 20 years, received a Bachelor of Architecture from Jadavpur University in Calcutta, India, a Master’s in Architecture from the University of Arizona, and her Ph.D. from UC Berkeley.
After working as an architect in New Delhi, Chattopadhyay shifted from architecture practice to academia in the hopes of learning more about the social and historical aspects of design.
“My interdisciplinary strengths as a scholar rest on the fact that I came out of a technologically inflected undergraduate professional education in architecture and then made a transition to the humanities and arts,” Chattopadhyay said.
Chattopadhyay specializes in the connection between colonialism and modernism. She has written widely about modern architecture and urbanism, infrastructure, popular culture, art and architecture of empire, and the cultural landscape of British colonialism.
“We often fail to see the obvious,” she said. “For instance, why is Calcutta so well-known for its poverty but not its incredible collection of beautiful Art Deco buildings? Why do planners and urbanists routinely ignore the creative strength of popular culture in South Asian cities?”
“We should ask, why does architecture matter and to whom does it matter? Why were cities built certain ways? How do you look at the built landscape and ask new questions about power, creativity and resistance?” she added. “For me, architecture and architectural history are much more than buildings. You have to think of buildings as a confluence of social and material relations, and deeply connected with larger systems.”
In addition to this lifetime achievement award, Chattopadhyay has received the Guggenheim and J. Paul Getty fellowships, a fellowship from the Swedish Collegium for Advanced Study and a Distinguished Visiting Fellowship from Queen Mary, University of London. She has received grants from the National Science Foundation and the American Institute of Indian Studies as well as the Society of Architectural Historians’ Founder’s Award.
Read more about Chattopadhyay here.