Anupama Kundoo
Anupama Kundoo graduated from University of Mumbai in 1989 and received her PhD degree from the TU Berlin in 2008.

Her research-oriented practice has generated people centric architecture based on spatial and material research for low environmental impact while being socio-economically beneficial. Her body of works is currently exhibited as a solo show 'Taking Time' at Louisiana Museum of Modern Art, Denmark till 5. April 2021.

She has taught Architecture and Urban Management at various international universities strengthening her expertise in rapid urbanization and climate change related development issues, and was the Davenport Visiting Professor at Yale University in Spring 2020. She is currently Professor at Potsdam School of Architecture, Germany.

Anupama Kundoo discusses the potential of architecture to address complex intersections of urbanization, people, technologies, resources, and the environment within the context of growing affordability issues. Her practice, the result of her quest for knowledge to build appropriately, considers projects as opportunities to build knowledge. Architecture is the result of building processes, and time needs to be invested despite the sense of urgency triggered by rapid urbanization.
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Portrait of Anupama Kundoo (© Andreas Deffner)
When you were a child what did you want to be when you were older?
I loved fine arts and I had thought I would end up being an artist but I was interested in many things, so I never was too fixed on what I wanted to be in terms of career. I also didn’t think we were defined by what profession we had, so I was more thinking about what I wanted to learn. I was already into thinking about the meaning of life and so I was simply curious about the world at large and took interest in discovering things.
What was your favourite subject at school?
Mathematics, and later geometry.
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Residence Pierre Tran, Auroville, India, 1992 (Ph.© Andreas Deffner)
When did you realise you wanted to study architecture and become an architect?
My mother who had studied fine art, had introduced us to drawing and painting at an early age and I had done the intermediate grade drawing examinations alongside my regular school. Apart from that I was just into making things and creating things myself during my formative years, and took keen interest in crafts, sculpture, knitting, and took courses in tailoring. When I had to decide what to study in University, I was very torn apart between the study of fine arts (especially sculpture) and mathematics, which was also a favourite subject.

In the Indian context it was not possible to study both as these were considered to be in opposite directions, though for me they seemed perfectly compatible. An aptitude test suggested architecture, a profession I had not considered until then, given that I had no contact with people from the design world. But I immediately knew that this was for me, and I didn’t have a minute of hesitation thereafter. Having grown up in Bombay, I felt that humans deserved better spaces and a better habitat, and I was excited about the opportunity to contribute to this task.
What was your educational path?
I studied at Sir JJ College of Architecture in Bombay. It was the first school of Art and Architecture established by the British in India and has a very rich library from the early period on. I have learnt all my basics there and started my own practice very early almost straight out of college in 1991. I always believed that education is a constant pursuit, is self-driven and must not stop after we leave institutions. So, I continued to chase knowledge in various fields, and looked around me with eyes wide open, and integrated the findings in my successive projects.

Much later in 2005, when my practice was already known and I had begun teaching formally too, I landed up in Berlin, and I had the opportunity to start my doctoral studies. I finished my PhD at TU Berlin in 2008.
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Shah Houses, Brahmangarh, India, 2003 (Ph.© Javier Callejas)
How do you remember yourself as an architecture student?
I remember myself as a keen and passionate student who was inseparable from my drawing board. I found it very difficult to tear myself from my working table at nights for sleeping and the usual daily routines as they seemed to interrupt the flow of my thoughts. I loved the long commute to my campus by train early morning and loved hanging out with my friends there.

While I was studious by nature, I always prioritised the fun we were having with friends, and that’s where I learnt to manage work life balance. Studio culture and co-creating with like-minded imaginative people was most stimulating. I felt really satisfied and at home in this profession.
how do you remember your first built project?
While ‘Residence Pierre Tran’ is officially my first project, around the same time I built a very simple thatch hut for myself. Both were equally memorable in the way the quest was similar but the conditions were contrasting, as one was questioning the need for permanence and the other looked at how to build more durably in a timeless way. As a fresh architect from Bombay, travelling around in rural India, I was fascinated by the simplicity of shelter in villages. Self-built thatched mud structures housed the bulk of the population. Having consciously left Bombay’s city life along with the related rat race, I was looking for personal freedom from the need for permanence when it came to shelter.

I wanted to live lightly and simply, so that I would liberate my valuable time and face the adventure of life on a day-to-day basis, taking the time to discover what I truly needed. My hut in Petite Ferme (1991), an Auroville community in its outskirts, was influenced by the way several other Aurovilians lived in those pioneering years and was constructed in just a few weeks. The round wood structure of untreated Casuarina trees tied together with coconut rope, stood on rough-cut granite stilts that prevented termites from reaching the wood. The upper floor was of split pakamaram palm stems, and woven coconut leaves were the roof finish. The bedroom, a raised platform, was tucked into an alcove, and a sitting hammock hung within another small alcove. Two solar panels took care of the lighting and music; a black plastic bag hung outdoors provided warm water in the colder months, and used shower-water fed papaya and banana plants, next to the salad and vegetable garden.

Expecting neither the hut nor my adventure phase to last that long, I spent over ten long years there while designing permanent houses and public buildings for the others, with a growing concern about achieving climatic comfort naturally, spending resources judiciously, and looking for beauty in simplicity. There was joy in freedom from the need for permanence. While living in the hut I spent my time realising ‘Residence Pierre Tran’ and the memorable process of producing the terracotta roofing systems and getting special cones produced through local potters with the support of ceramic artist Ray Meeker from Golden Bridge Pottery in Pondicherry nearby.
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Residence Kranti Kanade, Pune, Maharashtra, India, 2003 (Ph.© Javier Callejas)
How has your architectural work evolved since then?
I seek the same things, but the years of experience work have enhanced my capacities to deliver. Also in the meantime I have equal interest in the city scale, urban neighbourhood scale as in architectural, interior and even furniture/product design scale. The teaching and research activities also are two other legs of the tripod of my development as an architect.
The key features of your architecture.
I see architecture, as a backdrop for human life to take place. We make our spaces, and our spaces make us.

My work approaches architecture from the perspective of humans inhabiting it on a human scale, rather than how the final object looks from up above. The material and space work together to mould the voids that define the essence of architecture for me. And as I work to design the necessary porosity for inhabitants to exchange air, water and light with the environment, my work can be characterised by the way the journeys from outside to inside and again outside, are orchestrated.

The spaces are soothing, and materials are intelligently used to enhance the spatial qualities as required. They reflect my appreciation of engineering and celebrate the human ingenuity alongside nature’s ingenuity. My architecture is the result of building knowledge and building processes. It responds to a diversity of concerns through integrated design thinking, and has the potential to create health, happiness, and well-being through shaping the built environment and steering the way forward for an evolving human society.
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Residence Kranti Kanade, Pune, Maharashtra, India, 2003 (Ph.© Javier Callejas)
Which architects have influenced you the most?
The early modern movement probably had the biggest impact on me in my formative years in architecture studies, for the sense of freedom it sought from the habitual ways of doing things. I was quite inspired by the Bauhaus movement and the Black Mountain College for their sense of community and collaborative focus on radical experimentation. I have admired Charles and Ray Eames, Le Corbusier, Antonin Raymond, Charles Correa and Kanvinde; but also those who had included new engineering such as Pier Luigi Nervi, Frei Otto, Eladio Dieste and Buckminster Fuller; as well as socially sensitive architects like Laurie Baker and Ray Meeker who I met personally.

Finally, after I moved to Auroville I had the good fortune of collaborating with Roger Anger, Auroville’s French Chief Architect and Urbanist. He had by far the greatest influence on me but not only through his ideas and visions. It was also his personality, his courage and integrity, and his attitude as an architect, and to life itself, that has been most inspiring.
How do other creative fields influence your architectural work?
I have many other interests, apart from architecture that have constantly influenced my work. I am interested in poetry, philosophy, art, biology and now anthropology. These influence my designs as I see the multi-facetted and lasting impact of the architecture we create on humans. Biology helps me to understand all the various ways in which nature has solved almost every structural question through design.

I discover with fascination the geometry and order embedded in the DNA of cells of living beings that unfold over time. I am currently rereading Gaston Bachelard’s ‘The Poetics of Space’. The unending quest for knowledge in various fields have inspired many new ideas and areas for experimentation. They also help to zoom out and see the big picture and contextualise our insignificance or possible relevance. Above all, I am interested in the human potential, and what we become through what we do or make.
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Town Hall, Auroville, India, 2006 (Ph. © Javier Callejas)
In your years of practicing architecture, which developments/ events so far, represent the biggest challenges you have faced in your career?
The biggest challenges faced are probably the resistance to one’s visions and ideas. I think though, that most real challenges that one faces externally correspond to some limiting beliefs in the inside of our own head. I have mostly tried to address those by finding the corresponding resistances within, and to transcend those first. The real challenges are to quieten the resisting voices within us and take responsibility for why we hold back and create things that we know do not work for us, even when we know better.
A project or building you would like to realise:
It is the urban project based on cohousing clusters called Line of Goodwill in Auroville. The large scale of the project allows radical and integral rethinking of habitat, in the context of non-ownership of land, that is pedestrian-centric. It is the first high-density compact housing envisaged for Auroville so it can take a bold urban step, 50 years after its foundation, in the direction of the compact pedestrian city planned by its chief architect Roger Anger. To compensate for the low-rise housing in the green city of Auroville, and still provide the required compactness and density, Anger introduced urban structures that he called Lignes de Force, meaning Lines of Strength. These extremely long porous structures rise tall above the rest of the city at one end, and gradually slope down over the entire length to reach the ground at its other end. In the residential zone, the towering heights are located towards the periphery of the city, their terraces facing the city centre. These structures enhance the dynamic spiralling movement of the town plan and absorb density with a minimum of circulation on the ground through vertical development.The cluster of buildings stretching over 800 metres starts at the entrance to the city, as a gateway for visitors, including hotel facilities with an 18-storey height toward the city limits, radially descending towards the city centre and reaching the edge of the central lake. It accommodates 8,000 inhabitants and includes the first steps towards a public transportation system.

The large scale of the project allows radical and integral rethinking of habitat (including social, environmental and economic aspects) such as: the creation of vibrant street-life for spontaneous exchanges in public space; at upper levels, the aim of addressing the human scale, intimacy and well-being despite the high-rise context; increased opportunities to share chores and childcare, freeing up personal time for improving the quality of human life beyond ownership of land or assets; establishing a sense of the common opportunities for participation in the construction as a collective process; the development of appropriate building technologies for high-rises with local materials and skills that boost the local economy while reducing embodied energy and pollution, with a heightened awareness of the impact on health; alternative strategies for debt-financing through a circular economy; pedestrian-centric urban development with mixed use and proximity to places of work, recreation and social infrastructure, with connections to collectively owned bicycles and non-polluting vehicles; integral management of water and wastewater from direct re-use to irrigation; solar passive principles for climatic comfort; ‘no-waste’ management of daily life, including integration of onsite compost production; prevention of noise pollution including during construction; and integration of urban farming opportunities on roofs and facades along with the related irrigation systems.

The project is an extension of the work I did in collaboration with Roger Anger, on the city level. To enable Auroville’s aim and purpose, Auroville must realise its urban dimension so that there is the critical mass needed to address the challenges of rethinking economy, education, and habitat as a whole, to serve as a prototype for other cities too.
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Wall house, Auroville, India, 2000 (Ph.© Javier Callejas)
You have taught at multiple universities: TU Berlin, AA School of Architecture London, Parsons New School of Design New York, University of Queensland Brisbane, IUAV Venice and ETSAB Barcelona. You are currently professor at FH Potsdam. What does teaching architecture represent to you?
The architecture process is about synthesis and the learning and teaching of architecture has to do with developing the capacities to integrate. It is a process of continuous discovery and understanding of the construct of the world around us. I like to think of it as a tripod with one foot in each area – practice, research, and teaching – then there is a balanced expression.

Regarding teaching, I don’t believe it is really even an activity that produces learning. Rather it is the activity of learning that is an alive process that needs to be nurtured. And this is driven by the students' own curiosity and drive and hunger. The three legs allow different conditions for holistic learning to go on. I want to constantly grow and that is the way I feel alive. Even if there were periods when I was only devoted to my practice because it was research oriented, I was able to construct the learning spaces within the practice to teach myself and to teach others. I saw that the younger generation was reaching out to me and I was happy to give back. To do this, I needed to have a learning environment for myself too. I often say that I have a research-oriented practice and practice-oriented teaching. I always try to make my approach holistic.
Along the way, what is the best advice you have received, and is there one piece of advice in particular which you would share with young architects and architecture students?
The best advice I received was that fear is not a good advisor. I urge the young architects and designers to step out of your comfort zone from time to time and challenge yourself. That will keep you young. Do not underestimate the creative power of an individual, so do not follow trends blindly, think for yourself and do not submit to actions that you disagree with, fearing consequences. Each action you do creates the tracks for your next action, and either imprisons you or empowers you. Do not be discouraged, be patient, keep your aspirations and standards high, it will surely be rewarding!
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Wall house, Auroville, India, 2000 (Ph.© Javier Callejas)
What particular aspects of your background and upbringing have shaped your design principles and philosophies?
My Bengali parents moved to Bombay when I was five, from Pune where I was born. As our family was uprooted from their places of origin, so to speak, as many others affected by the political context of India’s freedom struggle, I grew up looking towards the great opportunity of the future, rather than romanticising the past. I was personally not the least interested in nostalgia. I was however, rooted in the legacies of the past, but always felt the sense of freedom in imagining the future without the baggage of the past. I guess this has most significantly shaped my design principles and philosophy. I have grown up not being over-protected or urged to stay within the comfort zone. It has made me feel at home in the adventure of life, rather than seeking security in known habits. I think that attitude helped me to not fear experimentation but rather to relish them, as the newness of new frontiers made me feel enthusiastic and feel alive. To experiment is to feel alive. Not only for architects but I think experimentation is key to discovering and testing new ideas. In an ideal world, to be an architect is to be visionary. New ideas for the future call for new ways of implementation. Experimentation is an integral part of shaping the future as far as I am concerned.

I have also absorbed core values from my parents and grandparents, and I see architecture as essentially a human-centric profession. I am concerned with users’ health, well-being and happiness, while I am also concerned with the livelihood that the making of architecture provides to people of a place. I am most concerned with the aspect of human scale in the built environment, and also in the processes involved in making architecture. Above all, I think that beauty and poetry is what is needed to nourish the human soul, and everything we create, should ideally have a certain standard so that our future generations grow in such environments and value their legacy, rather than feel burdened by the baggage of rapidly constructed commodified housing that is so profit driven, for the enrichment of some, that it often ignores the basic requirements of human well-being for all, and our habitat, the earth.
Is there a book which is of particular importance to you as an architect?
The Poetics of Space by Gaston Bachelard.
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Wall house, Auroville, India, 2000 (Ph.© Javier Callejas)
An instance of architecture important to you:
The architecture of stepwells in India. They perfectly explain the qualities I admire in architecture. Geometry and order are used to define and moderate the edges between material and space, and the result is magical and timeless. It celebrates the individual scale and the collective; the architecture and the infrastructure; the purpose and the space to do nothing all at once.
A personal motto / something you remind yourself:
I look forward to the future with as little fixed thoughts ingrained in my mind as possible.
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Nandalal Sewa Samithi Library, Puducherry, India, 2018 (Ph. © Javier Callejas)
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Nandalal Sewa Samithi Library, Puducherry, India, 2018 (Ph. © Javier Callejas)
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Urban Eco community, Auroville, India, 2003 (Ph.© Javier Callejas)
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Mitra Youth Hostel, Auroville, India, 2003 (Ph.© Javier Callejas)
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Volontariat home for homeless children, Tuttipakam, Pondicherry, India, 2008 (Ph. © Alka Hingorani)
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Volontariat home for homeless children, Tuttipakam, Pondicherry, India, 2008 (Ph. © Javier Callejas)
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Volontariat home for homeless children, Tuttipakam, Pondicherry, India, 2008 (Ph. © Andres Herzog)
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Sharana Daycare Center, Puducherry, India, 2019 (Ph. © Javier Callejas)
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Material production in India, Brick making (Ph. © Andreas Deffner)
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