Past Events

The Small Spaces of Empire

Research Seminar – Swati Chattopadhyay, Tania Sengupta

  • 14 June 2023
  • 5:00 – 7:00 pm
  • Architecture Summer Series

    A series of talks and discussions showcasing new research and approaches to thinking about buildings, cities, and landscapes in Britain and elsewhere.
  • Paul Mellon Centre and Online

Empires, we are given to understand, are big affairs. Building empire is about conquering and accumulating vast territories, a collective enterprise of enormous proportions. Stories of imperial expansion are told through wars, annexations and much-prized commercial goods – cotton, indigo, saltpetre, opium, spices, tea – that yielded large profits. Drawing on her book Small Spaces: Recasting the Architecture of Empire (Bloomsbury, 2023), Swati Chattopadhyay offers a new approach to empire by focusing on “small spaces.” These spaces include service spaces, workspaces, storage spaces that have long been considered insignificant because of their size or location, or the minor role they seemingly play in economic and political histories. They are cook rooms, godowns, bottlekhanas – spaces with uncertain names and hazy genealogies in the margins of the imperial archive. Chattopadhyay demonstrates how attention to small scale and size, and the lived worlds of small spaces, might help us rethink empire as a global enterprise.

Respondent: Tania Sengupta

A Research Seminar Series co-organised with Rixt Woudstra (Assistant Professor in Architectural History, University of Amsterdam).

About the speakers

  • Swati Chattopadhyay headshot

    Swati Chattopadhyay is a professor in the Department of History of Art and Architecture at the University of California, Santa Barbara. She is a visiting professor of architectural history at the Manchester School of Architecture. Trained as an architect and architectural historian, Chattopadhyay specialises in modern architecture and urbanism, and the cultural landscape of the British empire. She is the author of Representing Calcutta: Modernity, Nationalism, and the Colonial Uncanny (Routledge, 2005; paperback 2006), Unlearning the City: Infrastructure in a New Optical Field (Minnesota, 2012) and Small Spaces: Recasting the Architecture of Empire (Bloomsbury, 2023). She co-edited, with Jeremy White, City Halls and Civic Materialism: Towards a Global History of Urban Public Space (Routledge, 2014) and Routledge Companion to Critical Approaches to Contemporary Architecture (Taylor and Francis, 2019). Her awards include a Guggenheim Fellowship; three fellowships from the American Institute of Indian Studies; a J. Paul Getty Fellowship; a National Science Foundation Grant; a Fellowship from the Swedish Collegium for Advanced Study; a Distinguished Visiting Fellowship from Queen Mary, University of London; a Birkbeck Institute for the Humanities Fellowship, University of London; and the Society of Architectural Historians Founder's Award. She is a Founding Editor of PLATFORM and a former editor of the Journal of the Society of Architectural Historians (JSAH). In 2018 she was named as a Fellow of the Society of Architectural Historians for a lifetime of significant contributions to the field.

  • Tania Sengupta

    Tania Sengupta is Associate Professor and Director of Architectural History and Theory at the Bartlett School of Architecture, University College London. Her research looks at histories and legacies of colonial architecture and urban landscapes in South Asia and more broadly global postcolonial contexts, and questions of (in)equity that stem from these inheritances today. She is particularly interested in marginalised knowledges, sites and people in architectural history. Themes in her research include: architectures of colonial everyday governance; provincial identity and urban-rural relationships; spaces of domesticity; race and the built environment; histories of architectural expertise; and the relationship between architecture, material cultures and life-worlds.

    Dr Sengupta is presently on a Paul Mellon Centre Mid-Career Fellowship for her monograph on the spatial cultures of provincial governance and everyday life in colonial eastern India in the nineteenth century. Along with Dr Stuart King (University of Melbourne), she is also working on a RIBA-commissioned volume entitled Reclaiming Colonial Architecture that looks at recent responses to the material inheritance of colonialism across the world, spanning the built and the natural environment and material culture. She has also written on methodological questions researching on women and space in sites of colonial provinciality and contributed a chapter on the architecture of colonial South Asia in Sir Banister Fletcher’s Global History of Architecture (2020) and a piece entitled “Race and Built Environment in Britain” in the forthcoming Bloomsbury Encyclopaedia of Women in Architecture. Her research on colonial paper-bureaucracy and governmental space received the RIBA President’s Medal for Research 2019. She is Co-chief Editor of the Architecture Beyond Europe journal and Co-curator of the curricular resource (2020) “‘Race’ and Space: What Is ‘Race’ Doing in a Nice Field like the Built Environment?”