Hough Lecture: Dilip da Cunha on Ocean of Wetness: Where Design Begins

Ocean of Wetness: Where Design Begins


Main Hall, Daniels Building
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Join architect and planner Dilip da Cunha, the Daniels Faculty’s 2022 Michael Hough/OALA Visiting Critic in Landscape Architecture, for Ocean of Wetness: Where Design Begins, his Hough/OALA Lecture on designing habitation in an age of rising seas and ubiquitous wetness. In 2017, da Cunha and the late Anuradha Mathur initiated a design platform called Ocean of Wetness, which is dedicated to imaging and imagining habitation in ubiquitous wetness rather than on a land-water surface. That same year, they were awarded a Pew Fellowship Grant, followed in 2021 by the Mercedes T. Bass Landscape Architects in Residence Fellowship at the American Academy in Rome.

According to da Cunha, the world is immersed in a wetness that is everywhere, from clouds to aquifers, in the air, earth, sea, flora and fauna. But this is not how habitation is typically thought of or how designers are taught to design it. Rather, they are taught to see habitation on a land surface where water has a given place either behind a line in entities such as rivers, lakes and seas, or confined in time to temporary weather events. Today, however, this surface is increasingly plagued by rising seas, violent storms, melting ice caps, species extinction and destructive floods; given the oppression and injustices that land existence has also wrought on indigenous peoples, it is time, in his view, to acknowledge that land exists by design and to search for an alternative in ubiquitous wetness — something that he and Mathur have long sought to do in their teaching and projects.

In addition to running Mathur/da Cunha, a design and planning firm based in Philadelphia and Bangalore, da Cunha is an Adjunct Professor at the Graduate School of Architecture, Planning and Preservation at Columbia University. He is the author with Mathur of several books, including Mississippi Floods: Designing a Shifting Landscape (2001), Deccan Traverses: The Making of Bangalore’s Terrain (2006) and Soak: Mumbai in an Estuary (2009). They also co-edited Design in the Terrain of Water (2014). In 2019, da Cunha’s book The Invention of Rivers: Alexander’s Eye and Ganga’s Descent was published by the University of Pennsylvania Press. It received the 2020 ASLA Honor Award and the J.B. Jackson Book Prize.