Daniel Urban Kiley Lecture: Dilip Da Cunha, “The Invention of Rivers”

Separating land and water is not just an act of division; it is also an act of creation. It creates land and water from ubiquitous wetness, defining them on either side of a line. It is one of the first acts of design, setting out a ground of habitation with a line that has largely been naturalized in features such as the coastline, the riverbank, and the water’s edge. These features are subjected to artistic representations, scientific inquiry, infrastructural engineering, and landscape design with little awareness of the act that brought them into being. Today, however, with the increasing frequency of flood and, not unrelatedly, sea-level rise attributed to climate change, the line of separation has come into sharp focus with proposals for walls, levees, natural defenses, and land retirement schemes. These responses raise questions on where the line is drawn, but they also raise questions on the separation that this line facilitates. Is this separation found in nature or does nature follow from its assertion? Are there other beginnings to design and consequently, other possible natures and grounds of habitation?

Dilip da Cunha is an architect and planner based in Philadelphia and Bangalore. He is co-director of the Risk and Resilience program at the Graduate School of Design, Harvard University, and Adjunct Professor at the GSAPP, Columbia University. He is author with Anuradha Mathur of Mississippi Floods: Designing a Shifting Landscape (2001); Deccan Traverses: The Making of Bangalore’s Terrain (2006); Soak: Mumbai in an Estuary (2009); and Design in the Terrain of Water (2014). His new book, The Invention of Rivers: Alexander’s Eye and Ganga’s Descent, was just published by the University of Pennsylvania Press. In 2017, da Cunha along with Anuradha Mathur received a Pew Fellowship Grant in recognition of their collaborative work. They are currently working on a multimedia exhibition titled The Ocean of Rain. http://www.mathurdacunha.com

Da Cunha's The Invention of Rivers: Alexander’s Eye and Ganga’s Descent is available for purchase through University of Pennsylvania Press (http://www.upenn.edu/pennpress/book/15913.html).

Anyone requiring accessibility accommodations should contact the events office at (617) 496-2414 or events@gsd.harvard.edu.