Huma Gupta

Assistant Professor

Huma Gupta is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Architecture at MIT, where she is affiliated with the the Aga Khan Program of Islamic Architecture, History, Theory & Criticism of Architecture group, and the Leventhal Center for Advanced Urbanism. As an architectural historian, urban policy expert, and filmmaker, she specializes in the history and theory of informality, forced migration, and sustainable architecture in the global south. Dr. Gupta's first book project The Architecture of Dispossession theorizes the relationship between state-building and dispossession through architectural transformations of migrant reed and clay dwellings in 20th century Iraq. And her second book project Dwelling and the Wealth of Nations historicizes the macroeconomic calculation debates between economic statisticians from Iraq, India, the US, UK, and other countries regarding the economic value of rural housing in the 20th century. 

Dr. Gupta holds a PhD in the History and Theory of Architecture and a Master's in City Planning from MIT. Previously, she was the Neubauer Junior Research Fellow at Brandeis University, Humanities Research Fellow at New York University-Abu Dhabi, and International Dissertation Research Fellow at the Social Science Research Council. Her work has been published by the International Journal of Islamic Architecture, Journal of Contemporary Iraq and the Arab World, Yale University Press, Intellect Books, and Thresholds. Dr. Gupta's courses include  Dwelling & Building: Cities in the Global South (lecture course), Archive Fever: Theory and Method (seminar),  Decolonial Ecologies (seminar), Climate Futures, Cities Past (Filmmaking workshop), Earth, Reed & Water (seminar)Historiography of Islamic Architecture + Art (seminar), and Architecture & the Wealth of Nations (seminar).

As a practitioner, Dr. Gupta has worked on infrastructure projects in Afghanistan, municipal planning in Syria, eviction prevention and homelessness in the greater Boston area, and humanitarian response to housing needs for persons displaced due to climate, conflict, and development projects around the world. And she is currently producing a feature documentary film titled 'She Was Not Alone' about a nomadic woman fighting to stay with her beloved animals in the rapidly disappearing Iraqi marshes. The film project, directed by Hussein al-Asadi, has received awards from the 80th Venice Film Festival's Final Cut Lab, International Documentary Film Festival Amsterdam, Doha Film Institute, Arab Center for Arts and Culture, Red Sea Film Festival, El Gouna Film Festival, and was a finalist for the Sundance Institute Documentary Fund. It is scheduled to premiere in late 2024.

Huma Gupta publishes a chapter titled "Visualizing the Marshes in Mayzara: A Material History of Urban Wetlands in Baghdad" in a new book published by Yale University Press. The Islamic world finds itself increasingly at the epicenter of our escalating climate emergency, both as a locus of the petrochemical industry and as home to extraordinary landscapes in which the effects of environmental transformation are acutely felt. Yet, far from a solely twenty-first-century concern, engagement with changing, and often extreme, natural conditions has long characterized Islamic art and architecture in the central Islamic lands and beyond into the Muslim diaspora. This new book brings together a diverse group of scholars and critics whose contributions address this profound ecological awareness through the dual lenses of Islamic culture and climate change.
Iraq: Beyond the Two Rivers (Oct 6-Nov 3 @ MIT Keller Gallery) is a transhistorical meditation on architectural ambition, great migrations, urban design, climate change, and the radical promise of other ways of dwelling and building in today’s world. This exhibition is inspired by Dr. Huma Gupta’s fifteen years of architectural research on Iraq for her forthcoming book The Architecture of Dispossession. It puts artworks by renowned contemporary Iraqi artists in conversation with works Gupta commissioned and produced with a team of MIT students. The exhibition takes viewers on a multimedia journey through a video art piece by Sama Alshaibi set in Iraq’s marshes, an animation by Sadik Kwaish Alfraji set in Baghdad’s migrant neighborhoods, film stills from Hussein al-Asadi’s forthcoming documentary, a photograph by Mohanad al-Sudany focused on indigenous buffalo-breeding communities, an architectural model composed of reeds, earth, and cement by Bella Carmelita Carriker, and a large mixed media mural with archival video by Huma Gupta, Hajar Alrifai, and Mahwish Khalil.
Prof. Gupta designed and taught a workshop where architecture students developed, shot, and edited 6 original short films set in Nasib, Syria, Caggiano, Italy, Tameslouht, Morocco, Drama, Greece, Lahore, Pakistan, and Kajaran, Armenia. Each film narrates climate stories from landscapes + places that have been deemed marginal, specifically showing how water scarcity, mining of copper, extraction of marble, urbanization of riverscapes, and shifting relations to the land across generations are experienced and addressed by resilient communities of miners, olive farmers, factory workers, shepherds, bedouin goat herders, boatmen, and potters. The student-directors were Hajar alRifai ("Dear Granddaughter: Tales of Drought from Syria"), Maria Gabriela Carucci ("On the Edge of Land"), Yasmine El Alaoui ("Tameslouht: Liminal Greys"), Laura-India Garinois ("Unearthed: The Domestication of Marble"), Mahwish Khalil ("Ravi: Tales from a River"), and Sarine Vosgueritchian ("Looking for Pirdoudan: Future Archives of an Armenian Mining Town"). The films were produced by Huma Gupta with executive producers Meitha alMazrooei and Mahwish Khalil, along with editing consultant Allyson Sherlock.
Huma Gupta is the host of Environment in Context, a podcast series for critical and incisive analysis of environmental questions in the Middle East and beyond. It invites guests and listeners to rethink these questions by taking a broad stance on what counts as an environmental issue. Whereas environmental questions in the Middle East are usually framed in terms of security, water, or oil, this series purposefully seeks out a wide array of sources and perspectives in examining important environmental issues across the region. Too often, Euro-American international institutions dominate and depoliticize the conversation on the environment. This series, however, foregrounds environmental justice as a central analytical framework.
She Was Not Alone
Prof. Gupta is currently producing a documentary film titled 'She Was Not Alone' about Fatima, a nomadic woman who lives alone with her beloved buffaloes in the quickly disappearing Iraqi marshes. This film, directed by Hussein al-Asadi, is the first major cinematic work that centers the narrative voice and perspective of a woman in the marshes. Fatima lives in one corner of a vast inland delta system, collectively known as al-Ahwar. This wetland ecosystem consists of three interlinked lakes, the Central Marshes, the Iran-Iraq transboundary Hawizeh, and the Hammar marshes. In 2016, these wetlands and the neighboring Sumerian cities of Ur, Eridu, and Uruk became a World Heritage Site. However, we see signs of unbridled extraction, pollution, and politically motivated infrastructure collapse all around Fatima. Moreover, even as tens of thousands have migrated away from the region due to prolonged drought just in the past six months, Fatima’s struggle to stay demonstrates that each potential migrant is not just another ‘climate refugee’ whose complex inner and outer lives can be reduced to a mere statistic. Fatima is neither passive, nor a stereotype. Fatima’s story of self-determination in the midst of ecological collapse thus, offers an indigenous perspective. It shows how people who have been subjects of empire, occupation, or internal subjugation autonomously move forward despite the limitations these political systems seek to impose.