Arindam Dutta


Arindam Dutta is Professor of Architectural History. He is the Director of the MIT Infrastructure Architecture Lab set up to conduct research and propose strategies regarding the relationships between broad, macroeconomic factors driving built infrastructure and the specificities of architectural and urban form.

Dutta teaches surveys and advanced research courses at the graduate level. His teaching interests are in the area of modern architectural theory and history; imperialism, globalization, and third world politics; technology studies and body politics; Marxist and post-structuralist thought. Dutta obtained his Ph.D. in the History of Architecture from Princeton University in 2001. He has degrees in architectural design from the Harvard Design School and the School of Architecture in Ahmedabad, India. Graduating with gold medals from his undergraduate institution in India, Dutta has been the recipient of the Woodrow Wilson Fellowship, the Getty Fellowship, in addition to numerous research grants and awards. Dutta's articles have appeared in the Journal of Society of Architectural Historians, Grey Room, the Journal of Arts and Ideas, and Perspecta. 

A selection of Dutta's publications are available online.

Dutta is the author of The Bureaucracy of Beauty: Design in the Age of its Global Reproducibility, (New York: Routledge, 2007), a wide-ranging work of cultural theory that connects literary studies, postcoloniality, the history of architecture and design, and the history and present of empire. The Bureaucracy of Beauty begins with nineteenth-century Britain's Department of Science and Arts, a venture organized by the Board of Trade, and how the DSA exerted a powerful influence on the growth of museums, design schools, and architecture throughout the British Empire. In the words of one reviewer, the book's intriguing claim is that "empire operates not only through domination, not only through hegemony, but also through beauty." But this is only the book's literal subject: in a remarkable set of chapters, Dutta explores the development of international laws of intellectual property, ideas of design pedagogy, the technological distinction between craft and industry, the relation of colonial tutelage to economic policy, the politics and technology of exhibition, and competing philosophies of aesthetics.

Dutta is the editor of A Second Modernism: Architecture, MIT and the "Techno-Social" Moment, on the postwar conjuncture of architectural thought and linguistic/systems theories (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2013). After World War II, a second modernism emerged in architecture -- an attempt, in architectural scholar Joan Ockman's words, "to transform architecture from a 'soft' aesthetic discipline into a 'hard,' objectively verifiable field of design expertise." Architectural thought was influenced by linguistic, behavioral, computational, mediatic, cybernetic, and other urban and behavioral models, as well as systems-based and artificial intelligence theories. This nearly 1,000-page book examines the "techno-social" turn in architecture, taking MIT's School of Architecture and Planning as its exemplar.

Dutta's current work focuses on two different areas. 

He is at work on a three-volume study entitled Ancestralities: Nature, Architecture and the Debt. The research explores the relationship between sovereignty and architecture, the first examined through the modern apparatus of debt, the latter through the history of institutions. It tracks the beginning of a new global worldview - called ‘economic’ - in the eighteenth century and its impact on subjecthood – including the emergence of ‘the subject’ – and studies how this new organizational sensibility recalibrated the texture of dwelling and infrastructure. The intertwined story of economics, authority and architecture is followed through from the European Enlightenment onward in a series of chapters that foreground key aesthetic and building types. The book begins by studying Thomas Jefferson’s reflections on debt, relating it to John Soane’s conception of materiality in his supervision of the Bank of England in the same period. Further chapters relate this tangling of debt and architecture to other territories and forward to more recent times: Bengal in the 18th and the 21st centuries, French Algeria in mid-20th century, Britain and Australia in the 19th and 20th centuries. The book explores the irrational moments of coercion within what are often passed off as the rational basis of the economy, and argues that this irrationality refers back to archaic, unmodern forms of power within the heart of modernity itself. 

The second project is titled, Sahmat 1989-2004: Liberal Art Practice against the Liberalized Public Sphere, and involves an extensive and detailed examination of the political challenges faced by artists in India with the corresponding rise of Hindu religious fundamentalism and neoliberalism in India. The unraveling of state controls over fiscal policy eroded the institutional frameworks – and the sensibilities – through which art had been practiced in the post-independence years, while the opening up of media networks brought sharp challenges to the interrelated norms of censorship and expressive freedom. Using the significant archives of the artists' platform Safdar Hashmi Memorial Trust (Sahmat), Dutta looks at the protocols of censorship; the construction of a new "public" by media, government, civil society and political movements; the discursive place of "art" in society as institutional patronage declined and global market mechanisms took hold; as well as the appropriations of civic buildings, archaeological sites and public space by political and/or popular movements (New Delhi: Tulika Books, forthcoming).

Dutta is a founding member of the architectural historians’ collective Aggregate. Aggregate’s Governing by Design came out in 2011, comprising of a series of essays on the relationships between architecture, politics and economy (University of Pittsburgh Press).