Anupama Kundoo

Anupama Kundoo awarded 2021 RIBA Charles Jencks Award

The Jencks Foundation and the Royal Institute of British Architects has awarded Indian architect Anupama Kundoo the 2021 RIBA Charles Jencks Award.

Kundoo is the 16th winner of the RIBA Charles Jencks Award, which is given to architects who have "made a major contribution simultaneously to the theory and practice of architecture". It is awarded by RIBA and The Jencks Foundation, which was established to build on the legacy of architecture historian Charles Jencks' work.

Portrait of Anupama Kundoo
Above: Anupama Kundoo was awarded the 2021 RIBA Charles Jencks Award (photograph by Andreas Deffner). Top: dome-shaped housing units built by Kundoo in India

A jury comprising RIBA president Simon Allford, architect and critic Edwin Heathcote, architect and Royal College of Art dean Adrian Lahoud, Jencks Foundation founder Lily Jencks, and 2013 winner Benedetta Tagliabue awarded Kundoo the prize.

Kundoo's work has "built bridges"

"At its best, her architecture is elegant, ecological and always intriguing," Heathcote said of Kundoo's work. "She has built bridges between academia in Europe and South Asia."

Kundoo will be presented with the award on 2 November, when she will also give a lecture at the Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA). This will be followed by an interview with a critic in collaboration with the New Architecture Writers, a free programme for emerging black and minority ethnic design writers.

Anupama Kundoo built a brick building in India
Wall House was built near Auroville with local craftspeople

Kundoo, who is based in Berlin, trained as an architect in Mumbai. After graduating in 1989, she moved to the south-Indian experimental city of Auroville where she built homes, institutional and cultural buildings that experimented with various materials and sustainable construction methods.

This sustainable and research-based practice followed Kundoo to her roles as lecturer and professor at universities across the world, including Parsons The New School for Design, Yale University, University of Queensland and her most recent role at FH Potsdam.

Practice focuses on local-led design and traditional techniques

Her practice has a holistic focus and centres on housing initiatives, local-led design, material research, and traditional craft and construction techniques.

"Our built environment is the physical stage on which all human stories are lived out," said Kundoo."This physical stage is the historical and ongoing manifestation of human imagination operating within real (or, imaginary!) constraints."

"I have tried to advance the idea that architectural imagination must transcend design and enter the realms of materials science and economics where some of the bigger questions reside," she added.

"The thrust of my inquiries has been to find practical ways to fulfil the universal human aspiration for refuge, purpose and social engagement."

Anupama Kundoo built wall hous with local crafts people
The building used mud bricks instead of factory-produced options

"Motivated by her experience of the problems of rapid urbanization in Bombay, and implemented in experimental buildings in Auroville, Anupama has refined a strong political and conceptual theory for her practice," Jencks Foundation founder Lily Jencks said.

"This theory is defined by ad-hoc material experimentation and on-site local construction collaboration. Celebrating Anupama’s work points to our effort to diversify the practitioners being celebrated, continuing Charles Jencks work on amplifying a plurality of voices and meanings in architecture."

Publications and prizes still dominated by Europeans and English-speaking worlds

Kundoo is the second Indian architect to be awarded the prize after Charles Correa received it in 2009.

"The kinds of things that confer value on architecture, be they publications or prizes, are still heavily dominated by European and English-speaking worlds," jury member Lahoud said.

"We must expand on that narrow frame not only to be inclusive but because Arabic, Urdu, Igbo concepts are important to our future. Anupama’s work is exemplary, for the depth of her engagement with the communities she works with and the richness of spatial and material concepts that flow from this engagement, and the alternative futures this work points to."

Sharana daycare by Anupama Kundoo has a brick and white painted exterior
Sharana Daycare Facility is located in Pondicherry, India

A retrospective exhibition in 2020 at the Louisiana Museum in Denmark showcased Kundoo's work and her use of traditional materials and craft traditions.

Last year, Dezeen rounded up ten significant projects by Kundoo, which included a family villa in Pune, affordable housing units in Auroville and a daycare facility in Pondicherry.

Dezeen has previously covered a number of Kundoo's works including a prototype house that could be built in six days which was shown at the 2016 Venice Architecture Biennale.

Photography is by Javier Callejas unless stated otherwise.