A tete-a-tete with Ar. Anubha Fatehpuria: Mentor of ‘Architecture Ephemeral .01’

This summer ACEDGE is hosting a course called Architecture Ephemeral .01 ! as part of its Summer UNschool. The course is designed to help the learners interpret and design performing spaces keeping different user requirements in mind- the performer, backstage helpers, audience etc. The course aims at exploring the similarities of Natyashashtra and Vastushashtra. The basic framework for the course pivots on spatial imagination and illusions created during a performance

Through the tete-a-tete series, we use this opportunity to get to know the course mentor- who is one of the eminent Architects of Kolkata- Ar. Anubha Fatehpuria. She is not only known for her sustainable designs but is also the Recipient of the Ustad Bismillah Khan Yuva Puraskar of Sangeet Natak Academy and the recipient of the Telegraph. She has also won several awards for Theatre acting.

As we know Architecture and Performing Arts are two different forms of creativity (you may correct us if you do not agree), how do you perceive the two?

Yes they are different forms of creativity, but to me there is a strong similarity between the two forms. I see both as a living body which is alive and breathing. An actor performs on a stage – the performance designed by a director based on the narrative of content. A built form performs on a given site – designed by the architect based on the narrative of client requirements and local context.  The former takes shape from time to time moving through one space to another to another. The latter is sited in one space allowing people to move through it.

What made you develop interest in pursuing both the professions together? Which passion came first in your life? 

The arts have been a way of life at my home forever. I was born and brought up in an atmosphere where performing arts and literature was an everyday thing. I have been trained in Indian classical music, fine arts and some Indian classical dance forms, since childhood; along with the training of going and watching performances by the best our country had to offer – this exposure to the arts was a crucial contributor in my growing up years. I started doing theatre in 1995 when I was offered my first play after the director happened to see a dance performance of mine.

Architecture was what I applied for academically as it seemed to me like a discipline which allowed science and arts to occupy equal space in one’s approach.

Being an Architect and a Performing Artist, how does the perception of space and the act of performance – static, dynamic and Ephemeral, impact your designs?

As mentioned earlier I look at both as a living body. Both cane be equally dynamic, equally static. Both are permanent and ephemeral in opposite ways. Each to me is a living membrane – with several layers of spaces inside it and several layers of spaces outside of it. And the membrane itself is a multi-layered space. There is both noticeable/unnoticeable crossovers that happen when I design a performance or a space, as my approach contains the above. While designing as an architect – I try to approach it as if the built form were an ‘act/actor’ which performs and the performance is experiential to its users and viewers.

You had the opportunity to get the blessings of many Gurus namely Shyamanand Jalan and Vinay Sharma for Acting; Girija Devi & Mitali Sengupta for Hindustani vocalist; Thankamany Kutty and Uma Venkat for Bharatanatyam – tell us more on the impact they had on you. Have you ever discussed architecture and design with them? What were those conversations like? 

We are what we are largely because of the teachers we have had and continue to have in our lives – is what I believe. For me those teachers are my gurus, the books one reads, the conversations and thoughts one engages with, the arts we watch and experience, the places and spaces we experience. So I cannot take credit for anything other than being able to receive from all these rich sources – I am very fortunate to have such gurus. 

I continue to learn the craft of acting and theatre with writer, director, actor and Scenographer Vinay Sharma – who is a colleague and Artistic Director at Padatik Theatre Kolkata, where I am an actor and Director Programs. There is a strong sense of ‘design’ born out of sheer need to be there in Mr Vinay Sharma’s plays – some of which I shall share in our session. When the opportunity presents itself – the conversation around design with Mr Sharma is most enriching and always hands me the most interesting and unusual entry points into architectural design, through the lens of the arts.

Recently you were engaged in designing the upcoming Tagore Cultural Centre in Kolkata. Prior to this your work includes the Shyamanand Jalan Rooftop Theatre for Padatik, Ranan: the workspace for Institute of Theatre and Film, Meraka’s – performance space and Art Residency in Himachal Pradesh and more. So how do you think that your role as an Architect and Performing Artist complimented each other in designing these spaces and understanding the user?

Being a theatre practitioner I am a user myself and hence it helps me approach the design of such spaces with simultaneous 360 degree understanding of these spaces. Unfortunately we have several existing performing arts spaces and auditoria in the country which fail to perform for its users especially for the theatre fraternity; as the makers are not aware of the ways of usage.

Now about the course celebrating the Performing Arts Week on ACEDGE by you. What can we expect to learn in the course? 

It will stem from all the above thoughts that I have shared.

Who should enrol for the course? We know that this course is for designers to understand spaces of performance, but can an artist learn about design through your course or is it focussed on the art of design for designers?

Almost anyone who feels interested enough after reading the above may join up to share and discuss. Artists work with architectural spaces and with theater productions as Scenographers- so yes they may find something in it. I feel takeaways from anything depends as much on the person who is receiving it, as it is on who is sharing.

How will the learners be appraised in your course?

I would like them to treat it more like listening into what I have to share – and not teach – from my own experiences of being an architect and an actor. I will be concentrating only on one small aspect of this combination as there are a huge number of things one can share, thus begging the need for several different sessions!
The take away is for them to decide for themselves – the application of their take away would be their self-appraisal, if I may say so.

In the end, please share with us your expectations from the course, how would you want the course to impact the learners, how will it change their perception?

Two main points:
1 – Design is not decoration, design must perform whereas decoration may or may not please us, based on a personal sense of aesthetics. 
2 – The arts and performing arts are an absolute essential to engage with during your growing years; insist on your children to engage with the arts. As for grownups, as they say – it’s never too late! 

Dear readers, please join us by enrolling for the ACEDGE Summer UNschool beginning on 12th May.


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