Event Date: 

Final Public Oral Exam of Curt Gambetta

Posted By: 



Princeton University School of Architecture

Announces the Final Public Oral Exam of


Curt Gambetta





September 5, 2023, at 5:00 p.m.

Room S-118



Spyros Papapetros, Advisor
João Biehl, Advisor
Kajri Jain (University of Toronto)
Gyan Prakash
Anooradha Iyer Siddiqi (Barnard College)




Amidst widespread shortages of materials, capital, and expertise, individual house builders, professionals, artisans, and scientific experts in post-Independence India expanded access to pukka (permanent) housing by creating low-cost, labor-intensive substitutes for concrete, fired bricks, and other modern materials. The dissertation contends that these pervasive substitutional practices have been integral to the formation of postcolonial selfhood. From the 1930s onwards, proponents of substitution argued that the replacement of foreign materials with domestically made counterparts would lead to both individual and national economic self-reliance. Though concerns about cost and economic autonomy are now joined by growing attention to the environmental consequences of materials, producers of substitutes in present-day India continue to imagine their production as a process of self-making. By interweaving ethnographic fieldwork, archival research, and oral histories, the dissertation shows how the substitution of unavailable or inaccessible building materials in housing has provided pathways to citizenship and development for populations at the margins of state-led development and neoliberal economic reforms in India.

Through interviews, ethnography, and photographic documentation of housing, the dissertation examines the production of soil-based alternatives to concrete and image-based reproductions of marble in workshops, factories, training programs, and design studios in the city of Bangalore and its extended material geographies, including rural Karnataka and industrial centers in Western India. Integrating historical and anthropological methods, the dissertation tracks different forms of training, marketing, and site-based learning about substitution from the late colonial period to the present. It further contextualizes practices of substitution over a long duration by scrutinizing government reports, scientific research, architectural publications, advertisements, and films. This shows how postcolonial approaches to social redistribution are being reworked in the neoliberal present. Despite the salience of choice, value addition, and other forms of economic rationality in discourse about the material conditions of housing in India, practices of material substitution are thus shown to rub up against changing political and economic ideologies of self-reliance, environmental stewardship, and self-governance. In approaching the home as material archive, the dissertation accounts for how different actors use materials to navigate the uncertainties of house-making in situations of precarious social mobility and systemic environmental duress.


A copy of the dissertation will be available, for viewing only, in Room S-110 and the PhD/Green Room.