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Researcher Spotlight: Amit Srivastava

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Dr Amit Srivastava is the Director (India) for the Centre for Asian and Middle Eastern Architecture (CAMEA) based at the University of Adelaide in Australia. Having trained and practiced as an architect in India, Dr Srivastava’s work explores the architectural and construction histories of colonial and postcolonial India. His current research also examines the transnational exchange of materials, skills, and construction processes across the Indian Ocean region, spanning Africa, the Middle East, Southeast Asia, and Australia, with a particular interest in South-South cooperation. Additionally, Dr Srivastava has been working on bringing his knowledge about construction cultures to developing better design solutions for human habitation in outer space, and is currently heading the Lunar Architecture Research Group (LARG) for the Andy Thomas Centre for Space Resources (ATCSR).

What are you working on right now? I am utterly fascinated by the culture of innovation in design and construction and how our imaginations come to life. There is no doubt that it takes large teams of people, supported by the power of complex machinery, and millennia of accumulated human knowledge behind them, to build the architectural wonders of today. My work deals with exploring this intricate web of relationships and understanding what makes all this possible. Currently I am working on two projects: one that looks at the special socio-political conditions that connect the construction worlds of the Global South and that promote South-South collaboration, and another that looks to harness the power of interdisciplinary research in construction cultures to define the future of human habitation on the Moon. 

What's the best part of your work? The best part of my work is the opportunity to interact with brilliant and creative people from all walks of life and from all over the globe. For my project on South-South collaboration, I work with the Indian organisation PATIO (or Platform for Architectural Transfers in the Indian Ocean rim), which connects us to researchers in the Indian subcontinent and South East Asia, and all the way across to the eastern seaboard of Africa and the Middle East. In addition to working with emerging scholars from this region, I also get to meet with a broad range of people involved in the construction industry. Collaboration in my Lunar Architecture work is comparably international in scope, where I have the excitement of working closely with the Australian Space Agency and our partners in the USA and Europe, but also the growing commercial space sector in India. 

We have recently launched the Australian Space Architecture Challenge and are looking to discover even more research talent in this area. 

How are you collaborating with colleagues in India? Much of my earlier research career focused on transformation and continuities in the architecture and construction industry of India, and I have spent extended periods of time in India collaborating with Indian architectural practices and industry. I am still connected to this network and regularly work with them to present the story of contemporary Indian architecture, such as through the recent ‘Project of Independence’ exhibition at Museum of Modern Art (MoMA), New York in 2022, and the ‘South Asian Modernisms’ exhibition  that we curated in Australia in 2023. Coincidentally, my book India: Modern Architectures in History, written with my CAMEA colleague Peter Scriver and originally published by Chicago University Press in 2015, is being re-published in India later this year. I continue to work with Indian organisations like PATIO for research on South-South collaboration, and emerging research organisations and start-ups in the space sector to build capacity for Lunar Construction. In my administrative role at the University of Adelaide, as Associate Dean International, I also help build collaborations with top Indian universities for research across the various STEM disciplines. 

What does successful research collaboration look like? A successful research collaboration for me is like a journey of discovery, which not only benefits all participants, but also takes the research in directions that were previously unimaginable.

Often research collaboration is seen as a project management challenge where the various participants work together to complete a particular task. But what I have learnt from my own research on the culture of collaboration and innovation, is that an innovative culture is based on potentialities rather than expertise and is dependent upon the ability of the participants to constantly push the boundaries of the research. 

As such, we work closely with emerging scholars through organisations like PATIO and with start-ups in the space sector in India, to try and develop a future outcome that is as yet undefined. Since such an approach relies much more on the capacities of the people rather than expert systems, collaborating with partners in India is an absolute delight as they are continuously working to create innovative outcomes, particularly where the resources are limited.

What do you like to do in your spare time? Maintaining dynamic international engagement, living and working across multiple continents, would not have been possible if it wasn’t for my love of travel. So yes, when I do get spare time, I like to travel to all the big and small destinations that I can dream of. This further fuels my other passion, which is for photography, and I love to explore the magic of daily existence through choice moments where I can frame a perfect snapshot of reality. I often try to visit lesser-known locations to get a sense of the local culture outside of tourist spots. And I walk extensively to get a sense of the place and soak up the local culture, with a trusty camera at hand to capture any magical moments. Yes, as an architecture enthusiast, many of my photographs feature buildings, but more importantly they capture the daily experiences of the people that inhabit these built environments. I have had the good fortune to travel all across India for work, and I am fascinated by the endless opportunities for discovery that India offers as I encounter new corners of this beautiful and diverse country. 

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