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India’s Single-Screen Cinemas

Thu, Nov 7, 2019    6:30pm

India’s Single-Screen Cinemas Reimagined and Repurposed

A lecture by Mary N. Woods, Department of Architecture, Cornell University.

Designed by some of India’s first professional architects, single-screen cinemas represent a popular modernism long predating Chandigarh. They are monuments to a once inclusive India where films brought men and women from different faiths, classes, and communities together. Unable to compete with multiplexes and digital platforms, many of India’s 13,000 cinemas are now shuttered or demolished. The Liberty, an Art Deco picture palace in Mumbai, has survived, reinvented for live performances, exhibitions, and symposia. Seeking greater opportunities migrant workers from northeastern India find community but also sectarian violence in Mumbai’s redlight cinemas redesigned for films in Bhojpuri, their mother tongue. 700 miles to the south in Calicut prosperous Gujarati migrant traders set themselves apart from the local Malayalam-speaking population by watching Hollywood and Bollywood films in a converted picture palace. This lecture explores architectural resiliency through the reimagining and repurposing of Indian cinemas to serve new communities.

Mary N. Woods is the author of such seminal works as: Women Architects in India: Histories of Practice in Mumbai and Delhi (2018; 2016); Beyond the Architect’s Eye: Photographs of the American Built Environment (2013;2009); and From Craft to Profession: Practice of Architecture in 19th-Century America (1999). She was the inaugural Michael McCarthy Professor of Architectural Theory at Cornell University. Named professor emerita there in 2019, she received the Tau Sigma Delta Silver Medal for distinguished scholarship in 2018. Selected fellowships include: Canadian Centre for Architecture; Center for Creative Photography, University of Arizona; Fulbright Foundation; American Institute for Indian Studies; and American Council of Learned Societies. Her current projects are: exhibition on Mumbai’s architecture of the night with photographer Chirodeep Chaudhuri; history of postindustrial ruin and urban renewal in New York and Mumbai from the 1960s onward; and documentary film about single-screen cinemas in India with director Vani Subramanian.

Free and open to the public.

Organized as part of the Preservation Lecture Series, an initiative of the Historic Preservation Program at Columbia GSAPP.