Two Cities, One Watson


By Ruth Jacobs
Photography by Nilanjana Dutt '05

Asma Husain '05, seen here setting up her senior art exhibit, will spend the next year studying the impact architecture has had on the cities of Brasilia, Brazil, and Chandigarh, India.
Photo by Nilanjana Dutt '05
Asma Husain '05 knows an opportunity when she sees one. When this studio art major learned of two capital cities"Brasilia, Brazil, and Chandigarh, India"both constructed in the 1950s as symbols of modernity in developing countries, she wanted to learn more. "They were built as really utopian cities that were supposed to solve problems," said Husain, who noted the disparities between rich and poor in both countries. She wants to assess the successes and failures of the two cities.

Thanks to winning a coveted Thomas J. Watson Foundation Fellowship, a $22,000 stipend for independent research outside of the U.S., Husain will spend six months in each country to study how the cities met the growing needs of their countries. Her goal? "To see how these masses of populations have integrated into this plan and whether it's been successful in its plan to alleviate poverty," she said. Using that research, she hopes to go one step further"to figure out how to beat the housing crisis.
"Architecture is very much supposed to be steeped in the society of a place and its economy."
Asma Husain '05

The connection between architecture and society has been engrained in Husain since childhood. Her father is an architect in her native Pakistan. "I know that just the way architecture is taught there is very different," she said. "Architecture is very much supposed to be steeped in the society of a place and its economy." Her study of architecture at Colby and while attending an architecture program at Columbia University during her junior year made her think that sensibility is lost in this country. "I'm interested in slightly larger issues than just individual buildings," she said.

Husain is Colby's 57th Watson Fellow, and her success keeps unbroken a Colby streak that began in 1970-71.