Anu Mathur with Karen M'Closkey and Keith VanDerSys at a departmental review, 2010-2013
Anu Mathur in her studio at Meyerson Hall, 1989/1990
Anu Mathur at a review, 1994
Remembering Anu Mathur (1960–2022)
Weitzman is collecting tributes to late faculty member Anu Mathur (MLA'91), professor emeritus of landscape architecture. To add your voice, contact email@example.com.
Fritz Steiner (MRP'77, MA'86, PhD'86)
Dean and Paley Professor
Anu was an indispensable member of the Penn community for three decades, having earned her MLA here in 1991 and joined the faculty in 1994. She taught a series of powerful studios and courses that challenged Western ideas about wildness, wetness, nature, and culture. On trips to Mumbai, Jerusalem, and the US-Mexico border, among others, she forever changed how her students thought about the landscape and their role as designers. After retiring last summer, Anu remained deeply engaged, participating in departmental reviews and continuing to serve on the board of PennPraxis, whose mission she was passionate about.
Having earned a degree in architecture at Ahmedabad’s School of Architecture, Anu maintained a lifelong connection to her native India, in part through the firm she co-founded with her husband, Dilip da Cunha. “With rising seas, flooding cities, polluted rivers, piling wastes, and widening inequalities, we believe that ubiquitous wetness in place of the land-water binary holds the way forward,” Anu and Dilip wrote. “It is an exciting pre-disciplinary ground of design by which we re-articulate the past, experience the present, and envision the future.”
Together, Anu and Dilip exhibited around the world and published many influential books, including Mississippi Floods: Designing a Shifting Landscape; Deccan Traverses: The Making of Bangalore’s Terrain; and Soak: Mumbai in an Estuary. In 2011 and 2012, they curated an international symposium at Weitzman titled In the Terrain of Water that produced another important publication.
Associate Professor of Landscape Architecture; Founding Partner, PEG Office of Landscape Architecture
Anu was a brilliant and beautiful person: a creative force who, with her partner Dilip, produced a body of work that has profoundly transformed our discipline. As Anu and Dilip wrote of the Indian maidan, it is a place that defies categorization because it accommodates rather than confines. It opens possibilities. This is also true of their work.
No matter where their travels took them, their visualizations opened possibilities for others to see terrains anew. Their students did not take maps into the field, for that was to begin with a ground that had been defined by others. Instead, with blank sketchbooks, stakes, and strings in hand, students were urged to walk, Anu said, “not so much to find their way, but to make their way.” Though she asked that we challenge the visualizations that we inherit, Anu and Dilip’s work has become a foundation for many who have followed in their footsteps. We make our way on grounds that were fundamentally transformed through their way of seeing and imaging.
Those of us who were privileged to know Anu personally know that her creativity and brilliance were matched by her generosity and passion. And though she lives on in her daughter Tara, and her and Dilip’s work, it is profoundly sad to know that we will not hear her voice again. Still, that sadness is punctuated by memories of her smile, her warmth, and her joy in cracking the top of a crème brûlée.
Nicholas Pevzner (MLA'09)
Assistant Professor of Landscape Architecture
Anu was such a transformational teacher, thinker, theorist, and designer. Along with her partner Dilip, she made an indelible contribution to the landscape discourse, and added unique innovations to the landscape toolkit. Through her work, she complicated our neat assumptions about the separation between land and water in the landscape, and challenged us to think more critically about these contested and dynamic fluid landscapes. After studying with Anu, you could never look at a map the same way ever again, and simply assume that the blue color indicating a river was an objective fact, rather than the subjective judgement of some surveyor or civil engineer, a static snapshot of a changing landscape. The techniques of drawing that Anu and Dilip invented—those fabulous sequential sections, collages, photoworks and photowalks—have influenced the drawing conventions of generations of landscape architecture students. And as my teacher and then colleague, Anu was the person to truly open my eyes to the craft of landscape architecture, to seeing and imagining landscape as an intellectual pursuit.
By the time I first had Anu for a studio instructor, as a graduate student at Penn, I thought I already knew how to draw, but Anu challenged those assumptions. With her, to draw was not merely to represent an idea or a place, but to discover a deeper logic in the act of drawing itself—how a suite of sections were arrayed on the paper, how they began to set up a rhythm, how they unfolded and spooled out a spatial sequence. As I would draw, first one section, then another, then find lines of connections between them, the lines would extend into new ideas, a project forming and growing, thickening. With Anu, there was always precision—in drawing, in the simple act of photographing a site visit, in choosing the words one used to describe a concept, and what generative possibilities that those words might open.
As a colleague, Anu’s mentorship was priceless. Small suggestions over tea of just how much to steer students in their work, how much to let go, ways to coax their projects to find their logic and fill out their fullest potential. Her insistence on always challenging conventional practice, conventional solutions. Her challenge to not merely seek solutions to problems, but rather to seek out the seeds of possibility, and follow those generative trajectories wherever they might lead. But also her generosity with sharing her own experience—including the techniques, tuned from many years of printmaking, that could double as a metaphor for imagining the landscape: of laying down layers of paint, the thickness and transparency of layers of pigment offering new readings, new topographies and terrains for inspiration. Anu’s presence lives on in the innumerable sequential section drawings and photoworks that continue to populate so many students’ projects, in the profession’s slightly more nuanced understandings of water in its flows and overflows that can’t be neatly summarized in blue, and in the generations of students and colleagues that carry her teaching forward. Anu was such a tremendous presence in the school, in the field, so influential to so many. She will be dearly missed.
Miller Professor and Chair of Architecture
We will miss our dear colleague and friend Anu very much, as she joined and added a critical voice to the many interdisciplinary reviews, searches and other events she joined. She was a great and inspiring critic and a warm friend to all of us. No words can describe our sadness and our thoughts are with her family in this hard time.
John Dixon Hunt
Professor Emeritus of the History and Theory of Landscape
When I arrived at Penn 28 years ago, it was to find a group of new colleagues whom I found immediately to be an extraordinary team to work with. It might be invidious at this time to signal now, but Anu was the one who made the strongest impression. I would learn much from her, have lovely debates with her, and hers was an imagination and talent that was always keen, always shrewd, always attentive to her students as to her own work. That is what I recall and cherish still.
James Corner (MLA/UD'86)
CEO, Field Operations, New York; Professor Emeritus of Landscape Architecture
It is with great sadness when I reflect on Anu. Her time was unfairly cut short, and her work and ideas deserving of so much more engagement, discussion and dissemination. After her death, I went back and spent time with her books and writings, her amazing maps and drawings, reminiscing fondly on our various interactions, debates, and times together.
Anu was a brilliant human-being: She had incredible intelligence and wit, charged with passion, creativity, and wisdom. Anu was one of my first design students when I began teaching at Penn, and in many ways we both learnt together, from one another. This mutual learning continued as we evolved as faculty members together, seeking to enlarge the scope and depth of the field, especially through design creativity and exploration. She was persistent in her belief that the only thing that mattered was the work, doing the work and letting the work evolve, develop, accrue and inform. Making, drawing, mapping, sectioning, projecting, marking, erasing, tracing–all were activities of work that developed meaning and effect over time. In this regard, Anu loved indeterminacy: the fact that things are never really finished nor wholly known, and are therefore capable of alternative interpretation and possibility. She had such a subtle and expansive imagination, which is what made her an exceptional teacher and inspiration to generations of students, and an important and enigmatic provocateur in the larger field.
I miss you deeply my friend. Your project remains inevitably unfinished, which is how I suspect you would like it to be.
Tarna Klitzner (MLA'91)
Principal, Tarna Klitzner Landscape Architects, and Lecturer, University of Cape Town
I have this photograph of Anu in our space. We shared a studio corner in Meyerson for the first year of our MLA. When I visited Penn in 2017, it’s the first place she took me to. Anu asked, “Do you remember, this is our corner?”
I remember the corner, I remember Anu’s generosity, her probing inquisitive mind, her creative spirit, her wonderful drawings and her laughter. This is a lifetime ago. In May 1991, after sitting together on the graduation field, we parted and began our separate journeys.
I have followed her and Dilip from afar, inspired by their energy and valuable research. Her discourse has continued to filter into my thoughts and my teachings, as it did when we were students when Anu would delve into her bag and bring out a little book (it was always a little book) to read a quote, a pertinent quote, that would enrich our discussion. I am grateful to have had a friend in Anu, though sadly distant and separate extremely valued and valuable.
Richard Newton (MLA'91)
Anu had such a luminous warmth of character, generosity of spirit, and poetic vision that made her a remarkable teacher, stimulating colleague and beautiful person.
I remember so well the long nights in the studio during our first year at Penn wrestling with a Jim Corner studio project where her energy, commitment and sheer creativity were an inspiration to all that knew her and I know took me to greater heights than I felt possible at the time.
Anu will be greatly missed but we have her work and her collaboration with Dilip to remind us of what a powerful creative force she was. The world, and its water, will be a much poorer place without her unique poetic vision but we can be thankful that we have Dilip to maintain the trajectory of their insightful and inspiring work.
Subhrajit "Subhro" Guhathakurta
Professor, School of City & Regional Planning, and Director, Center for Spatial Planning Analytics and Visualization, Georgia Tech
It is hard to process the loss of Anu, a dear friend who never failed to stretch our intellect and our imagination in ways that were uplifting as well as enlightening. Together with her partner, Dilip Da Cunha, she developed a practice exploring a more intimate form of engagement with place that critically examined the nuances of a negotiated landscape. Her creativity, intellectual inquiries, pedagogy, and practice were all beautifully woven together through her publications, artwork, professional work, and the studios she conducted. Anu had the passion and talent for intellectual inquiry through creative practice and was able to inspire others to think differently. Even in her last months, her courage, grace, and generosity touched all who had the privilege of knowing her. My thoughts and sympathies are particularly with Dilip and Tara, but also with all of Anu's colleagues, family, friends, and students. She will be missed but never forgotten.
Founding Director, Stoss Landscape Urbanism; Professor in Practice of Landscape Architecture, Harvard Graduate School of Design
Anu’s drawings and imagination captured me at first glance, and became richer and deeper the more I understood the thinking behind them. In fact, I knew Anu’s work before I knew her as person. Her thesis was published just as I was searching for graduate schools, and her delicate landscape scrapers—moving across flat, sometimes watery terrains, fully engaged with the powerful dynamics at play—were captivating, and offered a new inroad to thinking about landscapes and settlement and the ways we inhabit the earth. When she came back to Penn to teach, her thoughtfulness, design acumen, and critical intelligence were front and center—she pushed her students to re-think the ways we work and imagine the physical worlds around us, through creative and speculative making. She was also as engaging as her drawing exercises, which typically took over the hallways of Myerson, were often as much as 6 feet tall and 12 feet long, relied on bodily movement and interaction—and generated many clouds of charcoal dust…
Anu was first and foremost a dedicated mother and wife, and a brilliant scholar and designer—both in her own right and in her collaborative work with partner and husband Dilip daCunha. She was a beloved teacher, a fierce critic, a delightful colleague, and a warm presence. She brought fire and imagination to her work and to all who knew her. Anu’s projections and scholarship relative to representation, design thinking, water, fluidity, and urbanization processes will continue to influence the discipline—must continue to influence all of us as we confront climate and social-political challenges the world over. Known and loved and admired, she will be missed dearly—but her legacy will live on in so many of us who learned from and were challenged by her.
Aroussiak Gabrielian (MArch/MLA'10)
Assistant Professor of Landscape Architecture + Urbanism, School of Architecture, University of Southern California; Founding Design Principal, foreground design agency
One of the most profound gifts that Anu imparted on me is the power of thinking through making—the physical and embodied act of crafting that constructs the grounds of both inquiry and design. Anu understood that a robust research question may arise through practice as much as practice may be used to pursue a particular research inquiry. That a line on the page—thickened into a horizon to gather the elemental matter of the ground and the ephemeral phenomena of the sky—could begin to reveal a new kind of vocabulary with which to understand, engage, and reimagine a site. Rather than rely on a language or a set of “truths” fed to us through imperial legacies, Anu brought our attention to what this language intentionally excludes. She thus challenged us to consider where design begins, disclosing the ways we have been trained to understand the world, and how that training has ideological and design implications that have profound impact on how we see, represent, value, and shape the world.
With Anu, I began to ask how we might construct a different reality which begins instead with what we exclude. She pushed me to reach beyond our discipline to invent new methods of drawing, and to extend from those practices a new vocabulary of making and meaning. She taught me that knowledge does not have to be thought through but could rather be felt and uncovered through a walk. She exemplified what it means to think in partnership, and to build a model of practice motivated by opening up conversations as opposed to developing solutions. These teachings have been transformative and have provided the foundation for both my work, as well as my teaching. I am endlessly grateful to you, Anu, for all that you’ve bestowed on me, but most of all for encouraging me to embrace, rather than suppress, my way of sensing and understanding the world—an embodied knowing through a continued engagement in the practice of making.
Alison B. Hirsch (MSHP'05, PhD'08, MLA'11)
Associate Professor and Director of Landscape Architecture + Urbanism, School of Architecture, University of Southern California
Anu Mathur was my teacher, mentor, colleague, and friend. She is pivotal to who I am as an educator, a designer, a scholar and a person. Like the impact she has had on so many, Anu transformed the way I see and imagine the world.
I had the privilege to enter the arena of design under Anu’s tutelage. That Anu was a first-semester studio instructor to years of graduate students in landscape architecture was an initiation that shook us free from assumptions, conventions and expectations about what we thought we knew about the representation and shaping of the physical world. Instead of the remoteness of “site analysis” in the McHargian sense, Anu had us physically negotiate terrains (the Wissahickon for many) and read, measure and make site through fieldwork and sections, photoworks and castings that enabled us to discover a site’s material, spatial and phenomenal qualities firsthand. It was a process of exploration and invention crafted out of this demanding embodied process and it gave us a lens to see and a language to express the changeable, mutable and elusive qualities of our dynamic medium. We entered this process without any preconception of where we would end up, which was notably difficult for many, but ultimately rewarding for us all.
Of course, these methods emerged out of a broader intellectual and design position which Anu developed and refined through a creative and life partnership with Dilip da Cunha. Their amazing generative partnership critiques and offers alternatives to Western colonial frames and binaries of domination that have severed, suppressed, and sublimated matter, systems, people rendered ‘other.’ Long before our current reckoning with systems of power and exploitation and a search for alternatives, Anu and Dilip were dismantling perpetuated conventions of mapmaking inherited from colonial agendas that have led to not just how we see, represent and value the physical world, but how we construct (and control) it. Rather than a brittle world of control and separation, Anu reveled in the alternatives – of fluidity, openness, complexity. With Dilip, she challenged us to understand what it means to inhabit a world of ubiquitous wetness that connects us all.
Anu was tough, absolutely fearless, and loving. She moved through some of the world’s most contested terrains (including the valleys of Jerusalem, in my case) with curiosity and openness. She brought Tara everywhere, opening her daughter’s eyes to the world seen otherwise. She was a model educator, parent, partner, person. I am now a landscape educator leading a graduate program that is clearly influenced by my early and ongoing conversations with Anu. In addition to teacher, role-model, influential thinker and designer, Anu was a tremendous mentor who I relied on often for advice, guidance and perspective. Yet, above all, she was a friend who I will miss so sorely. The comfort I find is knowing that her teachings and impact will live on through the generation of designers and landscape leaders that had the benefit of learning from her.
Leslie Carter (MLA'11)
Senior Associate, Reed Hilderbrand
[Anu and her partner Dilip da Cunah co-taught studio 501, the introductory course for 3-year MLA students.] It was my first LA studio and, coming from a science background, I had no idea what I was doing. Anu challenged me to see the world through the lens of an artist: to notice the particular structure that distinguishes a hemlock from any other tree, and to represent in graphite the distinctly deep shade that only a hemlock grove can cast. She taught me to visualize the ground not as a single surface but as a complex form with thickness and density relative to soil, rock, and moisture. She taught me to observe and communicate as a landscape architect. Anu will be missed, but her contributions to the profession and her influence on so many individuals will live on for many years.
Tiantian Guo (MArch‘17)
Anu was one the professors I most admired at Penn. She was such an inspiration to me in so many ways. Although she was a legendary figure in design, she was very approachable. She cared about her students and always went above and beyond to help them. The more I knew her, the more I was attracted by her charisma.
I remember she emailed me immediately when she learned I requested to be in her studio, but had been refused because it was full. She told me she was willing to discuss the possibility of joining her studio in case I could not find a studio I really liked. I saved a copy of this message to my personal email after graduation. This was just one of the good memories between us.
As a professor, she was strict, sharp, but caring. She would get angry when you did not work hard. You could feel she was the type of professor who cares about students from the bottom of her heart.
People say eyes are the window to the soul. If you ever met Anu, you would immediately understand what this means. “She wears poetry in her eyes”, through which you could see so many possibilities.
Professor in Landscape Architecture, Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences
I am shocked and sad. Anuradha Mathur, a colleague and an extremely important person within landscape architecture has passed away. Anuradha has together with her partner Dilip da Cunha contributed, and will of course continue to contribute, to a better understanding of landscapes, landscape design and how landscape architects can contribute in the best way to the process of landscape change within society.
My last contact with Anuradha was when asking her and Dilip to contribute with a keynote lecture at the annual conference of the European Council of Landscape Architecture Schools (ECLAS), held at the Division of Landscape Architecture, Department of Urban and Rural Development at SLU in Uppsala, Sweden in September 2021. Their keynote lecture, “Stop thinking water somewhere – start experiencing wetness everywhere,” where the title explains very well their main approach to landscape and landscape design, triggered the big audience to questions and intense discussions overbridging the digital gap caused by the pandemic situation in 2021. Fifteen years earlier I visited Penn and even if not having the possibility to meet with Anuradha at that time, I bought the book Mississippi Floods: Designing a Shifting Landscape (2001) that introduced me to her and Dilip’s work, which gave me a new understanding of mapping landscapes as important part of the design action. Listening to Anuradha at the IFLA conference in Rio in 2009, I hoped for getting the possibility to introduce Mathur’s and da Cunha’s work to a Swedish audience. And in 2010 the students at SLU could invite her for their own “Landscape day”, as she seemed to always prioritize the students, their activities and learning. ‘Thanks to’ the ash cloud from the volcano Eyafjallajökul on Iceland, Anuradha had to stay for some extra days in my house without knowing how to get home, a difficult but memorable moment. This situation opened up for shorter collaborations both in projects and teaching, which I feel extremely thankful for. And to meet with Anuradha and Dilip in family both in Sweden and Philadelphia, also with our children, has of course been an extra favor.
That Anuradha Mathur has passed away is a great loss on all levels. It is a loss for landscape architecture in a time where we would need her voice. It is also a great loss for her colleagues, friends and of course her family – for Dilip and their daughter Tara. I will miss Anuradha’s explorative approach, her wisdom, warmth, and personality. And I will miss her strong voice that should have continued to contribute to the debates within landscape architecture and design. But we can carry on by reading, listening to and using Anuradha’s and Dilip’s work, where there are still so many things to discover and to build upon.
Jeremy Foster (MLA‘84)
Although I knew Anu had been unwell for some time, and hadn’t see her for several years, her passing still seems like an impossibility. Anu was such a life force, her work such a point of reference for anyone, anywhere interested in landscape thinking, it still feels hard to comprehend a world without her in it, somewhere.
I first met Anu when I was teaching at Penn, and she, along with a particularly brilliant cohort of students, was studying for her MLA. I have a vague recollection of being her ‘thesis advisor’, though even then I realized that was a poor description of a relationship in which I think I gained far more than she did. This set the pattern for the coming decades: although I left Penn and pursued other pathways, I continued to learn from and be inspired by Anu, in many ways; through her and Dilip’s publications, or through very occasional meetings and through sitting on her design reviews in Philadelphia. The publications themselves were – and are -- of course wonderful pedagogical tools. They captured the imagination of generations of students, often from outside landscape architecture, who are initially seduced by their world transforming graphic virtuosity, but then drawn to the contingent environmental and territorial relations they clarify, and the realization that analysis can sometimes be another mode of design.
But its probably through the studio reviews that I will best remember Anu: rooms, galleries and hallways filled with other-worldly drawings and models of ludic beauty (but always constructed with exemplary craft, measure and precision), the students grave and almost stunned at what they had accomplished under Anu’s inspiring but demanding tutelage, and at the center of it all, Anu herself, quietly presiding, her surprisingly small stature completely occluded by the her intense personal presence, the powerful concision of her remarks and the brilliance of her outfits. Especially in her advanced level studios, the boundaries between Anu’s own creative and reflective practice and her pedagogy were always porous: what students got was what was on Anu’s (and Dilip’s) mind at that moment – not just theoretically, artistically, geographically, politically, but also materially, in terms of praxis. The thing that distinguished Anu from every other landscape educator I have known, was her profound belief in the opportunities to be discovered by engaging practically with material givenness of the world, and her zest for exploring the entanglement of the cultural and natural, not as a problem or dilemma, but rather as an endless source of innovation uniquely available to those trained as landscape architects.
To lose someone of Anu’s vision, probity, energy and generosity, when they had so much more to give (for Anu was always working towards something) is a sad and bitter thing. But we can at least be grateful for the multiple cohorts of students -- and colleagues -- who were lucky enough to have been transformed in some way by working with Anu, and knowing her as a mentor, role model and friend.
Alison Duncan (MLA‘00)
Alison Duncan Design: Landscape Architecture + Urbanism, PLLC
Anu was such a formative person in my development as a landscape architect. She was the first to really help me see and feel landscape and understand it as composed of systems and processes. She taught me how to draw and think like an artist. I was lucky to be her teaching assistant as well with Dilip and therein received multiple years of exposure to her unique ways of interpreting landscape and the transformative power of design interventions. Her loss is hard to accept, but it has been inspiring to witness her significant impact on decades of students and the landscape architecture profession that is being widely shared across the design community in these last weeks.
Lecturer in Landscape Architecture, Weitzman, and Lecturer in Earth & Environmental Science, School of Arts and Science
I was fortunate to interact with Anu and Dilip for many years around their teaching LARP501 in the fall semester for incoming 3-year students as LARP511 aimed to support the studio. Every August, I would check in with Anu to find out the studio location and then plan a fall field trip around it. For many years, there was a Wissahickon studio and a trip from the top (in the Montgomeryville Mall parking lot) to the bottom (at the Philadelphia Canoe Club) of the Wissahickon watershed with stops along the way intended to make students more aware of the larger context of their studio site. One of my fondest memories of Anu was an early summer trip we took many years ago (early 2000’s) with both of our young daughters to explore the possibility of using the Lehigh Gap and Hawk Mountain Sanctuary as fall studio sites. We explored each site a bit on foot enjoying a beautiful summer’s day. Ultimately a studio site closer to campus was chosen, but it was an unforgettable day getting to know Anu better and sharing our experience raising kids and teaching at Penn. I cherish my memories of Anu whose brilliance, concern for people, and support of students were unmatched.
Ramsey Silberberg (MLA‘96)
Founding Principal, Mantle Landscape Architecture
When I entered Penn in 1993 the Landscape Architecture department was in a state of transition. Our class was the last to take Ian McHarg’s iconic 501 studio in the fall–and the first studio co-taught by Anuradha Mathur in the spring. Anu arrived mid-year, and I was mesmerized. Her words were pointed and precise, yet equally evocative. She got me up from my drafting desk to draw and paint on as large a piece of paper I could afford. She encouraged me to make mistakes with the hope of seeing something new. She taught me never to settle, there was always another question to ask or idea to push.
As the academic year ended Anu asked me to be her teaching assistant for the 501 studio–where she filled the rather large shoes of McHarg. Over the summer she sent me her draft syllabus, marked up with notes, thoughts, and questions. It was the first pass at what would become an equally iconic introductory studio for the next generation of MLA students.
Her outline, while we stuck to it, was not a solidified rock, but rather an armature–or I suppose since these are memories of Anu–a boat tied to an anchor that allowed the ebbs and flows to shift the direction here and there. During the fall of 1994 Anu was constantly considering, questioning, and testing her ideas. My memory of that time was her exploring how to couple drawing and movement in the landscape with emotion, intuition, and precision. While the students were tirelessly drawing and redrawing and re-presenting, Anu was testing how the cues and assignments were or weren’t expanding the work being developed. The premise wasn’t one of designing a landscape, it was one of employing drawing and other tools of visual communication as acts of investigation, thinking, and feeling, to make visible what was otherwise elusive. Nothing was static, not our bodies nor the landscape, and so her question -- how can one capture and communicate what is ever-changing and unpredictable? If we could, wouldn’t it lead to a more powerful place from which to design?
If there was one word to describe the fall of 1994 it was experimentation. A few exercises fell flat, others worked better than imagined. When 1995 rolled around I remember our prep meeting for the next pass at the 501 studio. With her updated syllabus in hand, she possessed a clear understanding of what would be kept and what would be tossed. Not unexpected, it went smoother the second time around.
But nothing could come close to how special that first year was–the raw energy and the excitement of watching her carefully and confidently, yet without an ounce of arrogance, build off a legacy as dominating as McHarg’s. As a young woman embarking on my career, getting to be behind the scenes in that moment was nothing short of incredible, and indelibly left its mark. After over 25 years in this profession, I can say with confidence Anu gave me one of the best gigs of my life.
This is such a difficult loss–Anu was a mentor to many–but she always took the time to be a friend. The last time we were together in 2018 it felt as if no time had passed. We spoke of our work, design, ideas–our children and spouses–the full spectrum of our lives. Her brilliance coupled with warmth and kindness was one of the things that made her so special. She was a lovely, insightful, and magical person. She will be deeply missed, and every time I sit down to draw, I know I will forever feel a connection back to the person who taught me how to see the landscape.
Graham Chair Professor of Practice; Partner and Co-Founder, WEISS/MANFREDI Architecture, Landscape, Urbanism
Anu Mathur, friend and fellow professor at Penn, has been a profound source of inspiration. Her research, teaching, practice, and scholarship established a new framework for critical inquiry about the territory between water and land, and her books and 2011 “In the Terrain of Water” conference at Penn are seminal contributions to how we design during a time of climate change.
Her restless intelligence, remarkable insight about the unbounded terrain of water, and passionate leadership as an educator resonate personally. In 2006, we collaborated on the “High Density on the High Ground” studio, developing proposals for post Hurricane Katrina Housing in New Orleans. With our architecture and landscape students, we explored New Orleans to better understand the challenges and opportunities of building where the boundaries between land and water had been breached. On the final day of our field trip, Anu scheduled a canoe tour through the Atchafalaya Swamp. 30 of us, in two person canoes, explored the swamp from early afternoon until 10:00 at night, paddling through the vast network of mangrove trees in the pouring rain. Our visceral appreciation of the liminal connections between land and water, and our own fragile place in that world, came into sharp and memorable focus. My own view of these reciprocal relationships has been directly influenced by that journey with Anu and our students. Her generosity as a friend, teacher, scholar, and designer will continue to have an enduring impact; she is gone too soon and will be greatly missed.
Rosa Mannion (MLA‘06)
Principal Landscape Architect, NV5 Philadelphia Office
What a force of nature Anu was. I arrived at Penn from North Florida, with little idea of what to expect, and I encountered this confounding, fiery woman of great passion, who asked us to traverse wildly overgrown sections of the Wissahickon from ridge to ridge, with drawing boards in hand, to painstakingly measure the landscape with our bodies, and transfer the sections onto thick watercolor paper. We did not quite get it at first, but would not dare to question this formidable person. The wet-dog smell of the paper in the humid forest, our sweaty exertions, the ridiculousness of what we were doing (trying to draw neatly while getting whacked in the face by tree branches), and the camaraderie this encouraged remain with me forever. I think about her often, and the lessons she imparted. The lesson most valuable for me personally contains a duality I can’t easily reconcile: the importance of mapping and drawing the landscape at many different scales in order to understand it; and the ultimate folly with which humans consistently attempt to constrain nature within mapped boundaries. She tore the veil from my face and I was able to see the world through the lens of our attempted control of nature, best signified by the wildness of the Mississippi River, and our ultimately tragic attempts to make it conform to our lines. She showed us that there is no black and white in nature, especially when it comes to wet and dry; there are infinite shiftings and gradations that we must acknowledge. For the New Orleans studio, in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, we were all aghast at the evidence of this wild uncertainty in the ruined communities we saw there. Nothing could make the power of nature more clear than seeing that ruin. I love to preach this gospel when I can. I sometimes find time to volunteer with the AIA’s Architecture in Education program and derive so much pleasure from showing elementary-age children the level to which our environments are controlled and designed by us. I see the same light of understanding in their faces that she gave to me. It is not a dark message; it is simply an acknowledgment that our control of nature is fleeting and fragile, and not something to be taken for granted. Her practice as a visual artist was also very inspiring for me. Coming from a fine arts background, with one foot in landscape and one in painting and printmaking, she made it clear for me that creating art to illustrate the understanding we have of the landscape is enough in itself. There does not necessarily have to be an intervention. The exploration of wet and dry media, cause and effect, and the process of making is justification in itself. I am forever grateful for the influence she had for me; I do not think I’ll encounter such a force again!
Richard Ryan (MLA’97)
Founder, The Hammerstone Museum and Garden
I met Anu in 1990 when she was a student at Penn. The work Anu and studio mate Tarna were doing was impressive. They encouraged me to apply to the program, and so I did. Subsequently in 1994, I became a student, and a family friend became my professor. Although Anu and I were the same age, she had wisdom beyond her years. As a student Anu taught me to create the world I want to live in. In the very first class, Anu walked us all outside into a quiet pastoral area of campus using the tools of Socrates and Plato she engaged us in discovering why we were here and what we were going to do. The same essence existed in every class in one form or another. Post-graduation we socialized, shared dinners, exchanged recipes, but she was still my professor. I admired her and Dilip and all the work they did. I was fortunate in 2018 to have Anu and Dilip visit the Museum and Garden that I have been creating for the last 20 years; Anu saw the world I created. I am grateful that Anu was my teacher.
Mark Thomann (MLA’99)
Director, WHY, Visiting Faculty 2011–2018
Whenever I pass a pitch pine, I ask my kids what they see. Then we talk about fire- and iron- soaked bogs and sandy soils and charcoal and drawing and the unseen processes and histories that make something unique and special. And then I smile.
Anu taught me how to see. Curiosity and visual experimentation were her tools to reframe how we discuss, measure, and look for and find beauty - in a shifting and uncertain future. Both she and Dilip, taught me that things are not simply black or white, that there is a space, neither wet nor dry, where life happens, unexpectedly. She was a tough critic, imaginative mentor, empathetic colleague and radical spirit- a true activist and ecological being! She will always inspire.