The course aims at bringing the students in contact with alternative paradigms of knowledge and practices of designing space and with alternative forms of the architectural profession, ones that emerge within different social, productive and political circumstances and contradictions that exist in different parts of the world. Students are asked to analyze case studies from the European and the global South in order to apprehend the asymmetrical relationships in politics, economy and culture that prevail between what we call the global North and South and define the hegemony of certain modes of architectural production. In terms of theory we will focus on texts on the notion of hegemony (Gramsci), on the theoretical framework of Epistemologies of the South (Boaventura de Sousa Santos etc) and on the field of Decoloniality (Quijano etc).
During the last years, activism and a renewed discourse on shaping alternative practices of designing space outside the framework of the real-estate business, has been taking place internationally.
Both in Greece and in several countries in Europe and around the world, everyday life is being radically affected by the acceleration of existing social problems. Increased unemployment, waves of massive migration of people in search for a better life or survival from disasters and war and the increase of poverty at an unprecedented scale are problems caused to a large extent by the loss of common goods, a loss imposed by the workings of the neoliberal program for the organization of life at a global scale.
In architecture, these gradual social transformations of the last 40 years are exemplified through the emergence and the hegemony of a small number of big architectural offices lead by over-promoted individual architects born and based in western countries in north or central Europe, USA and at some extent Japan. Their work is of an immense scale. It has been financed and built in all continents across the globe. At the same time the small ‘anonymous’ free lance architectural profession or the traditional modes of production of built space have shrunk considerably while little is known about how architects or non architects produce space in the global South. Not to mention that the shrinkage of the independent professional space sweeps away small scale construction industry, artisanship and traditional crafts of making material objects and buildings, a mode of production that gives sufficiency at a local level in various communities and diffuses building knowledge to more people. Their ‘space’ has been appropriated by the former group of global firms in various ways, a process that has been supported and promoted by the globalized building industry. This is not an isolated phenomenon that concerns only the production of space but it is the result of the concentration of production in a constantly smaller number of entities under globalized capitalism.
The transformation of the profession, the ways that decisions regarding space have been formally taken in western societies since the after war period have been also validated by an inter-dependent network of institutions (also in transformation) which can be summarized as following: from collective forms of action, scientific and professional exchange and decision making (however limited or incomplete) which have mainly emerged in the 20th century and within the structure of the European welfare state (CIAM, International Union of Architects, local professional unions and technical chambers) we have moved to free market institutions controlled exclusively by commercial interests (MIPIM, the Pritzker Prize given by the Hyatt group, architectural mass media controlled by the same building industry and the real estate market).
Such processes define the way we think and do architecture, the way we conceive space as a social construction. At the same time the model exported by the west to the rest of the world, the commoditization of space, has exhausted its legitimization first by being the cause of massive evictions of people from their lands worldwide and secondly by offering the same fate to more and more architects who felt comfortable before in embracing it. They are also excluded from the production of space; they are excluded both from the decision making and the independent practice of building.
In a struggle for challenging that fate several groups of architects have been working towards the shaping of alternative independent practices of design, protecting their vital professional space together and in tandem with taking part in solving the (same) problems that concern the Greater Number of the population, groups of the population usually excluded by the majority of commercial architectural programs and property.
Is it, nevertheless, so easy to formulate such alternative practices? How unbiased is the way we are used to consider the role of the architect within the hegemonic ‘universal’ paradigm of the current architectural culture that is being produced in the areas of the global North? How does this role work when confronted with the problems, the daily experiences and the realities of the global South, if we assume that Greece is in some aspects part of it? In order to investigate and comprehend such questions we are going to introduce in the context of architecture the theory of the Epistemologies of the South, a theory formulated and disseminated by Boaventura de Sousa Santos and the Center for Social Studies of the University of Coimbra in Portugal. According to the Epistemologies of the South there are infinite and diverse paradigms of knowledge around the world “that encompass very distinct modes of being, thinking and feeling, ways of conceiving of time and the relation among human beings and between humans and non-humans, ways of facing the past and the future and of collectively organizing life, the production of goods and services, as well as leisure” (Santos 2012). Several of those different modes of thinking aim at caring for Good Living (Buen Vivir). The fact that such sets of knowledge have not been produced within the western paradigm renders them absent, invisible or obsolete for us through a rather sophisticated process of exclusion which intends to discredit them as sources of alternative solutions to social problems.
During the courses and workshops of the coming semester we are going to search for and retrieve examples of architectural design, ideas, imageries and representations of space and human daily life that have been marginalized in the historiography of architecture or the reports of the mainstream architectural mass media. We have to be aware that important critical work or just important work that takes place in numerous communities around the world and in Greece but does not find itself in the front pages of the same media, is being marginalized when it challenges dominant paradigms of practicing architecture.
Our aim is to understand better the mechanism through which architecture (in theory and practice) can side with marginalized groups of society not as a supervising authority but as a distinct paradigm of technical knowledge that takes part in an equal dialogue and exchange by confronting diverse social experiences through diverse paradigms of knowledge in a common effort to improve life; Not life styles.
*South: the term refers metaphorically to the asymmetrical relationship that is being produced between different areas of the world as a result of colonization and exploitation. The South is also part of the global North in the form of exclusion, marginalization and silencing of both several groups of people and the knowledge and cultures they carry.
Dimitrakaki, A. (2013), Gender, Artwork and the Global Imperative: A Materialist Feminist Critique (Rethinking Art’s Histories), Manchester: Manchaster University Press.
Forgacs, D. (ed.) (2000), The Gramsci Reader: Selected Writings 1916-1935, New York: New York University Press.
Galcerán Huget, M. (2016), La Bárbara Europa: Una Mirada desde el postcolonialismo y la decolonialidad, Madrid: Traficantes de Sueños.
Mattelart, A., Dorfman, A., (1984), How to read Donald Duck: Imperialist Ideology in the Disney Comic, New York: I.G. Editions.
Mendoza, B. (2015), Coloniality of Gender and Power: From Postcoloniality to Decoloniality, in Disch, L. and Hawkesworth, M. (eds.), The Oxford Handbook of Feminist Theory, doi: 10.1093/oxfordhb/9780199328581.013.
Quijano, A. (2010). ‘Coloniality and Modernity/Rationality’, in Mignolo, W. D. and Escobar A. (eds.), Globalization and the Decolonial Option, D. 22–32. London and New York: Routledge.
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Said, E. W. (1994), Culture and Imperialism, London: Vintage.
Santos, Boaventura de Sousa (2014), Epistemologies of the South: Justice Against Epistemicide, NY: Routledge.
Sepúlveda, L., Mordzinski, D. (2012), Últimas noticias del Sur, Madrid: S.L.U. Espasa Libros.
Spivak, G. C. (1988), ‘Can the Subaltern Speak?’, in Nelson, C. and Grossber, L., (eds.), Marxism and the Interpretation of Culture, 271–313. London: Macmillan.