“How will the pandemic change architectural education?”

Author: Adheema Davis[1]

Disclaimer: My article is not intended to provide hard resolutions, but rather to shift our perspectives toward the meaningful and magical possibilities of accessible, decolonised, and reflexive architectural education.

To ask, “How will this pandemic change architectural education?” requires a pause, as it positions architectural education as another victim of the capitalist machine brought to a grinding halt by this global pandemic. It has, for some time now, required redress but at a halt we are afforded the chance to wholly reconstruct – in truth, architectural education will change, because the way in which we think about architecture must change.

“Architects, as imaginers of what is possible, are powerfully placed to deconstruct the physical, psychological and symbolic walls of social relations, building the kind of South Africa we all want to, and can, live in.” – Pierre Brouard.

Our government’s call for a nationwide lockdown as a necessary measure to reduce the impact of Covid-19, was an implementation in the best interest of our public health and safety.  In post-Apartheid South Africa, our population is still largely divided along socio-spatial lines, exposing the majority of our most vulnerable as Black (across the segregationist lines of Asian, Indian, Coloured, and Black), impoverished, city-dwellers. Indicating that racism too is a public health and safety concern, in South Africa and societies across the world.

In recent days after the deaths of George Floyd in the United States; of Collins Khosa, Petrus Miggels, Elma Robyn Montsumi and numerous others on homeground, we see how complex and compounded socio-spatial inequalities are, and the responsibility that exists within each of us to stand for intersectional* justice. The simultaneous global demands for equitable access to public healthcare as a basic human right; an end to brutality at the hands of the police and armed forces; as well as the removal of remnants of racism from our cities, as monuments to King Leopold II, Cecil John Rhodes, Frank Rizzo and others fall to the feet of this generation tired of bearing the weight of oppression recalling #feesmustfall and #decoloniseeducation movements – indicate that the revolution is for absolute systemic transformation.

Brouard’s almost magical* thinking positions architects within this revolution, signifying that the possible change to architectural education as result of this pandemic must go beyond physically distanced learning, to an interrogation of access, content, and pedagogy. I implore architectural learning sites, educators, and learners to reflect on this, and to work toward an architectural education that is a just service to common dignity for our country and its people.

Like any disease, architectural education has shown its symptoms – our preoccupation with productivity and continued churning of commodity architecture has exhausted studio culture, limiting the possibilities of reflexivity between learners and educators, reducing the speculative nature of the architectural project to the immediacy of BIM, and rendering architecture as ill-fitting and ill-produced form as opposed to equitable engagements with the oft-forgotten spaces and occupants of our cities. While I caution against the ease of superficiality that technology can bring, I am not blind to the enrichment that it can provide, generating forms only previously imagined, and connecting us across space and time – indicating that access to the internet and technology too is a basic human right. It must be remembered as a tool that assists a reflexive learning space, and not one that replaces it. My request is simply to use this time to reflect and grow, together, meaningfully.

“Our strategy should be not only to confront empire, but to lay siege to it. To deprive it of oxygen. To shame it. To mock it. With our art, our music, our literature, our stubbornness, our joy, our brilliance, our sheer relentlessness, and our ability to tell our own stories. Stories that are different from the ones we’re being brainwashed to believe.” – Arundhati Roy

What if architectural education reflected stories across the socio-spatial spectrum of our South Africa, revising our history in present time, learning equally from learners and educators of the protected, erased, and forgotten heritage of all of our people – celebrating and expressing the wonder of our differences through architecture in form and thought. In order to heal and restore from this pandemic, we must turn inward and address the realities of racism within, it is, after all, in the best interest of our public health and safety.

*Kimberlé Crenshaw introduced the theory of intersectionality, the idea that when it comes to thinking about how inequalities persist, categories like gender, race, and class are best understood as overlapping and mutually constitutive rather than isolated and distinct.

(Accessed online: 9 June 2020 https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/intersectionality)

*“you have knowledge of things that your teachers don’t – you know things that you need to learn to explain, albeit only to yourself. This knowledge is something quite exceptional, even magical.” magical knowledge as defined by Gaarith Williams in his Open letter to Students of Colour in Architecture SA January/February 2019.

Footnotes

[1]Adheema Davis

“I am a Durban-based architect committed to using my platform to promote an architecture of inclusion. I have previous lecture experience, and currently work in local practice as a Project Architect, administering city-based Industrial and mixed-use projects. Concurrently, I run an art/architecture studio exploring methods of criticality and developing alternative ways of practice. My exposure to civic engagement has promoted a reflexive workspace that tinkers between practice and theory – currently manifesting through independent research interests of heritage, language, and memory.”

Architect + Researcher
Durban, South Africa
SACAP, SAIA, M. Arch (UKZN)
PrArch49656527

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