ARCH 6308/6408
Reparation Architecture

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. repairing a window in his apartment in Chicago.

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. repairing a window at his apartment in Chicago during the civil rights campaign to end slums in the 1960s. photo / Sun-Times Library

  • Instructor: Paulo Tavares
  • Time: T 1:30⁠–⁠3:30 p.m.
  • Location: Online
  • Credits: 3
  • Territory of Investigation: Architecture and Ecology, Architecture and Representation, Architecture and Urbanism

Architecture that seeks to redress spatial inequalities resulting from historic structural injustices is generally labeled "social architecture" (today it is often characterized in the liberal lexicon of "humanitarian architecture"). Arguably the invention of this concept of the social, within which architectural knowledge has been instrumental, is the product of modern-colonial frameworks defined along class-based and racialized categories that objectify subalternate communities as sites of study and intervention – before, the uncivilized and the primitive; later, the backward and the underdeveloped; today the refugee, the migrant, the class of the precariat. This seminar aims at questioning these historic categories that define architecture in its ethical and political dimensions, probing the subjacent modern-colonial structures that sustain them, while at the same time drawing alternatives to rethink the relationships between architecture and its inherent "social mission" outside hegemonic parameters of spatial thinking and practicing in relation to memory, heritage, narratives, archives, pedagogies, and the built environment. It does so by proposing an approximation between architecture and reparation. From Richmond to Cape Town to Santiago, as we witness cities erupt in social convulsions, challenging histories and memories displayed in public space, architecture should reckon with the ways in which – in its multiple dimensions across built and semiotic environments – it has been instrumental in perpetuating forms of inequality and promoting segregation. In acknowledging the violent dimension of architecture and its divisive power, we can maybe move forward in thinking how architecture can be turned around and be deployed as spatial practices of reparation. Dwelling on the concept of reparation may open new visions for spatial practices outside the managerial, disciplinary, positivist frame that still haunts architecture, a field of knowledge historically grounded on the ideology that its practice is inherently "good," working for beautification, betterment, improvement, civilization, progress, development. This seminar probes a politics of architecture that does not ground itself on an abstract idea of "the social," but instead seeks a historically situated, contingent, bodily and material concept of architecture as reparation, asking how spatial practices can be conceived to redress and redraw social, historic and cultural bounds beyond charity, help, state patronage, philanthropy, and humanitarianism. Curating as spatial practice combining theory and practice, the seminar proposes a speculative immersion into a concept yet to come – "reparation architecture" – through a research-based spatial-curatorial experiment developed with students. We will approach architecture as a network of interconnected practices that entangle design, curating, publishing, writing, and other modalities of spatial-cultural intervention. In that respect, one of our main sources of inspiration is the feminist spatial practice of Lina Bo Bardi, who traverses the boundaries of architecture across multiple forms of expression that include building, curating, graphic design, publishing, writing, and political militancy.

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