Chair Mariam Issoufou — D-ARCH ETH Zürich
At Studio Atavism the Chair for Architecture Heritage and Sustainability at ETH Zurich, our mission is to challenge the status quo and redefine the way we approach architecture. We aim to step away from traditional notions of building heritage and position ourselves within an intersectional approach to both heritage and sustainability. We have a clear focus on decolonization, questioning deeply ingrained assumptions, colonized knowledge, pedagogy, and the mindsets prevalent in architectural practice that impede what we could productively inherit as well as what we sustain.
Modernist approaches have long been recognized as processes of erasure, causing harm in their wake. On one hand, we shed light on the often unacknowledged exploitations and appropriations of modernism, while on the other, we confront the erasure of localized inheritable identities in favor of a universal standard that predominantly serves commercial and consumerist values.
The current world order, we understand, is underpinned by the exploitation and impoverishment of others through global material flows, globalized labor, and control of raw materials. This exploitation has had catastrophic consequences, affecting the planet, economies, and people.
Our commitment to breaking this cycle involves embracing a hyperlocal perspective, encompassing local practices, addressing vulnerabilities, and more. In our Studio, we strive for a "Decolonization from/of the Global Minority." Here, we work to deconstruct deeply ingrained superiority complexes, reshaping students' perceptions of their place in the world, promoting inclusivity, and challenging traditional paradigms.
In our Research, we endeavor to contribute to a "Decolonization from/of the Global Majority." Our aim is to restore knowledge to places that have been historically dispossessed of their heritage, ensuring that it is accessible to all. These two facets of our Chair are intrinsically intertwined, creating a dynamic and holistic approach to more just and future-facing architecture processes.
In our Studio, we embark on a journey of exploring layered heritages and sustainabilities through a "Decolonization from the Other Side." Our primary goal is to dismantle the superiority complex, encouraging students to examine their place in the world. True sustainability, as we see it, necessitates a decolonization across processes, materials, and labor practices.
Our mission revolves around developing topics that actively engage in the process of interrogating knowledge, pedagogy, and architectural practice mindsets. Through our work, we aim to push boundaries and challenge conventions, striving for a more inclusive, equitable, and sustainable future in architecture.
Join us at the Architecture Heritage and Sustainability Chair as we embark on this transformative journey, reimagining architecture in a way that's not just visionary but also responsible, just, and deeply rooted.
Our teaching approach is both coherent and dynamic. We provide readings that align with our core ethos, emphasizing conceptual ideas and their relevance to our topics. Our focus is on nurturing students' intent and assisting them in developing their conceptual ideas.
During desk crits, our emphasis is always on instilling good design practices. The focus of studio is not in instilling our personal preferences but about fostering a strong foundation in design principles. Structured Conversations are pivotal in instilling the ethos of our Chair and Studio. These conversations are a cornerstone of our pedagogy, facilitating critical discussions and the exchange of ideas.
Heritage is a concept, a sort of valuable status that in European-centric cultures is attached to real entities. The so-called heritage industry is based on the veneration of the past that did not belong all over the world. Its international adoption is related to the globalization catastrophe. There is no such thing as ‘heritage’ (Smith 2006) resonates with the critic to the heritage and tradition as commodities for uncritical mass audiences that the organization of nostalgia set up around these European-centric concepts (Strangleman 1999).
We aim at dismantling borders and timelines created by imperialism to understand the wide variety of social and cultural identities that characterize each different place. Understanding human-made constructs requires knowing about people and non-humans conditions of the places that co-exist in communities and landscapes, which do not identify within political borders. The atavism lab focuses on unearthing and revitalizing traditional knowledge in architecture as a strategy to help sustain environmental and human ecologies.
In the realm of of architecture, traditional building practices and embedded knowledges have been threatened by western industry materials and practices. Additionally, a biased literature production makes it difficult for varieties of methodologies and approaches to thrive. A first critical factor in collecting knowledge is the language and its significance. The language barrier is significantly related to the different ethnic communities in the African continent where embedded knowledge is originally transmitted in oral forms.
Research open questions relate to the understanding of architectural transformations in western africa regions along the different potential local histories. Other open questions aim at comprehending the management of and life around traditional architectures in those regions. Other questions will come directly by the local communities. The aim is not to narrate the history of these architectures and communities, but to raise awareness of their narration, listening to their voice and participating in their spread over the geopolitical borders.
Intersectional survey rejects a narration of architectural history made by outsiders. The methodology relates directly to the communities who own knowledge and asks them about it. There is no room for interpretations that interfere with the real meaning of phenomena, rather the multi-layered ecosystems around architectural phenomena can be depicted by the actors involved. Our action is more a participation in something that exists independently from our activity, rather than creation of knowledge.