Our Research Mission

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). 

What we do not mean and to what we aim

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. 

Decolonization is not a metaphor - infrastructure of knowledge production and transmission

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. 



Knowledge Restitution


Theoretical Readers


Book Club

Address & 

Prof. Mariam Issoufou
Chair for Architecture Heritage & Sustainability
ETH Zürich
Department of Architecture

HIL E 47.1
Stefano–Franscini–Platz 5
CH–8093 Zürich

+44 633 48 58