Student syllabus project addresses design pedagogy and colonialism

Drawing of The Pool in Bovisa, 1986 © Estate of John Hejduk

Alexandra Pereira-Edwards, a thesis student at the Azrieli School of Architecture & Ur-banism, has contributed to a new project at the Canadian Centre for Architecture (CCA) that aims to address design teaching and colonialism. The Toward Unsettling syllabus, published on the CCA website, provides an open and collaborative platform to engage in retrospection and revision of architectural pedagogy, scholarship, and practice.

The authors invite students, designers, activists, and historians to submit materials or resources HERE. The project was undertaken as part of the Canadian Centre for Architecture (CCA)’s Masters Students Program. Pereira-Edwards worked with two other Master of Architecture students, Misca Birklein-Lagassé from the University of Toronto and Zaven Titizian from the University of Waterloo.

“This syllabus is a step toward creating and sustaining forms of settler accountability,” they write.

“The project has the potential to collect years of content directed at long-term, meaningful change.”

The program took place during the summer of 2020, a time defined by vocal allyship for Black and Indigenous lives and calls for institutional revision. The students received a single prompt: to investigate the swimming pools of Nunavut. After speaking with many people about swimming pools in Nunavut, they concluded that drawing conclusions or designing a ‘solution’ to Northern construction would “fur-ther harmful colonial practices,” says the student team.

“Given the short timeframe, we were unable to seek out meaningful community en-gagement, and as such, decided we could use the CCA’s platform to promote greater discourse about how to approach research and design ethically,” they say.

The project is comprised of three parts: a contextual article, a syllabus, and a supple-mentary index, which will be translated into Inuktitut.

The Swimming Pools of Nunavut article probes the social, political, and environmental impacts of creating volumes of warm water in cold climates. The syllabus and the index are intended to be collaborative and growing resources. The students will continue to monitor submissions and expand the project until next year’s Masters Students Program participants begin their work.

“Indigenous voices will be prioritized, as the presence of Indigenous perspectives within this work is central to its existence,” they write.

“While we recognize that this work will never be complete, we encourage submissions to make the project as inclusive, expansive, and critical as it can be.”

The project is the first in a three-year thematic series, In the Postcolony, at the CCA that aims to examine how architecture and urbanism continue to respond to the long echoes of colonial practices of spatial dispossession.