East and West

IMG_1136Saying “Non-Western Architecture History” is like saying “Women’s Studies Department;” you grit your teeth and hope that soon there will be no need for such ridiculous terms. I was walking to the first meeting of this semester’s “non-western” (or the more politically current “global”) architecture history & theory course when a colleague asked “How are things?” and he got an earful. This was the well intentioned course devised by those caring for the profession of architecture; architects must be multiculturally aware and therefore those being trained in the profession must  be taught to look beyond the Western cannon. Many educators today are already debunking this division between West and the rest (notably Mark Jarzombek at MIT) and in fact this is the last time this course will be taught in its current format at my institution. Still, curriculum work in the discipline of architecture continues to be formulated in ways that are out of step with who my students are. For the most part, a group of white men run the show (and we know this to be likely the case thanks to the research by Despina Stratigakos), but as an architecture professor I was about to walk into a room of international students that might have been born in one continent, studied in a second, and are now doing graduate work in a third, globe trotters that they are. How was I to tell them about the content of the course when they had likely lived portions of the syllabus?

I wear two rings, one white gold from Japan and one yellow gold from Spain. I got the idea while working at Peter Eisenman’s office, where I spent 222 glorious exhausting days. He wears two rings too, he told me, in the kind of intimate conversation that can only happen when you are about to bury the person that raised you (my grandmother, who died on 9/11 but unrelated to it, except that it was extremely complicated to fly her body out of NYC back to her hometown in northwest Spain). I wear two rings because sometimes you just have to give up on formulating “the answer” and just put things next to each other and wait. Like my rings, I’ll bring out juxtaposed pieces of scholarship for them to engage; ha ha ha, “oppositions,” Mr. Eisenman. I may not have traveled as much as they, but I do have a wider range of theoretical discourses I can make available to them. Later, when as architects they are called upon to act in this increasing boundary-less world, hopefully they’ll have answers; for now, we’ll just rehearse the questions.

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