Invitation to read aloud
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The RCA School of Architecture is a unique site for experimentation and research in architecture, interior, city and environmental design. The opportunity to work alongside designers and fine artists in a concentrated, postgraduate-only environment forms a core part of the School’s ethos. Students in the School of Architecture benefit from a broad network of professional practitioners and are encouraged to take part in live projects in international contexts. The School’s faculty represent important spaces of practice and research in contemporary architecture. We support students with bursaries and prizes related to their activities as well as sponsored internships, work placements, research projects, and exhibitions.

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School of Architecture
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Invitation to read aloud

The following is the first in a series of articles written by students from the School of Architecture documenting their studies in their own words. This is the English translation of the original article "InvitaciĂłn para leer en voz alta", that is available in Editions Issue Three.

In discussions within the doctoral program of the School of Architecture at the Royal College of Art, we decided to form a reading group where we could reflect on the implications of thinking in another language. It worked as an experiment to share the collective reading experience among those of us who shared the same language from birth, as well as those who had known this language from their research and travels. The reading group sought to offer a space to share in times of social distance, but it also allows us to address readings born in Spanish and whose thoughts on decolonial studies, critical theory, and gender politics are not so easily translated.

As a first collective exercise, we worked on "Coloniality and Modernity-Rationality" by the Peruvian sociologist Anibal Quijano (1930-2018).

Exquisite Corpse from Aníbal Qujiano: Quijano is mainly known for his concept of the 'coloniality of power'. The discussion, in the context of an Anglo-Saxon academic institution with an imperialist tradition, aims to reflect in Spanish on notions of race and culture and the role of language as a device of power that "generates the modern / colonial world-system." This reading group seeks to explore the systems of “producing knowledge, of producing perspectives, images and systems of images, symbols, modes of meaning; on the resources, patterns and instruments of formalised and objectified expression, intellectual or visual” of our discipline, architecture and urbanism. On how our schools reproduce "patterns of expression of the dominant, as well as their beliefs and images."

If coloniality, according to Quijano, imposes a racial and/or ethnic order on the world under capitalism, what role can language play in the emancipatory process of said control structures? Thinking together about our different understandings of the language and its Spanish, Mexican, Andean translations, or even hybrids with English, helps us to clarify the heterogeneous identities in what seems to unite us; in that language that we share, still anchored in different ways, in the highly varied patterns of power that govern our own subjectivities. This text, like an exquisite corpse, seeks to reflect those intersubjective relationships as the seat of knowledge production. This exercise questions the "individual and individualistic character of the subject", evades authorial clarity and post-production. Rather, it is the trace of a seven-handed conversation about what it means to think in Spanish about the modernity-rationality that our discipline materialises.

The birth of architecture as a profession, and of the architect as a subject in our Ibero-American context, emerges paradigmatically in the boiling of the colonising processes of the Americas. At the end of the seventeenth century, the Spanish Empire introduced an academy of mathematics with special studies in architecture. Building on textbooks such as the Treaty of Architecture by the Jesuit mathematician Jean Charles de la Faille, the academy soon specialised on military architecture and fortification. Hence, by the middle of the nineteenth century, architecture was a stand alone discipline independent of the arts and sciences in the midst of revolutionary and separatist processes. Schools as old as the National Academy of San Carlos were born in the collapse of the Spanish Empire. It established the career of both architect and civil engineer in 1858 and whose graduates built the unification infrastructures of a territory until then united only by colonial rule but fragmented in its governance. For the middle of the twentieth century, this architectural and infrastructural project would be necessary in the modernization processes of the different countries. Castizos trained in European institutions extended their precepts of progress and avant-garde in Latin American contexts.

It is necessary to stop at the connotation of "castizo" and "trained" mentioned above, underlining the masculine, ethnic, and cultural character that it denotes and the socioeconomic background of the subject to whom it alludes to. As the Brazilian pedagogue and philosopher Paolo Freire (1921-1997) taught us, we must ask ourselves, “what are the social and power relations that are transmitted, questioned or perpetuated through certain pedagogies, whether academic or implemented through protocols, institutional or not, of social interaction?” As an example, the apparent contradiction of speaking of "Spanish" as the vehicular language of this text; to which the first discussion of this group was dedicated without reaching a consensus on how the common language should be called in an inclusive way. How many languages ​​does “Spanish” actually contain? How many complementary subjectivities? How many forms of autonomous thought? The omissions echo in the silence. If architecture is a common and universal language - something doubtful at heart, but often recognized - it is pertinent to emphasise the very different subjectivities that make it possible, articulate it, inhabit it, and discuss it in the different languages ​​that live in each one.

From a position in this professional territory, grounded as it is in disciplinary divisions and implicit categorization in the subject-object paradigm, perhaps it is possible to consider language as a first step in what de Sousa Santos calls the project of "cognitive justice" that is presented as a prerequisite for the decolonization of knowledge and the emancipation of the epistemologies of the South. How do we also consider the multiple forms of expression within a colonial language which contain traces of histories that have been denied in the Euro-colonial canon? It is important to consider the position of the academy as a space both for the extraction and reproduction of knowledge. It is a place of exchange in which language, in its many formalised expressions, makes a prominent and constant contribution to the conceptual production of value. If we are to question what Quijano describes as the European conception of a social totality, then it makes sense to consider this in terms of the relationship between linguistic modes of production and value. In these terms, we could contemplate what methods we can incorporate to confront more deeply the concepts of property and custody in relation to knowledge and subjectivity. Such concepts need not be limited to the simple selection or denial of different expressions of meaning, but can be applied to a longer trajectory of production in which these multiple statements about reality are reinterpreted and reproduced in relation to other discourses, meanings, and truths.

We invite all in the School who want to think together in Spanish to join this reading group, propose authors, lines of inquiry, or simply read aloud.