A Reading List for the End of Architecture

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter


In an architecture classroom, the reading list can be a powerful mechanism for unraveling the history of the discipline. Like design, “history” has both a method and a medium that are subject to critique. History and the past are different constructs, and historiography plays a significant role in how design academics, curators, and practitioners frame their work. The written history of architecture is indeed an imperial body of knowledge, rife with othering narratives that reinforce European spatial practices as both universal and trailblazing.

Decolonizing design pedagogy begins with disassembling the Enlightenment-based canon. In architectural education, colonialism can no longer be marginalized, because it catalyzed many of the advancements held up as disciplinary paradigm shifts. One such example is the Industrial Revolution and its resultant urbanism, fueled by raw cotton from colonial India and American slave plantations.

The first part of this paper surveys contemporary writing relevant to architecture today, highlighting moments where deeply embedded orientalist tendencies emerge. Scholarship under scrutiny ranges from the celebrated (Thomas Piketty’s Capital in the 21st Century, which mentions colonialism, parenthetically, only a handful of times, and Saskia Sassen’s essays on the global city, which have overlooked the globality of colonial port cities) to the mundane (the ARE 5.0 Review Manual, which still frames urban development as a self-supported western phenomenon). These and other works contribute to the enduring illusion that colonialism—capitalism’s “midwife”1—is unrelated to how our buildings, cities, and geopolitics operate today. I argue that they are in fact inextricable.

The second part offers “A Reading List for the End of Architecture” as a tool for decolonizing pedagogy: a potential semester-long syllabus, but also a manifesto. Organized into fifteen themes paired with guiding questions, the list juxtaposes works by G. W. F. Hegel, Karl Marx, Adolf Loos, Le Corbusier, and other canonical theorists against works by Edward Said, Franz Fanon, Kamel Daoud, Gayatri Spivak, Tristram Hunt, and other contemporary thinkers disputing the persistent power imbalances that ultimately manifest architecturally. Proposed themes include “Embedded Racism in Architecture Theory,” “Historiography and the Hegelian Dialectic,” “Architecture as Colonization,” and “Architectures of Exclusion.” The list seeks to equip students of the built environment to dispute and reinvent their disciplines.
Original languageEnglish (US)
Title of host publicationArchitecture and Citizenship
Subtitle of host publicationDecolonizing Architectural Pedagogy
EditorsMira Locher, Anna Goodman, Shundana Yusaf
PublisherORO Editions
ISBN (Print)978-1-943532-37-7
StatePublished - 2019

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