Posted: 17 August 2017     |    

‘A discourse on black subjectivity in contemporary architectural theory is virtually non-existent.’
- Mario Gooden

Credit: THE ANTI-EMBASSSY, Ayanda Mkize, Unit 12 (2016)

This proposal is driven by an interest in architectural expressions of identity, relating to contemporary discourses around black identity, mixed identity and the resulting marginalisation of non-white subjectivities. Gooden states that ‘architecture historically privileges the construction of perspectival space through the gaze of the white male subject. In both architectural representation and architectural discourse, black bodies are either invisible, occupy unspoken spaces of colonial subjugation, or dismissed to locations of repressive difference.’

The influential French philopsher, Jacques Derrida, best known for developing a form of semiotic analysis known as deconstruction, is one of the major figures associated with post-structuralism and postmodern philosophy. He has also had a considerable impact on the world of archietcture, having been on the one hand directly been associated in the actual design process through his collaboration with Peter Eisenman on a section of the Parc de la Villette in Paris, France, and on the other, it was Derrida who coined the term ‘deconstruction’. My reseach and Major Design Project proposal draws heavily on the theoretical concept of binary oppositions, first articulated by Derrida in his seminal text, Positions (Derrida, 1992). Loosely put, a binary opposition is a pair of related terms of concepts that are opposite in meaning. It is an important concept of structuralist thought which philosophers argue are fundamental organisers of human thought, particularly Western thought. Derrida argued that not only does Western thought pair seeming opposites (black/white; male/female; inside/outside and so on), it also maintains these pairings ina state of permanent ‘play’, where one term is privileged over the other. The theorist Homi Bhabha’s writings on hybridity have also been a major influence in the development of this proposal, and in particular, his writings on the act of translation which is seen as fundamental to the architectural project.

Cape Verde is one of the most hybrid cultures on the planet; neither African nor European, but rather a hybrid of both, with almost infinetismal variations of both. In such cultures/socieities, the question of identity is both complex and contested. The proposed project, the Anti-Embassy, is a translation of these questions of self/Other; black/white; hybrids and ‘wholes’ into an architectural form which has no fixed programme. It is a space that is at once public and private; institutional and domestic; represenational and symbolic. It is neither a monument nor a memorial, but is rather open to interpretation. It opposes and rejects the idea of fixed constructs, and aims to shed light on the complexities of contemporary cultural hybridity by ‘solidifying’ these contradictions in formal, material and mulit-programmatic ways. It is situated in Plateau, the Portuguese colonial centre of power in the capital city, Praia, in the heart of the Alexandre Albuquerque Square. The symbolic siting of the project at the heart of the city’s colonial administration recognises the role that architecture plays in the production and maintenance of national narratives of identity, and at the same time, destabilises those notions by providing an alternate narrative.

This proposal aims to bring awareness to the supression and marginalisation of black subjectivity and cultural expression by reminding us of the power of architecture to reinforce authority and control cultural expression. The proposal blurs and subverts Derridean notions of the binary construction to create a more nuanced form of hybrid cultural identity. Architecture is a deeply cultural activity: how can architecture interpret and translate the historical, social, and political and contemporary contexts of place and culture?

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