Developed within the graduate context of the Architectural Association School of Architecture, Diploma 13: Experiments in Reparations, directed by architects and researchers Merve Anil and George Massoud, explores “reparations as a spatial project.” Shifting away from the canonical architectural educational model where students are requested to design an artefact, and from the pervasive culture of demolition which is so embedded within the discipline, Diploma 13 encourages young practitioners to approach the practice of architecture as one which can and should aim to regenerate and repair our built environment. In this conversation with George and Merve, we discuss the importance of encouraging students to develop a critical position in relation to their material surroundings and reimagine them in ways that benefit those most marginalised and disenfranchised in our society as well as our larger planetary ecosystem.
KOOZ What prompted the agenda of the unit as an investigation into reparations?
MA | GM The unit is interested in how identities or political subjectivities are formed and how they manifest through the built environment. This is our third year of teaching together. The first two years we were looking at apparatuses of state and capitalist power - essentially how we got to where we are - first through the nation-state and then through the lens of material extraction.We wanted to start this year from a more propositional lens, by analysing projects that aimed at repairing and undoing the harms of structural domination. We are putting together a catalogue of models of reparations and understanding their spatial impact. The key question for us is: how can we understand reparations as a spatial project?
We wanted to start this year from a more propositional lens, by analysing projects that aimed at repairing and undoing the harms of structural domination. How can we understand reparations as a spatial project?
KOOZ George, how does this sit in relation to the research and work you are undertaking with Material Cultures?
GM Our work at Material Cultures is rooted in a culture of repair, shifting away from a pervasive culture of demolition and thinking through architecture from a regenerative perspective. We have developed a construction culture with incredibly high material turnover, using materials whose availability is dependent on vast quantities of cheaply available oil. The work we do in design, education and research rejects extractivist economics and rethinks our relationship to the land for the benefit of all life. As we transition to the use of regenerative and bio-based materials, we can start to envision a construction and building culture that works in solidarity with people and our landscapes.
KOOZ This year your AA Diploma is dedicated to the question of reparations and how, as architects, we can “deploy our skills to repair, redistribute, restore, regenerate, reclaim and transform world systems that have disenfranchised communities, depleted our resources and ruined ecosystems.” In what ways can we, as architects, effectively repair?
MA | GM Architecture is the concrete expression of power - from the spaces we design, the materials we use to build and the way we organise our practice. The way in which Diploma 13 is approaching reparations is by thinking of repair as a means to break down those dominant power structures, towards a culture of care, longevity, solidarity and pluriversity. As a unit we will be asking our students to rethink our attitude to land and our material surroundings, from an extractive relationship to a custodial one to both our environment and to each other. Architecture has played a role in changing the world in ways that are profoundly damaging. It has been depoliticized as a discipline - both in education and in practice - and its complicity in contributing to overlooked social and environmental harm. We believe that the profession should be held responsible and play an operative role in repairing what is damaged and care for what exists.
Architecture has played a role in changing the world in ways that are profoundly damaging. It has been depoliticized as a discipline - both in education and in practice - and its complicity in contributing to overlooked social and environmental harm.
KOOZ Throughout your brief you talk about how space is weaponised and how apparatuses as “museums or the factory enforce social hierarchies that serve the interests of the powerful at the expense of the marginalised”. In what ways can architects subvert this logic to imagine alternative spaces and institutions?
MA | GM The unit places a strong emphasis on research and understanding the built environment not as a static entity but as one that has been shaped by political forces. We ask students to explore a particular context that they are interested in by situating it within wider social, political and economic networks. We ask students to consider their positionality within that context and recognise that as part of the project’s proposal. Their projects should be interested in rendering visible relationships and connections that are not always legible - for example, how the urban development of Geneva is related to gold mining in Burkina Faso, or how undocumented labour has shaped the domestic architecture of the Gulf States. Understanding the power structures at play is crucial for us as architects as it enables us to subvert them. Through readings and the unit’s Discussion Group (led by our colleague Lina Ashour)we encourage students to develop a critical position in relation to their material surroundings and reimagine them in ways that benefit those most marginalised and disenfranchised in our society. We begin this year by looking at existing models or case studies as a way to recognise and learn from existing groups, communities and individuals that have taken conceptual frameworks of repair and reparations into practice. This will give us a strong foundation for imagining otherwise.
We encourage students to develop a critical position in relation to their material surroundings and reimagine them in ways that benefit those most marginalised and disenfranchised in our society.
KOOZ What case studies will you be exploring and how do you imagine these informing the approach of the unit and the individual projects?
MA | GM Our collective research into case studies will form a Diploma 13 “Atlas of Spatial Reparations”. When talking about reparations most people think of financial compensation, but we are interested in a broader understanding of what it means to repair something. The brief is based on Olúfẹ́mi O. Táíwò’s book Reconsidering Reparations (2022), in which Táíwò advocates for an understanding of reparations as a constructive, world-building project and we have tried to collect many different historical and contemporary examples of what we understand as different models of spatial reparations. Statues and memorials, for example, can be claimed as symbolic acts of reparations by the state. Similarly, the repatriation of looted objects from national museums is arguably a reparative act. We can contrast these with community-led processes, such as accountability tribunals that do not replicate the punitive logics of our carceral systems, mutual aid networks and forms of organising, that provide infrastructures of support where the state is absent. Another example is Saidiya Hartman’s work on critical fabulations, in which fiction becomes a medium through which we can repair past injustices and archival omissions. The intention for this first short brief is that each student will develop their own individual position on repair and explore it further with their own design project.
We are interested in how political forces manifest spatially, but also recognise the limits of buildings in intervening in these complex dynamics. In fact, we are very reluctant to believe that architecture can “solve'' anything.
KOOZ The brief advocates for projects which go beyond the construction of buildings and spaces and proposes the construction of algorithms, institutions, laws, social movements or revolutions for a restorative future. How do you understand the practice and profession of the architect as one which expands beyond the designing of buildings and structures?
MA | GM Part of the unit’s broader agenda is to challenge the role of the Architect, especially within our contemporary condition of co-existing social, political, economic and environmental crises. We are interested in how political forces manifest spatially, but also recognise the limits of buildings in intervening in these complex dynamics. In fact, we are very reluctant to believe that architecture can “solve'' anything - but instead ask our students to think through different forms of practice. How can the Architect’s skills become productive within acts of protest, diagnosis, communication, care, maintenance, speculation, stewardship, fiction and dissent? At its core, the unit is about developing a political position and a spatial practice that is in line with those ethics. There are many interesting examples of practitioners today asking similar questions and challenging the architectural profession, and as a unit we are constantly learning from those examples.
KOOZ What is the importance of engaging young architects and designers in imagining alternative ways of being and becoming?
MA | GM We cannot continue to live under the same violent systems and forms of production that have led to our social and environmental crisis. We live under systems that champion the individual at the expense of the collective, particularly the white cis male individual. Colonialism has significantly impacted the way we perceive the world, and the more we unpack this history the more we realise how the world was not built with the majority of us in mind. The unit asks how we can shift our modes of perception to one of mutual interdependence and collective liberation. We require new models, new speculations, new ways of being and we think that as architects we have a unique set of skills to help construct these new imaginaries.
George Massoud is an architect, educator and cultural worker. He co-directs Material Cultures, a research and design practice investigating and advocating for the use of bio-based materials in the built environment. George is Unit Master of Diploma 13 at the Architectural Association, exploring how identities are formed through material and spatial politics. He is also producer and founding member of POA, a feminist, queer community platform for reimagining infrastructures of care.
Merve Anil is Unit Master of Diploma 13. She is an AA graduate and has worked in architectural practices in London and Istanbul, and as a researcher at OMA. She is also a former Public Practice Associate and currently works between design and policy in the public sector.
"kada (shop), kadha (story), kadakaaran (shopkeeper)" by Nethra Ganesan (2021-22)
This project that started off as a critique of the infamous golden latte follows turmeric and the role that it plays in the functioning of the Indian diaspora in Dubai. The city is home to a massive Indian population and yet affords them little control over their lives and respect for their contribution to the city's development. In the absence of formalized spaces of congregation, rituals become the means through which the diaspora is created & maintained. Turmeric is a commodity that holds intimate value for the community and plays a crucial role in these ritual ceremonies - a far cryfrom its use in the golden lattes, supplements and skincare products of the global north. The Gelf Indian Souvenir Shop is a "shop" that is run by Indian migrants for Indian migrants, that infiltrates the city as a Trojan horse, working within the confines of the city's legal and economic framework to support the Indian diasporic community in a realisticand pragmatic way. It provides a safe space for the diaspora to carry out their rituals, supplies them with the necessary ritual kits and allows for diasporic networks to be formed and strengthened through these rituals, other communal activities and public programme events. The shop is also an archive for a diaspora that is still learning howto define its identity in the city in the absence of an assimilated Emirati-Indian option. It is a collaborative, healing & self-reflective space to trace our history, share our stories & collectively shape our future in the city through these networks of solidarity.
"How to Make Kin in the Great Green Wall" by Maddie Griffiths (2021-22)
This project aims to dismantle the greenwashed narrative put forth about the Great Green Wall - an afforestation project in China's three northmost regions aiming to plant 100 billion trees to stop the expansion of the Gobi Desert south. Citizens of the Gobi are provided with a toolkit to generate agency through common-ing knowledge that will challenge the State narrative, help us live alongside the Great Green Wall, and lead us towards an unexpected futurity. The toolkit calls for a paradigm shift: we reframe our relationship among other non-human subjects and beginto make kin with and within the Gobi.
"Reparations as a Spatial Project: A Manual to Repair Nuclear Injustice" by Xiao Fang (2021-22)
The project starts by investigating nuclear colonial history in French Polynesia. The two atolls-Moruroa and Fangataufa-became sites of 193 nuclear tests conducted by the French government since 1966. The entire territorywas exposed to high-level radioactive fallout. Although the French government created a financial compensation scheme in 2010, the debatable conditions and problematic methodologies result in a seriously underestimated number of victims and an inadequate amount of payment. The proposal argues that the reparations should be a collective pursuit and not only focused on individual financial compensation. The proposed reparation programme is a spatial and environmental project that looks forward by designing a multiscalar masterplan that cleans up the radioactive waste and remediates the relationship between humans and nature. It takes into account the time scales of radioactivity, and provides inhabitants, those who must live alongside the nuclear waste, with a legacy to carry out the reparations for themselves by becoming guardians on the atolls. In addition, a digital archive system will be established to give back the rights to access information, and serves as an example of a nuclear reparation scheme for future reference.