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Ardeth #09 | Race. Exploring the Modern-Colonial Legacy in Contemporary Architecture

Deadline April 15, 2021
Felipe Hernàndez

Fig. Yácata pyramid in Tzintzuntzan built communally by the Purépecha, an indigenous group from Northwest Mexico, never conquered by the Aztecs, taken to represent the local ethnic identity. © Felipe Hernandez

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Architecture is an inward looking discipline. Its history conveys the norms of the discipline to an audience composed mostly of architects, who are familiar with the work of their predecessors –from whom they learnt, or for whom they worked. As such, architecture singularises the multiple processes through which space is produced, excluding difference in the pursuit of coherent narratives to sustain its authority, and does so mainly through the figure of the architect. For a long time now, critics like Beatriz Colomina, Diana Agrest, Mary McLeod, Jane Rendell (to mention only a few) have shown how that figure is principally male. However, little has been said about the fact that the figure of the architect is also white; a racial classification that refers not only to epidermal characteristics, but to their national origin, education, and in most cases their class affiliation.

The history of architecture in general, and modern architecture in particular, is constructed on a very narrow basis: a handful of European and North American architects whose work influenced others around the world generating an international movement. As such, there is an apparently clear origin that also establishes a hierarchy and has a colour of skin. Contributions by African Americans in the United States of America, Afro-descendants in South America, Aborigines in Australia, have not been registered in the architectural history book with the same prominence, as revealed in the recent volume Race and Modern Architecture. A Critical History from the Enlightenment to the Present, wonderfully edited by Irene Cheng, Charles L. Davis II and Mabel O. Wilson.

Recent books, especially in the United States of America, are beginning to explore the significant contribution of Black architects to the construction of modern cities in their country. The impact of these studies is enormous, even though the focus remains on ‘blackness’, reducing the complexity of ‘race’ as a socio-cultural signifier to one group. Therefore, it is absolutely necessary amply to explore the concept of race, so as to include other terms that have been deployed as, or along with race in recent years, for example Arab, Indigenous, Jewish, or Eastern European. It is equally important to explore other contexts where race continues to play an enormously divisive role, like in Europe, as well as well as the implications of race in countries like China, Japan or Indonesia to mention only a few.

The recent announcement that, for the first time in its 173-year history, the RIBA Gold Medal was awarded to an African-born British architect, Sir David Adjaye, was met with celebration. But it also drew attention to the fact that the number of black registered architects in the United Kingdom has dropped to 1%, while in the USA, only 2% of all registered architects are African-Americans, and of those only 0.3% are women. Similar statistics are found in countries with large Afro-descendant populations like Brazil or Colombia, and even South Africa where only 65 women were registered as architects in 2017 . These figures demonstrated the lack of diversity in architectural practice, and urgent need to review access to the profession. And while these statistics refer to the absence of black architects, little is known about Indigenous Australians, Aymara in Bolivia, or First Nations Peoples in Canada, and their contribution to architecture.

As such this issue of Ardeth intends to expand discussions about race in architecture, intersecting a broad range of ethno-racial groups, while simultaneously displacing the debate to include regions where it needs more and urgent attention, like in Europe and Latin America, as well as in countries like China and Japan. Thus, for this issue, we seek articles that explore diversity in the profession as well as in education. We also invite papers that embrace multiple methodological agendas to study the contribution of ethnic minority architects around the world, and articulate the potential inherent in the notion of non-white architectures in an attempt to decolonise the discipline. Authors can use race as a lens to explore a broad range of issues including, but not limited to:

  • Expand the narrow margins of current debates about race in architecture.

  • Explore the intersections between race, ethnicity, class and gender in contemporary architectural practice.

  • Explore the impact of these intersections in the materialization of cities and architectures around the world.

  • Explore the contemporary geography of the profession, engaging academic and first-hand experiences by professionals.

  • Revisit the history of the profession in specific regions of the world, providing architectural grounds for a more inclusive debate.

  • Investigate the extent to which architectural education perpetuates colonial principles therefore reinforcing ethno-racial boundaries in the so-called non-West.

  • Examine critically the construction of inherent ‘classes’, from technologies to forms, related to instrumental use of the locale, as well as national and indigenous styles of work and construction.

  • Investigate the possibilities for the existence of non-white architectures through the study of specific buildings.

Submission guidelines

Articles should be written in standard English or Italian. Only original work will be considered for publication, i.e. outcomes of research conducted by the author/s which have not yet been published anywhere else and are not currently under review by any other journal. Ardeth accepts manuscripts in different submission types. Submitted Manuscripts and Solicited Manuscripts are primarily text based (length 3,500÷4,500 words including notes, captions, and references). Essays should be grounded in relevant discourse, offer an original and critical contribution of a theoretical or a more empirical nature, and be supported by appropriate visual apparatus. Visual Essays are primarily image/ scheme/diagram based and Images have an argumentative and not illustrative nature.

Submitted Manuscripts, Solicited Manuscripts and Visual Essays undergo a process of double-blind peer review prior to acceptance for publication.

Submitted Manuscripts, Solicited Manuscripts and Visual Essays undergo a process of double-blind peer review prior to acceptance for publication.

All contributions should be sent to the Editorial Board specifying the call for papers the manuscript answers to (i.e. Ardeth #7_Europe):

Detailed guidelines are available on the magazine website:

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