This year as we settle into our new home, we continue our work of developing architectural design research methodologies through the work of our 9 Units. The work advances sometimes with trepidation but always venturously, intentionally and lyrically. Through our teaching and learning we translate the complex conceptual manoeuvres required to negotiate the contested conditions and circumstances encountered in speculation on the past, present and future; of how we might apprehend architectural production and spatial practice in South Africa and the African diaspora through the lens of our constantly shifting interpretation of elusive architectures. Whether working in Jozi, Gabarone or Gorée, or through exploratory forays to Venice, to Ann Arbor or San Juan, our ranging preoccupations shift from notions of evolving ideologies – evolve – through action and motion – move – into the metaphoric and tangible space where we learn to translate. This year we sought to make sense of how imaginaries might be realised, we worked to translate thoughts into words, ideas into images, senses into space and transformative pedagogies into transformative practices.
The exhibition will run from 24 November – 1 December 2023.
This year the Architectural History and Theory course focused on an extensive range of broader topics that relate to Architecture. The course intended to expose students to a multitude of ways in which to view, interpret, and understand their environment through both an introduction to traditional histories and theories of architecture and an exposure to contemporary reading and voices. Supported by a seminar-based teaching method, a collaborative, and participatory approach of conversing and reflecting on the subject matter was prioritised over the traditional method of imparting knowledge.
Through the approach and use of multiple lenses, the year explored AHT through various disciplines, topics and their relationships to the way architectural discourse can be critically and contemporarily read. This was achieved through a series of guest lectures around themes such as:
- Power, Humanism and Gender | Ruth Lipschitz
- Nationalism, Culture, and Identity | Ruth Sacks
- Colonial constructs, Architectural Education Systems and Non-Binary Ecologies | Harriet Harriss
- The City and Urbanity | António Tomás
- Soundscapes | Thelma Ndebele
- Race and Class | Victoria Collis-Buthelezi
- Infrastructure and Race | Zandi Sherman
- Film & Public Space | Homo Urbanus
Students processed each guest lecture through a weekly notebook submission or short reflection in conjunction with a prescribed reading and then constellated the various themes through a Cartography assignment, which required them to make connections between the lectures and how their Design Projects (DP) were influenced by them.
Typically, Making occupies the space of design realisation in a school of architecture, orientating itself towards the profession as the technification of a design that has been arrived at in the imaginary. It often takes the form of technical studies or detailed technical addenda to the main project as a demonstration of competency and skill. To our mind, this was a reductive view of what a Making programme could offer, particularly in the context of the transformative experimental research being undertaken at the GSA.
We determined early on that the programme should occupy a more expansive view, and that it should do that in two ways. Firstly, that it should stimulate a culture of Making research where iterative acts of making become central to the research process. Whilst seemingly obvious, our collective experience has been that as the discipline of architecture becomes more digital, a distance is creeping in between the imaginary and the real that is reducing techni, the ability to craft. As we draw something, mould something, assemble or build something, the research questions change and grow, and the outcomes are different – the process of making itself both expands and fundamentally alters the research questions and answers.
Our view is that a crafting of the research process itself and not just the outputs, will enable a more successful interrogation of the complex, structural questions that the school engages with – particularly in the context of Johannesburg. Furthermore, given the GSA’s ethos of transformative pedagogy, the ability to develop and investigate new or alternative epistemologies requires a concomitant process of developing new making languages – new methods of drawing, representation, and communication.
The aim being to give language to the new, and to develop transformed ways of making that effect change in an actual and interventionist manner – in the academy and beyond, in practice.
Our Making ethos is summarised in what we call the Kora Philosophy of Making.
The kora is a twenty-one stringed West African instrument that straddles various Western instrument classifications – the settled upon description is a double bridged harp-lute. Dating back to the early 14th century, it reputedly gained significance in the royal courts of the Mali and Songhai Empires, and from there spread across much of the Sahel.
Primarily played by Jali – a griot class, who are musicians, oral historians, genealogists, political commentators, and performers, it is an instrument of guilds, its playing coded and guarded, handed down from father to son. It continues to be played today, still occupying a central space in the cultural narratives of the people. This long history of artefact and of a practice that is continually transforming and yet remaining of its place, offers instructive lessons for the collective project of the GSA.
Kora Philosophy of Making
The Lessons of Constancy
You play the Kora with your ears, not your hands
You learn to play the Kora over time and in concert
You tune and play the Kora at the same time
The Kora is a complex, difficult instrument, requiring a long apprenticeship, with master players maturing into their practice over time. Time and intention are important in developing craft.
The Kora is learnt from childhood, sitting at the feet of masters, it is learnt not as a solo endeavour, but as a collective pursuit. Over time, iteratively, and through call and response, one learns the instrument.
The Kora is tuned to the pitch of a voice, so every musician tunes the instrument as suits them, this requires lifelong playing and listening that matures with voice. Tuning itself is a skill.
Time, intention, iteration, collective endeavour, positionality, ongoing refinement – these are the abiding underpinnings of Architecture. To us, this is what a culture of making must be, a way of developing deep technical skill, and a love and mastery of one’s craft.
The Lessons of Change
You use the Kora to tell new stories with old traditions
You can continually reinvent and adapt the way you make and play the kora
The people who make and play the Kora are always changing but remaining still
Searching for a more authentic liturgical practice the monks at Keur Moussa Abbey in Senegal adopted and adapted the Kora to produce the first written notation – shifting its locus and giving it a lettered form. Keur Moussa has become a place to make, play and teach the Kora, a recognised new school within the tradition.
Kora music travelled with enslaved people across the Atlantic, becoming the blues and translating into a diasporic condition. Diasporic conditions require continual reinvention and adaptation, to sing new songs in a strange land.
As the Kora has travelled, those who are allowed to play is disrupted. Non-jali are now masters. Salif Keita, the monks at Keur Moussa, and Sana Jobarteh – the first female jali who plays the Kora, an instrument reserved for men.
New stories, new languages, new forms, new conditions, new diasporas, new players, new makers, new masters, and an abiding constancy of technical mastery and love of craft.
This is what a culture of Making should bring – transformative pedagogy translated into transformed ways of making.
Practice Lecture Series: A series of lectures by architects on how they work.