Towards decolonial earthen architecture

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School of Arts, Design and Architecture | Master's thesis
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Creative Sustainability
In the global context, almost one third of the world population lives in earthen buildings. Half of those buildings are located in the global south. This fact makes earthen architecture an interesting contemporary practice worth exploring; one that has nonetheless been marginalized in the dominant Western academic architectural discourses and practices. Earthen architecture proposes interesting models of practice that can be aligned with sustainability and could—if approached with a pluralistic attitude—provide insights for transforming architectural practice more broadly. To better understand what those attitudes could be, I look into Decolonial theories, a particular Latin American school of thought that critiques western epistemological dominance. Thus, this master’s thesis explores the question: what does it mean to assume a decolonial attitude towards earthen architecture? I have limited my scope to Latin America, although some ideas can be applied in other places. The research is motivated by my desire to define the kind of sustainable architect who works with natural materials that I want to be. While learning about earthen architecture it seemed to me that the most valuable knowledge on the topic was embodied, that is knowledge that is only possible to learn on site, through doing. Because of that—and in parallel with my master’s studies—I searched for and created for myself several site-classrooms, i.e. spaces where to practice earthen architecture, in Finland and in Argentina. In this thesis, I utilize autoethnography to analyze my experiences in seven of these site-classrooms. I search for internalized oppressive beliefs and I also investigate the ways in which I try to foster (or not) a sense of learning through narrative and personal writing, conveying a deeper inquiry and understanding of my learning process. The interplay between the initial theoretical search and the embodied learning experiences result in four initial learning paths that I use to illustrate certain emerging decolonial attitudes: (1) shifts in the role of the architect; (2) changes implied by mingas, participatory and co-design experiences within the framework of autonomía; (3) the question of local identity in sustainable architecture; and (4) the coexistence of different ways of knowing the world. Each path recollects oppressive beliefs unlearnt in the site-classrooms, and proposes a relearning alternative. I offer these paths to continue nurturing the idea of assuming a decolonial attitude towards earthen architecture.
Suominen, Anniina
Thesis advisor
Botero, Andrea
earthen architecture, decolonial, Latin America, autoethnography, minga, autonomía, unlearning, vernacular architecture
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