Current Issue

Facebook Icon  Twitter Icon  YouTube Icon

Research Students - Material Culture
Juan Rojas

E-mail: juan.rojas[at]
+44 74 6096 4044

Juan Rojas  

Mexican Indigenous Cosmology & Cultural Landscapes ▪ Architecture, Building & Infrastructure ▪ Foundation sacrifice ▪ Literature & Art in the field ▪ Surrealism.

Anthropology: ‘Landscape, Person and Perspective: Creativity and Place-making in a Mexican town.’ University College London, 2012, Supervisor Prof. Chris Tilley.

Based on 15 months of ethnographic research in a small Nahua town in the desert of southern Puebla, Mexico, this dissertation explores qualitative embodied scales of intimacy and distance, the near and far and the relations of the encapsulated and the cosmic. It takes the anthropological concern with the landscape-environment to emphasize ethnography oriented towards questions about lived processes and, immersive sensory qualities of perception found in everyday practices. It also examines culturally construction metaphors and ideational creativity building on a concern for how landscapes locate histories and maintain an emplaced corpus of myth. The approach accepts that landscape creativity is embodied and corporeal, that it generates powerful images, tends towards a cosmogonic orientation and, necessarily exploits a pre-existing, if always indeterminate, Mesoamerican cultural milieu. This research was supported by the AHRC; University of London CRF; UCL GSRF.


Architecture has played an important role in developing an outlook in anthropology. The realization that architectural images created a utopian realm divorced from place and, that computerization of studio methods was bound to create perceptual (and conceptual) deficits in making meaningful site analysis inaugurated my post-graduate career. The impact of 3-D modelling programmes such as ‘Form Z’, was at the time significantly changing design outputs and beginning to substitute the long-standing traditions of the architecture studio as the mainstay of work-practice. Based on creating virtual shapes by complex key-stroke combinations, virtual handling and ‘fly-through’ navigation, these graphic programmes anticipate 3-D printing -which is a fitting material analogue. My own inclinations, however, moved in an, altogether different direction. I wanted to understand how architect, Antoine Predock used clay models. He created these on the back of a pull-wagon by progressive slicing and carving while on an onsite walk-around with his associates. Predock’s walk-around models are therefore gestural acts of reducing a solid a solid drawing on the site in such a way that embodied intuitive insights and contextual fluidity. (Examples of: Antoine Predock’s clay modelsIndigenous modern architectureForm-Z3-D printing) Interestingly enough, Predock understands himself as particular kind of practicing anthropologist and communicated that he find this aspect of this work some of the most satisfying. His designs for community centres are grounded in the idea of place-making and cosmologically sensitive by participating in Native American landscapes. For my part, discussions with architectural theorist Eleni Bastea about architectural practice, lead her to recommend the (now decommissioned) London Consortium and working with urban theorist Ian Borden. The Consortium’s humanities platform, urban themes and distributed institutional ligatures (AA, ICA, Birkbeck & The Tate) were intriguing, but its humanities PhD lacked a concrete methodology.

I remain interested in an anthropology that counters an overweening tendency of a discipline obsessed with the dynamics of reflexivity and the researcher’s inter-subjective, or ontological, positioning (which I understand as a major contributing factor to making the humanities increasingly insecure). Methods, ideally, should reflect a suite of highly developed conceptual, interpretative and practical skills, deployable across a range of professional activities and integrated into real world and technically operative, settings. Material Culture at UCL is an inherently multi-disciplinary programme with an emphasis on technology, landscapes, photography, archaeology, art and architecture that maintains a broad, cohesive and, adaptive, theoretical fabric. Undertaking a PhD at UCL from formal architectural training, the earlier influences of Keith Basso’s work on landscape and Lewis Binford’s processual archaeology, established both a sense of continuity and conceptual renewal.

Some useful blogs, journals and anthropology networks:

Geographical Imaginations
Cristina Lammer’s visual ethnography of surgical theatres
Graffiti Archaeology

Sensory Ethnography Lab
Sensate: Journal of Critical Media Practice
Open Anthropology Coop
Material World

EASA Tallinn 2014 Conference (31.07-03.08) ‘Infrastructure & Imagination’ panel organized with Roger Sansi

Request page update
UCL Anthropology, 14 Taviton Street, London, WC1H 0BW Tel: +44 (0)20 7679 8633