The Bartlett Development Planning Unit


Towards anticolonial design: urgency, methodology and diffractions

20 January 2023, 12:30 pm–2:00 pm

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Urban Design Otherwise 2023

Event Information

Open to



Laia García Fernández


Virtual event

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Design, in its many scales, may not intend to promote racism and injustice but their naïve idealism and compliance with normative practices manufactures and maintains structural characteristics of racism and coloniality. While discursively innovative, mainstream urban design theory, practice and pedagogy rarely question their role in reinforcing normative relations that shape racialized societies. That is the set of normative and administrative practices of exclusion and oppression that create inequalities the discipline pledges to right.  Stemming from critical discourses and specifically decolonial one we aim to ask how to imagine, shape and promote emancipatory practices and forge new narratives to unmake what we know, to look for radical approaches and practices that allows us to understand our responsibility, to create a counter storytelling and nurturing radical hope. In this session we will have:

Khensani Jurczok-de Klerk, Matri-Archi(tecture), Disruptive by Default - Design in Everyday Spatial Practices

What role does architectural practice play in making legible the already existing spatial intelligences embedded in every spatial practices? Everyday spatial practices in various African urban geographies are often referred to as informal with canonical connotations of chaos. This corrupted notion of informality ought to be challenged, as Fred Moten and Stefano Harney in their 2013 book The Undercommons; Fugitive Planning and Black Study, remind us that the informal informs form. The temporal and negotiative character of informal everyday spatial practices in Black urban life is a site of design, where people are constantly reframing archetypes through appropriations premised on need, resistance and joy. This offering will expand on the spatial intelligence of overlooked everyday spatial practices explored in Matri-Archi’s ‘Reflecting Our (Global) South Side’ platform, launched at the invitation of the 2020 Chicago Architecture Biennial ‘The Available City’. As an intersectional collective, Matri-Archi(tecture) uses research and spatial education rooted in the African continent to design spaces and evoke architectural discourses that reflect and archive overlooked cultures. Matri-Archi believes that such cultures can inform spatial environments through everyday practices of routine, occupation, gathering, and negotiation. Reflecting our (Global) South Side offers a space to house everyday interactions and to explore how occupation and reflection can facilitate learning about other cultures.

Khensani Jurczok-de Klerk is an architectural researcher and designer from Johannesburg. She centres practicing intersectionality through research and design by questioning and imagining how efficiency and narratives of the built environment can be more sustainable through ethically social and ecological practices. She is founder of Matri-Archi(tecture) collective based between South Africa and Switzerland, and host of podcast KONTEXT. She teaches at the chair of Affective Architectures at the ETH Zürich, where she co-coordinates the Department of the Ongoing platform. Her independent research has focused on typologies of safe space and learning from everyday spatial practices. Through her multidisciplinary approach, Khensani finds educational value in spatial, written and auditory explorations.

Salma Nassar, UN Habitat, Parallel Narratives from the City

This talk is dialogue to redefine the ‘other’ and ‘otherism’ in the context of Cairo, Egypt; a city that has long been defined as a postcolonial capital, a definition that privileges a certain understanding of the city at the expense of a more indigenous one. The talk will explore the power of redefinition which inevitably breaks confinements of stereotypes and relativism that reposition the invisible to visible. This talk reflects on a personal journey of practice and positionality towards the ‘other’ and the dichotomy of practice. On one fold, the talk will further expand on the obvious definition of the contextual other and breaking it down to ‘human and nonhuman’. It will do so by firstly reflecting on the ‘Cairo Sewer Cover’ project that was led by Salma to uncover one of Cairo’s overlooked nonhuman materialistic entities and its agency in urban design, research and development. Secondly the talk will follow the quest to dissect Egyptian mainstream urban development practices and their interaction between spheres of counter practices that attempt to break systematic inequalities and inequity. By critically looking at Egyptian mega-infrastructure and urban development projects and their role in legitimizing narratives of the stereotypical definition of the ‘other’. The main takeaway of the talk will attempt to break the domination of mainstream narratives and their production of inequalities in lieu of national development projects.

Salma Nassar is an architect and urban designer from Cairo, who is a BUDD’17 alumna from University College London. She is currently working as the Urban Development Programme Associate at the United Nations Human Settlements Programme (UN Habitat) in Egypt. Her work at UN Habitat had an overarching mandate of providing technical assistance and support to various stakeholders – namely the Egyptian government – to promote the exploitation of innovative tools for a balanced, responsive, and sustainable urban development in Egypt.Growing up in the invincible city Cairo, Salma’s work beyond UN Habitat is multidisciplinary, she is on a constant quest to tackle architecture and urbanism through diverse mediums and narratives. In 2016-19, Salma launched an urban-photography research project that studies Cairo’s most overlooked and despised urban element – the sewer cover. Shedding light on its role in preserving the urban memory of the city while demonstrating counter-narratives to the ‘taught’ mainstream scholarship of history and identity. 

Thandi Loewenson, A Stratigraphy of Lusaka

Lusaka’s ground is full of holes. Here, sites in the city where something – or something different – should be abound, denying the clarity and certainty in the present that a physical encounter with the past brings. Instead of reading these holes as absence and vacuum, I seek here to engage in a close reading of the contours of these openings and to determine the matter which fills the voids. Digging into the Earth is in itself a kind of time travel in which layers of the past, present and future are disturbed in the process. Here, what has been no longer is (as it was) and is now something other, something new and something in the process of being remade through an enormous pressure and force of which those of us who trip on the surface rarely have any clue. Fittingly then, this talk moves somewhat anarchically through time: we are at once in the long now of geological formation; in the 70s, in newly independent Zambia; and a few decades later during the economic, social and epistemic violence of structural adjustment, then austerity; while also meandering down Cairo Road in the passenger seat of a taxi in 2018. Somehow, we are also in 2021 having just buried Kenneth Kaunda, president of Zambia from 1964–91 and, in the words of the writer and critic Percy Zvomuya, ‘the last surviving symbol of the era of high nationalism in Southern Africa’. In the process of this talk-as-excavation, we will encounter histories of capital, colonialism’s presence and, for those willing to look closely enough, the possibility of urban worlds otherwise in our midst. 

Thandi Loewenson (b.1989, Harare) is an architectural designer/researcher who mobilises design, fiction and performance to stoke embers of emancipatory political thought and fires of collective action, and to feel for the contours of other, possible worlds.  Using fiction as a design tool and tactic, and operating in the overlapping realms of the weird, the tender, the earthly and the airborne, Thandi engages in projects which provoke questioning of the status-quo, whilst working with communities, policy makers, artists and architects towards acting on those provocations. Thandi is a Senior Tutor at the Royal College of Art, a contributor to the Regional Network on Equity in East and Southern Africa, a co-founder of architectural collectives BREAK//LINE and Fiction Feeling Frame and a co-curator of Race, Space & Architecture. In 2023, Thandi will be the inaugural Black Digital South Artist in Residence at the Centre for Race, Gender and Class at the University of Johannesburg.

Find out more about the Urban Design Otherwise series here