CCA Master’s Program students release Toward Unsettling syllabus

An open-access syllabus focused on critically examining colonial practices in Canadian architecture has been released by the Canadian Centre for Architecture, along with a supplementary index of short writings. 

Entitled “Toward Unsettling,” the resource was prepared by Alexandra Pereira-Edwards, Misca Birklein-Lagassé, and Zaven Titizian. The three graduate students were part of the 2020 Master’s Students Program at the Canadian Centre for Architecture (CCA), the first in a three-year thematic series entitled “In the Postcolony.” The research was guided by Rafico Ruiz, Associate Director of Research at the CCA, and in virtual conversation with Indigenous and non-Indigenous experts and guests.

The open-access syllabus questions settler colonial perspectives and research practices across design disciplines.

The syllabus’s introduction, presented in Inuktitut as well as in English, reads in part: “Colonization is embedded deep within built and educational structures and is continually furthered through the attempted dispossession and erasure of Indigenous lands and Peoples. This syllabus, as an infrastructure of education, can be used as a tool to restructure current processes within the design disciplines to reflect the multiplicity of voices seeking to disrupt colonial action. It is an opportunity to construct new frameworks of collaborative, inclusive design and research with an emphasis on Indigenous Knowledge and resilience.”

A view of the pool in Iqaluktuutiaq (Cambridge Bay), Nunavut, as captured by community members for Google Maps. The pool was closed in 2019. (Image: Google Maps)

The Master’s Students research initially focused on swimming pools in Nunavut.

“Beyond tectonics, there are innumerable cultural and logistical complexities that impact the integration, maintenance, and use of [swimming pool] infrastructures—complexities that must be deeply understood, felt, and honoured if one wishes to draw any sort of conclusion about the infrastructure’s validity or offer emancipatory proposals,” write the researchers. “The swimming pools inherently embody a southern ideal of recreation and leisure, as traditional ways of knowing that have sustained Inuit life since well before colonization are often cast aside in favour of pool-based swimming lessons.”

“By exploring a topic that demands forms of settler accountability, our focus with the project shifted from attempting to make any substantive claims about the social, environmental, or logistical consequences of the pools, to the methods and lenses used to analyze them. We acknowledge that our initial approach and timeline for this project did not allow for prolonged community engagement and we intentionally proposed a new framework to investigate swimming pools in Nunavut.”

The Toward Unsettling syllabus and supplementary index of short writings—both posted on the CCA’s website—are intended to be resources for students, designers, activists, and historians, and to expand through an open call for contributions.