Architectural antagonists: Decolonise Architecture

Many groups do an excellent job of highlighting and acknowledging the issues within the architecture world but progress feels reliant on those in charge taking action. DA is creating its own resources and content to remedy these issues in a manner that is not dependent on other groups. Our network has proven to us that there is already a substantial understanding of the failings of the architecture industry, so why wait for someone else to act?

What role are you filling that traditional architecture practices aren’t, or can’t?
Our work cannot replace an architect; it is rather the approach with which we view architecture and its practice. 

We believe that architecture schools and their diverse student bodies deserve an opportunity to design their own education – primarily to expand architectural teaching, currently an export of solely European and North American creativity, to reflect the global mindset we operate in today.

When DA has benefited from additional volunteers at past events, we have ensured they are fairly compensated for their time. Our long-term ambition is to create a network of volunteers at universities, as well as a more permanent band of members to help shape the group and its efforts.

Who does your team consist of?
Four directors; Harsha Gore; Flora Ng; Jasmine Lawrence; and Mohit Buch. We are all 2020 graduates from the University of Bath (the group was founded in summer 2020 by another former Bath student, Tanya Chiganze). 

Source:Decolonise Architecture

What advice would you give to someone who wants to do what you’re doing?
The approach we have always maintained is: what is the harm in trying?

Decolonise Architecture (DA) is a group formed in the wake of the 2020 global Black Lives Matter movement, working to challenge institutional racism and bias in architecture.

Our team is now spread across the world and operates remotely. Harsha and Mohit recently graduated with their architecture master’s from Edinburgh and Bath universities respectively. Jasmine is a Part 2 assistant at Grimshaw in Melbourne, and Flora is completing her master’s at Columbia GSAPP.

Decolonise Architecture group photo

The event culminated with a panel discussion featuring RIBA president Muyiwa Oki, the RIBA’s former director of inclusion Marsha Ramroop, and the head of architecture at the University of Bath, professor Alex Wright. 

We provide a solutions-based approach to tackling institutional racism and bias in architecture and architectural education. Our primary aim is to provide tangible, short and long-term results that actively change the educational framework. We have worked with multiple national and international institutions, acting as consultants as well as curating our own educational material and guides.

Decolonising is a broad term but, at its core, it symbolises the abandoning of exploitative power structures. Architecture practice is often subject to shifting timescales, but it is the employees who ensure that a firm is able to meet its commitments, and they should be compensated. Practices do not expect work of a lesser quality during overtime, hence there can be no reason to not pay the employee.

Why did you start DA?
DA was started during the Black Lives Matter protests of 2020, when students at the University of Bath wrote a 200-plus signatory open letter to the Department of Architecture and Civil Engineering advocating for a reworking of the curriculum and practices. This was eventually formalised as DA, which became a registered non-profit organisation in summer 2022.

What major change would you like to see from the government?
The legally protected nature of the title ‘architect’ has put the delivery of our education in parliamentary hands. The strict regulation toward our expected curriculum is inflexible and has limited opportunities for universities and students to advocate for a globalised curriculum. 

What has been your ‘landmark’ achievement?
Our inaugural Decolonise Architecture Festival, at the University of Bath in September 2022. We curated a free, accessible day of workshops and talks from groups including Architects Climate Action Network (ACAN) and Future Architects Front (FAF), as well as academics from the university, and featured exhibits from students across the globe, with presentations on the climate emergency, social equity and refugee shelters. 

Irrespective of what stage you are at in your career, most of us have unprecedented access to the world’s information just by virtue of the internet. By approaching hurdles as learning opportunities and not failures, we have been able to take risks and reduce the time taken to achieve results. The benefit of being grassroots is that the possibility to create a positive impact far outweighs the adverse consequences of a ‘failure’.



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What major change would you like to see in traditional architecture practices?
The most basic demand we can make of practices is to pay for overtime.

Is DA volunteer-led?
The four of us work part-time on DA alongside our careers. As directors we cannot be classified as volunteers, however, at this stage we are in agreement that the growth of the company and achieving its goals is more important to us than getting paid.