Decolonizing Architecture: modernism and demodernization

Decolonizing Architecture Advanced Course 2018–19. Colonial fascist architecture in Asmara. Photo by Luca Capuano.


The course uses the term decolonization as a critical position and conceptual frame for an architectural and artistic research practice engaged in social and political struggles.

With an increasing presence in European cities of populations with a migratory background, the struggle of decolonization, once primarily located outside of Europe, has today moved within its borders. Historical processes of colonization and decolonization, as well as today’s conditions of coloniality and decoloniality, have shaped the world order and continue to either sustain, or struggle to dismantle, inequality, structural violence, systems of privilege and white supremacy.

In this global scenario, architecture has always played a crucial role in organizing colonial spatial relations and reflecting or contesting Modernity, its rationalities, ideologies and hierarchies. The specific focus of this year’s course is to unveil the connections and relations between modernism and colonialism, and to speculate on possible projects of architectural demodernization. The European colonial/modern project of exploitation, segregation, and dispossession has divided the world into different races and nations, constructing its identity in opposition to “other projects” labeled as traditional or backwards.

The suppression of alternatives was, and is, an attempt to create a singular modernist/colonial epistemology, and hence modernity cannot exist without the disqualification and degradation of other approaches, and world views. While architectural modernism, in particular, continues to be celebrated for its progressive social and political agenda, what the modernist rhetoric of progress and innovation obscures is its dark side, namely its inherent homogenizing, authoritarian, and segregational dimensions.

These modernist conceptions are still present in contemporary architecture and urban planning; where in the name of modern architecture, entire communities, forms of lives, and historical sites, are erased. While alone, a critique of modernism is not enough, having already been conducted by postmodernism, the task of the present is, additionally, to imagine architectural forms of demodernization. 

Decolonizing Architecture course is part of a sequence of courses and research that together form the platform: Decolonizing Architecture Advanced Studies (DAAS) for higher education at the Royal Institute of Art in Stockholm. Each year the course focus on a specific theme. The first year (2017/18), the course dealt with the legacy and reuse of fascist architecture, ‘The Afterlife of Colonial Fascist Architecture I: Dossier for the critical preservation of Casa del Mutilato in Palermo,’ a spatial intervention in a public building from the fascist era during Manifesta 12. The second-year (2018/19), ‘The Afterlife of Colonial Fascist Architecture II: Addis Ababa and Asmara,’ the course investigated and learned from the reuse of fascist colonial architecture in former Italian occupied cities. During the third year (2019/20) under the title ‘Experimental sites of knowledge production,’ the course dealt with spatial knowledge that emerges from sites understood as physical spaces, as well as communities, experiences, and bodies. Read more on the course blog.

The course is intended for those with a background in architecture, art, urban research, decolonial theory or activism who are interested in the ideological, social and political dimensions of Architecture. It welcomes applicants from diverse backgrounds committed to developing an artistic, architectural and collective practice that is both theoretically and practically engaged in the struggle for justice and equality. The course is particularly relevant for participants interested in collaborative forms of knowledge production that emerge from collective discussions, peer to peer learning and engagement with specific sites and communities.

Practical information

The course is divided into two modules during one academic year. The Fall semester is divided into three mandatory blocks and the Spring semester in four mandatory blocks consisting of intensive program of seminars, lectures, studios, mentorships, collective readings, site visits and walks. Between blocks, participants are expected to independently develop their research. During the spring semester, more emphasis will be put on the production of a collective intervention and/or a discursive-exhibition.

The course benefits from being located at an art institution of higher learning with an experimental artistic research environment. The Royal The Royal Institute of Art in Stockholm is a leading art institution of higher education located in Stockholm with a long artistic tradition dating back to the beginning of the 18th century. The education offers both undergraduate and postgraduate studies in Fine Arts and postgraduate studies in Architecture.

At the end of the first semester it is possible for course participants to apply for university funding in order to develop their research projects and present it to a wider public during the research week. The course culminates with a discursive exhibition at the end of the year, where the artistic and architectural research developed is used as a support structure for public discussions, seminars, lectures and performances.

In order to fully benefit from the collective research atmosphere we strongly urge participants to reside in Stockholm, however if for some reason this is not possible, we ask non-resident students to attend a minimum of seven blocks and submit substitute assignments. The course will also offer field trips in Sweden and abroad. Course participants are expected to pay for part of the costs. The field trips are not mandatory and for those who are unable to take part a substitute assignment will be given.

Read more: Course Syllabus

2nd year continuation course

After the successful completion of the course, students have the opportunity to enroll in a second-year course that allows them to further develop the research project that emerged during the first year. Decolonizing Architecture Advanced Course offers a unique opportunity for participants to join a collective international community of practitioners interested in the social and political dimension of architecture and to receive the necessary material and intellectual support for developing a self-driven artistic and architectural practice. 


Applicants should hold a Master Degree in art, architecture or relevant field, or else have equivalent and documented knowledge and experience. Admission is assessed on previous projects and experiences as well as a letter of motivation, that together forms the application. The letter should clearly state why the conceptual frame of the course is relevant for the applicant’s study.

Ideal candidates should be interested in the ideological and social dimensions of Architecture, and in conceptual speculations and theories that are grounded and emerge from artistic and architectural practice. Candidates should be open to experimental forms of collective production which challenge individual authorship, and to an open-ended process oriented towards material and immaterial outcomes. The course requires that participants can efficiently manage independent study and production time between course blocks.

If you do not have a formal education in accordance with the stated course requirements, you must show that you meet the requirements through a validation process of prior learning. In order to claim competence through prior learning, objectives as set out in the Higher Education Ordinance for an artistic master’s degree must be fulfilled. Read more here. The applicant is responsible for submitting relevant documents which can be analysed in relation to the stated course requirements.

Information about entry requirements for a Master’s degree.

Application closes: Tuesday 5 May 2020, 23:59.

The Royal Institute of Art is public institution and it is free for participants that reside in Europe. Non-European residents can apply for a scholarship that cover the annual fee required for non-European residents.


The course is led by Alessandro Petti, professor in Architecture and Social Justice in collaboration with Marie-Louise Richards, lecturer in Architecture and enriched by the contribution of advisors and invited guests.

Alessandro Petti,
Marie-Louise Richards,