UPon Talk #2 with La Escuela___ (Latin America) and Colectiva Habitaria (Argentina)

Radical Pedagogies for an open, collective and feminist city! (EN)

talk date: 09.12.2022

Upon: I officially welcome you. Let’s start with a brief presentation of Colectiva Habitaria and LA ESCUELA___.

Victor – CH: Our beginning as Colectiva Habitaria has to do with the idea of an open, collective and feminist city; it’s what we’re focusing on and what we’re dedicated to and what we want to shake up from this radical pedagogy. We met as lecturers in a unique academic space during the last design modul of the Architecture degree at the University of Buenos Aires, where we taught collective housing as a project subject. We are very interested in collective housing as a driving force for possible transformations in society. 

In 2015 there was a very strong feminist movement in Buenos Aires, la Marea Verde (The Green Tide), which began with Ni una Menos (Not One Less) and led to the approval of the Voluntary Termination of Pregnancy Law. It was very important in the country. In that context, we saw many girls and boys who came to the classroom with green bandanas and who were very motivated in developing these issues in architecture. But, in reality, there was also a lot of mental blockage with these issues and then, when they did housing projects, they were very normative. So we felt that there was a difficulty in being able to transform things, to rethink them, and that the difficulty also stemmed from the teaching staff, who did not have the tools to be able to embrace these new themes. We realised that we had to create instruments and tools to be able to develop our work; that it was our responsibility as teachers to make it possible for these issues to develop. So the beginning of Habitaria was the construction of tools within the academy to try to find a space from which to hack it, fighting hard even with our colleagues to empower some topics. And that took some effort, but it established us as a group and from then on it has always been a path centred on collective housing and domesticity. 

Martín – CH: Colectiva Habitaria has a multifaceted character. There is a very strong focus on research in the collective, with its own research that is based in research institutes with an academic framework behind it. On the other hand, there are also territorial projects that are concrete work in communities. There is also teaching, workshops, seminars, congresses and publications. Then we carry out actions directly in the public space and competitions as a channel to put what we think, theorise and research that has space, form and matter.

Lupe – CH: A transversal axis of all our thinking is to be able to break the binary boundaries. We detect these boundaries between public space and private space. This entails a prior reflection on what it means to deal with this in binary terms, which are often also hierarchical, and not only between public and private space, but also between productive and reproductive spaces, between gender relations, between human beings and nature. We want to dismantle these logics, rethink everything and break with the binarisms of the city and the house, the public and the private, the urban and the domestic.
There is also the need to make the city a house. Although we work on the axis of collective housing, we are interested in understanding that many actions that are done in a private space can begin to happen in the collective or public sphere. We live in a logic that is more and more enclosed in terms of the space in our own home, and this makes many of the things that happen inside the home invisible, which are, in general, reproductive tasks, domestic tasks. It is also closely related to gender violence; many situations that happen inside the home remain invisible.
And in relation to domestic chores, which we know are feminised, by breaking this binarism, the aim is to give them visibility and to ensure that they do not remain an action that falls to women. Doing this also implies collectivising reproductive tasks and taking them to a community and urban sphere so that they do not remain a private individual action. All our lines of action have to do with collectivising these reproductive tasks, breaking this limit and trying to bring this domesticity, reflecting on what it is and what it implies with regards to the urban space. 

Martín – CH: In these concepts that have always challenged us, we go to the basic dictionary definition of the verb “domesticate”, which is „to make a person or an animal fit for domestic life“; in other words, that it is affecting a subject. We want to work with this hybridisation between the public and the private, between the urban and the domestic. So we found that there was no particular verb for how an object or a space takes on this quality of the domestic, the action of transforming an object or a thing so that it acquires this character. We were interested in the verb mestizar (to mix/cross), which is to cross different things, different races, to mix different cultures or cultural styles. And here this new hybrid term appears between the two, which is “domestizar” (a mix of the word domesticar and mestizar): the action of equipping a space with the quality of domestic and mixed exchanges, a term to define the action of transforming an object, a thing, so that it acquires a domestic character that becomes a place that enables the development of collective activities, that enhances human relations, that enriches spaces by exempting them from their function as mere places of passage or circulation. The result is a welcoming domestic space, with a cultural mix, where people like to stop and do something. 

Miguel LA ESCUELA___: It was a pleasure to listen to Colectiva Habitaria, because there are indeed many common themes. The first is the interest in public space. I really like this idea of raising the non-binary logic usually associated with gender issues; also with dichotomies like the public and private spaces. The idea of making the city a house resonated a lot because I think that in LA ESCUELA___ we are also looking to make the city a school and that’s why we define LA ESCUELA___ as an artist-led platform for radical learning in the public space. It is a platform for thinking and activating education from different places and contexts. That is why I explain the project as an online platform, which is accompanied by the interventions of its members, like these ideas that appear as an extension of our visual identity: „LA ESCUELA___ Listens to expand Knowledge“ or „LA ESCUELA___ activates the political imagination“. These are different ideas that come from ongoing research by what we call the faculty.  From on-site training projects, online training projects, and editorial projects, this proposal is created to activate and think about education as a collaborative project between artists and as an artistic project in itself. The graphic identity was made in collaboration with Sheroanawe Hakihiiwe, a Yanomami artist in Venezuela, and are drawings that rotate like the ideas that build LA ESCUELA___.

LA ESCUELA___ reproduces the traditional structure of a university campus with classrooms, laboratories or auditorium, while playing with and subverting these dynamics. It is a project developed in collaboration with the Siemens Stiftung Foundation. To explain a bit about how LA ESCUELA___, and also its ideas around education in the public space, came about, I will explain this project that I did with Siemens Stiftung in early 2020. We were in Mexico in Espacios Revelados (Revealed Spaces), a programme that Siemens Stiftung has been doing in different cities in Latin America, transforming abandoned spaces and activating them with different artistic, cultural and community programmes. There we proposed MONUMENTOS HORIZONTALES (Horizontal Monuments), we built a 1:1 scale replica of the Benito Juárez monument in the Plaza de Guadalajara and invited a group of architecture and arts students to have a class in this public space to discuss the role of these objects in the city and to imagine new types of possible monuments. The spirit of the project was not only the contrast of the horizontal versus the vertical monument, but also the contrast of a monument for a single person versus a new monument around a group of people gathered in assembly. The concept of the project was to meet and decide what to do with this big totem pole; basically, it was to have a discussion about and in the public space, to think creatively about monuments, city and urban projects on site. In the course of the performance the decision was made to take the monument to a nearby park, where children who were in the area started jumping and interacting with the monument until it became a playground. It was not designed for jumping, in fact it started to break, but this is one of the topics that interests us about learning in the public space: to understand not only the issue of scale, materiality, construction, but also the social and political implications of these projects that occur or exist in the public space. As well as the openness, integrating also more people, in this case the children who without being an initial part of the project were the ones who ended up giving a „lesson“. 

This openness that exists in projects outside the classroom is at the heart of LA ESCUELA___. Among the different programmes are the spaces we call classrooms, where we invite artists to work in collaboration with institutions, universities, communities and develop projects for on-site learning.

I would now like to present an overview of the programmes of LA ESCUELA___. The labs are projects similar to the Classrooms but they take place online and integrate people from different parts of Latin America. Both the classrooms and the labs are not instructional training projects, but projects of co-creation under the idea of education as art, they are artistic as well as formative projects, all the programmes are open and free, which is a great interest of the school, not only to understand the public space as a context, but also the implications and attributes of the public and especially public education. 

The great interest of LA ESCUELA___ is to link learning to the contexts of social realities  in order to learn and act upon them. This is a practice that has been developed in Latin America, not only in iconic examples such as Ciudad Abierta (Open City), but also by artists, researchers, thinkers such as Augusto Boal, an artist working in the performing arts with proposals such as El Teatro del Oprimido (The Theatre of the Oppressed), a community learning project focused on social transformation through experimental methodologies with an emancipatory vocation. Like Augusto Boal, there are many references in Latin America and this is what we are interested in starting to weave; to rescue these explorations in LA ESCUELA___; to create a living archive of all these learning practices and methodologies on the continent. The list of what we call Emeritus are imagined school teachers, who are nothing more than case studies and key references to talk about education in Latin America.

In addition to understanding direct references in education, we are also interested in all social, activist and collaborative practices. They are always projects that coincide in learning, they are all educational practices. These are the references of LA ESCUELA___and today we are interested not only in visiting them in history, but also in developing projects with all the people who are currently working on these issues. In the editorial spaces we have sections such as the mappings, which are cartographies of these practices on the continent. Through different commissioned texts, conversations, and essays, this editorial body is woven together with the artistic and training programmes. We see LA ESCUELA___as a platform for schools to think about education and activate it in the public space in a participatory, collaborative and experimental way.

Finally, we have a role we call “guest scholars”, academic guests who accompany us in the curatorship of the project, in the selection of artists and researchers for each semester. In the first semester, for example, it was Renata Cervetto and Mônica Hoff. I think this is one of the most important roles in the school, which has allowed it to grow organically, and that it is not a single vision, but many ideas in movement.

Upon: Both Colectiva Habitaria and LA ESCUELA___, with their initiatives deconstruct or decolonise two institutions deeply rooted in the modernity of society. One is housing, that is, everything that includes the home, the family, and the other is the school. From what I’ve been reading about your projects, with this you react to a concrete type of knowledge transfer. Miguel, you mention this explicitly in your essay La Escuela Desnuda (The Naked School). Perhaps you could tell us about the specific deficits, contradictions, hermeticisms or even the violence that you have detected in contemporary practices of education and research that you have come across, and what methods you are developing to modify these educational habits.

Miguel LA ESCUELA___: LA ESCUELA DESNUDA (The Naked School) for me is the origin of LA ESCUELA___. It is a text that articulates personal experiences with reflections on art and education in the context of the pandemic. I studied architecture and then became an artist, basically because of my teaching practice. The first time I formally studied art was in the United States and it was very shocking to see how the universities replicate the institutional model of the art market, the galleries, the museums, the white cube and turn their backs on the whole movement that has been developing since the ’60s and ’70s as alternative models of creation, outside and in opposition to these spaces. LA ESCUELA DESNUDA (The Naked School) is proposed as an architectural metaphor. It is a building without walls to bring education closer to social realities in specific contexts, to learn and contribute from and about these contexts – hence the interest in the public space. 

Natalia CH: I think that in our case the critique of housing and the critique of the educational institution, in this case the university, go hand in hand. 

Yes, when we set up these kinds of seminars or these kinds of intensive workshops within the curriculum we also encountered a lot of violence and resistance from the upper echelons of the university, where they came to say: what does this gender thing mean within architecture? A number of phrases that have stayed with us that are really very terrible and distressing and that, fortunately, did not limit us. We also saw that the students became enthusiastic, motivated, they began to talk about other subjects, to read other bibliographies, to think in other ways, to be able to open up the imagination of possibilities little by little. 

Víctor – CH: Yes, and I would add, in terms of strategy, that this also led us to study more. In fact, I remember a case of a student who resisted and really wanted to work on the issue of the gender perspective in architecture. What we used to say to her was: you need to have your arguments well thought out and planned. And we were working so that she could go to a jury and not get taken out. And she got an A in the end. That is to say, the requirement on these new and experimental topics is that it is necessary to hyper argue so that the other person remains a little calmer about the fact that it is a topic of architecture and that simply a new perspective is being added. 

Lupe – CH: Architecture schools have a very vertical and patriarchal logic. Perhaps when we were students we felt uncomfortable, but we couldn’t deconstruct it. And then being there as teachers we appealed to a different pedagogy. In any case, teaching architecture is a conversation and we were very used to a professor coming to the School of Architecture and telling us how the project had to be. Moreover, the references we study are always male architects, and the teaching staff is mostly made up of men. 

Deconstructing absolutely everything from the point of view of housing means asking ourselves why things are done this way and arriving at a design process that is a co-construction. I think there is a very different logic to the one we study, which has more to do with doing things practically and accompanying a process rather than explaining or imposing an idea. And those little things are what we want to subvert. In a lot of things you can see this violence and we think that there are other logics that are much more horizontal. The strategy comes from there, beyond the content.

Miguel LA ESCUELA___: When you were talking about these collective housing projects and research, at one point Martín mentioned the need to materialise this discourse in architectural strategies. How does this intersect with possible formal projects of built architecture, projects beyond ephemeral actions, and how do you effectively materialise and project strategies?

Martin – CH: That’s a very good question. I think we can take two approaches to answer it. On the one hand, we give a series of seminars and workshops where one exercise is to fictionalise. Sometimes it is very difficult to realise a desire or an idea about where you want to live, how you want to live, because of a lot of variables that start to censor you and start to lower your ambition of what it could be. But, if we let this desire, this drive, grow and we project without limitations, it generates the tension of a super ideal scenario, perhaps utopian. So, when we fictionalise from desire and speculate to generate a new, fictional scenario, we do it from that place, so that we can have new desires and not start from inhibition. We work in this way to feed the idea. On the other hand, which is more of a direct materialisation, we are now working on a project that is a trans hotel. 

Víctor – CH: Luckily for us, we have had opportunities where we can materialise, such as the Hotel Gondolín, which is a unique flagship hotel, because it links collective housing with the transvestite trans collective. We are called for something very political, above all because politically we think of architecture differently and that is our great differential. We are not unique in this, but we make a contribution at a local level. We keep the strategy of desire, the strategies of listening, the strategies of empathy and our strategies of applying our post-domestic logics all the time. 

Upon: I know that you are in a process of constant research and rethinking, but how does Colectiva Habitaria define an inclusive and feminist habitat today? What are the points to consider when planning it?

Natalia – CH: It’s a difficult question to answer briefly and in just one way. One of the tools we use to project or to fictionalise is a list of traditional, domestic categories, or traditional project categories, which are always counterposed and binary. In contrast, we try to put together new post-domestic categories, where there are no longer two or opposing categories, but open and simultaneous ones; for example, in day/night, we include the variables of time, transitions, sequences. How can we include these categories of the political, of desire, of fiction to generate de-hierarchical spaces, flexible spaces, appropriable spaces? And always trying to take it to a habitat that also includes other species, that is designed for other individuals. It is about thinking about the diversity of subjects, questioning how the regulations are and why, in order to begin to think about other variables.

Lupe – CH: In this inclusive and feminist question, I think it is good to bear in mind the symbolic burdens of the spaces we inhabit, just like the perpetuation of gender roles that above all housing implies, but the city too. We know that housing plays a key role in making reproductive work invisible. That is why we see the political potential in transgressing these limits. So we have to keep this dichotomy between the reproductive and the productive in mind all the time in order to try to break it. And I think it is fundamental to put care at the centre and to watch out for whether we are perpetuating a gender role through any action. 

In this categorisation of the spaces in a home, there are the main places and the service places. The kitchen is a service place in the house. It is also a place of work, but it is work that is made invisible. So it is no small thing that we rethink how a kitchen is designed, and often one of our proposals is to collectivise this task, to take it outside. Taking it outside can be to make an urban kitchen or it can be in a collective housing complex that is a space outside that intimate unit, where this role is collectivised. 

And then, as far as a feminist city is concerned, it is precisely a city that takes care of us and keeps an eye on these daily tasks of care. In general, the city is designed for production, but not for care. And the same goes for an inclusive city: there is no recipe, but it implies keeping these concepts very much in mind so as not to reproduce gender roles and try to break these logics and, in any case, so that it is not a question of gender, but of the social tasks of the community, of the state. It is about understanding ourselves as interdependent and eco-dependent beings. The philosophical paradigm of the common as a strategy of resistance can unite all these concepts and begin to promote different practices and ways of making cities and housing diverse.

Víctor – CH: I would like to introduce the concept of sympoiesis, the making-with or generating-with, which we take from Donna Haraway and which leads us to understand ourselves as part of a broader whole and „making with“ others. Both in theoretical projects and in real, tangible projects, we understand that we “make with” others, and that is where, I believe, the key to this inclusive society lies: to be able to have multiple voices and the idea of articulation. At the level of public policies, there is a great deal missing in structural and institutional terms to be able to embrace this idea of „making with“, since it is always very pyramidal. We have to question our bases of thought and transform how we make sense of things. This is what this common paradigm is for, which allows us to imagine other things, to include other voices, to think of ourselves in a different way. 

Upon: That brings me to my next question. When one reads the texts of Colectiva Habitaria and LA ESCUELA___, one recognises a great deal of academic theoretical content behind both proposals. I would like to know what place local, native, popular and/or implicit knowledge has in both LA ESCUELA___ and Colectiva Habitaria. What is this dialogue with more academic discourse like?

Miguel – LA ESCUELA___: There are many ways. The first is to recognise what these voices are and what these projects are on a more local, more community scale that can contribute to generating other lines of thought. And we have been doing this with our editorial content, which is perhaps the most „academic“ space but which is largely filled with de-academised knowledge. And the other strategy is to do it on site by experimenting with classrooms to make room for local knowledge. This is the most complex strategy, doing research from an artistic and collective practice, integrating academic structures with community spaces. But it is also there where the approach to other forms of knowledge production is most effectively activated. The challenge is how to work with a specific community, solve problems and learn together. In Chile, for example, we work with a community of fishermen, where their work is threatened by the modernisation of artisanal fishing and the loss of spaces for future generations.

The native, indigenous communities are a major focus of the school, not only in the research and development of editorial content; the visual identity of LA ESCUELA___ is developed in collaboration with Sheroanawe Hakihiiwe, a Venezuelan Yanomami artist. In conversations with Cecilia Vicuña, she mentioned that many of these social, participatory, performative, community practices, whose beginnings we place in the movements of the ’60s and ’70s when art took to the streets, in Latin America they actually have their origins further back, and are completely rooted in our first native cultures. Therein lies their success and strength in our different regions. 

Lupe – CH: I wanted to add, with regards to the work that Miguel mentioned, that we have been looking at it the last few days and it seems to be a great work of visibilisation to us. Sometimes it is difficult because information about this work with local communities, from other territories in the global south, is not so accessible. We saw it, we loved it and we celebrated the research work and the fact that all this exists and that in Latin America there is all this background. Often the references that come to us are from other places and to highlight these references seems to us to be excellent work. And what you were saying, Valeria, at the beginning, that it is available, that can be seen, that we can find and share this information, seems to me to be extremely valuable work.

Upon: If we talk about the “global south” with inverted commas, what is the relationship between Colectiva Habitaria and LA ESCUELA___ and the North in terms of legitimisation or emancipation? Miguel, you were talking about the interview with Cecilia Vicuña, and there she mentions that many concepts were legitimised from the North, and only later are they valued in Latin American countries. Perhaps you can tell us if this was ever a topic of conversation or what your position is.

Natalia – CH: Yes, it’s a conversation we’ve had quite a few times. It generates many contradictions and a lot of confusion for us as well. I’ll give as an example the work we are doing in the Hotel Gondolín: a trans activist put us in a position of responsibility so as not to repeat Eurocentric logics of how a space is projected. Because most of the girls who live there come from the north of the country, from Salta and Jujuy, where people live in different ways, completely different, with different customs, where the spaces are different, and that was a lot of pressure on the one hand, but it made us reflect a lot on the other. Because there are also many girls who live in the hotel and want to live the way people live in the city of Buenos Aires. And so if we say: -You are going to live the way people live in the north [of Argentina], because you come from the north, even though you are in Buenos Aires City, we fall into a paternalistic, colonialist place. We are finding the cracks and the nuances so as not to fall into one or the other logic. 

On the other hand, we have to understand and assume that our entire education, from the moment we enter the educational institution to the university, is eurocentric, it is privileged. We are in a place of privilege for having gone to university, for being white, for being in the place where we are and where the girls put us in a position of responsibility. So how do we deconstruct all that? It is a work in progress. 

Víctor – CH: I’ll add just one little thing: we do situational research here; in other words, our research is here, those who ask us for things or with whom we work are located here in very concrete realities. Our own configuration as a collective is very situated, it has a very situated response and it is not an abstract strategy. 

On the other hand, there is the internet, there is information, we can have a lot of information and we are not going to block it either. I mean, if there is an interesting reference that catches our attention somewhere else, we embrace it, we bring it and we reflect on it not as a recipe to be copied, but something to think about. But for the most part we are interested in making what is here visible, in giving it value, because we work here and talk about the issues here, because what moves us is here and it is where we campaign and where we carry out political action as a collective.

Miguel – LA ESCUELA___: It was clear that LA ESCUELA___ was going to be a Latin American project, to create a network of Latin American authors and research. To recognise and articulate our practices is the first emancipatory step; to look back at our origins, our history, to build and make our genealogies visible. But the strategy has been to develop a bilingual project, more than for legitimisation, for the sake of visibility. Recently we were invited to a project in Seoul, with the Seoul Foundation for the Arts, where we were told that the value of LA ESCUELA___ was to show other references on educational models beyond those known in Europe and the United States. It is this exchange that interests us, not legitimisation. We believe that these practices are already legitimised per se, so it is a question of equalising and balancing the scales, of making the value of these practices visible on a global scale. And then I would also add Colectiva Habitaria’s lesson on non-binary codes: we have to understand the North-South relationship in less binary codes, as the borders are increasingly blurred.

Lupe – CH: I think it is important to appreciate how diverse the global south is, and all of Latin America. Sometimes from a distance it all seems the same, but there is also a richness precisely because of the diversity of experiences, of climates, of populations. And we all stand somewhere in between, that’s why it’s about having an intersectional vision.

Miguel – LA ESCUELA___: Yes, I wanted to underline your observation because I think it’s a very good one, we have never mentioned it in this conversation and I think it should also be written down. Indeed, Latin America is not a block, it is very diverse, it is very complex and that is also the reason for the interest of LA ESCUELA___, to put Latin America in a network, to generate conversations between the different zones, regions and communities so that the exchange begins from within.

Upon: We are coming to the end, I’ll ask you the last question, what do you think are the long term effects of your work, and if the whole school as well as Colectiva Habitaria have some kind of monitoring, some method or a way of evaluating the impact of the practices you propose?

Víctor – CH: I feel that young people are the ones who are most attracted to it and, therefore, there is an impact in that sense, because it will continue to grow. We know, for example, that new collectives have emerged, above all in Rosario, which we have had a lot of influence on, a lot of contact with, through seminars and workshops. Also the work of the Hotel Gondolín is the impact of our own previous work; in other words, we are contacted because of who we are.  

Martin – CH: I think that communication is important, to try to get these ideas across to different students or architecture studies or people who work in administration, because that makes it possible for there to be a change from that place as well. For example, students who in the future may have a position in the administration. So, I think it is important to work in the academic field, in education, and for these issues to be discussed. Also that they can be talked about, that they can be studied, because it was a bump in the road. So today we have professionals who are trained, who already know about these issues, who can talk about them and who can put them into practice in their architecture studies, in public administration or wherever. So, the work is there: to give evidence of the relevance of current issues, in the contemporaneity of architecture and in the construction of the city.

Miguel – LA ESCUELA___: From LA ESCUELA___ the key has been to build a community, to feel that people understand the school, transform it, and propose references to expand the network and the programmes. For example, there are people who have approached us to propose new figures for the Emeritus list. On the other hand, the most interesting proposals for laboratories have come from the Open Calls. This means that there is a community that understands the objectives, connects with what we want to do, is interested in the project and is capable of proposing strategies to expand and transform it. For me, this is the best way to measure reach, to know that there is a community to inhabit and grow LA ESCUELA___.

Upon: It is truly very interesting what you are doing. I sincerely believe that education and the work you are doing has a huge potential, a great impact, so I thank you for the work you are doing, for working to bring these issues to different places, different communities, different contexts, because I think it is the only way in which there will be a change. Raising awareness, visualising, rethinking, reconsidering, deconstructing, in other words, it is constant work.

Hybrid talk with Colectiva Habitaria (Víctor Franco, Natalia Kahanoff, Martín Pego y Luciana Pellegrino), LA ESCUELA___ (Miguel Braceli), Valeria Schwarz and the UP audience

Transcript editing: Valeria Schwarz

Translation ES to EN: Daniel Izquierdo

Graphic design: Stephanie Becker

Public Relations: Lorène Blanche Goesele, Tomma Suki Hinrichsen

This series of talks is supported by the Senate Department for Urban Development, Building and Housing as part of the expansion of the Netzwerkstelle Urbane Praxis, carried out by Urbane Praxis e.V.