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THE SUBALTERN STUDENT of architecture: profession versus practice

Part 1 Dissertation 2013
Grace Quah
Plymouth University Plymouth UK
According to postcolonial intellectual Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak, the ‘subaltern’ can be defined as: ‘a position without identity’. (10

Western culture conjures notions of the architect as professional expert. These notions pervade the minds of prospective students: they are desperate to identify with the romantic scientific notion of the architect’s iconic work displayed on a pedestal and the cult of genius. This leads to, in many cases, a decision to study architecture based on misguided assumptions of what architects actually do, and a compromise between a professional career and a creative vocation. The student becomes enthralled with the notion of becoming an architect. Ken Robinson explains how we are as a society, ‘enthralled to the idea of linearity in education… its starts here and you go through a track and if you do everything right you will end up set for the rest of your life…and this results in a manufactured form of education’.(2)

In the situation of the ‘subaltern’ architecture student, who has become disillusioned with the state of the self- serving profession and design’s economic paradox, but who has been subjected to three years of studio acculturation, what are the student’s intentions for involvement with architecture? Is there a realistic possibility for design practice that eschews the notion of the architect or designer as professional expert?

If so, Spivak’s notion of the recovery of the notion of ‘subaltern consciousness’ lies in valuing an architectural education as a piece of education in its own right.

This essay has been part of an ongoing personal investigation into the potentials of pushing architectural knowledge beyond the limitations of the architectural profession and exploring and critiquing, a multiplicity of design and spatial practices. It aims to ultimately re- evaluate the discrepancies between initial perceptions and after thoughts of an architectural education, with the aim of pursuing my own cultural identity and graduate lifestyle.

(1) Lecture by Gayatri Spivak called The Trajectory of the Subaltern in my work, at Colombia University 2008, [www.uctv.tv] accessed 12.11.12
(2) Ken Robinson, Bring on the learning revolution!, TED talk, filmed February 2010 [http://www.ted.com/talks/sir_ken_robinson_bring_on_the_revolution.html] accessed 3.02.2013

Grace Quah

Tutor(s)
Richard Bower
2013
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