Course Syllabus - Spring 2024

Thursdays 15:45 - 17:30
ETH Hönggerberg

What was perceived as “innocent” in architecture?
Why is it not innocent? Who is it built for/against?
How can we see beyond the façade of innocence?

This semester, Unmasking Space will engage in a critical exploration of architecture and architectural education beyond its façade of neutrality. Architecture is not merely a backdrop to human activity but an actor that shapes our environments and behaviours. It often operates as an instrument of control and a delineator of freedom - from the stark functionality of checkpoints and border controls to the subtle biases in everyday living spaces. We will look into case studies and reflect on how the built environment can privilege or hinder various groups based on their gender, race, and class. 

seminar 01 - 22.02.2024
Community Making

an introduction
… to talk about our values
… to identify our motivations
… to come together for the first time

>>  hooks, bell. Teaching to Transgress: Education as the Practice of Freedom. New York: Routledge, 1994. Chapter I Engaged Pedagogy
Unmasking Space is a student-led course in the Department of Architecture in ETH Zurich. It aims to reflect critically on the current knowledge production in architecture education and bring attention to learning forms, voices, and methods that are currently under-acknowledged in the institution. Through multidirectional knowledge exchange and immersive activities, it experiments with other forms of learning, offering a critical lens on current pedagogies.

seminar 02 - 29.02.2024
Swiss Coloniality

How is Switzerland embedded in the history of colonialism?
How we could engage with it?

Switzerland has the reputation of having played a neutral stance in the colonial world order. As part of a Fachsemester (research semester) at ETH Zürich, students have gained an insight into the topic of "Swiss Coloniality and its Industrial Architecture" and researched how Switzerland was and is involved in colonial and post-colonial networks. In this seminar, two students aim to present their individual research: one will present the case study of the Suchard chocolate factory with sites located in Switzerland and Dominican Republic. The other one will explore the industrial activities of the Basel Mission in South India. Mireku and Appiah described Swiss' involvement abroad as "crypto-colonialism", where the position as a neutral power allowed the enterprises to benefit during and after the colonies. Through the examination of the architecture and urban design resulting from our case studies, we would like to explore and engage with this colonial past that still impacts our time.

Mandatory Readings:

>> Yeboah Mireku, Roland and Appiah, Juliana Safowaa. Decrypting Crypto-Colonialism and unveiling the Mask of Innocence, Contemporary Journal of African Studies, Vol. 7 No. 2 (2020): 31-44

>> Azoulay, Ariella Aïsha. Potential History: Unlearning Imperialism. London: Verso, 2019, excerpt from Chapter 1 “Unlearning Imperialism,” pp. 1-13.

Recommended Readings:

>> Canadian Centre for Architecture (CCA). „Architectures of Care“. Zugegriffen 17. Februar 2024.

>> Hartman, Saidiya. "Venus in Two Acts." Small Axe 12, no. 2 (2008): 1-14.

>> Zarzycki, Lili. “The Fat of the Land: A Drawing Essay.” Architectural Review (blog), October 20, 2020.

Rémi Madrona completed his Bachelor's degree in architecture from EPF Lausanne and is currently pursuing his Master's degree at ETH Zürich. He has done internships in Barcelona at Jorge Vidal arquitectes and Anna&Eugeni Bach, and then in Zürich at Lütjens Padmanabhan Architekt*innen. He is now student assistant at the Chair of the History and Theory of Architecture of Prof. Dr. M. Delbeke and for the design studio Lütjens Padmanabhan.

Deepthi Puthenpurackal completed her Bachelor's degree in architecture from ETH Zürich and is currently pursuing her Master's degree at the same institution. She has worked as a research assistant at the chair of theory of Architecture of Prof. Dr. L. Stalder, and is currently involved in the research and exhibition project “ A future for whose past? The Heritage of Minorities, Fringe Groups and People without a Lobby” at the chair of Prof. Dr. S. Langenberg at the chair of construction heritage and preservation.

seminar 03 - 07.03.2024
Architectural Agency under Colonial Currencies:
Re-Reading the Landscapes of the CFA Franc in Dakar, Senegal

How can we address the role of architecture in transnational monetary policies that reinforce capitalist imperialism and neo-colonial dynamics?

Calls for the decolonization of architectural practice often overlook the role of international private capital in perpetuating neo-colonial policies. Yet architecture is far from being an impartial speculative collateral. Instead, it serves as a symbol and tool of power and actively shapes urban identity and development to reflect the interests of former colonizers and current capitalist-imperialist agendas. To genuinely promote decolonization, this session aims to thoroughly examine the legal and financial frameworks that hinder or enable public and private investment in countries economically exploited by colonial powers. In particular, it references the case of the French-imposed CFA-Franc in Dakar, Senegal. A virtual walk through the city will reveal how this currency and financial system facilitated foreign direct investment in real estate, notably by China. While examining architecture's role in enforcing economic dependencies through mechanisms like debt-for-equity swaps, we will move from the BCEAO headquarters to colonial remnants to broader issues of economic exploitation and cultural imposition.


>> Harvey, David. The New Imperialism. New York: Oxford University Press, 2013, 94–108.

>> Cupers, Kenny with Roskam, Cole and Hundessa, Girma. “Architecture as Technical Governance at the African Union”, In Architectural Theory Review 27/1, 103–135. Philadelphia, PA : Taylor and Francis, 2023.

>> Une histoire du franc CFA – L’argent, la liberté, directed by Katy Lena Ndiaye.

Franziska Gödicke studied architecture at Bauhaus-Universität Weimar, Università IUAV di Venezia and currently at ETH Zürich. From July 2021 to July 2023, she was part of the editorial board of ARCH+. In January 2022, she joined the collaborative architectural practice b+ in Berlin. She was co-curator of the German Pavilion Open for Maintenance at the 18. International Architecture Biennale Venice (2023) and is currently a researcher associated with the European Citizens Initiative HouseEurope!. In workshops and guest critiques at venues such as AA London, RWTH Aachen, and the University of Cambridge, she addresses spatial injustice and counternarratives in architectural and sociological histories. One of her recent articles examined the effect of the CNF Franc on neo-colonial building activities in Senegal. Another paper assesses the impact of the GDR's 'Direktive 1/67' on various civil buildings intended for classified penal purposes. Currently, she is investigating potential extensions to the Outer Space Treaty to design a more democratic and environmentally just access to the Low Earth Orbit.

seminar 04 - 14.03.2024
About Accessibility in the (living) Space

How to design more accessible (living) spaces through considering the built and unbuilt structures which are shaping everyday live?

A workshop
…on intersections between architecture, gender studies and economics
…reflecting on opportunities and accessibility
…sharing ideas, learning together and from each other
…opening up space for critical thinking and acting

Current housing development and policies are still based on the traditional nuclear family as the measure of things. Reproducing the same housing typologies over and over again further consolidates this normative image. This leaves little room for other self-determined ways of living. Our position is based on the intersectional-feminist consideration of (housing) space. This includes the consideration of (shared) housing beyond the nuclear family, a feminist critique of existing structures, the organization of shared care work, spaces for more bodily accessibility, and an awareness of power structures and accessibility in connection with housing. In our work, we have developed a proposal for an "intersectional residential building" and would like to share our thoughts with you in order to develop and discuss them further. Therefore, we are considering creating a ZINE, serving as a small manifesto or handbook for designing. The zine will contain thoughts, images and questions and is intended to provide inspiration. It will encourage us to rethink traditional spatial practices and priorities new ones that promote diversity and inclusion.


>> Yvonne P. Doderer: "Queer-feministische Städte für ein anderes Leben!?", in ARCH+ 246 zeitgenösische feministische Raumpraxis (2022),S. 18-25, Ausschnitt S. 24-25

>> Gabu Heindl, Stadtkonflikte

>> Sarah Gunawa, Starting from “New Normal(s)”: Non-Normative Design Methodologies in Architecture Education

bürro is an independent and non-commercial space for exchange and experimental practices in the field of intersectional-feminist spatial design. We are convinced that the world would benefit from collective approaches and participatory processes. Our projects often take architectural history as a starting point to reflect on the production of space in the past, present and future and the power structures involved. Therefore, it is important for us to open up spaces in which people with different life realities can actively work together.

At the moment Marie Langholz and Leon Schade are part of the collective bürro. They did their Bachelor in architecture at Bauhaus-Universität Weimar together. Marie Langholz is based in Brussels and Leon Schade in Berlin. Beside the work in the collective, they are collecting experiences in different fields of architecture like teaching, internships, interior design and exhibitions.

seminar 05 - 28.03.2024
Case Studies

To conclude the first part of semester, we kick-off the assignement: each student brings an image or articles or media of choice that is briefly documenting three cases of interest for them. The class would be structured as a collective discussion which would enable an informed second part of the semester.
self-organized by students

public lecture #1 - 10.04.2024   (online)

Weaponized Architecture: Settler Colonialism and the Built Environment in Palestine

If architecture is necessarily violent in one way or another and if it has the propensity to serve the political regimes of settler colonialism, structural racism, heteropatriarchy, and ableism, how can we possibly engage with it without being complicit?

Architecture is settler colonialism's best friend. Without it, settler colonialism could still exist but settlers would never sleep, and would never leave their weapons while occupying the land they invaded and settled on. Architecture allows the crystallization of colonialism in materializing borders, checkpoints, colonies, and prisons. While the workshop we will do together will attempt to examine architecture's various forms of complicities in its function of organizing bodies in space, the lecture will focus more particularly on the ways through which architecture materializes settler colonialism in Palestine. While the public attention is slowly leaving the methodical annihilation of Gaza's architecture by the Israeli occupying forces, it is crucial to look at the way colonial violence unfolds in a less dramatic, yet as implacable way throughout Palestine.

The lecture was unfortunately cencored by the ETH executive board and take place online instead. More details:

>> link to the statement

>> link to the online lecture

Léopold Lambert is a trained architect living in Paris. He is the editor of The Funambulist, a print and online magazine dedicated to the politics of space and bodies, as well as the cultivation of internationalist solidarities. He is the author of four books analyzing architecture's complicity with settler colonialism and structural racism, in particular in Palestine, Algeria, Kanaky, and France's banlieues. The latest is called States of Emergency: A Spatial History of the French Colonial Continuum (2021).

seminar 06 - 11.04.2024
Weaponized Architecture

seminar 07 - 18.04.2024
Border Stories

How can listening to diverse border experiences help us learn about ourselves and each other?

A story-sharing session
… of collective zine creation;
… to reflect on how borders shape identities and relationships with others;
… to connect by understanding day-to-day struggles and fostering empathy.

As boundary markers on territories, borders are mechanisms trying to distinguish one side from another. Taking different shapes on the landscape, borders maintain, and reproduce systems of power that shape different bodies and their different ways of life. If borders are markers of differences, understanding how we relate to them is perhaps a way of understanding differences and how we relate ourselves to others.

In this workshop, we will share our personal experiences and encounters with border(s) through the making of zines. Zines, historically a homemade tool for political protest, aim to empower marginalized voices and disseminate underrepresented narratives. By sharing and documenting the border stories, we come closer to each other as well as ourselves. We will write, sketch, draw, collage, and produce zines together, and will have an “atlas” of border stories at the end of the session.

>>  Harsha Walia, An Internationalist Front Against Border Imperialism – The Funambulist Magazine

>> Prüwer, Tobias, Welt aus Mauern, 2018
Laurene Cen is studying architecture (M.A.) at UdK Berlin. Born in southern China, she moved to Hong Kong where she, after eight years, identified as home. In 2023 she completed “A Hike to the Edge 遠足邊隅”, a tiny zine at the size of a palm that tells the story of the meet-up across the border between Hong Kong and Shenzhen.

Selin Doğaner is studying architecture (M.A.) at UdK Berlin. She studied in Munich (TUM), Cardiff (WSA) and Vienna (TU Vienna) and has worked in offices in Germany and the UK. She is involved with the an.ders Urania initiative, active in university politics, and works at UdK as a tutor. In SS 23, she co-initiated and co-led the seminar "The City in Crisis". Her interest centers around the political realm of affordable housing accessibility, bureaucracy, intersectional climate justice and adaptive reuse, neoliberal urbanism, cities in post-migration.

public lecture #2 - 24.04.2024    19h
Offshore / Offshoring

How can we examine the practice of utilizing floating architecture as solutions for various crises and critique the allure of maritime geography?

Historically, colonial and imperial powers have used floating architecture for detaining or transporting surplus populations, those deemed criminal, and any population they wish to untether from their social divisions. These structures have defied classification throughout different stages of state formation, including colonial expansion, proliferation of carceral systems, and defensive border security. Beyond the subject of British carceral regimes utilizing decommissioned seagoing vessels in the 18th and 19th centuries, and slave ships in the Atlantic slave trade, there is limited scholarship on detention in waterways. This gap in recorded history has prevented the potential of tracing continuities between epochs and creating a broader category for researching maritime structures and detention practices. These watery histories are essential in understanding the development and maintenance of empires and nation-states.

Students will be given a brief lecture on the history of detention in waterways, exploring how various maritime architectures intersect, framing them as a specific application of systemic knowledge and a contemporary method of border demarcation, surveillance, and societal control. Next, participants will view video-based journalism and artistic investigations into contemporary maritime detention and migrant housing sites, followed by a Q+A discussion.
Sean Vegezzi is an artist and researcher who has examined urban topographies and infrastructures through image-making, site-specific installation, sculpture, and writing. Vegezzi's practice begins from lived experience and investigates civic life in relation to issues of autonomy, privacy, security, carcerality, and policing. They are currently studying urban studies and psychology at The New School in New York City.

seminar 08 - 25.04.2024
Offshore / Offshoring

Students will engage in a workshop to examine an ongoing activist archive-building project centered on the Vernon C. Bain Center (VCBC), a contemporary maritime detention site in New York City. VCBC was, until recently, an 800-bed, 627-foot floating jail moored in the South Bronx. From 1992 to 2023, it operated as an auxiliary of the Rikers Island jail complex. There is practically no information in the public record about the facility, but materials recently collected by Vegezzi highlight the structure's connection to carceral systems across oceanic gaps. The archive aims to provide full context on the facility's history and infrastructure for the general public, community activists, researchers, and journalists.

Together, we will think through the materials and consider how urban planning and architectural practice might challenge the ideological hold of state power and the use of floating architecture in waterways– spaces which at once function in service of, and in opposition to, empires and conceptions of security and law.


public lecture #3 - 30.04.2024    19h
To Remain in the No Longer

In 1962, Oscar Niemeyer was invited to conceive an international fairground in the city of Tripoli, Lebanon, which was never completed. To Remain in the No Longer looks at how architecture operates in this failed state. By examining the precarity of the project site that remains to this day, the film reflects on the country’s current socio-economic crisis. Employing archival materials, interviews, and 16mm and digital film, the documentary explores the political and cultural forces that have come to bear on the site and reflects on how architecture has been instrumentalized in the ongoing construction of a national narrative.
Joyce Joumaa is a video artist and writer based between Beirut and Montreal. After growing up in Lebanon, she pursued a BFA in Film Studies at Concordia University in Canada. Her work focuses on microhistories within Lebanon as a way to understand how past structures inform the present moment. Central to her work is an interest towards the political charge inscribed in spaces and the social psychology that unfolds out of this tension. Her current research revolves around the post colonial education system in Lebanon and the maritime border conflict with Israel.

seminar 09 - 02.05.2024

In this seminar, Joyce will present her ongoing video project on the maritime border between Lebanon and Israel. The maritime boundary conflict between Lebanon and Israel arose in 2006 during Cyprus’s attempt to define its borders for oil and gas resource exploitation. Discrepancies in mapping, discovered later by Lebanon, led to the loss of 1,430 km² of maritime area. Seeking to create a docu-fiction video about this issue, the project will explore the intangibility of maritime borders, where the documentary part focuses on observing the sea from various Lebanese vantage points, emphasizing the invisible nature of these boundaries. The video will symbolically feature fish as representatives in conversations, drawing from political assemblies, emphasizing the continuous negotiation failures and colonial legacy, employing 3D animation to visualize the underwater world and fish species found in Lebanese waters.
In this project, Joyce will be experimenting with new media technique ahead of producing a video work that investigates the Maritime border conflict between Lebanon and Israel. The piece will translate a fictional political congress of fish that happens underwater as an attempt to look at how diplomatic relations are mediated under contexts of geopolitical conflicts.


seminar 10 - 16.05.2024
Collective Discussion

To conclude the class, we will have a collective discussion on the case studies from every students, to raise questions and receive inputs and feedback.

>> ZHKolonial
self-organized by Unmasking Space

public lecture #4 - 16.05.2024   16:30-17:30
Schools as Repression and Empowerment

Located in the Putumayo region in southern Colombia, the Inga community consists of over 20.000 individuals with a distinct language, culture and heritage. Most of present-day Colombia was colonized by the Spanish in the 16th century, but these remote valleys nestled between the Andes and the Amazon rainforest had only been reached by catholic missionaries and only in the late 19th century did the central government assert territorial control. Both the Church and the State pursued a campaign aimed at cancelling the distinct Inga identity. Schools played a central role, as the violence was used to prohibit the use of the language and kids were forced to live in resident schools - severing the links to their family traditions. After this brutal repression, nowadays, more and more schools in the region offer their program in Inga and many initiatives are aimed at empowering the culture through schooling.

Lizeth Cordoba + Manuel Muyuy
anthropologist and social scientist, Inga community, Colombia