aml

random thoughts on architecture history theory and criticism

i am not a “southamericanist,” i am an architectural historian.

ok, i am from ecuador, which is a country in south america (not in africa—that would be equatorial guinea—not being ironic about geographic ignorance, just gotten the question way too often). but, i am also an architectural historian, and i claim my right to write about whatever the hell i want.

1. when you meet me, if upon learning i am from ecuador, you ask, “oh and what area of ecuador will you be studying in your research?” i will probably smile politely and cross you out mentally. sorry, just the way i work.

2. nobody thinks to ask someone from say, the united states, why they have decided to work on france, or someone from canada why they choose to look at italy or whatever.

3. but, if for some reason i decide to look at an italian architect, i must put up with several questions. am i perhaps of italian descent? (no: actually, i’m half chinese). perhaps i’m being disloyal to my roots! (i’m not: can’t i just find something interesting that happens to be elsewhere?) i am clearly dismissing my own culture, which is in sore need of more study (yes it is, and i do intend to look at it, but don’t i have a right to look at other things also? why the need to categorize me?)

[additionally, did it ever occur to you to think that italian theorists were promptly translated to spanish, and read at a different moment and in a different context, so interpreted in very different ways? don’t you find this generally interesting? i do. i know this does not further my argument, but i had to mention it.]

this ‘regionalist’ line of reasoning often claims to be sympathetic to the rights of the third world (i’m tired of ironic quotations so i’ll skip them), but often rubs me as yet another type of close-mindedness. that is, i am not allowed to question your architects, but should limit myself to study my own. there’s quite a lot of proprietary thinking here—sort of like “get out of my turf,” but with some additional unpleasantness (you fill in the blanks).

furthermore, the whole concept of regional studies makes no sense at all, at least in the very specific way it is sometimes framed. i am all for interdisciplinarity, but i don’t think being from south america automatically qualifies me to write about anything south american—from literature to chickens and whatnot. i do think by being trained in a discipline, i am given the tools to research and write about that discipline, here, there, everywhere. besides, it’s much more fun—and ultimately accurate—to look for connections instead of thinking in terms of boundaries. we already have too many of those. i am also very interested in the question of reverse influences, of rubbing subjects against the grain as it were, and that seems to confuse some people.

finally, by separating regional studies the so called ‘regions’ ultimately end up as separate entities, effectively excluded from the mainstream discourse. if, as a south american, i have a project, it is precisely to include the architecture of south america into the global discourse of architecture, but this cannot be done by excluding ourselves, but rather by claiming a relevance for the region. so perhaps i am a regionalist, but in the sense that i am globalist, and there are sometimes pieces missing from the global picture that need to be stitched back in, not studied separately as rarified objects.

so if you ever meet me, please don’t ask me what ecuadorian architect i’ll be writing my dissertation proposal on. if this keeps going, i may end up writing about architecture in the north pole (inuits had really interesting houses! tempting).

ps. this post influenced somewhat by my advisor, mmj, who has managed to practice history globally, although i take responsibility for all the rant-y unpleasant bits.

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