The Decolonization of Education

12 November 2021

Moderation Ho Puay-peng
Site of Value: Architecture Education for Asia Ho Puay-peng

Education in the 21st century has to be localized and contextualized. Architectural education in Asia is no exception. When architecture schools were first set up between the 1930s and 1950s in decolonialized Asia, the textbooks used were mainly western publications. Teachers were either foreigners or locals trained in the West, thus subjects and pedagogy were heavily based on western curricula. The internationalization of the education system as well as professional practices were further factors. The only aspects to draw on local contexts were the respective architectural history, and construction methods and materials. However, in the construction of modernity during the process of nation building, the role model has always been, even to this day, the West. It is Western modernity that is entrenched within the education system here, and we are still not able to create a localized system in tandem with the national narrative. Education is about knowledge creation and transmission, and the key to architecture education is the setting and articulation of values and the learning of how these values can be manifested. Some values might be universal human values, and many other values should be localized, based on the context of climate, land, and society. This paper will outline some of these values seen in architecture education in East and Southeast Asia and their expression in schools of architecture, the site of value.

Ho Puay-peng
Professor, Head of Department of Architecture, School of Design and Environment, National University of Singapore

Ho Puay-peng holds the UNESCO Chair on Architectural Heritage Conservation and Management in Asia and is currently Professor of Architecture and Head of Department of Architecture, School of Design and Environment, National University of Singapore (NUS). He trained in architecture at the University of Edinburgh, and gained a PhD in Art and Architecture History at the School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London.
Prior to joining NUS, Ho was Professor of Architecture at The Chinese University of Hong Kong. During his 25 years at the university, he served as University Dean of Students (2005–08), and Chair and Founding Director of the School of Architecture (2008–13).

The main research and publication focus of Ho Puay-peng is in the areas of architectural history, vernacular architecture, and history of modern architecture in China and Hong Kong, located at the intersection of art, architecture, and the wider societal context.
Ho is a conservation consultant, architect, and adviser to some 100 conservation projects in Hong Kong and Singapore since 2003. He has sat on a number of public and private boards and committees in Hong Kong, including as Chairman of the Lord Wilson Heritage Trust, member of Town Planning Board, Antiquities Advisory Board, and is currently a member of the Senior Advisory Board of the Global Heritage Fund and a Patron of the International Dunhuang Project of the British Library.

Mind the Gap: Colonial Architecture History in Dutch Academia, and Beyond Pauline K.M. van Roosmalen

In “Mind the Gap”, Pauline K.M. van Roosmalen discusses the position of colonial architecture and planning in Dutch academia. Starting from her own experience as a student in Art and Architecture History at the VU Free University in Amsterdam, Van Roosmalen examines the presence of colonial architecture and planning in Dutch academia since the early 1990s. By comparing the topic’s presence in the curriculum in Dutch academia with its status elsewhere, Van Roosmalen observes a disconnect.

Pauline K.M. van Roosmalen
Architectural historian, Lecturer at Delft University of Technology, Department of Architecture

Pauline K.M. van Roosmalen is a Dutch architectural historian specialized in Dutch colonial and postcolonial architecture in Indonesia. Her PhD about urban planning in the Dutch East Indies (1905–1950) comprehensively describes how town planning in the late colonial and early postcolonial period developed from a haphazard to a methodological and autonomous discipline, and what plans were designed and implemented.

Van Roosmalen regularly speaks and publishes on various topics related to (post)colonial built heritage in Indonesia, its history, threats, challenges, and many opportunities. She peer reviews for various international journals and is a regular hourly paid lecturer at TU Delft. From 2011 until 2014 she initiated and managed the development of a digital repository for sources on European colonial architecture and urban planning at TU Delft. The repository is accessible via

Art Pedagogy, Experimentation, and Making: Mediating Agency (with/in) the White Building Community Vuth Lyno

This talk presents Sa Sa Art Projects as a multivalent approach in art engagement that interweaves art pedagogy, experimentation, and making to facilitate an agency with/in the White Building community in Phnom Penh. The White Building was constructed in the 1960s as one of the first urban social housing projects, responding to the surge of Phnom Penh’s population amidst post-independence Cambodia. It was later reoccupied in 1979, after the fall of Khmer Rouge, and grew to be a richly vibrant mini-city of diverse residents. Building on sensitivity to the White Building’s cultural history, architecture, and social space, Sa Sa Art Projects connects residents, students, and artists to collaborate, organize, and experience art events that maximize the possibility of art and community.

Vuth Lyno
Artist, Curator, Artistic Director at Sa Sa Art Projects, Phnom Penh, Cambodia

Vuth Lyno is an artist, curator and co-founding Artistic Director of Sa Sa Art Projects, Phnom Penh’s only Cambodian artist-run space. His artistic and curatorial practices are participatory in nature, exploring communal learning, experimentation, and sharing of multiple voices through exchanges. His interest is in the intersection of micro-histories, notions of community, and the production of social situations.

As an artist, he is particularly interested in the agency of human stories and materiality, and how the audience engages with them. He has presented his artworks widely in Cambodia as well as internationally, including major exhibitions and festivals such as the Asia Pacific Triennial and the Biennale of Sydney, and at institutions such as the Museum of Contemporary Art Taipei, the Gallery of Modern Art Brisbane, and the National Gallery of Indonesia, Jakarta.

As a curator, Vuth Lyno is interested in the mobility of material and immaterial goods across places and times, and what is produced or transformed from this mobility. Select curatorial projects include Currents – Phnom Penh Art & Urban Festival 2019 (with Pen Sereypagna) and Chat…Naa (2017) by Arnont Nongyao, Cartel Artspace, Bangkok.

The City as a Living Room Ute Meta Bauer

In her contribution, Bauer engages with the ideas of visionary Singapore based and Hong Kong-born architect and urban theorist, William S.W. Lim.

Starting in the 1960s, Lim addressed the complex topography of an ever-changing urban Asia through historically significant work in his diverse “design partnerships” as well as his numerous publication projects and other collective initiatives. As outlined in Incomplete Urbanism and Cities for People – two of his many books on the human habitat – Lim’s thoughts, concepts, and plans for action through architecture and planning are driven by inclusive thinking that takes an open-ended approach.

Ute Meta Bauer
Founding Director of NTU CCA Singapore, and Professor, School of Art, Design and Media, Nanyang Technological University, Singapore

Ute Meta Bauer is a curator of exhibitions and presentations on contemporary art, film, video, and sound that connect artistic work with other disciplines. Since 2013, Bauer has served as a professor at NTU School of Art, Design and Media and as Founding Director of the NTU Centre for Contemporary Art Singapore, where she co-chairs the MA in Museum Studies and Curatorial Practice. Prior she was Dean of Fine Art at the Royal College of Art, London (2012/13) and Associate Professor (2005­­­–2012), MIT SA+P, Cambridge, MA, where she served as Founding Director of the Program in Art, Culture, and Technology (ACT).

She was a Co-Curator of Documenta11 (2001–2002) in the team of artistic director Okwui Enwezor, and Artistic Director of the 3. berlin biennale for contemporary art (2004). In 2015 she co-curated with MIT List Centre for Visual Art Director Paul Ha the US Pavilion at the 56th Venice Biennale, presenting eminent artist Joan Jonas.

Ute Meta Bauer currently serves as co-curator for the 17th Istanbul Biennale alongside David Teh and Amar Kanwar and as curator for the Singapore Pavilion, 59th Venice Biennale, featuring artist Shubigi Rao.
Between 2018 and 2021 she was an editor for Afterall: A Journal of Art, Context and Enquiry.

The Legacy of Yusuf Bilyarta Mangunwijaya and Beyond Eko Prawoto

Yusuf Bilyarta Mangunwijaya (1929–1999) was a priest, architect, educator, novelist, activist, and much more, providing inspiration and encouragement in very different fields. He studied architecture in Aachen, Germany. His socially engaged approach revitalizes Indonesian architectural discourse and practice to this day. His work includes numerous churches and ecclesiastical institutions, cultural buildings, and housing for the urban poor.

Upon his return to Indonesia, he was asked by the Catholic Church to consider how church buildings could be made more Indonesian and less European. He demonstrated his architectural talent with a design for a non-Eurocentric church that people still value today. His housing for the urban poor in Yogyakarta won the Aga Khan Architecture Award in 1992. The approach taken there changed the way scholars think about solving the problem of slums in the city without carrying out forced evictions or demolitions, which only create more problems.

For Mangunwijaya, architectural design was simply a means of empowering the community and giving them a better life. For him, modernization did not mean adapting to the physical form, but finding an authentic solution based on humanity and the truth of nature. Why are his work and his buildings still so popular today? What can we learn from his approaches?

Eko Prawoto
Architect, Yogyakarta, Indonesia

Eko Prawoto was born in Purworejo, Central Java in August 1958. He received a BA from Gadjah Mada University in 1982 and an MA from the Berlage Institute Amsterdam in 1993. Since 1985 he has been a lecturer at the Faculty of Architecture and Design of Duta Wacana Christian University, Yogyakarta. In 2000 he established Eko Prawoto Architecture Workshop.

Prawoto mostly works on small-scale projects, such as private homes, art galleries, community facilities, as well as art installations and community art projects. For him, designing architecture is a journey, a search for new balance in this ever-changing world. Architecture is a means of maintaining the spirit of community togetherness and harmony with nature. Enhancing locality in order to integrate architecture with social, cultural, and environmental context is his design strategy.

His works have been shown, among others, at the Venice Biennale 2000, Gwangju Biennale, Echigo Tsumari Art Triennial, Kamikatsu Art Festival, Regionale XII in Austria, Singapore Biennale 2013, in Holbaek (Denmark) in 2016, and in Sonsbeek (Netherlands) in 2016.

The Project of Independence: Architectures of Decolonization in South Asia, 1947–1985 Martino Stierli

This presentation discusses an ongoing research and exhibition project at The Museum of Modern Art in New York, which explores the ways modern architecture in South Asia gave shape and expression to idealistic societal visions and emancipatory politics of the post-independence period. The project intends to cast a new light on the modern architecture culture in South Asia – focusing on India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, and Sri Lanka – in the first decades after independence from colonial rule in 1947/48, in which modern architecture was a significant agent of progressive societal transformation. By focusing on the prolific and diverse work conceived and realized by local, rather than international, architects, designers, and planners, The Project of Independence considers the region’s architectural production as an active force in the drive for independence and self-determination.

Martino Stierli
The Philip Johnson Chief Curator of Architecture and Design at The Museum of Modern Art, New York

Martino Stierli is The Philip Johnson Chief Curator of Architecture and Design at the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA), New York, a role he assumed in March 2015. Stierli oversees the wide-ranging program of special exhibitions, installations, and acquisitions of the Department of Architecture and Design.

He is the author of Montage and the Metropolis: Architecture, Modernity and the Representation of Space (Yale University Press, 2018) and Las Vegas in the Rearview Mirror: The City in Theory, Photography, and Film (Getty Research Institute, 2013). He has organized and co-curated exhibitions on a variety of topics, including the international traveling exhibition Las Vegas Studio: Images from the Archives of Robert Venturi and Denise Scott Brown, and The Architecture of Hedonism: Three Villas in the Island of Capri, which was included in the 14th Architecture Biennale in Venice in 2014. At MoMA he cp-curated the exhibition Toward a Concrete Utopia: Architecture in Yugoslavia, 1948–1980 (with Vladimir Kulić) and Renew, Reuse, Recycle: Recent Architecture from China (with Evangelos Kotsioris). He also oversaw the new installation of the Architecture and Design collection galleries in the new expanded MoMA, which opened in October 2019. He is currently working on the exhibition The Project of Independence, on the architecture of South Asia in the post-independence period, which will be on view in the spring of 2022.

Previous to joining MoMA, Martino was the Swiss National Science Foundation Professor at the University of Zurich’s Institute of Art History. He has taught at Princeton and Columbia University, the universities of Zurich and Basel, and ETH Zurich, from where he holds a PhD. In 2012, he was a fellow at the Getty Research Institute, Los Angeles. His scholarship has been awarded numerous prizes and grants, including multiple publication grants from the Graham Foundation as well as the Swiss Art Award 2011 by the Swiss Federal Office of Culture (for architectural criticism). Recently, Montage and the Metropolis was shortlisted for the 2018 MSA Book Prize by the Modernist Studies Association. The exhibition catalogue Toward a Concrete Utopia won the 2018 DAM Architecture Book Award by the German Architecture Museum, the initial 2019 Richard Schlagman Art Book Award in the category History of Architecture as well as the 2021 Exhibition Catalogue Award by the Society of Architectural Historians.

Online symposium
12 November 2021, 2 – 5 pm CET / UTC+1

Upon gaining independence in the mid-20th century, many cities in Southeast Asia changed dramatically in terms of their physical appearance. The task of becoming an independent nation was accompanied by the desire for a symbolic new beginning in architecture and urban planning. International modernism not only offered an aesthetic programme that reflected expectations of progress and prosperity, but also served as a means of emancipation from the colonial powers. Local modernities were created, based on an understanding of cultural specifics and the climatic requirements of building in tropical regions.

But the built legacy of this transformational period is increasingly under threat. Rapid urbanization and the accompanying rise in property values, reassessments of local architectural histories that are often politically motivated, and demands to adapt old buildings to new uses are causing ever more iconic structures to be razed or disfigured through careless modifications. And such developments are not limited to Southeast Asia. In Germany as well, architecture from the 1950s to 1970s is falling victim to demolition for very similar reasons.

In addition to working in initiatives which engage with and preserve these modernities, Southeast Asian networks in architecture, art, and culture challenge common narratives about and responses to modernity. The spectrum ranges from academic studies to artistic actions to research-based cultural work and outreach. The question of decolonization in teaching is also an issue here, as the curricula for architecture at Southeast Asian universities have often been adopted from Western institutions. Furthermore, where and how do you work on such issues outside university circles? What approaches already exist, and what formats are needed to facilitate new and critical perspectives? What political, social, and cultural hurdles must be overcome? How can cross-disciplinary and cross-cultural exchange be strengthened in the future? Finally, how can discourses in Asia be included in a global narrative of architectural history, education, and exchange?

The symposium is over. You can view the documentation here.