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Taus Makhacheva

Archival Footage: Behind Charivari
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Taus Makhacheva shares archival films that were collected and compiled from her research on the Soviet circus tradition.
Archival Footage: Behind Charivari

Tara Aldughaither & Joe Namy

Rhythms of the Rising Sun
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Rhythms of the Rising Sun traces migratory rhythmic ecologies from West Asia, the Indian Ocean subcontinent, East Africa, and the Arabian Peninsula. This collaborative research project aims to raise awareness for resonant sound pressures in the region today. It explores how lucid migratory patterns have shaped some of the most prominent rhythms, sounds, and music of these geographies, and how rhythms have in turn shaped language and ways of life.

Sammy Baloji

Overcoming Modernity
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A conversation between Sammy Baloji and Rolando Vázquez Melken on world exhibitions and the politics of cultural representation and appropriation through contemporary artistic and architectural interventions.
Overcoming Modernity

Rasha Al-Duwaisan

Buckets and Waterskins
BE
In this poetic reflection, Rasha Al-Duwaisan expands on Buckets and Waterskins, which was presented in March 2024 as part of the Biennale Encounters program of the Diriyah Contemporary Arts Biennale.
Buckets and Waterskins

Martha Atienza, Jake Atienza

Equation of State
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Martha Atienza’s ‘Equation of State III’ is part of a series that examines climate change and asks the viewer to question environmental management and socioeconomic development. The installation is an entry point to community-based archival work on Bantayan Island in central Philippines from which it emerges.
Equation of State

Mariah Lookman

Poets have forgotten the words for love
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BE
A digital version of Mariah Lookman's sound walk, which gathers stories along spice routes in Saudi Arabia. The artist’s poetic narration is inspired by the stories of healers and merchants at the souks, and those of mothers and grandmothers. Storytelling becomes a method of recuperating a knowledge of plants that is passed on orally from one generation to the next. The work is an embodied and holistic experience of cross-cultural encounters and vernacular knowledge that has endured over distance and time.
Poets have forgotten the words for love

Anne Holtrop

From Geology to Glass
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Anne Holtrop Studio presents part of the research behind Glass to Stone, with a focus on the transitions from geology to glass, to glass waste and new glass production.
From Geology to Glass

Anca Rujoiu, Priyageetha Dia

Forget Me, Forget Me Not
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Amid the sea of information and data prone to racialized terminology, what are the possibilities for an artistic engagement to eschew or hijack the perpetuation of violence? Anca Rujoiu writes about Priyageetha Dia's *Forget Me, Forget Me Not.*
Forget Me, Forget Me Not

Migrant Ecologies Project

Fragments from Railtrack Songmaps
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BE
By probing the existing relationships between humans and birds, Migrant Ecologies collaborators explore a series of pathways through a contested zone along the former tracks of the Malaysian state railroad at Tanglin Halt, a neighborhood of Singapore that has undergone considerable social and environmental change. 

Fragments from Railtrack Songmaps

Aseel AlYacoub

The Secret Lake
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In this video documentation, Aseel AlYacoub explores two sites within Riyadh's desert, commonly referred to as 'The Secret Lake'. Through the footage, the artist interweaves narration from Paul W. Harrison's "The Arab at Home" (1924), a work by an American medical missionary to Arabia.
The Secret Lake

Cercle d’Art des Travailleurs de Plantation Congolaise

Plantations, Museums, and Regenerative Ecologies
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The work presented is a radical act of digital restitution. CATPC reclaims a piece of their heritage by using funds gained from NFTs (non-fungible tokens) such as Balot NFT, minted in 2022 and depicting the angry spirit of Belgian colonial officer Maximilien Balot (1890–1931). A series of short videos share the journey of collective members as they speak to elders, art historians, and academics about the possibility of restitution and the future use of blockchain technology toward regenerative forest ecologies.

Jumana Emil Abboud

Gazelle in a Mother's Eye
BE
Working with collaborators Tamara Kalo and Ileana Gonzalez Pacheco, artist Jumana Emil Abboud has created an immersive study of local folktales and the experience of embedding herself in the Riyadh landscape.
Gazelle in a Mother's Eye

Mohammad AlFaraj

Sketches / Whispers
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Mohammad AlFaraj shares pencil sketches, ephemeral poems, and handwritten notes from the making of *The Whispers of Today Are Heard in the Garden of Tomorrow*, a newly commissioned work showing outdoors at the JAX District as part of Diriyah Contemporary Art Biennale 2024.
Sketches / Whispers

Seher Shah

Notes from a City Unknown
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Cities are archives of our histories. They unfurl the historical, and connect the political to the personal across intimate passageways. We navigate the city through our kinships, languages, and constellations, which bind us in unknown and profound ways. We live with the weight and traces of those that came before us, as we guide our exterior and interior lives. Woven into us are notes and networks from inherited places, or a separation, leaving traces of a memory and a marked absence. Our names and bodies bear the weight of our failed nations, as we trace our footsteps to a sense of belonging.
Notes from a City Unknown

ROBIN MEIER WIRATUNGA

Waves Beneath an Ocean of Wet Air
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This commission juxtaposes audio recordings from the Empty Quarters in the Arabian Peninsula—sounds of singing sands, acoustic measurements of dune sediment, and foraging ants from his field work—with submarine recordings from the Indian Ocean, neuroelectric activity of the brain, AI-synthesized vocal sounds, and various other elements to create a generative, polyphonic soundscape, giving a voice to the stories of the desert and weaving a composition with sounds from oceans of varying wetness and its entangled kin.

Paulo Tavares

An Architectural Botany
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Paulo Tavares writes about what can happen when we recognise that a quintessentially natural or wild space—as defined by the hegemonic epistemic frameworks of colonial modernity—is in reality a cultural, socially produced artefact and how architectural practice and research can learn from a botanic archaeology, its methods and epistemic shifts. The essay is an excerpt of “Architectural Botany: A Conversation with William Balée on Constructed Forests,” the eighth chapter of Environmental Histories of Architecture, an open-access book published by the Canadian Centre for Architecture.
An Architectural Botany

Dana Awartani

Listen to my words
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In this selection of translated Arabic poetry interlaced with geometric symbolism, Awartani's work breathes a new life into powerful voices from the past, orchestrating an intergenerational dialogue that subtly questions the status of women in contemporary society. 
Listen to my words

Feifei Zhou

Before there was land, there were mangroves
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Zhou’s commission is a long-term, collaborative research undertaking that investigates coastal land reclamation across the globe. Filled by hard material such as rocks and cement, reclaimed land eliminates porosity and results in more severe flooding and biodiversity degradation. In contrast, mangrove forests, such as those in the Indian Ocean, nurture a rich range of sea and land creatures including fish, crabs, birds, and shrimp. Their salt-tolerant trunks and roots also create a porous environment and natural barrier against floods and tides. Preserving mangroves are some of the most pressing battles for coastal communities around the world.

Aseel AlYacoub

Desert as Method
BE
Drawing insights from historical records, cultural narratives, and the constructed environment, Aseel AlYacoub invites workshop participants to redefine preconceived notions about the desert.
Desert as Method

Tarek Atoui

The Hive: On Vibration and Resonance
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In this video workshop, Tarek Atoui invites children to explore music-making through playing with toys and instruments.
The Hive: On Vibration and Resonance

Jorge Otero-Pailos

A Library of Earthen Architectures
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BE
Jorge Otero-Pailos collaborates with Saudi artists and heritage experts in charge of Saudi World Heritage sites to create a Library of Earthen Architectures, which includes artefacts representative of Saudi cultural memory.
A Library of Earthen Architectures

NIDHI MAHAJAN & MOAD MUSBAHI

An Excerpt from Kitab Al Marasi: A Composite Navigational Manual for the Indian Ocean
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A composite navigational manual for the Indian Ocean that draws from the historical cultural practices of local sailors to confront the uncertain future of coastal communities across the Indian Ocean facing extreme climate degradation. The work creates a repository of Indigenous maritime knowledge that firmly ties the risk of climate change with vernacular forms of knowledge.

Liam Young

The Great Endeavor
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Speculative architect and filmmaker Liam Young reflects on The Great Endeavor, a 2023 work that depicts a planetary carbon removal and storage industry emerging in the near future as part of the solution to the climate crisis.
The Great Endeavor

Hiba Ismail

Two Islets
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Using an ongoing archive of sonic field recordings and images as a starting point, Ismail’s commission involves gathering extensive field recordings and images from the Red Sea and its surrounding areas, resulting in an index of recordings and photographs. Her most recent recordings took place on the Suakin Archipelago and multiple locations off the east coast of Sudan. The process of collecting audio material is an attempt to understand our relationship to the environment, drawing parallels between contemporary politics, archaeologies, and the natural histories of the earth. She consolidated the extensive catalogue of archipelago sounds into an audio composition developed in collaboration with sound designer Panos Chountoulidis.

Hussein Nassereddine

Hanging notes on “Laughing on the River”
BE
I choose here, dear ones, to comment on the texts that have become laughter on the river, from that time a poet recalled his loneliness in the open desert and its long night, to my friends in the river near our village, as we jump from the high rocks––plunging headfirst into the water, then the years take us, and we enter time. 
Hanging notes on “Laughing on the River”

Munem Wasif, Natasha Ginwala

Kheyal: a conversation with Munem Wasif
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Munem Wasif and Natasha Ginwala discuss Wasif's solo exhibition Kromosho (ক্রমশ), or "step by step" in Bengali. Together, they exchange views around how the artist’s gaze has evolved, chronicling fiction and fact over time with fundamental transformations in both medium and subject. Traversing a range of recent works, Wasif attunes to unraveling vantage points, protagonists, and ambient idiosyncrasies.
Kheyal: a conversation with Munem Wasif
An Architectural Botany
  
Paulo Tavares
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An Architectural Botany

Paulo Tavares

Paulo Tavares on "An Architectural Botany" and how architectural practice and research can learn from a botanic archaeology, its methods and epistemic shifts.


In the early 1980s, while working with the Ka’apor people of eastern Amazonia, the North American botanist William Balée, at that time a young researcher, encountered for the first time what the Ka’apor call taper, that is, a particular type of forest formation that they recognize as being “planted” by their ancestors:

"The Ka’apor consultants whom I considered to be the most knowledgeable on the subject of forest types and vegetative associations told me our destination, the old growth forest, looked like a true forest, but that it was in reality an old village, long abandoned by any human occupants. They called it taper[...]. The taper itselfthat is, the forest—gave living, green testimony to those earlier human lives."1


To untrained eyes—or rather, to eyes trained by the framings of Western culture—such forests appeared as pristine, untouched natural landscapes. But the Ka’apor botanists who informed William Balée could easily identify them as singular types of forests, to which they gave a proper name and attributed various historic and symbolic connotations, recognizing the past existence of an ancient village in patterns of trees, vines, palms, and other plants. “Long since gone were the houses, the pets, and the dooryard gardens,” Balée observed, “but the trees that stood all around were an index of past events in human history.”2

What to the Western gaze appeared as messy nature, the Ka’apor interpreted as living ruins of villages built by their ancestors, a sort of architectural archaeology saturated with a deep human past.
Slide of William Balée’s photographic archive, from An Architectural Botany, 2018- 2022. Courtesy of Paulo Tavares

What was particularly remarkable for Balée in the taperforests was that even though they were products of social designs, they were as biologically rich and dense as “true” forests, at times even more ecologically diverse. Western science employs a variety of terms such as “true,” “virgin,” “primaeval,” and “old-growth” to classify undisturbed forest environments old enough to have reached a state of ecological climax, when the forest harbours its highest levels of biodiversity. That taper forests exhibited similar features but were recognised by the Ka’apor as old villages presented an image of the forest that the cognitive apparatus of Western culture and science was unable to grasp. For they looked like true natural forests but were in fact constructed landscapes. What to the Western gaze appeared as messy nature, an environment defined by the absence of human interference, intent, and rationality, the Ka’apor interpreted as living ruins of villages built by their ancestors, a sort of architectural archaeology saturated with a deep human past whose memory was manifested in the very botanic structure of the forest.

There is no ready translation for what the Ka’apor identify as taper because Western language lacks the vocabulary and structures of thought.
William Balée’s photographic archive at this office in Tulane University, New Orleans, August 2018, from An Architectural Botany, 2018-2022. Courtesy of Paulo Tavares

There is no ready translation for what the Ka’apor identify as taper because Western language lacks the vocabulary and structures of thought. The Ka’apor distinguish at least two types of forests: ka’a-te, which is the equivalent of “high forest”; and taper, “which comes from a long unfolding landscape transformation that they are very conscious of,” as Balée explains in a 2018 interview I conducted with him.3 Taper means “an old-growth forest that has a human causality associated to it,” he tentatively defines, recognising the hazard of his translation:

Language is extremely important because in their language they distinguish these different kinds of forest. That was very important for me to understand those differences through their classification system. You cannot do that if you do not understand the language. The translator would never be able to translate; there is no real word for this cultural forest in English or in Portuguese.4

Throughout the 1980s, while working with Ka’apor communities, Balée was trained in Tupi-Guarani language and conducted a series of detailed botanic inventories in different areas of their territory. This allowed him to understand the ways in which Ka’apor botanic knowledge uses sophisticated modes of landscape interpretation to classify the forest in greater variety than Western botanic science, particularly through the observation of certain species of trees and palms that function as “indexes of human activity.”5 Eventually Balée learned how vegetative arrangements and associations—the presence and distribution of certain types of plants, palms, and trees; the variety and concentration of certain species at a given space; the shape of the canopy; the composition of the soil, etc.—could be interpreted as archaeological records of the social past of these forests. Such knowledge opened ways for understanding how the modes of inhabiting and managing the land developed by Ka’apor culture, and forest-people cultures in general, produced remarkable, though often subtle, transformations in the forest landscape in that the constructed forests they create are not only structurally similar to natural forests, but often more biodiverse.

Language is extremely important because in their language, the Ka’apor distinguish these different kinds of forest.
William Balée examining his photographic archive at this office in Tulane University, New Orleans, August 2018, from An Architectural Botany, 2018-2022. Courtesy of Paulo Tavares

Together with extensive field notes about the botanic classificatory and linguistic system of the Ka’apor, William Balée took hundreds of photographs of taper forest formations and collected numerous botanic samples of specimens that index the human, artificial nature of these forests. This archive provided the body of evidence for the seminal scientific work he developed in the 1980s and 1990s, wherehe argues that vast tracts of Amazonia are in fact not natural but “cultural.”6 Balée was not a lone voice advancing this debate. In the field of archaeology, a series of new perspectives also started questioning Western representations of Amazonia as a so-called virgin forest, such as in the seminal work of Michael Heckenberger and Eduardo Góes Neves.7 Since then, new studies have not only corroborated these early insights but demonstrated that Balée’s observations were in fact extremely conservative, showing that the Amazon rainforest, the most biodiverse territory on Earth, is to a great extent a spatial heritage of Indigenous landscape designs.

The Amazon rainforest, the most biodiverse territory on Earth, is to a great extent a spatial heritage of Indigenous landscape designs.

Since I first encountered William Balée’s work about a decade ago, I have been interested in studying the archive of photographs of taper forests he made in the 1980s with the Ka’apor. Assuming those are images of constructed landscapes, recognizing that they depict elements of designed forests, this collection demands interpretation as an architectural archive rather than a natural history or botanic archive typically found in botanical gardens and museums. Therefore, one needs to shift the perspective, to decolonise the gaze, to start seeing in those photographs a repertoire of spatial forms and landscape design technologies that, as they are, produce biodiversity.

One needs to shift the perspective, to decolonise the gaze, to start seeing in those photographs a repertoire of spatial forms and landscape design technologies that, as they are, produce biodiversity.
Slides from William Balée’s photographic archive, from An Architectural Botany, 2018- 2022. Courtesy of Paulo Tavares

In the 2018 interview that I conducted with William Balée, which was part of my fieldwork for the CCA research project Architecture and/for the Environment, we revisited his photographic archive in detail. What stands out from our conversation is the act of translation between botany and archaeology, nature and architecture, that poses several pressing questions to architecture and its relation to the environment today. What changes, for instance, when we recognize that a quintessentially natural or wild space—as defined by the hegemonic epistemic frameworks of colonial modernity—is in reality a cultural, socially produced artefact? Further, what can architectural practice and research learn from this botanic archaeology, its methods and epistemic shifts?

This has important implications for what constitutes the archive of architecture, and its history and heritage.8 This question should be responded to not only by looking at the archival materials of architecture, but also by identifying what is not contained in those archives, through the absences they hold, which are, in themselves, forms of historical silencing, erasure, and myopia. This absence or erasure is noticeable, for example, in the way architecture has been framed by the concept of world heritage espoused by UNESCO since its inception in 1945. It was only in the late 1980s and early 1990s, in the context of the worldwide Indigenous struggles that led to the first international charter of “tribal” peoples’ rights (ILO 169), that the concept of cultural landscapes—which puts emphasis on the “combined works of nature and man”9—started to be discussed as a way of understanding landscape heritage beyond the dichotomy of nature-culture. For far too long now, this Western framing has constrained architectural imagination.

It was only in the late 1980s and early 1990s, in the context of the worldwide Indigenous struggles that the concept of cultural landscapes started to be discussed.
Balée’s field notebook outlining botanic inventory of the Ka’apor, from An Architectural Botany, 2018-2022. Courtesy of Paulo Tavares

In the case of An Architectural Botany, this absence or erasure is registered in the way the implicitly colonial notion of historic and artistic heritage has presented the cultural heritage of forest civilizations either as ethnographic objects or, more recently, as immaterial culture, but rarely as architectural heritage. We can also see this absence in the way the landscape designs developed by Amerindian civilizations are underrepresented in contemporary cultural institutions and architectural archives, notably in the large archival collection held by the CCA, where An Architectural Botany was originally developed. An institution established in settler-colonial territory, the CCA’s archival collection features no representation of the Indigenous landscape architectures that have shaped the land within which the building is located, thereby tacitly projecting a colonial vision, even if not consciously. This void in the collection is as telling of the history of architecture, and its institutional and epistemic systems of power, as what the collection contains. A counter-history of architecture and the environment must inevitably set itself against this apparatus—institutional, imaginary, conceptual—which willingly or not has supported such power structures, and gesture toward decolonising the archive and archival practices, from within the CCA and beyond.

Amerindian civilizations are underrepresented in contemporary cultural institutions and architectural archives.

By probing this void, this absence, Balée’s photographic collection offers a conceptual framework for a new understanding of the relationships between architecture and the environment, more specifically the way in which architecture has constituted a hegemonicforce—ideological, imaginary and material—in shaping a colonial vision of nature. This sheds light on forms of mapping and narrating the entanglements between architecture and the environment that question systems of knowledge and representation across multiple scales and disciplinary fields. The archive laid out here awaits another gaze, another way of looking, framing, and curating, one capable of interpreting these landscapes on a completely different, dissident register. A détournement of perspective.

Forms of mapping and narrating the entanglements between architecture and the environment that question systems of knowledge and representation across multiple scales.
Slides from William Balée’s photographic archive, from An Architectural Botany, 2018-2022. Courtesy of Paulo Tavares

In that respect, when thinking through the relationships between architecture and the environment, constructed and natural landscapes, one must be attuned to the problem of the naturalisation—that is, of the de-socialisation and de-politicisation—of the concept of nature, and by extension of the concept of environment and its correlatives. Like every universal concept developed by Western culture, the idea of nature is in fact socially determined and culturally specific, that is, a contingent, historically situated construct. The origins of the concept of nature are related to social forms—culture, knowledge, technology, economy—that emerged in the context of European colonial expansion. Among the vast diversity of human cultures that live on this planet, the Western way of seeing nature is an exception rather than the rule, and it is particular despite its claims of universality.10 And yet, as the history of colonial-modernity shows, the global power of this perspective is proportionally inverse. The Western concept of nature played a pivotal role in the conquest of native lands and the genocide of Indigenous peoples, and today the same objectified vision of nature continues to legitimise processes of land expropriation, displacement, and privatization.

How did architecture constitute one among many systems of knowledge and representation through which natures and environments were invented, produced, and reproduced, within and beyond its disciplinary field?

When dealing with nature(s) and environment(s), research architecture should question the very concepts with which it is engaging, challenging preconceived assumptions and conventional definitions in order to make visible their constructed nature and the social, ideological, and political labour involved in this constructivist process. The common refrain that the concept of environment is not political refers precisely to this process of “naturalisation”—that is, of concealment or oblivion—of the historical, social, and political aspects that foreclosed different notions of nature from coming into being and shaping ideas, cities, and territories. How did such notions and concepts appear as a problem to architecture? How were others neglected, silenced, or even erased? And, no less important, how did architecture constitute one among many systems of knowledge and representation through which natures and environments were invented, produced, and reproduced, within and beyond its disciplinary field? Methodologically speaking, this requires that architecture research trace the various forms of codification, representation, mapping, archiving, and institutionalisation of knowledge performed through architecture that have produced ideas and images of nature, ideas and imaginaries that, by virtue of their unchallenged power, appear to be natural and neutral, that is, without history and politics. The immersion into William Balée’s photographic archive offers us a way of seeing both nature and architecture under a different, dissident, and decolonial gaze, projecting an image of architecture as planting and of architecture’s archive as a potential botany, meaning a botanic construction that would allow us to the recover ways of repairing and cultivating the planet Earth in the face of the global climate crisis.

The following essay is an excerpt of “Architectural Botany: A Conversation with William Balée on Constructed Forests,” the eighth chapter of Environmental Histories of Architecture, an open-access book published by the Canadian Centre For Architecture, Montréal. Each chapter is available for download in both PDF and ePub formats through Library Stack.

Notes

1 Balée, William L. 2013. Cultural Forests of the Amazon :a Historical Ecology of People and Their Landscapes. Tuscaloosa: University of Alabama Press. 7 and 10 respectively.

2 Balée, The Cultural Forests of the Amazon, 10

3 William Balée, interview by author, 8 August 2018.

4 William Balée, interview by author, 8 August 2018.

5 William Balée, interview by author, 8 August 2018.

6 Balée makes this argument in various scientific papers and articles, but particularly in the book Cultural Forests of the Amazon.

7 Heckenberger, Michael. 2005. The Ecology of Power : Culture, Place, and Personhood in the Southern Amazon, A.D. 1000-2000. New York: Routledge.; Neves, Eduardo Góes. 2022. Sob os tempos do equinócio : oito mil anos de história na Amazônia central. São Paulo: EDUSP/FAPESP.)

8 I discuss these questions further, particularly that of architecture heritage, in Paulo Tavares, “Trees, Vines, Palms and Other Architectural Monuments,Harvard Design Magazine: Into the Woods, no. 45 (Spring/Summer 2018).

9 As defined by the 1992 UNESCO World Heritage Convention, see: [online]

10 Descola, Philippe, and Janet Lloyd. 2013. Beyond Nature and Culture. Chicago ; London: The University of Chicago Press.

Paulo Tavares

Paulo Tavares is an architect, educator, and curator whose work questions colonial legacies of modernity in architecture and culture. In 2017, he founded autonoma, an agency dedicated to the practice of architecture as advocacy. Exploring conflicts embedded in space and land, his work has most recently focused on collaborations with communities at the frontlines of land conflicts in the Brazilian Amazonia, to propose strategies for reparations, in the face of forced dispossession and rampant modernization. Tavares has collaborated with the research group Forensic Architecture and teaches at Columbia GSAPP and at the Universidade de Brasília. In 2023, his project Terra, co-curated with Gabriela de Matos, was awarded the Golden Lion award for Best National Participation at the 18th Venice Architecture Biennale.
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