The Translation of Dreams. Psychoanalytic and Poetic Devices in South African Architectural Education
There are two kinds of dreams. There are the dreams that we share, and there are dreams that are our own. Architecture, and the politics of dreams – or the dreams of politics, for that matter – form the context of this essay, and in particular how this thematized a design project in South African architectural education. In the South African context, where the past is often experienced as a nightmare, a fundamental inquiry into the precepts of architectural design and shared history has the potential to relocate repressed events of trauma. These events, which currently exist primarily in the historical record, can be translated into the present, and shown to still be active, but exerting their effects surreptitiously.
This essay aims to presents brief readings of three design-research projects conducted in Unit 11 of the Graduate School of Architecture (GSA) at the University of Johannesburg. A number of projects are being developed which work through (rather than resolve) concerns of material memory, cultural edifices and politics, employing metaphors of ghosts, nightmares, phantom limbs, exquisite corpses and plastic identities. By illustrating (or designing) such conditions, the unit attempts to bring to the surface some of the historical fragments haunting the South African collective subconscious.
Design-research students are encouraged to make associations more or less freely in the early stages of the design process, after which, through critique, reflexive relationships are established between designed work and its interpretation. The unit makes extensive use of allegory and figuration to create a slight distance between the students’ immediate frame of reference and the complex political realities with which the projects are entangled. This method allows students to expose and interrogate their biases and proclivities. The projects define architecture as a collective dream, condensing, sorting and forgetting our (shared) history.
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