“As soon as one says the word ‘alternative’ it begs the question: ‘alternative to what?’ In order to establish an alternative, it is first necessary to define the norm against which it is set, and with this three issues immediately arise.
First, the interpretation of the norm will differ according to who is doing the defining. As the authors of the Dictionary of Alternatives note, ‘one person’s alternative is another person’s orthodoxy’. There is no agreed understanding of what constitutes the inviolate centre of architectural culture, and so the definition of the alternative becomes difficult to pin down.
Second the alternative is necessarily reactive to the norm, and thus may remain in thrall to it. But often, as in the binary structure, the alternative becomes bound by exactly the terms of reference it wishes to escape. The alternative is always caught in the shadow of the thing that it posits itself against. The result is that the alternative is inevitably defined by the norm, whilst the norm remains largely undisturbed by the irritant it overshadows.
The third, the dialectical operation of the alternative suggests that, in the will to criticise the norm, one should abandon all the structures and rituals of the norm. The alternative marks itself through the casting off of the attributes of the centre, and in this there is a danger that the baby will be thrown out with the bathwater, as opposed to the possibility of assuming a hybrid stance that might keep those characteristics of the centre still worthwhile or appropriate, but doing so in a manner that reframes them in a new guise or with revised motivations. In our context this means avoiding the temptation to ditch the traditional architectural skills of design and spatial intelligence) because they might in some way be tainted by the brush of normality), but instead seeing how they might be exploited in different ways and contexts.
This is not to dismiss the value of alternative approaches and the power of the term as such but for the purpose of this project alternative becomes a hindrance to the underlying value of critical inquiry.
(Awan, Schneider & Till; Spatial Agency: Other Ways of Doing Architecture: 2011)
This module aimëd to give students the space to articulate their developing position on architectural practice through an investigation of ‘alternative practice’ models, and asked them to produce their own ‘alternative practice’ Manifesto:
A manifesto is a published verbal declaration of the intentions, motives, or views of the issuer, be it an individual, group, political party or government.
This module seeks to empower students with the requisite critical, representative and design skills to grapple with the complexities of architectural practice (praxis), specifically in the context of a rapidly changing African urban, architectural and environmental paradigm.
It requires students who have participated in the first year of Unit System Africa to reflect critically on the theoretical positions underpinning each Unit, and to situate their own responses within it.
Student Work (click link to watch their manifesto)