063-0859-23L  Subject Semester HS23 (Fachsemester) in the Field of History and Theory of Urban Design (Avermaete)

SemesterAutumn Semester 2023
LecturersT. Avermaete
Periodicityyearly recurring course
Language of instructionEnglish
CommentA student can only register once for a "Fachsemester" during the Master studies!

The application deadline for this "Fachsemester" is September 6, 8 p.m. You will receive a message about acceptance or rejection for the subject semester by September 7, 2 p.m. at the latest. Students who have been rejected have the opportunity to choose a design class (enrollment ends on September 7, at 6 p.m.).“


063-0859-23 ASubject Semester HS23 (Fachsemester) in the Field of History and Theory of Urban Design (Avermaete)
Permission from lecturers required for all students.
Self dependent work.
400s hrs
14.11.09:45-11:30HIT F 13 »
T. Avermaete

Catalogue data

AbstractThis Research Studio focuses on the entanglements of the architectural and urban histories of Switzerland and the history of global colonialism. Through architecture-specific research methods, it investigates how centuries of colonialism have historically influenced the aesthetic, construction and craft cultures of Swiss cities, and explores ways to engage with these contested legacies today.
ObjectiveThe Research Studio has two main objectives:

1. Archaeology of Swiss Coloniality.

First, students will develop an ‘archaeology’ of the historical entanglements of Swiss industry with global colonialism. In this part, the studio work is understood as an archaeological venture, digging up traces of the past. Students will systematically probe the built environment of Switzerland for traces and influences of global colonialism and its aftermath. The result will be a catalogue of colonial entanglements, illustrating how they are inscribed into architectural and urban figures and how they continue to impact the urban fabric of Switzerland and its industry.

2. Processing Swiss Coloniality.

In a second step, students will attempt to ‘process’ the enduring impact of Swiss Coloniality. Based on the 'Archaeology,’ students will explore the inherent logics of global colonialism in relation to Swiss industry as it impacts the present. The central idea is to avoid considering the past as a closed chapter, but as an ongoing process and condition of coloniality that still structures our present and future, which needs acknowledgement and dialogue. Students will be asked, using the tools of the architect, to explore strategies to represent these entanglements and suggest openings for repair where needed.

Based on these main objectives, this course will:
- offer students an overview of the most important historical and contemporary contributions to debates on postcolonial and decolonial theory and the entanglement of Switzerland’s industry with global colonialism;
- equip students to reflect critically upon the manifestations of Swiss Coloniality in the built environment with the help of both theoretical and historical perspectives;
- make students aware that the production of the city is not a neutral given but is always shaped by cultural values, assumptions, and expectations, which impact the everyday environment and, as such, condition inhabitants and users;
- help students to position themselves within current debates on cities, urban development, and urban life in relation to broader challenges such as sustainability and social inequality.
ContentSwiss Coloniality

Cities have never been isolated entities and have always existed by grace of the myriad connections with their hinterland. Throughout the past centuries, and especially since the 15th century onwards, these connections have become increasingly far-reaching across the globe, and the history of urban development in areas such as Europe has been intricately entwined with conditions and realities elsewhere. As such, urban history cannot be seen as entirely separate from global colonialism and its aftermath. While designing and constructing the architecture of the city, architects, urban designers, builders, and inhabitants also inevitably take part in the wider ecologies of material and immaterial flows that are shaped by and contribute to a global system of inequality. Not uncoincidentally, the metropole – a key term of colonial history – finds its roots in the political urban figure of the polis and identifies the center-periphery relationship between the ‘motherland’ and its hinterland. The metropole is the place from where power is exercised over foreign territories and the place that reaps the fruits of this exercising of power.

While Switzerland never had colonies of its own, it was nevertheless in many ways involved in and contributed to the history of global colonialism: by taking part in the economy sustained by colonialism, by financing and securing slave trade, by contributing to race-based science practices, etc. So, despite being a country without colonies, what if we consider Switzerland and its position in the world from the perspective of the colonial metropole? What would be the specific architectural and urban dimension of this figure of Metropole Switzerland? In raising such questions, in this Research Studio, we aim to focus on the entanglements of the architectural and urban histories of Switzerland and the history of global colonialism.

Starting to answer such questions requires a widened understanding of colonialism and its impact, which has been grasped with the notion of coloniality in recent debates. While colonialism refers to the historically specific phenomenon of one area of the world colonizing another, settling on foreign land, extracting its resources, and violently disciplining its inhabitants, the term coloniality refers to the more long-lasting processes and indirect effects that are the result of centuries of colonialism, and that mark a landscape of global inequality, even after the ‘official’ reign of colonialism has ended. In this sense, the disparity between the so-called ‘Global North’ and ‘Global South’, and the way in which a country such as Switzerland is still profiting from an advantageous position in this globally unequal world, can be considered the result of centuries of colonialism, and to be still part of a condition of coloniality. As this condition is a two-sided and mutually inflictive phenomenon, to unravel the knot of Swiss coloniality, we not only aim to investigate how Switzerland was implicated in activities abroad but also, conversely, how these activities have impacted Switzerland. While in the fields of political, social and economic history, a revisionist effort is underway to reconsider/correct the image of Switzerland as a neutral country without colonies, in the field of architecture and urban history, however, we are yet to unravel the impact of this entanglement on the built environment, and, more widely, on the aesthetic, material and craft cultures of Swiss cities.
Lecture notesMethodology

The overarching hypothesis of this Research Studio is that historical and theoretical research can profit profoundly from the use of the tools and knowledge of architects. On the one hand, the spatial, formal, material, and constructive knowledge gained throughout architectural studies will guide the historical research in the archives, in the library, and/or in the city itself and will allow students to articulate specifically architectural interpretations of the materials they find. On the other hand, the Studio explicitly asks students to employ specific architectural tools such as drawing, writing and model-making to explore the historical and theoretical realities that are being investigated. By actively reflecting on the composition of a varied set of analytical and interpretative drawings, texts, and models, students will probe the capacity of these media to act as tools for historical and theoretical research.
Within the general theme of Swiss Coloniality, students will be guided to identify their own subtheme, which will require exploring their own specific research methodologies. These architecture-specific methodologies will be strategically chosen to discuss specific aspects of society: political, economic, social, cultural, or otherwise. Thus, conjoining these ‘autonomous’ and ‘heteronomous’ dimensions of architecture, a new understanding of the city and our built environment is developed that allows us to answer (some of) the research questions mentioned previously.

Research process

Students will be guided through three phases with different emphases: Definitions, Logics and Reinterpretations of Swiss Coloniality.
The first phase, Definitions, is focused on developing an understanding of what the notion of Swiss Coloniality can entail and how it relates specifically to industry and the production of the city. This phase will allow students to become familiar with the historical and current entanglements of Switzerland with global colonialism and, by closely examining its main actors, practices, and materials, will set the stage for students to develop their own, individual research project.
The second phase, Logics, is about understanding and demonstrating the inner workings and mechanisms of Swiss Coloniality. Each of the students will focus on one specific case – a material, a site, an actor, a practice, etc. – and will examine it closely through targeted archival and library research, as well as through drawing, writing, and model-making.
In the third phase, Reinterpretations, students will formulate and investigate a hypothesis regarding the entanglements of Swiss industry with global colonialism. Based on this hypothesis, students will position themselves in relation to Swiss Coloniality, its history and its enduring impact. The position statement can take the form of a written text, architectural drawings and/or models and will be presented in the form of a student-curated studio exhibition and an online adaptation of it.
LiteratureCourse syllabus and reader will be made available during the course's first week.
Prerequisites / NoticeStudents can register only once for a "Fachsemester" during the Master studies.

Enrollment will not take place through the D-ARCH website. To enroll for this Fachsemester please send an e-mail to Link by Wednesday 6 September 2023, 8PM. If necessary, available places will be allocated firstly conform the A-B-C-studio priority system, and secondly, randomly. You will receive a confirmation by Thursday 7 September 2023, 12AM (noon). In case of over-applications, students who are not selected have the opportunity to choose a regular design studio through the D-ARCH website (enrollment ends on September 7, at 6 p.m.).

The Research Studio is self-dependent work and tutoring takes place on Tuesdays and Wednesdays.

Further course information on Link
Subject-specific CompetenciesConcepts and Theoriesassessed
Techniques and Technologiesassessed
Method-specific CompetenciesAnalytical Competenciesassessed
Media and Digital Technologiesassessed
Project Managementfostered
Social CompetenciesCommunicationassessed
Cooperation and Teamworkassessed
Leadership and Responsibilityfostered
Self-presentation and Social Influence fostered
Sensitivity to Diversityassessed
Personal CompetenciesAdaptability and Flexibilityassessed
Creative Thinkingassessed
Critical Thinkingassessed
Integrity and Work Ethicsassessed
Self-awareness and Self-reflection fostered
Self-direction and Self-management assessed

Performance assessment

Performance assessment information (valid until the course unit is held again)
Performance assessment as a semester course
ECTS credits14 credits
ExaminersT. Avermaete, S. Loosen
Typegraded semester performance
Language of examinationEnglish
RepetitionRepetition only possible after re-enrolling for the course unit.

Learning materials

No public learning materials available.
Only public learning materials are listed.


No information on groups available.


GeneralPermission from lecturers required for all students
PriorityRegistration for the course unit is only possible for the primary target group
Primary target groupArchitecture MSc (063000)

Offered in

Architecture MasterArchitectural DesignWInformation
Science, Technology, and Policy MasterCase StudiesWInformation