Join N.A.W. members Nasra Abdullahi & Nana Biamah-Ofosu to discuss the relationship between edge and centre

To kickstart the season, N.A.W. host Drawing the Edge to the Centre #2, in response to their first event held in July 2019. We want to go even further and push this conversation beyond the geographical and towards the personal and theoretical. To get into the uncomfortable truth of labour in relation to architectural production and making. To critically examine the movement of language that has historically belonged to the ‘edge’ (like the word ‘decolonisation’). If architecture’s intimate relationship with power is essential to its realisation, what does a decolonised architectural practice look like?

Join Nasra Abdullahi, Nana Biamah-Ofosu and the panel of invited guests as we discuss the relationship between edge and centre. 

The Edge and Centre Beyond the Geographical

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Image: The Decorated earth houses of Tiébélé (a village in the border of Northern Ghana and Burkina Faso) have elaborate painted murals representing the daily life and cosmology of the Kassena people.

In her 2015 Ted Talk titled “Don’t ask where I’m from, ask where I’m a local”, Taiye Selasi explores the links between biography, geography and identity with a focus on the ‘local.’ With this in mind, we’d like to ask: how does biography interact with the dialectic of centre and edge?

Edge and centre are often imagined as physical spaces, their geographical connotation is implicit. As such, they have clear implications for  architecture and the built environment. However, is there more to be gained by looking beyond the geographical? What do edge and centre mean in the biographical sense? How can this impact the way we address the built environment?

As the edge-and-centre framework is tempered by biography and local knowledge, is it helpful to examine these conditions through binaries? What other ways exist that may ultimately dismantle the polarisation of the spaces? If the centre in design is defined within the global hegemony of western thought, then what do the edge or the local offer, and should it be in direct opposition to the centre?


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Image: Levittown, one of the largest suburban housing developments built after WWII in the U.S. Photographed by Bettmann/Corbis

Linked to the idea of the ‘local’ is that of interstitial space, or ‘the in-between’. What lies in and between the edge and centre? What is the effect on this space if we discuss the edge and centre in binary and often inflexible terms? In asking these questions, we conceive space in its broadest sense. It is physical; perhaps a moment to reflect on the suburban qualities of our built environment. It concerns the metaphysical; we question what this means in relation to being, knowing, identity, time and space. We ask these questions at a variety of scales, from the neighbourhood scale – take Anne Hidalgo's plan for Paris as a 15-minute city – to a global scale, thinking about the effect of COVID-19 on an established global order and hierarchy.

‘We do language’

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Image: Toni Morrison’s Nobel Lecture December 7, 1993

‘We die. That may be the meaning of life. But we do language. That may be the measure of our lives’. Toni Morrison, Nobel Prize Winning Speech, 1993

In the last few years, the word ‘decolonisation’ has become commonplace in architectural and design discourse in an attempt to broaden the narrowly defined ‘centre’ of architecture. But perhaps, like with many other words that migrate into our discourse, it requires further examination. As professor Clapperton Chakanetsa Mavhunga notes, “even the mere mention of the root word colon...still retains the Western as the central referent...The decolonial option is still a colonial option. It is a distant cousin of what we are trying to do”. So we ask: is this migration simply a ‘trend’ or an intellectual exercise that is absorbed by academia and various think-tanks and what does it reveal about the edge/centre dichotomy? If architecture’s intimate relationship with power is essential to its realisation, what does a decolonised architectural practice look like? Many radical and progressive ideas begin at the edges with those seeking liberation and self-definition. Is the centre where these ideas come to die?

The edge works for the centre

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Image: Solène Veysseyre

‘The powerless end up doing most of the physical labour that is required to keep society running, they also do most of the interpretive labour as well’. David Graeber

In May 2013, the German magazine Der Spiegel published an article titled ‘Gringos in the Slums’ about Europeans fleeing the economic recession of Europe and settling in the favelas of Rio de Janeiro. The article carries a shocked tone throughout and highlights what the writer Justin McGuirk has called ‘a sort of reverse colonialism with it’s tail between its legs’.

Why are other (poor) people’s spaces there to be experienced?

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AKIL SCAFE-SMITH is one third of RESOLVE along with Seth Scafe-Smith and Melissa Haniff.RESOLVE is an interdisciplinary design collective that aims to address multi-scalar social challenges by combining architecture, art, technology and engineering. RESOLVE have delivered numerous projects, workshops, and talks, in London, the UK, and across Europe as well as working with a variety of initiatives and institutions to pilot projects that introduce young people from under-represented backgrounds to concepts in interdisciplinary design.

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IBRAHIM MAHAMA was born in 1987 in Tamale, Ghana. He lives and works in Accra, Kumasi and Tamale. His work has appeared in numerous international exhibitions including NIRIN, 22nd Biennale of Sydney (2020); tomorrow, there will be more of us, Stellenbosch Triennale (2020); Future Genealogies, Tales From The Equatorial Line, 6th Lubumbashi Biennale, Democratic Republic of the Congo (2019); Parliament of Ghosts, The Whitworth, University of Manchester (2019); Ghana Freedom, inaugural Ghana pavilion, 58th Venice Biennale, Venice (2019); Labour of Many, Norval Foundation, Cape Town (2019); Documenta 14, Athens and Kassel (2017); All the World’s Futures, 56th Venice Biennale, Venice (2015); Artist’s Rooms, K21, Dusseldorf (2015); Material Effects, The Broad Art Museum, Michigan (2015); An Age of Our Own Making, Kunsthal Charlottenborg, Copenhagen and Holbæk (2016) and Fracture, Tel Aviv Art Museum, Israel (2016).

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MIRIAM HILLAWI is a multi-disciplinary designer from Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. With a background in Architecture, she employs digital media as well as spatial and experiential design techniques to explore themes of equitable futurism, experimental conservation and intersectionality. She is currently working as the Game-code Instructor at Bay Area Video Coalition’s youth program, where she infuses social justice and speculative imagination into her curriculum. Her work has been featured in the Funambulist magazine and exhibitions across San Francisco including Institute for the Future, California Academy of Sciences and Hubbell Street Galleries. She is a fellow of Gray Area’s Zachary Watson Education Fund and a Graham Foundation 2020 grantee.

About New Architecture Writers (N.A.W.)


New Architecture Writers is a free programme for emerging design writers, developing the journalistic skill, editorial connections and critical voice of its participants. N.A.W. focuses on black and minority ethnic emerging writers who are under-represented across design journalism and curation. The core of the N.A.W. programme consists of a series of evening workshops, talks, and writing briefs with one-to-one mentoring from experienced design critics and editors throughout.

The second cohort (2019-20) of the New Architecture Writers consists of Nasra Abdullahi, Shawn Adams, Imani Jacqueline Brown, Nana Biamah-Ofosu, Lois Innes, Ewa Effiom, Ting Jui and Jasper van der Kort.

Founded in 2017, N.A.W. is run by Thomas Aquilina and Tom Wilkinson with support from the Architecture Foundation. The open call for the third cohort will be announced imminently, and details of how to apply will be posted on our website.