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Spaces and Rituals of Surviving Memory

Spaces and Rituals of Surviving Memory

Master Dissertation Studio (Harold Fallon, Sophie Laenen)

Image left: Rio Sumpul Massacre Memorial, 2023 © AgwA



In the studio “Spaces and Rituals of Surviving Memory” we will develop design proposals for sites where collective traumas of civil population related to situations of violence are commemorated, intersecting with historical memory and community engagement.

Exploring international contexts and the civil war in El Salvador (1980-1992), students in the studio will simultaneously develop design proposals for a site within the “Surviving Memory in Postwar El Salvador” initiative (www.elsalvadormemory.org – www.instagram.com/memoria_el_salvador) and for a site in their region of origin. This dual approach allows students to reflect on the specificity and the universality of diverse settings, adapting architectural strategies to varying cultural and historical landscapes.

Spaces for memorials and historic memory address collective and individual emotions, with the symbolic value of interventions and architectural spaces affecting the physical and psychological state. The architectural designs will strengthen solidarity and community building, while also conditioning individual healing rituals. The limitations inherent to these bottom-up projects impose a strategic approach towards resources and constraints.

The studio emphasizes a sensitive, artistic, documentation-driven design process. Collaborative interactions with community members, artists, and professionals from multiple disciplines ensure that the proposals are deeply rooted in community needs and historical awareness.

Final projects are envisioned to be shared with the communities through exhibitions and publications, fostering dialogue and engagement. This approach not only memorializes past events but also activates public spaces for community building, education and reflection.

By participating in the “Spaces and Rituals of Surviving Memory” studio, students will engage in a design practice that is as locally relevant as it is globally resonant, contributing both to their personal growth and to the broader discourse on architecture and memory.

The “Spaces and Rituals of Surviving Memory” Master Dissertation Studio is a service learning project articulated to an elective in the first semester and a Master Studio in the second semester.


Histories and sites
According to the local context, these memorialization processes can address very different facts : torture, killings, racism, discrimination, abuse, bullying, etc. The projects can address a wide array of sites : ritual and commemoration spaces, community-based museums, artistic interventions in public space, etc. These projects are envisioned in a grassroots perspective, as opposed to top-down monuments realized by authorities, possibly blurring the line between formality and informality.

Participation and documentation
To develop design proposals in these sensitive contexts, it is essential to develop a refined understanding and sensibility to the human and physical context. This happens through documentation and participation: it will be important to identify sources. This will be condensed in a visual account.

Perception and emotion
Spaces for memorials and historic memory address collective and individual emotions. Attention will be paid to the symbolic value of interventions and architectural spaces affecting the psychological and emotional state, and enacting a physical (bodily) relationship to memory. This is related to explicit symbolic value and implicit spatiality. By developing architectural interventions we will explore the mechanisms of perception and sensoriality at play in our experience of space through emotions and memory.

Community and Individuality
By realizing spaces of memory, the projects aim at fostering community building and solidarity, to strengthen the claims and recognition of the facts, to prevent future violence by providing tools for communication and pedagogy. At the other end of the spectrum, the spaces allow for individual processes of healing and mourning, intimate rituals, relationships with close relatives, friends, or victims. Attention will be paid to enabling community building and the individual engagement.

Constraints and limitations
As these projects are envisioned as bottom-up process, they do not benefit from institutional or governmental support. Consequently, attention must be paid to the rationality of the proposals. This comprises not only knowledge about local techniques of constructions and availability of materials, but also a strong focus on circumscribed interventions to achieve significant impact.


Surviving Memory in Postwar El Salvador and in the student’s contexts

The studio is related to the “Surviving Memory in Postwar El Salvador” project (https://www.elsalvadormemory.org/), an international partnership including survivors, artists, architects, community organizers, civil society organizations and mental health professionals who are committed to documenting the history of the Salvadoran Civil War (1980-1992) and preventing future violence. All activities are initiated and coordinated by the Asociación Sumpul (https://www.asociacionsumpul.org/), mainly composed of survivors of massacres in the Chalatenango province and relatives. Since 2017, KU Leuven and AgwA architects are engaged in a series of projects for memorials and historic memory museums in El Salvador.

The articulation of the studio to this contexts allows for interactions with survivors, community members, stakeholders, collaborators, artists, architects, researchers, etc. It also provides a fertile ground for projects. In Chalatenango alone, there are over 62 community identified massacre sites.

The projects vary in their stages of development, with some already under construction, others in an advanced design stage, and some about to start the initial design phase. This diversity allows for addressing a wide range of issues. Student work can have a real impact, as it will serve as preliminary explorations, supporting actual design and realization processes.

Situations can be identified in the student’s own contexts. This means that the students can engage their profound knowledge of the place in their reflection and in their design proposals. The definition of the events, sites, and stakeholders is essential prior to designing. The events needs to stem from the recent past, so that victims or relatives are still personally engaged in commemoration. Individuals need to be identifiable and possibly to contribute to the understanding of the situation and of the current state or possibility of commemoration.


One environment, three studios

Spaces and Rituals of Surviving Memory is an Elective, a Master Studio (semester 2) and a Master Dissertation studio at Campus Sint Lucas Brussels. It is recommended to combine the elective and the studios, even though it is not an obligation.

Elective : Documenting, Exploring, Drawing, Writing

In the elective, the focus is on visual production through drawing, research and documentation, exchange with stakeholders, and a collaboration with UCA (Universidad José Simeón Cañas, San Salvador) and possibly the Art School of the National University (Escuela de Arte, UES, San Salvador), who will provide their insights on the sites in a fist workshop, and then discuss the students’ proposal in a second phase.

On an almost weekly base, different stakeholders will be invited for interventions in the course to highlight different aspects of Surviving Memory.

Students will work individually on two sites in parallel. First, one site in El Salvador related to Historic Memory. A long list of potential sites, for which limited or more extensive information is available. Second, a site of the student’s choosing, related to an identifiable violent event and community in the students context of origin. On a weekly base, students will explore topics through the means of research and drawing (including text).

The output of the course is condensed in two drawings, containing all the topics explored. These drawings aim at summarizing the observations and explorations, defining an approach to a project. They are not a detailed design proposal, but rather the definition of a strategy.

In addition, a paper is written, containing a reflection comparing both sites, as well as the bibliographic sources used in the drawings.

The elective runs parallel with the Master Dissertation studio described below.

Master Studio in Semester 2 : designing, exhibiting, publishing

In this studio, the students will focus individually on one project, choosing between a project in El Salvador or in the student’s context. Designing and documenting/researching happen simultaneously, as design is a way to question the ongoing research and reciprocally.

The output of the studio is an architectural project for a carefully (beautifully) documented site and context – both human and physical. This project consists of precise interventions, enabling the different aspects of Surviving Memory.

The output of the studio is presented in the form of an exhibition IN THE SELECTED SITE and a publication in the language(s) of the community (with English translation). The exhibition (along with the architectural project) is documented as a single large scale model. This double output serves a double objective. First, it is a way to represent the output in a concise yet evocative and rich way, while revealing the qualities of the (architectural) space and the nature of the commemorated events. Second, it is a communication tool to provoke exchange with the community and possibly set the first steps towards the realization of the memorial space.

The Master Studio is related to the Master Dissertation studio: both studios will run in parallel and form a unique environment, where cross-pollination and possible short collective assignments may be organized.

Master Dissertation Studio : designing, exhibiting, publishing (2x)

Essentially, the Master Dissertation Studio is the same as the Master Studio, but in this case, the students will embrace two projects simultaneously, meaning that it is essential to foster progress in semester 1. The first project will pertain to the Surviving Memory in Postwar El Salvador project, while the other focuses on the student’s own context.

In addition to the two exhibitions and community-oriented publication, a reflection paper on the articulation of both projects is a required outputs.

Students are invited to participate in the elective and one of the studios. It is not possible to participate simultaneously in the master studio and the master dissertation studio.



Some references

This studio addresses spaces of memorialization.


They address traumatic events impacting a collectivity.

Regina José Galindo: https://www.reginajosegalindo.com/

These events also involve people individually.

Our Mothers: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Our_Mothers

Rituals are actions enabling commemoration, they synchronize diachronic events.

Franci Alÿs: https://francisalys.com/

Surviving memory counters the absence of recognition.

Nick Cave: https://jackshainman.com/viewing_room/nick_cave

Memory and memorialization fluctuates between fact and fiction, and enactment

Bowling for Columbine: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bowling_for_Columbine

It is situated somewhere between space, representation, and narration.

Moszowksi: https://www.moszowski.be/

It is arguably a first step towards recognition, truth, and eventually reparation.

Anatomie d’une chute : https://fr.wikipedia.org/wiki/Anatomie_d%27une_chute

It is a means to support healing.

Hippocampus: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hippocampus

It is a way to support community building.

Massacre of the Innocents: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Massacre_of_the_Innocents_(Bruegel)

Surviving Memory is addresses memorialization from below

Grassroots Memorials: https://www.jstor.org/stable/j.ctt9qd4xs

It is about real people involved the events, or closely related to them.

Walking the trails: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JxfcmkTPmSI

Somehow, these situations are related to you too, directly or indirectly.

Memento: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Memento_(film)

At the same time, it is about learning to observe the details, to develop empathy.

Teresa Margolles: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=a7q8sKRLttc