This paper is an extension of a classroom-based research that challenges a western-centric design curriculum set in an Arabian Gulf context by investigating the role of culturally-responsive pedagogy in an interior design studio. Current global discussions revolving around culturally-responsive pedagogy present it as a powerful approach that often results in increased engagement and improved achievement within the classroom. In its essence, culturally responsive teaching argues that building on the students’ existing wealth of knowledge and drawing on their cultural background results in a deeper, more critical, and more meaningful learning journey. The context at hand presents a particularly interesting case-study given that the vast majority of students are from the United Arab Emirates, whereas the curriculum, course content and precedent studies discussed in class are heavily skewed towards the West – leaving discussions and discourse about/from the Arabian Gulf and wider MENA region distinctly absent. What happens when students are not likely to see themselves or their communities represented in the design curriculum or in their instructors? This paper focuses on an investigation of this particular disconnect between study material/methodology and the students, while seeking to understand its effects on the students’ psyche, their perceptions of their own suitability for success, critical thinking, and perhaps most importantly, their performance and resulting design outcome. Although the disconnect does not go unnoticed, we have uncovered mitigating responses that are simplistic and one-dimensional. More often than not, this mitigation results in the reinforcement of the academic’s value-judgement about the students and their abilities. Analysis on culturally-responsive teaching – or lack thereof – in a design studio context remains largely limited, even as the fields of architecture and interior design face global calls for inclusivity, de-colonization and canon re-evaluation. Lack of research on culturally-responsive teaching is especially notable in the Arab-university context. This paper works towards addressing that research gap.
Asma Bukhammas serves as an Interior Design Instructor in the College of Arts and Creative Enterprises at the Zayed University in Dubai, UAE. Asma’s research interest revolves around inclusive design curricula. Her current research grant is titled “Re-imaging the Design Studio: Towards a Culturally-Responsive Curriculum in the UAE”.
Azza Aboualam is an Assistant Professor at the College of Arts and Creative Enterprises at Zayed University, Dubai. She acquired her M.Arch from Yale University. Azza is known for her work with the Ministry of Culture’s Architecture Initiative. Her field research, sketches and writing were published in the book titled “In Search of Spaces of Coexistence: An Architect’s Journey.”