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Transformative Teaching

Focus on Pedagogy 2022
Life Narratives as Sites of Architectural Learning and Teaching: Reflecting on Meaningful Characters and Places in Uncertain Times
J. Olivier & J. Hendrik-Nel
5:00 pm - 6:30 pm


Taking the lead from Goodson and Gills’ (2011) narrative pedagogy, this paper is contextualised within the notion that “learning encompasses meaning-making, connecting to what is valuable and worthwhile” for human action, existence and “becoming”. We reflect on an attempt to transform the first-year architectural design course – University of the Free State, South Africa – prior, during and after the national COVID19 lock-down. Responding to the notions of relational learning and care through dialogic intertwinement, our preparation for the 2020 curriculum was dependent on in-person experiential and narrative exchange between the different role-players in the classroom with environments outside the design studio. In-person contact, and traditional methods of phenomenological engagement, was discontinued less than six weeks after the start of the teaching year. We refigured the design module to introduce students to the unfamiliar act of place-making through the familiar act of story-writing. Student projects introduced the fundamentals of narrativity: different characters (selves) entangled with each other in different places and times. Re-imagined as five story-based projects, the curriculum focussed on experiences between students, teachers, with real or fictional non-relational others and spatiotemporal events. Through autobiographies, dissonant biographies, biographical fictions, poetic translations, and dialectic narratives, we attempted to navigate uncertainty. We argue that conceptual tools of narrative methodology and ethic-onto-epistemology may provide creative ways to strengthen and foster values of care, solicitude for other humans and non-humans, and the cultivation of just environments, which “concerns the flourishing of individual human beings” towards “the realisation of capacities” (2011), vulnerabilities, and aims.


Jako Olivier has studied law, architecture and applied ethics. He currently lectures Design and Theories and Histories of Urban Settlement courses at the Department of Architecture, University of the Free State, where he is also a co-supervisor in the Master’s program. His areas of interest include: relational ethics of care, responsibility, and transformation and innovation within the practice and education of architecture. Jako has published on issues related to democratic, ethical and just spaces in South Africa. His greatest privilege is participating in dialectic student facilitation.

Jan Hendrik Nel is a lecturer at the Department of Architecture, University of the Free State. He has overseen first and third-year design studio, first and third-year history of architecture, and co-supervised Master’s students. He is interested in the development and transformation of the academic curriculum within a contemporary South African context. His research includes a peer-reviewed paper on the education of vernacular concepts at the international conference CIAV Versus in Portugal, which received the award for the best paper delivered on the theme: Education and New Research.