Decolonizing Thought Practices with Discussion Approaches for Built Environment Educators



Architecture & Built Environment


  • curriculum transformation, decolonization, Africanization, built environment

Decolonization is a globally relevant redress of local customs and practices that have remained altered since the times of historic colonial expansion. In South Africa, education forms one such set of customs and practices and the built environment another. Educators in the field of built environments share a responsibility to challenge the accepted norms under colonial systems and find ways in which to facilitate the creation of built environments that reflect the needs and aspirations of their society. Seepe (2004, pp. 160-174) urges us to rethink curriculum functioning, and attitude in the context of African traditions, conscientiously instilling relevance in both the system and the resulting products of that system. ‘In our curricula lies the very identity of our society. If we therefore want to change our society, address inequalities and develop ourselves into a just and healthy society, we need to change the very content of the vehicle through which we teach and develop our young people’ (Nzimande 2011).

Matos (2000, p. 18) explains the need for an African identity in higher education that contains not only African examples but an understanding of the basis on which they are created, emphasizing the need to ‘acknowledge African traditions and practices, and work towards eliciting and understanding their fundamentals’. Makgoba (1997, p. 181) reiterates this, stating that the way in which the curriculum informs students through its methodology is a crucial point, as African content alone, presented with the best intention, will not equate to decolonization of the system as a whole. The idea supported by Matos is of students aspiring to design in a local context, using local principles and practices creating meaningful design, not disconnected concepts and misinterpreted ‘vernacularisations’ (Steyn 2014, p. 50).

This article begins by contextualizing a ‘colonization of the mind’ through an introduction to ontology, the history of history and colonial education reforms, establishing a domain in need of redress. The discussion then asks the reader to reformulate their thoughts and self-reflect, aided by six approaches to facilitate discussion around decolonization. Conclusions are not given, instead the reader is urged to embark on their own decolonization of the mind and engage in discussion around curriculum development. The article speaks to educators as a whole, but reflects on key aspects relevant to the built environment sector including interior design, public landscape and architecture.



DEFSA conferences

DEFSA promotes relevant research with the focus on design + education through its biennial conferences, to promote professionalism, accountability and ethics in the education of young designers. Our next conference is a hybrid event. See above for details.

Critical skills endorsement

Professional Members in good standing can receive a certificate of membership, but DEFSA cannot provide confirmation or endorsement of skills whatsoever. DEFSA only confirm membership of DEFSA which is a NPO for Design Education in South Africa (