Inés Toscano is an Argentinian architect (MA) and PhD candidate for the Bauhaus-Universität Weimar, Germany. Through her website she is critically mapping and performing architectural couplings as a labor strategy towards gender equality in architecture. Currently, Inés is a lecturer at the Faculty of Architecture, Facility Management, and Geoinformation of Hochschule Anhalt in Germany. She teaches the classes 'Gender Masquerade' –a proactive feminist pedagogy where master students role-play couplings– and of 'Mapping Bauhaus Couplings' –a feminist pedagogy where students link the past and present of Dessau through the lens of famous Bauhaus couples. She has presented her research at international conferences and symposiums on Architecture and Gender.

An activist at heart, Inés considers herself a feminist architect and believes in collaborative, interdisciplinary, and tolerant ways of working in architecture. By personally being in a creative-intimate partnership, the couplings’ tactic is being tested and set into action daily.

Luana:  In my master thesis, I am researching design pedagogies and how they are still mostly based on a Western idea of Design. One aspect of the research is to underline what people have been doing to defy norms, such as gender, race, and sexual identity in the teaching of design. In this process, I have conducted talks and interviews with Design students and educators to understand the challenges of teaching and learning Design while dismantling such norms.

As a starting point, I focused on the Design department of Hochschule Anhalt as a context. I wanted to investigate the experience of international students at Hochschule Anhalt, knowing that most of them come from outside Europe (currently, there is only one European student in the international department). Judging from my own experience, most of what I have been taught in design school was based on (white, male) European authors and the way they see Design, even though I have graduated in Brazil. Not surprisingly, most of my colleagues had a similar experience. At the same time, I also inquired with professors from the university to understand how they conceive their classes' curriculum and their motivations while building up a syllabus.

Your research deals with similar issues in the field of architecture. For this reason, I wanted to talk to you about the 'Gender Masquerade' class and your experience studying architecture. How was the process of transitioning from student to lecturer, especially being a female foreigner?

Inés: I also had similar inquiries, which brought me to start looking at Hochschule Anhalt and the architecture program, in which I was a student. In parallel, while criticizing the program and the department, I also analyzed my bibliography to understand architecture education and what is the problem in architecture education as a whole. There are a lot of levels of issues. I tried to see those things at my university, so I can actually criticize them with more knowledge. Not only statistical aspects like how many female teachers or the amount of females references in my bibliography, but also look at the students. I did a questionnaire for the students to understand their perceptions of how they are learning architecture. I wanted to understand their experience here and in their bachelor’s. It's important to realize that there are problems in their previous experiences, so you can understand a bit more about the whole picture. And then, I began to look at case studies. Do you also have some case studies of design pedagogies that you admire?

Luana: Yes, there are some approaches. There are a few professors in Germany who are trying to build more flexible syllabi, with a focus on decentering their pedagogy from the European canon. There are also some essential references like what Sheila Levrant de Bretteville did in the 60s' at CalArts in the United States. I also have your research and pedagogical approach as a great example from inside Hochschule Anhalt.

Inés: So you're approaching feminism more in a decolonizing way.

Luana: Yes, as well as from the gender perspective. I believe the best way to put it is to say that I am adopting an intersectional feminist approach, which takes into account the correlation between different power structures. But yes, the colonial aspect was one of the first issues I spotted in the context of Hochschule Anhalt. For example, when I attended the Design Theory class, I noticed that although the professor makes efforts to improve and keep a balance, still the majority of authors are either from the US or the UK. Several things can be improved.

Inés: Yes, definitely. I was in an international architecture and gender symposium in London last June. I presented 'Gender Masquerade' as a case of feminist pedagogy. It was fascinating because we were so many speakers from all over the world, Australia, South Africa, discussing the topic of decolonization and architecture education. I think it is quite relevant to what you are approaching. Of course, the focus is not design, but still, I think it applies.

The symposium was organized by Dr. Emma Cheatle and Dr. Catalina Mejia Moreno. Around the occasion of the symposium, Catalina participated in the Podcasting Education University Of Brighton, where she introduced the work of Silvia Cusicanqui. Silvia is a female professor with a focus on depatriachy and decolonization, which I think relates to your topic. Well, nowadays, we can say that feminism should be intersectional. I tried to do that with 'Gender Masquerade,' asking students to bring examples that are not primarily from white males. I think it's adequate because here at these universities we have so many people from all over the world. Each one of them brings their own backgrounds and share with others.

Luana: That was what I had in mind when I invited people from my program for a conversation. What I found out was that one of the things they miss the most is having a platform to speak. It was exciting to talk to the students, even if not everyone is engaged in the topic of gender and decolonization, everybody has experienced something that relates to these topics. For example, there is a colleague from India who first had to study to be a nurse so she would have money to later switch to design. She had to go against her family's will to do so. Sometimes people don't fully realize they are somehow also connected to the issue.

So I think my topic is the conclusion that we need to open those spaces to get to know people’s experiences.

Inés: From this symposium in London, there were a lot of people come coming from South Africa. They also have a lot of issues with decolonization. Luckily, there are a lot of females from this area, doing some really fantastic work. I remember Sumayya Vally in particular; she is working with textiles with her students, discussing activism through these designs, addressing the scars of colonialism in South Africa. They had a lot of problems in their university with segregation, so they are really working on that. It is a whole year studio format, the work is beautiful.

Luana: I would love to have more references from Africa.

Inés: It would be useful for you to have different continents. Also, when you start to look to case studies, I don't know if it happens to you, but it occurred to me that the references were also really Western, it is where they are doing more things about it.

Luana: Yes! I have been trying to look in Brazil.

Inés: Do you have something?

Luana: There were some attempts, some things from the past. In the 50s, Lina Bo Bardi created the Instituto de Arte Contemporânea (IAC), where she wanted to focus on traditional knowledge and processes into design. It lasted just two years. And I have some things from contemporary schools too. They are mainly small initiatives both inside institutions and outside self-initiated approaches.

Inés: Yes, but that is helpful for you because the ones that fail are good for you to see why they have failed.

Luana: Yes, but it's a little tricky because a lot of the people I managed to talk to are mainly from Europe. The problem originates here, and also people trying to defy it are from here. It's great that people are trying to change things, but It would be interesting to have more diversity, having examples from other places as well.

Inés: And also, every country is different. It's challenging to implement. Even in Europe, it is not easy to have an agenda.

Luana: One of the things that I wanted to ask you is the transition you made. You studied here, where you started your project, and then it became a class. How was it?

Inés: Well, I was fortunate. I did my thesis here, and I designed this course as my thesis. First, I analyzed the problems that I see in architecture education, then I analyzed case studies, and at the same time, I would work on couplings. Then I combined it all to what I think is my contribution. I proposed a course to tackle the issues I encountered in the educational environment. The idea was to engage students with those issues while they are still studying. It makes a difference to go into practice knowing that these things happen. So I did a small pilot to test the class, which I repeated a couple of times, made corrections. Even now, every semester, I still make adjustments. You always have to change and adapt, see how it works.

Luana: It's an open thing.

Inés: Yes, it's completely open. And I am also super accessible for the students to come and share. It makes more sense that they show me their perspective because I won't be able to have the same insight about a Brazilian couple as you would have. We are all learning together.

Regarding the transition, I designed this class as my thesis. For my final presentation, my thesis tutor, Prof. Dr. Jasper Cep, was the former director of the architecture department, and one of the juries was an influential architect from New York. He was really fascinated by the work I had done and suggested that the only way to know if my proposition works would be to try it here at Hochschule Anhalt.

Prof. Jasper is a really conservative person, but he always listens. That is a good quality for somebody who is on an upper level like he is. You can disagree with an idea, but you have to listen and be open. So he followed the suggestion and allowed me to try the class at the university. With a lot of doubt, but he offered me the opportunity, the only condition was that I needed at least five students. In the end, I had 22 students.

Luana: I think even if people are not so interested or never thought about this topic, they might be curious to go and hear what you have to say.

Inés: Yes, but people are still very apprehensive. For example, in the first class, I think I had only eight students. They are students, but also usually people who are more open-minded, who actually know what gender is and so on. Those first students came, and then in each class, more people started coming because the attendees began to spread the word. People were first apprehensive about it, even scared because it's really a taboo topic. It is complex, of course, and some people think that it is something we should just not be talking about. But when they heard what people from the same age told them about it, it started pouring, suddenly I had 22 students attending.

This semester I am teaching two courses, with seven students in each class. In 'Mapping Bauhaus Couplings' I'm talking about the couplings of the Bauhaus time and the gender issues related to them. There is this idea that everything was perfect at the Bauhaus, but it was actually not. The 'Gender Masquerade,' we discuss similar issues but looking at architect couplings in general.

I would say that the first year I taught this course was kind of hard because people don't know what to expect, but you have to go slowly. We have to start somewhere, right?

Luana: Yes. And from the university side, after they saw that students attended your course, did they receive it positively or is there still some kind of resistance?

Inés: The directors didn't know much about it. The first time the class happened, I invited them to the final presentation, but they couldn't make it, though it seems they were aware that it was good.

And then the second semester that the class took place, the department said they had really few electives courses to offer the students because they had to cut everything in half. So they informed me that I would not teach again due to the cuts. I was ok with their decision, but I wanted to make it clear to the university that there was a need for the students to have space. I told them that if not in my course, they should have something addressing issues of gender because people were just really cathartic, expressing a lot of their feelings. Things that they see and feel but don't know how they are named or how to deal with it.

In the end, the director found out that there is funding coming from the Hochschule Anhalt, for courses or activities related to gender. When they found out about the budget, they decided to continue with the course. After the success of the class, the directors of the architecture program wanted to have it again and offered me another slot. That's how things came to be. Step by step, I am slowly trying to get there.