I had the unsettling experience of reading Samer Richani’s “Beyond Eurocentrism: the slow decay of academic colonization in McGill’s School of Architecture” (January 26, Features, page 13). It showed that there had been a prejudice to our school’s architectural history for decades – a largely unchallenged Eurocentrism, only removed, to a large extent, by reforms in the 1990s.
Unlike what’s suggested in the article, we ought to focus on monuments because they are not just ‘the West’s’ desire to place itself above others, and to seek “self-validation.” Monuments are common to all cultures: they are in fact our global heritage. Denying their existence relies mostly on our discomfort with how monuments have been treated in the past by Europeans like Fletcher.
The flaw of earlier generations, like Bannister Fletcher’s, was to simply see the styles of history as one tree that was theirs: Europe. We need not fall into this trap if, thanks to our modern awareness of history in other parts of the world, our tastes have likewise been broadened.
If we go on being afraid of real differences in architectural masterpieces versus architectural necessities, we will continue to cast it as an ongoing battle between our social liberties and the prejudices of bigoted Eurocentrics. Forced to look at architecture forever as the history of how to make things, we will slowly forget its historical artistry.
My defiant hope, in fact, is that European architecture continues to dominate McGill’s campus. In no political way am I harangued by spires or entablatures on the Arts building, and “the menagerie of imported styles of the buildings on this campus” do not roil my sensibilities of justice. I simply don’t see, or fear to see, through its monocular “lens of Eurocentricity and its ubiquitous hegemony.” I feel oppressed only by a few ugly crenellations here and there, and the words of a few historical demolitionists.
—Benjamin Cohen-Murison, U3 English and History