About the project

This space is part of a master thesis project done by Marine Gigandet, Janosch Kirchherr and Johannes Pfeifle at ETH Zürich. The project was supervised by An Fonteyne and Galaad van Daele of the Chair of Affective Architecture and Philip Ursprung of the Chair of History of Art and Architecture. It is a collaboration with the Inga people for the creation of an institution of higher education - AWAI.


Marine Gigandet, Janosch Kirchherr, Johannes Pfeifle
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Description of the project

Purii - A walking Pluriversity to safeguard indigenous knowledge The verb purii, in the Inga language, means: to go, travel, walk, stroll. We received an invitation from the Inga people to walk together with them between the Andes mountains and the Amazon rainforest in the south of Colombia. The Inga People are one of the 115 indigenous people recognised nationally in Colombia, with a population of around 20,000 spread over the whole country. Their ancestral lands are situated in the South East of Colombia, where the Andes mountains meet the Amazon rainforest. In 2009, the inga people were considered by the country's Constitutional Court to be at high risk of cultural or physical extermination due to the armed conflict and forced displacement. As a consequence of this declaration, the Inga were granted the right to a Safeguard Plan by the State. The Inga are currently in the process of creating their own higher education institution called AWAI. The goal of this institution is to legitimize and teach the ancestral Inga knowledge that is under threat of being forgotten. AWAI will give future generations of people living in this rural context access to university-level education. The teaching will be intercultural and plural, combining conventional sciences with ancestral knowledge. Therefore this future Institution will be named Pluri-versity instead of Uni-versity. Interculturality is a key element of the pluriversity AWAI from the beginning. Our work inserts itself into a long line of collaborations that the Inga people have initiated with other national and international institutions. We see ourselves as exchange students that have had the chance to visit the pluriversity for one semester. Even though AWAI has yet to be institutionalized and the first infrastructures have yet to be built, we want to emphasize the fact that the knowledge is already present, embedded within the territory of the Pluriversity and the people that inhabit it. While being in the territory and engaging with the people laying the grounds for the pluriversity, walking as a way of learning was a recurring topic. The line guiding us throughout this project is the ancestral paths of the Inga, called ruku ñambi ('old' 'path').The most beautiful moments of sharing happened to us during long hikes. Our guide was Taita Serafin who is a passionate hiker and teacher.,which is one of the few people still knowledgeable about those paths. He guided us and other Inga students along the ruku ñambis we discovered together. By walking, talking and sharing, we also engaged in a process of remembering together the stories of this endangered place, in danger of losing the ancestral knowledge embedded along the paths. “So we noticed that we are losing our Inga knowledge [...] the aim of these walks is to share and to strengthen the knowledge of the inga people and from there irradiate and get to know the world.” The ancestral paths of the Inga date back to pre-colonial times before a large portion of the population living on the south american continent was wiped out by colonial powers and with them large portions of their cultural systems. The ruku ñambi are said to be part of the qhapaq ñan which was the main communication and trade artery of the Inca people, the ancestors of the Inga. This system connects the south of Colombia with the north of Chile, crossing more than 6'000 km along the Andes. The ruku ñambi are historical trade routes used by the Inga as exchange routes for goods and culture that span across the whole territory of the future pluriversity. Many paths are forgotten and overgrown. Walking along the ancient trade routes is not only relevant to acknowledge their presence but also to think about how this heritage can be projected into the future. How they can, through the pluriversity, be a way to negotiate with the forces that are putting pressure on the territory. In this context roads are usually associated with extraction and thus destruction. The pluriversity's paths would be a way to put a limit on the extraction that is happening within this area. Trails of repair and maintenance of the Andean-amazon biocultural environment. Purii aims at mapping the ancestral paths and wants to look through the different layers of history. Our contribution as architects will be to highlight what is already there and try to imagine how those already existing paths could become part of the Pluriversity infrastructure.. The line guiding us throughout this project will be the ancestral paths of the Inga. During our exchange semester we have only walked a fraction of the paths within the territory of the future pluriversity. We have only caught a glimpse of the knowledge nested along these paths. In this context, the path becomes the classroom and the territory of the teacher. In this context, the physical experience of the body within the territory is important. Its closeness to the ground, the slow speed in which the body moves helps to perceive the surrounding space. The drop of sweat passing from your forehead toward the muddy ground. Your leg striding over a leftover trunk. Your step following the one of the person in front of you. The valued lessons we encountered through those many hours walking allowed us to think of an educational space and practice which is already there, which has existed for hundreds of years. While walking 12 or 24 h straight alongside the ruku ñambis, we realize the importance of rhythm, the alternance of movement and rest, as embedded properties of the walking. In the Inca Civilisation the place of rest called Tampu was situated a day's walk away from each other and housed travelers, messengers and caravans of lamas. The architecture of these buildings followed local conditions and often an overlay of different cultural influences. To support its use, we implemented some places of rest, echoing the Inca typology of the tampu - a mixed use structure situated a day's walk from each other. In this context, such a space can offer a protective presence - a place of care for the territory, the path and the body. Groups of people from both sides of the path can regroup around the tulpa - the traditional Inga fire pit - and share food and stories. Our project reflects such places of rest in the context of the Pluriversity. A tambu when part of AWAI can be a protective presence, a place of care for the territory, the path and the body.Those interventions are there to emphasize the path, to support its use. The tambu becomes a place of sharing between the people engaging alongside the path. Situated in the middle, groups from both sides of the path can regroup and share a moment around the tulpa - the traditional Inga fire pit - resting together, sharing food. A common chagra - indigenous permaculture - provides food. What is harvested, is also planted back. Fire wood to light the tulpa is always available and replaced by the temporary users. The maintenance of the tambu becomes a collective endeavors shared by all the passer-by, following the Andean concept of reciprocity. Reciprocity stands here for a mutual relationship between the inhabitant of the tambu, human and non human. Those punctual interventions are there to support a network of walking based education which we see complementary to the project of a Pluriversity spread on the territory. They could serve as anchors for future development of the AWAI infrastructure. The construction of the tampu is based on mostly non-extractive methods - using what is available around the sites themselves and can be transported mainly by foot or by horse. We think of the Tambu as a community project that can be more effective if it grows over time and involves many people. The construction process can also become part of the educational process, rediscovering ancestral building methods in conversation with more contemporary ones. Walking alongside the Inga people has led us to reflect upon our own reality. Global warming, biodiversity loss and social inequalities are resulting from extractive economic processes and architecture is one of them.This collaboration allows us to question the Western notion of modernity and progress which often separates the global majority and minority. We want to shift our attention toward common goals and interests, questioning the normative, discussing ideals and embracing the difference, ambiguity and hybridity of our world. Walking can help us open our narrow gaze to include all forms of built environment - human and nonhuman. „Wer schnell ist, hat keinen Blick fürs Detail“ - “Who is fast, has no eye for the detail” - as Lucius Burckhardt puts it. When walking all the way between two points of interest the space perceived is continuous. Suddenly, A and B are bonded together and part of the same landscape, same system of relationship. In this context what is 'in between' becomes as important as the individual point of interest, the approach rather than the 'approached'. Walking helps us reconnect with the surrounding landscape, built and unbuilt. Walking also helps us reconnect with our environment and leads toward a more inclusive design. In this context, every step of the building is important and design doesn't stop with the construction process but rather embraces its ongoingness and long lasting effects on people and the environment.