New Faculty Spotlight: Faiza Moatasim

School News

New Faculty Spotlight: Faiza Moatasim

July 19, 2018

Faiza Moatasim will be joining the USC School of Architecture this fall as an Assistant Professor teaching urbanism and urban design. Professor Moatasim joins USC from Hamilton College, where she has been a Visiting Assistant Professor and a postdoctoral fellow since 2015. Her research interests include modern architecture and urban planning, modern colonial and post-colonial urbanism, low-income housing, and urban informality. Her current work examines the interplay between formally and informally planned spaces in the high-modernist city of Islamabad, Pakistan.


Can you tell us about your background?


I have a B.Arch from the National College of Arts, a public art school located in Pakistan; an M.Arch in Minimum Cost Housing from McGill University, located in Canada; and a Ph.D. in Architectural History and Theory from the University of Michigan. Prior to joining the USC Architecture faculty, I held a postdoctoral fellowship at Hamilton College where I taught courses on modern and contemporary urbanism in the global south.


What will you be teaching at USC Architecture?


I will be offering courses that explore the relationship between urban design and social development. In particular, I will teach required courses on histories and theories of urbanism and urban design, and seminars on topics that explore pressing global challenges caused by urbanization. These include social inequalities, political conflicts, and spatial disparities. This fall, I will be teaching two courses entitled “Urbanism Themes and Case-studies” and “Slums and the City.” Topics for courses I will be offering in the future include “The Mega-City in Global Perspective,” “Architectures of Occupation and Resistance,” and “The ‘Islamic’ City.”


What drew you to the USC School of Architecture?


I was drawn to the current mission of the USC School of Architecture, particularly its commitment to establish a connection between space and social justice. The idea of having students of architecture study, analyze and design informal spaces like hawkers stand, squatter settlement and pavement dwellings-- as categories of architecture-- is very exciting to me. I am eager to be part of an environment where students of architecture are being encouraged to critically evaluate the intertwined relationship between architecture and politics, and the role played by the design of space in enabling or denying social justice.


What excites you about your faculty role?


As a faculty member, I have the exciting job of teaching courses based on my research interests on topics that aim to radicalize students in their thinking about power, society, and urban design. I am thrilled to be a part of an academic community at USCA that is invested in exploring spatial issues of marginalized urban populations, and committed to educating architects as politically engaged and globally aware citizens.


What are your thoughts on the current state of architecture across the globe?


I am interested in what architecture can do for marginalized communities living in slums and squatter settlements or on sidewalks and road medians around the world. I am inspired by the resilience and creativity of the urban poor in finding housing and livelihood options in the absence of formal support structures. I also value the exceptional work done by architect-activists, nonprofits, and community groups towards the relief of marginalized urban communities. The current state of architecture across the globe is certainly interested in urban poverty and informality but hasn’t figured out a way to fully engage with such important urban phenomena. Architects have been fascinated by “non-pedigreed architecture” or the “architecture of the poor” for years now but it’s been considered mainly as something that the non-architects do. Mainstream architectural education has also ignored slums and shacks as architectural categories. The schools of architecture have an important role to play in bringing spaces of informality into mainstream architecture education, and schools like USC Architecture have already started this process. The world is urbanizing using informal design and planning strategies, which makes it all the more necessary for the discipline of architecture to recognize informality as an important design paradigm.


Who or what inspires you?


I am inspired by what architecture design can do to improve the livability of our cities, especially for people with little to no income. I also am inspired by its ability to empower marginalized communities as a result of their participation in meaningful urban development.


What are your research interests? What drew you to the work you are doing now?


Among the many definitions of architecture, my professional interests align closely with that of Community Architecture, which has as its main objective the meaningful physical and social development of underprivileged communities. My research has been directed at understanding the relationship between officially planned spaces and those planned by people without official consent. My current work explores how people deal with rules and regulations laid out by professionals and government authorities for the functioning of space, and how they meet unfulfilled spatial needs in officially planned and regulated urban environments.


My book manuscript, “Elite and ‘Ordinary’ Informalities: The Making of Islamabad by the Rich and the Poor,” offers a contemporary history of the national capital of Pakistan, by focusing on low- and high-income residential and commercial spaces that exist outside of the official planning framework. Planned in 1959 by Greek architect-planner Constantinos A. Doxiadis, Islamabad is a comprehensively designed administrative city based on high-modernist planning principles of the 20th century. My work demonstrates that users of all income groups, sometimes with official consent, participate in creating these informal spaces because they provide opportunities for resistance and accommodate aspirations of both the rich and the poor. The thrust of my scholarship is to show how the agency of individuals and communities in shaping their urban built environments, using their personal resources and political connections, is integral to our understanding of the planning, functioning, and everyday lived experiences of cities around the world.


Why is now such an exciting time to study urbanism and architecture?


I view the design of urban built environments not only as technical and artistic processes but also as products of political motivations and social hierarchies. This makes the study of architecture and urbanism an exciting prospect right now because of what it can teach us about our world, values and politics. How people live, socialize, communicate, dominate, resist or generate income is all intrinsically related to the way we design and construct buildings and cities. Moreover, the world is urbanizing at an unprecedented speed, with most of the urbanization taking place in areas that are not economically and politically prepared for the change. This makes studying urbanism and architecture all the more exciting and important right now because of the urgent need to innovate to meet global urban and architectural challenges.


Any advice to current students?


I would encourage current students of architecture to improve their global awareness and political engagement. Current students of architecture have an amazing opportunity to use their time and available expertise at USC to supplement their understanding of the world history of architecture with histories of colonialism, capitalism, racism, class discrimination, and other forms of domination experienced by underrepresented or marginalized communities in our local and global contexts.