How to inherit colonial heritage: Forms of sharing and learning in contemporaneity

Sobrado house


Roberta Kanan Burchardt

In a time of collaborative methods and decolonizing discourses, sociopolitical and cultural patterns unfold unequal resource and power structures. Within this reality this research practice is anchored in an inherited colonial house in the south of Brazil, exploring its contemporary performance and legacy through forms of sharing and learning.

By interposing the personal and the collective, the practice confronts the responsibility of inheriting colonial heritage as a process of acknowledging privilege and ownership, while also tackling the fundamentals of heritage preservation as paradigms of usage and meaningfulness. What is this heritage, whose heritage is it and what to do with it?

Coinciding with the denomination of the house as National Heritage in 2017, urgency shed light on the degradation of the surrounding community and landscape, the speeded process of erratic urbanization, and the jeopardization of its cultural identity, knowledge and symbolism, which are considered as integral elements of the spirit of a place.

The heritage that represented the daily patterns exercised by the specific community of this place, with their rapports of assimilation and signification between the built and non-built, the creation of the spirit that defined it, face an erasure that enforces its praxis: a history not told, a heritage not acknowledged and a systematic perpetuation of disparities.

Acting on the belief that the contemporary performance of the colonial legacy today offers a site for renegotiation and dialogue pertinent to local and global communities, the confrontation of seemingly contradictory aspects within heritage – on one side heritage that should be a collective right and on the other side its private management – is a tool for work. This dual aspect of the work means articulation of public and personal interests, as interwoven responsibilities. The simplicity of the architectural program offered by the house in the past, is a way towards the legitimization of its spaces today: a vernacular, constructive culture connected to the concurrence of migration, its artisanal colonial tradition and its confrontation with the natural and original world of the colony.

Grounded on the premise that the colonial house can enact a form of insurgence through experiences and forms of daily living in and with heritage, the exploration of different forms of sharing and learning instate new forms of relationships with the house, surroundings and the world. The colonial house recharges possibilities, together with others, to penetrate, learn and share, live, experience, validate and legitimize its historical space in contemporaneity.

The process of sharing and learning, as a process of interaction with the collective, comes through an artist/artisan-in-residence program, applied restoration rounds, public acts and gatherings, conversations and study sessions, archival actions, or walks. The prospect is to further this work as a means to deepen research and the development of sharing and learning practices in the house. These actions promote liberation and activation of the colonial built structure, provoking a dynamic of acknowledgement, knowledge and responsibilities. These actions foment permeability zones of mutual affinities, through the shaping of an affective contemporary community that draws bridges between the times of the house and the world today. The process of sharing and learning of (our) heritage is a way towards possibilities to challenge, renegotiate and be engaged in shaping it.