Teaching Small Modernisms: Graphic Novels as a Recuperative Medium
This paper discusses the pedagogical strategies and outcomes of a recent seminar, conducted at the McGill school of architecture in 2022, which aimed to recover underrepresented actors, sites, and design theories during the pivotal period from roughly 1945 to 1980. Students were asked to prepare a visual storyboard based on an extant public building in the city of Montreal, dating from the postwar period, and using the conventions of the graphic novel. Drawing on archival imagery and texts, students developed fictional narratives, inspired by historical events, and exploring how architectural spaces, objects, and personal experience are intertwined in their case study buildings. Students were encouraged to think carefully about their protagonist(s), what settings they move through, and how their actions and words relate to each of those spaces. Combining fieldwork with contemporary theory drawn from cultural landscape studies, material culture, and vernacular studies, the seminar challenged students to consider how “small histories” can assert the importance of ordinary buildings by highlighting their role in shaping people’s everyday lives and forming attachments to specific communities. Their resulting work sheds light on the peripheries of postwar architectural culture and addresses the complexities of class, gender, and racial politics during times of fast-paced urban and suburban change. It also underscores the importance of historical thought in redirecting contemporary design interests by revealing the role of everyday architecture and intangible heritage in creating intimate nexuses of individual and group identity.