We have recently established a new research centre, based at the Liverpool School of Architecture called Architecture, Heritage, and Urbanism, in West Africa (AHUWA): https://ahuwa.org/ We’re hosting a launch event and would be honoured if you could join us on Tuesday 13th December, 3-5pm at the Arts Library, 19-23 Abercromby Square, Liverpool University for tea and cake.
Friends and colleagues from all of the North-West’s major collections, repositories, and archives with material on West Africa have been invited, and we’re excited to share ideas and build up new networks across the region and beyond.
If you could register here we’d appreciate it, and look forward to seeing you on the 13th. We’ll have an informal presentation at 3:30pm – please do come along and stay as long as you’re able. We’ll be on Zoom too from 3:30-4:00pm if you’d like to join us virtually for the presentation.
ECAS2023 is intended as a fully face-to-face conference. Please read the instructions on how to propose a paper on the Call for Papers page and then proceed to submit your contribution. All contributions must be submitted via the links on panel pages.
The calls will close on 9 January 2023, at 23:59 GMT
Open Access online publication: “African Futures” The project started as part of the preparations for the ninth European Conference on African Studies (ECAS), jointly organized by the University of Cologne’s Global South Studies Center (GSSC) and the Catholic University of Leuven’s Institute for Anthropological Research in Africa (IARA), and due to be held in Cologne in June 2021 but the pandemic development to a postponement to Whitsun week 2023 (31 May . 3 June 2023). See the Brill website.
Exciting news that The V&A is planning an exhibition with emphasis on the architecture of Tropical Modernism in West Africa and India.
The exhibition will be accompanied by a major scholarly publication and a wide variety of other events, and will probably tour internationally following its staging at the V&A.
There is a vacancy for a Project Curator to work on the exhibition – details here
The Project Curator will research and develop activities associated with the project, supporting the creative vision set out by the Lead Curator. They will generate content and contribute to the delivery of the exhibition and accompanying publication.
To apply for this dream job, please submit your application online by Tuesday 22 November 2022 at 23:59.
In 1925, the Central Market of Rabat was built at the outskirt of the medina (the old city) by French Colonial powers (1912-1956). Despite being the only element displayed in colonial maps of the medina, and one of Rabat’s current landmarks, the history of the market is still unknown. Drawing on the National Moroccan archives and on colonial postcards, the article explores the historical and urban significance of the Central Market for Rabat colonial and postcolonial history. It argues that the market constitutes a unique architectural and urban case for Rabat as it both challenged and reinforced the colonial agenda. Planning principles like the policy of association, the ‘image of the city’ and the ‘dual city’ were not only defied by the market, but also by the demolition of the part of the wall in front of it. This revealed the inconsistencies and lack of homogeneity of the colonial approach. Moreover, without the wall, the medina became penetrable by the ‘Ville Nouvelle‘ (New Town). Engaging with the Central Market is significant for the history of colonial planning, but also for today’s Rabat identity construction, inscribed in 2012 in the UNESCO World Heritage Sites and elected cultural capital in 2022.
Kingsway Stores was the most exclusive retail chain in colonial British West Africa. Established by a British import-export firm, Miller Brothers, the chain’s first two department stores opened in Accra and Kumasi in 1915-1920 and were explicitly modelled on Harrods and Selfridges. Named for the boulevard in London’s Holborn, where Millers was headquartered in a stodgily baroque office building, the Kingsway Stores sold imported food, clothing and home wear to a primarily British expatriate clientele. By 1929, a series of mergers and takeovers saw Miller Brothers absorbed into Unilever’s vast African subsidiary, the United Africa Company, which is currently the subject of a collaborative research project led by the University of Liverpool and Unilever Archives, and funded by the Leverhulme Trust.
The Kingsway chain grew under the United Africa Co.’s ownership and by the early 1950s, Kingsway stores traded in each of the British West African capitals, Accra, Lagos, Freetown, Banjul, and in many of the larger towns and cities across the region: Kumasi, Cape Coast, Sekondi, and Tamale in the Ghana, and in Jos and Kaduna in Nigeria. Like many of these stores, the Sekondi store was designed by the Unilever In-House Architects and Engineering Department, headed by James Lomax-Simpson. A graduate of the University of Liverpool School of Architecture, Lomax-Simpson designed numerous buildings for Unilever, including housing at the famous company town, Port Sunlight. The designs that his team produced for United Africa Co. offices, warehouses and retail stores across West Africa tended towards the mildly moderne, with some slight modifications for local climatic conditions through the use of canopies and verandas to provide shading from the sun and allow for the higher loads of rainwater run-off required during the rainy season. The Sekondi Kingsway store is a paradigmatic example of this work.
The growth of the Kingsway chain in the interwar years reflected the expansion of British expatriate technicians, civil servants and businessmen during a period known as ‘the second colonial occupation.’ Increased investment in development projects, ultimately designed to maximise the flow of cocoa and precious metals from West Africa and thus boost Britain’s dollar reserves, saw not only an increase in British expatriate staff working in late colonial West Africa, but also their increasing embourgeoisement. The growth of the chain also reflected, and, indeed, facilitated, changes in the gender balance of British communities in West Africa. British women were originally discouraged from settling in the region, but by the 1940s the availability of malaria prophylaxis and yellow fever vaccines saw increasing numbers of women taking positions within colonial administrations, and wives joining their husbands on tours of duty across the region. As Laura Ann Stoler notes, the presence of European women ‘accentuated the refinements of privilege and the etiquettes of racial difference… women put new demands on the white communities to tighten their ranks, clarify their boundaries and mark out their social space.’ Racially segregated bungalow reservations proliferated across ‘British’ West Africa in this period. Within these reservations, ‘Europeanness’ was performed through a constant round of dinner parties, drinks parties, tennis parties, through the consumption of imported tinned and preserved food, through patterns of dress and home decoration. Kingsway stores, which emphasised that ‘orders were delivered direct to bungalows,’ supplied all the goods required for this memetic of bourgeoise English life.
By the mid-1950s, as political decolonisation neared in West Africa and both civil services and expatriate companies increasingly ‘Africanised’ their staff, the Kingsway Stores faced the loss of its primary customer base. Perhaps paradoxically, the company management combatted this through a programme of expansion. Boldly modernist new stores, designed by the British commercial architectural firm TP Bennett & Partners, were opened in Accra, in the Lagos suburbs, in Ibadan and Port Harcourt in Nigeria. At the same time, didactic marketing campaigns – exhibitions, product demonstrations, fashion shows – were instrumentalised to sell a vision of modern, and, indeed, modernist, domesticity to an elite African clientele. An Ideal Homes Exhibition, sponsored by the British Design Council and held at the Lagos Kingsway Store in 1962, for example, offered advice on ‘such subjects as how to create harmony with simple furnishings and the tricks of entertaining which make a house-wife into a hostess.’ Kingsway at the end of empire therefore shrewdly manoeuvred itself away from selling ‘Europeanness,’ to selling ‘Modernity’ to the emerging, post-colonial, African elite, a shift in mode that sheds light on the entanglements between modernist architecture and design on the one hand, and colonial and neo-colonial profit extraction on the other.
The first architectural journal in West Africa, The West African Builder and Architect (WABA) was published in 8 volumes between 1961 and 1968, and covered the field of architecture and building in the region. Nation-building programmes had started in newly independent West African nations by the early 1960s. These projects were centred on large-scale infrastructure projects for national development, which sparked a boom in design and construction. In contrast to earlier architecture journals on colonial Africa that were published for a metropolitan readership,i WABA was founded by and for professionals based in West African countries to share information on practice in the developing industry and encourage cooperation among practitioners. ii
The journal began with an editorial panel of British architects: Kennett Scott in Ghana, and Anthony Halliday and Robin Atkinson of Fry & Drew and Partners in Nigeria.iiiOluwole Olumuyiwa, one of the few Nigerian architects who studied abroad and established practices upon their return, was the only West African on the panel. Among the WABA’s target audience was the modest number of engineering and architecture students studying in West Africa. It aspired to equip them with valuable information regarding their future careers that were specific to their environment.
Published articles included news on new projects finished in Ghana, Nigeria, Liberia, and Sierra Leone as well as articles by skilled professionals discussing contemporary design and building methods in West Africa. Regular publication features included technical reviews of new products, updates on development work in the countries covered, and advertising placements.
At that time, British practices operating since the 1940s dominated the architecture field in the region. They completed late colonial buildings using tropical modernist designs. This group of foreign architectural firms, including James Cubitt & Partners, Kennett Scott Associates, Architects’ Co-Partnership, Fry, Drew & Partners, etc., produced a significant number of the new structures published in the WABA journal. The projects of the general contractor, Taylor Woodrow and the engineering consultant, Ove Arup & Partners were also listed. Buildings for government organisations, corporations, and residences, constituted the bulk of the reported projects. Facilities for telecommunications, transport and healthcare were also mentioned.
The WABA journal served as a reference for the purchase and sale of building supplies and services through advert placements, advertisers index and buyers’ guides. Advertisements in volumes 1 and 2 of the journal reflect the state of the construction industry in the early 1960s independent West Africa. As the region’s manufacturing industry was in its cradle, building supplies and equipment were primarily imported and distributed by West African-based agents. Most of the distributors’ advertisements in the journal were from multinational corporations that were at the forefront of trade in colonial West Africa such as United Africa Company, GBO (G.B. Ollivant) and CFAO (Compagnie Française de l’Afrique Occidentale). GBO Building Department for example was a former subsidiary of British merchant GB Ollivant and had been operating in Nigeria since the late 19th century. Vivian, Younger & Bond Ltd and John Holt Technical were among more well-known suppliers with numerous locations throughout West Africa.
By constructing new facilities and forming partnerships with public and private organisations, foreign manufacturers also expanded their presence in West Africa. In their various local factories, International Paints (West Africa) Ltd., Dorman Long (Ghana) Ltd., and Nigerite (in Nigeria) produced paint, steel, and asbestos sheets respectively. The headlines of these corporations’ advertisements in WABA highlighted the launch of new plants and their support of the local economy. Additionally, advertisements for locally produced goods included the clause “made in Ghana” or “made in Nigeria.”. There was a minimal presence of indigenous manufacturing companies. NIGERCEM-Nigeria’s first locally owned cement factory was the only producer to include this feat in its advertisement.
Some organizations used their advertisements to highlight their importance and reputation in the sector. Advertisements for general contractors and subcontractors were designed to appear as portfolios of completed and continuing projects. The advertisement pages for the metal component company Henry Hope & Sons Ltd always showed an image of a brand-new building fitted with their curtainwalls and/or sun breakers. This was displayed alongside a brief overview of the building including its location and architect’s name.
The journal adverts reflected companies’ recognition of their role in nation-building. Multinational corporations boasted of their delight and pride in partaking in the “progress” and “growth” of the economy and the future of new countries. Was this marketing approach merely chosen to appeal to the development-oriented nature of the new market, or was it implemented to emulate previous advertisements by foreign businesses (like UAC) in response to criticism of neo-colonialism? iv
Companies targeted their advertisements not only at professionals but also at citizens in West Africa. These advertisements directed at building occupants first appeared in the 1962 issues and frequently alluded to modernity. Adverts for flooring, sanitary fittings, and appliances included large texts with phrases like “gracefully modern” and “modern living.” This contrasted with building supplies adverts-directed at professionals-which hardly referenced modern living. The late colonial era’s ‘africanization’ programmes aided the growth of the middle class by giving priority to the education and employment of Africans by public and private sector organisations. Likewise, housing initiatives launched by government agencies like the Ghana Housing Corporation and the Nigerian LEDB (Lagos Executive Development Board) in the 1950s attracted this demographic. They were characterised by their higher economic and educational status, as well as a household lifestyle distinct from the traditional communal family structure.v Was the reference to a modern lifestyle a marketing strategy to attract the West African middle class who had adopted a western-oriented lifestyle?
The WABA journal provides an account of the building sector’s development in independent West Africa. The journal advertising demonstrated how companies promoted their products to appeal to both individual and national ideals of growth while navigating the shifting socio-political landscape.
i See Hannah le Roux and Ola Uduku, ‘The Media and the Modern Movement in Nigeria and the Gold Coast’, NKA (Brooklyn, N.Y.), 2004.19 (2004), 46–49.
ii ‘Introduction’, The West African Builder and Architect, 1:1 (1961), 1.
iii In 1961, the Nigerian office of Fry, Drew and Partners became Fry, Drew, Atkinson Architects Nigeria under the leadership of Robin Atkinson. ‘Nigeria Developments’, The West African Builder and Architect, 1.4 (1961), 108.
iv Bianca Murillo, ‘“The Devil We Know”: Gold Coast Consumers, Local Employees, and the United Africa Company, 1940–1960’, Enterprise & Society, 12.2 (2011), 317–55
v Daniel Immerwahr, ‘The Politics of Architecture and Urbanism in Postcolonial Lagos, 1960-1986’, Journal of African Cultural Studies, 19.2 (2007), 165–86 (p.175)
In the Architect and Building News from July 1952 there’s an intriguing article for a partially-prefabricated ‘Commonwealth House’.
The house could be easily shipped and ‘erected by the average handyman’, aided by a standardised kit of parts would make manufacturing simple and predictable.
The house was designed by Charles A. V. Smith with John Pearce Mockridge, following a consultation with potential makers and inhabitants. The architects adjusted their designs to suit a consensus – resulting in a house very much designed by committee with a predictable, if utilitarian and efficient, floor plan.
The brief was to develop a house that would be suitable across the geographical and climatic zones of Australia, New Zealand, Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe), and East Africa. Over 20,000 units were expected to be built per year to meet the demand for emigrating workers and their families eager to escape war-torn Britain for opportunities elsewhere.
The house had an aluminium frame structure, and the cladding materials could vary depending on availability and final conditions. It was placed on concrete posts with an ant-trap to resist termite attack. The prototype erected on Great West Road in Hounslow was fitted out with furniture and a fireplace designed by American architect Carl Koch (1912-1998), who later pioneered several prefabricated house designs in the US.
The Commonwealth House design was very similar to houses we saw in the timber saw-mill town of Samreboi in Ghana – even down to the ant-trap detailing.
The African Timber and Plywood Company (AT&P), who owned the mill and were responsible for most of the housing, were also attempting to develop their own housing kits and to expand into new products and markets.
By 1954 AT&P had begun to discuss prefabrication techniques and processes at both Samreboi and their larger station at Sapele in Nigeria. The drive and urgency for this type of production was heightened by increased competition and political efforts to quickly improve housing standards in West Africa. The Dutch firm Schokbeton had been awarded a large order for prefabricated housing in Ghana, and contractors Taylor Woodrow were eager to expand their building products export wing.
Architect Edric Neel (1914-1952) developed a consortium of architectural consultants with Taylor Woodrow in 1944 to research new structures that could be quickly assembled and fabricated. The group was called Arcon and their first project was a temporary prefabricated house. The system developed into a set of lightweight tubular steel components that could be easily welded together. The façade, if required, could be made of local materials, metal sheets, or cement board cladding, as required. The system was intended for export and into ‘tropical conditions’ in particular. The units could be readily scaled and used to assemble large factories and sheds with large spans. Many of the factories and mills (including those at Samreboi) utilised this standardised and low-risk approach to construction.
Over the next 15 years AT&P began developing a series of prefabricated houses, but rather than developing a frame and cladding approach they created integrated wall panels (like flat-pack furniture) with modular dimensions so that windows and doors could be added where required. They called it the AT&P System Building, and priced a small house at £500 – compared to the £1200 Schokbeton model.
The system was adopted for military projects and housing, and continued to be deployed into the 1970s with AT&P developing many different variations and types.
The latest issue of Planning Perspectives investigates the role international organizations such as the United Nations, the World Bank, and the Red Cross played in the architecture discourse and the rise of ‘global experts’. The collection of articles, co-edited by Filippo De Dominicis and Ines Tolic, explores development plans and housing schemes, but also events related to dissemination or training implemented especially, but not exclusively, during the decolonisation phase in the 1950s and 1960s and the so called ‘development decades’.
In an article published in open access which I co-authored with Axel Fisher, Foreign aid for rural development: village design and planning in post-independence Morocco, we asked ourselves to what degree the work of architects and urban planners was influenced by the shifting and competing development agendas of the United Nations’ technical assistance, the FAO – Food and Agriculture Organization, and the World Bank. We start from the analysis of architects’ involvement in three rather diverse rural development projects implemented in Morocco after the 1956 independence in which community development and infrastructure-driven approaches overlapped. In doing so, we question the architects’ capacity to translate the strategic objectives in functional programmes, and to make ‘spatialized politics’ most vividly palpable.
Inês Nunes is a PhD student at University of Coimbra, Portugal and is investigating, “The Social Within the Tropical: Jane Drew and Minnette de Silva designing an inclusive modernism in the tropics”. Here’s an update on a recent visit to the RIBA archive.
“My dearest, darling Jane”: unfolding Fry and Drew Papers
In a conversational tone, Maxwell Fry addresses Jane Drew from the ‘remote’ mid-1940s Accra. “Darling Max”, she replicates. Their correspondence, a lively itinerary from West Africa, India, Iran, or Mauritius, belongs to a treasure chest named Fry and Drew Papers. It is accessible, along with unrivaled archival material, in the RIBA Architecture Study Rooms of the Victoria & Albert Museum(London).
Love notes handwritten on hotel letterheads, diaries displaying candid reflections about life, and memoirs manuscripted on paper bags are entangled with professional-wise material. Included are lectures and articles revealing narratives about architecture, extraordinarily illustrated with colourful drawings or sharp pencil sketches. Both are complemented by miscellaneous data: postcards, press cuttings, administrative files, address books… The characters gain life in every opened box. Their voices echo through calligraphies, signatures, ideas.
In its uniqueness, Fry and Drew Papers are an overwhelming resource regarding the life and work of both architects and an efficient record of the dynamic of their global scope partnership. Even so, it excels. Flexible and embracing enough to accommodate diverse interests and aims, unpublished personal letters, diaries, and autobiographies provide captivating details to any enthusiast – for instance, Fry’s diary was only made accessible in 2021. Furthermore, the archive is a source of knowledge about British historiography and significant architectural thematics: the MARS Group, the Modern Movement, Tropical Architecture, and Chandigarh are noteworthy.
Overall, the research was a privilege and the expectations were exceeded. My deep gratitude to Dr. Shireen Mahdavi for supporting this endeavour. The wealth of these primary sources allows an experience that couldn’t have been more rewarding. By immersing in Fry and Drew’s universe, how inspiring becomes their lifetime of respect and companionship, the robustness of their practice, and the profound vow to “produce towns and housing that will be loved, lived in and cared for” (Drew, F&D/27/2).
Have a look at the latest article from Design233 on Community Centers in Ghana, including the Accra Community Centre (paid for by the UAC) and Tarkwa Community Center (paid for by the Manganese Mining Company) – both designed by Fry and Drew. In addition to these modernist works the more formal and classically inspired centre at Kyebi is discussed – this centre is more of a mystery… We know it was funded by the Consolidated African Selection Trust (CAST)- but who designed it, and why did CAST commission such a lavish project?