Document Fever: Encounters with the architecture of the *colonial architecture archive

Document Fever: Encounters with the architecture of the *colonial architecture archive: Organised by the Architectural Association in collaboration with the Architecture Space & Society Centre, Birkbeck School of Arts

Date: Friday 25 February 2022 Time:10:00 – 17:00

Fever: An intense enthusiasm for or interest in a person, pastime, event, etc., typically widespread but short-lived; an obsession, a craze / A state of intense nervous excitement or agitation / to elevate in intensity, temperature, etc., to heighten emotionally. OED

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An architectural archive is expected to contain drawings, plans, maps, photographs, models, and sample materials. However, the archives of post-war architects working for the United Nations — Jacky Tyrwhitt, Charles Abrams, or Otto Koenigsberger, to name a few — contain letters, invoices, book drafts, repetitive lecture notes, photographs, press cuttings, and, mostly, reports, piles of them. Reports consist of from two to dozens of typed pages with advice on the development of the environment as a whole, spanning issues such as landscape, ecology, economy, housing, migration, labour, water management, and others. These reports are mostly addressed at regions in Africa, Latin America, and South and Southeast Asia that were colonised at the time or had recently gained independence.

It is common to find report-based archives in Western departments of architecture and architectural institutions. Both the architectural category and the Western homes of these archives could be questioned for their interdisciplinary content and their embodiment of neo/post/post-/re/trans/inter/—/*colonial relations. These probably get complicated by other questions: the exiled condition of some of its authors, the aspirations of the UN and of the recipients of these reports, or the political and economic international dynamics behind these reports. Maybe one first question is about what these archives represent: is it their authors, their ideas and practices, their network, the lands and peoples reported, or something other?

This symposium adds to the work on *colonial networks of planning consultants since the 2000s and specifically to the work from critical studies and the social sciences developed in the 2010s on *colonial exchanges between Argentina, Brazil, Mexico, US, UK, Nigeria, South Africa, Singapore, The Philippines, Indonesia, India, Pakistan, Kuwait, Iran, Iraq, Ghana, Germany, Poland, Romania, and Belgium. This work has until now scrutinised these archives through theses on climate and race, capitalism and extraction, green infrastructure, socialist worldmaking, and misogynist endurances, amongst others. None of these topics were explicit in the archives which are partial, unclassified, and under rigorous custodianship most of the times. This symposium focusses on the feverish encounter with the architecture of the archive that made possible these forms of research and asks how to make ‘privilegings, elisions, and silencing’ of the ‘work of the archive’ present, accessible, and suggestive, if at all appropriate, in the architectural *colonial archive?

The symposium will explore the following themes:

  • space, geoposition, and structure of the archive; 
  • property, representation, and audience; 
  • socio-cultural pressures; 
  • fantasies of the writer of the document; 
  • encounters with the document; 
  • critical approaches to the architectural category of these papers; 
  • intellectual frameworks to approach these archives; 
  • evidence finding and the power of “critical fabulations”; 
  • emotional fever in the archive; 
  • connection to the material and personal qualities of the archive; 
  • and the way one would have liked that the encounter with the archive could be framed for future researchers.

CONFIRMED PARTICIPANTS:

Keynote: Sabelo J. Ndlovu-Gatsheni (Professor and Chair of Epistemologies of the Global South with Emphasis on Africa at the University of Bayreuth in Germany)

Irene Appeaning Addo (Senior Research Fellow, Institute of African Studies, University of Ghana)

Ed Bottoms (Archivist, Architectural Association)

Albert Brenchat-Aguilar (PhD student Art History, Architectural Association and Birkbeck; curator, IAS, UCL)

Mark Crinson (Professor of Architectural History, Birkbeck)

Ayala Levin (Associate Professor of Architecture and Urban Design, UCLA)

Shivani Shedde (PhD student Architectural History, Princeton)

Shirley Surya (Curator, M+)

Ola Uduku (Professor of Architecture, School of Architecture, Liverpool)

H. Koon Wee (Architect and Assistant Professor of Architecture, HKU and SKEW Collaborative)

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