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Africa

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.

>>> https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/02665433.2022.2116594

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?

An annotated diary of my visit to the Democratic Republic of Congo: a brief stop in Kinshasa before flying to Kisangani and then, following the Congo River, a preliminary exploration of one the regions where the Huileries du Congo Belge – HCB had established its oil palm plantations.

This trip would have not been possible without the help of >>Istituto per la Bioeconomia – CNR and Forets (Formation et Recherche dans le Tshopo) – >>Cifor (Centre for International Forestry Research).



May 2022



Kinshasa — Me and Ottaviano landed in Kinshasa on a Monday morning. I had never crossed the Equator before.

Papa Victor is waiting for us outside on a white Toyota jeep with a EU flag on the door and dents and scratches on all sides. A description that would fit most of the vehicles I travelled in during this trip and, as I came to discover, a stereotype for Westerners in this country. Victor is a tall, pleasant man who talk and laugh quietly even when we plunge into the suffocating traffic of Kinshasa. The 25 kilometers between the airport and my hotel in Gombe are an endless sequence of taxis, yellow Wokswagen vans running with the doors open to bring some air to the passengers squeezed inside, a multitude of weva moto-taxis, and trucks covered in sticky black dust.

The two days in Kinshasa are chaotic. We meet with some people and don’t see much. I watch street scenes, buildings, and billboards passing by from the window of Victor’s car.

During the last night in the city, I meet my old friends and former colleagues Raphael, Paul, and Pietro – who became a real Kinois in the meanwhile. From the hall of my overpriced hotel Raphael, tells me with his usually sharp irony: “Il faut que tu sors de cette Leopoldville”. And so we drive away, leaving Gombe behind us. Paul, who has a thing for infrastructures, gives us a lecture from behind the wheel of his car while we cross the city. Boulevard du 30 Juin, which originally connected the two Stanley’s times settlements of Kintambo Ngaliema and Nshasha, and later became the first of the large avenues of the colonial capital [>>Kinshasa Then and Now]. Avenue des Huileries, pointing to the area formerly occupied by the Huileries du Congo Belge, now hosting its successor Marsavco.. And then, Matonge, the neighborhooud that everyone here calls the musical capital of the DRC. After having lived for years few hundred meters from Matonge (Brussels) – a product of Congolese diaspora in Belgium – I finally get to see its original counterpart.

It’s early in the morning when we leave again for the airport but the city is well awake.


Congo River — After landing in Kisangani we are brought directly to the dock on the Tshopo river. The beach, as docks are locally called borrowing the word from English, is just a sandy stretch where dugout canoes and boats come ashore. We get on board of the canot rapide that Cifor made available for us and, following the Tshopo and Lindi rivers, we finally reach the Congo. Few kilometres upriver, the Wagenia/Boyoma falls, a one-hundred kilometres long sequence of cataracts, make the river impossible to navigate. After the falls, the Congo begins its ‘quiet’ descent of the 1,700 navigable kilometers dividing the place where we are navigating now from Kinshasa’s Pool Malebo before rushing again, through impressive rapids, up to Matadi and to the Ocean.


From this moment on, this broad, magnificient river, with its banks covered in thick vegetation, becomes the silent protagonist of the travel.

Moving along the river coast, the canot go past busy docks where pirogues – simple boats built by carving a single tree trunk and manouvred by one or two rowers – carry large, white sacks of coal to sell. Apart from our boat and the infrequent barges, the river is populated by these small crafts and by the noisy baleinières (‘whaler’), a wooden boat used for goods transport. Besides being painfully slow, the two half-sunken relics I could spot along the way, testify the scarce reliabilty of these bizarrely named boats.

From the canot, on the right bank, flanked by colonial villas, I spot the prominent facade of the Yakusu hospital, a now run-down gem of the Baptist Missionary Society in the Belgian Congo and an important institution for the educational and medical history of the country [Nancy Rose Hunt,>>Colonial lexicon: of birth ritual, medicalization, and mobility in the Congo].


Further down the river, the Belgika, a private island owned by the heirs of a high-rank military chief under Mobutu dictatorship. Our boat speeds close to the coast; the waves agitate the fishermen’s pirogues moving under the branches of leaning trees. The shape of old buildings with porches facing the river vanishes rapidly behind the vegetation. >>During the colonial time, the island was a coffee and rubber plantation owned by the Comptoir Colonial Belgika. The company realised barracks for the workers and villas for the European technicians and now, half a century after it abrupty left the island, those buildings are occupied by the few hundred people still living on the island or are left in disrepair.


Yanonge — 50 kilometers downriver to Kisangani, we disembark in Yanonge, a small town built around a river dock and its market; a commercial gate to the river for the backland Opala territory and the Turumbu people. Up from the dock, over the steep river banks, I can read dates and names of European firms inscribed on the front of wharehouses now surrounded by the wooden stands of the weekly market. Along the riverfront, the traders’ villas and shops are almost untouched. Guélor, who shows me the place, lives in one of them with his family of five. The rest of the town is made of single-floor brick houses – the construction material coming from the local furnaces – and by simple clay, wood and straw houses. Outside the busy market area and the two main roads, people walk calmly in the shade of the many acacia and palm trees.

Since few years, Cifor established one of its bases in the town and carries our reforestation, agricultural and local development projects. Silvia, among the many other things, coordinates the construction of a small sawmill. A solar drying kiln is close to completion and an oddly sorted team of Congolese and Italians welds metal, cuts wood boards, make electrical and hydraulic connections, rushing to complete it before our departure. (My contribution to the works is barely symbolic). The aim is to prepare the way for a locally managed, and economically sustainable activity which, allowing to meet the quality standards required for exporting wood, would eventually offer a credible alternative to illegal logging [>>Forets]


During our days in Yanonge we stay at the local Catholic mission. Outside cities, missions often offers one of the few reasonably comfortable accommodations and in Yanonge, the Comboni community also gives the occasion for some peculiar encounters. Our early equatorial evenings are filled by the accounts of Father Vittorio, a truly remarkable character who spent 50 years in the Congolese rainforest, has unlimited energies, and a passion for >>improbable projects. When sitting in front of the usual plate of rice, pondu and tilapia, he starts talking and so I put my recorder on the table. I collect hours and hours of his improvised local history monologues in which he mixes personal memories with the accounts of the people among whom he have lived. “There weren’t many books in the places I have lived – he keeps saying, not without theatricality – but people love to talk to good listeners.”

Here, the buildings have stories to tell too. The religious mission was established in the early days of the Belgian Congo and abandoned for decades after the brutal incursion in the convent by the Simba rebels in 1964. The concrete lintel mounted on rounded jambs – a motive that many times I saw in Brussels – at the entrance of what was the mission’s carpentry school is marked with the date ‘1944’. Behind the art-deco facade, a large room covered with an overly complex wooden trusses system. The three wings with porches on both sides form a courtyard and are in ruin. Part of the high-pitched roofs – a large ventilated chamber was originally left on top of classrooms to protect them from the heat – had been replaced; the rest had crumbled. Kids are everywhere, playing among the teetering walls. Our not so credible recommendations to stay away from the crumbling structures are (quite understandably) ignored. The mostly disappeared wood worshop is now a favourite spot for discreet nocturnal encounters and Paolo says that the large wood cutting machine built in Belgium in the 1940s was still bolted to the floor until not so long ago.

Private archive Vittorio Farronato


Next to this complex, the church and the old convent – now used as a school. The convent has a familiar shape that I had never had the chance to look closely before. A single-floor building – despite what the view from the outside may suggest – with a central corridor cutting longitudinally, facade-to-facade, through the building and rooms on both sides. Seen in cross-section, the corridor with openings placed at the ceiling level was meant to extract the hot air through natural ventilation. Next to this group of buildings and most probably coeval, a structure carrying a sign MATERNITE’ and two groups of identical brick houses which once hosted the school’s teachers.

The few days I planned on staying in this small town became more than a week as I’m stuck in bed, ill. “The full tropical experience” Iain writes me from Liverpool.
I missed the boat for my next destination and I look for an alternative.

Yangambi — Sitting on the backseat of a motorbike running on a rutted dirt road, the lacking comfort is compensated by the view of riverine villages plunged in the luxuriant vegetation and by the glimpses of open horizon on the Congo river. When approaching the Yangambi reserve, the red brick walls of large villas appears on the side of the road, half concealed by the foliage of large ferns. The 250 villas built between 1933 and 1960 scattered across the reserve once housed the scientists and technicians of what was one of the largest ecological, biological, and agricultural research hubs in Africa, the >>Institut National pour les Etudes Agronomiques du Congo Belge – INEAC, later renamed INERA. The derelict storage tanks and the broken windows of the two large buildings facing the river port are the first visible signs of the now partly lost thriving life of this centre. But some sections of the research hub are >>still active.


During the few days I spend in Yangambi, Dorcas drive me from one section to the other of the reserve The library, inside the recently restored administrative building, has a large collection of magazines and publications dating back both to the colonial and Mobuto’s regimes as well as reports and correspondence documenting the exchanges that the institution had established with private companies such as the Huileries du Congo Belge and Lever Brothers. Even today, the centre carries out agronomic research and provide the germinated seeds of oil palm trees to smaller and larger >> Elaeis plantations in the country.
The number of houses, communal facilites, and buildings dedicated to the different research sectors that I could brielfy see from the car or from the photographic albums stored in the library would definetely deserve to be explored with more attention but I’ve run out of time. The boat is waiting.


Kisangani — I’m already on the way back to Kinshasa when, during a two days stop in Kisangani that allows for a quick visit to the city, I find a piece of wax print fabric depicting the destination of my next trip to the DRC. In a small shop, one of the last selling locally produced Congolese wax fabric, among the most bizarelly decorated pieces of cloths, one is dedicated to the >>Plantation et Huileries du Congo, the company owning three of the former HCB plantation. Over a green background, the same palm tree and red oil palm bunch is repeated over and over. At the bottom, a sketched and colourful representation of the Congo River and its green banks along with some particularly >>optimistic mottoes of the company.

I greet the country carrying with me this small trace of the persisting signs of British-Belgian colonial capitalism in Congo. Lokutu (Elisabetha), Bumba (Alberta), and Lusanga (Leverville), three of the five company towns built by the Huileries du Congo Belge will be the subject of my next fieldwork in the coming months.

Invented Modernisms: Getting to Grips with Modernity in Three African State Buildings
Kuukuwa ManfulInnocent Batsani-NcubeJulia Gallagher

Jubilee House, Accra, Ghana. Source: Julia Gallagher, March 2019

This article examines recent attempts to create specifically African forms of modernist political architecture that draw on ‘traditional’ or ‘pre-colonial’ aesthetic forms and ideas. Taking examples of three prestigious structures – the presidential palace in Ghana, the parliament in Malawi and the Northern Cape regional parliament in South Africa – the article shows how vernacular ideas have been incorporated into state-of-the-art political architecture, producing new or explicitly ‘African’ forms of modernism. It explores how such buildings, which draw on ‘invented traditions’, are used alongside conventional, monolithic representations of the state to produce ‘invented modernisms’ that both uphold and question the African state as a project of modernity.

Read the full article here: https://doi.org/10.1111/cura.12505

The 1951 victory for Kwame Nkrumah’s Convention People’sParty resulted in some major shifts in the procurement of new infrastructure and housing. For the electorate, housing was one of the most important issues and Nkrumah’s government was quick to recognize this potency. 

His plan, announced in 1952, was to build a new port city, complete with innovative and improved housing at the highest standards. Located only 18 miles from the centre of Accra, the new city of Tema would demonstrate Nkrumah’s commitment to industrial development and that Ghana was at the centre of a pan-African vision.  

Tema under construction: female labour force transporting blocks and cement

Tema was part of a wider industrialization project that included a new aluminum smelting plant and hydroelectric power station on the Volta River. It was a major project involving international financial backing and set out the major ambition Nkrumah had for the nation during the advent of independence.  For such a major project, very little is known about the first team of architects and planners responsible for the execution and delivery.

To read the full article go to https://www.design233.com/articles/pioneer-ghanaian-architects-theodore-shealtiel-clerk and more extraordinary images of Tema under construction in the 1950s.

Ola Uduku Writes: 24 hours in Lilongwe

Arriving in the dead of the night there was not much to see at Lilongwe Airport. The trip to the city was a long, quiet drive on a single lane road with not much to indicate what the city would deliver. Hotel check in suggested this might be a ghost destination in a ghost town with large edifices and pretensions of grandeur.

Later on at 7am in the morninig however,  the city began its reveal. My hotel room at the Umodzi-President hotel set in the grounds of the lush green Umodzi Park gave the perfect vantage point of the modernist icon the Malawi Reserve Bank building (c. 1964 but who designed it? – apparently an exact copy of a building in South Africa), and also a view out to the Mausoleum to Malawi’s first president Kamuzu Hastings Banda.  

The Malawi parliament Complex also got a detailed view from my Umodzi vantage point. More curious was the conference complex which forms part of the Umodzi Hotel – Park setting, and I suspect this might have been or is the setting for presidential and other political rallying in days gone by. Post-covid it seemed an empty stage set for a drama yet to unfold. 

The field research trip that brought me to the city began in earnest later on that morning, not before a after a hotel room battle with climate and media control as both remote devices had only Chinese ideographic character instructions to follow. The Umodzi Hotel Park and facilities had been built through a Chinese arrangement…

So the trip began in earnest, a visit to the first point of call meant a drive past the Malawi National stadium complex, a gift of the Chinese Government, certainly worthy of international architectural merit. Close by a gated community also developed during the stadium’s construction and now a high-end housing estate.

Villas in Lilongwe: High value housing

Lilongwe owes its masterplan to the dark days of apartheid and its layout is credited to South African planners who projected the segregation of residence by race and buffer zones to what had become Malawi’s capital city. The hard trace of this layout very much structures 21st century Lilongwe.  Poorer Malawian and increasingly trans-African communities live the farthest out to the city centre whilst former European only (now mainly elite African) residents and Asian communities live the closest to the city centre. 

Local housing in Lilongwe despite sharing distance issues from the CBD,  is certainly different from West Africa. ‘Formal’ housing uses much more burnt clay brick than in West Africa, locally made bricks are used for the majority of housing with ‘crittal hope’-style windows predominating glazing options. Corrugated Iron, and formed aluminium roofing as in West Africa predominate with an absence of asbestos or other cement fibre sheeting types. Building crafts and trades also seem particularly well established on the ground, might this be because as a landlocked country all importation is expensive and local labour is more valued. The other thought might be that the ‘grip’ of South Africa’s emphasis on non academic ‘technical/service’ education for non-whites has led to a better skilled and trained local technical workforce. 

Low Cost Housing

Transportation-wise also sustainable transport gurus might be in seventh heaven,  the humble bicycle seemed the main form of transportation in many neighbourhoods with a locally welded handlebar for passengers to use. A range of second-hand imports also could be seen gracing the streets. Faster and more efficient than cars and cheaper than motorbikes given the exhorbitant cost of fuel.

Great efforts were being made by Lilongwe local government and at national level to deliver services to all communities. Sanitation and water projects abounded. Contracts had interestingly been given to several international contractors including in a case we came across a water hydrant project for poorer neighbourhoods, run by a Chinese contracting firm.

Water Hydrant Installation.

This seems to be in keeping with the Chinese involvement in the development of the Lilongwe highways projects and future interchange. Not to be outdone there has also been investment by the Japanese in the Lilongwe International Airport upgrading and expansion project, with some interesting architectural results.

Viewing Lilongwe in a day was going to be a hard call, let’s say that it is certainly a green city and one that seemed genuinely peaceful and friendly. Its key problems seem to stem on a poor transportation system, predicated on the apartheid zoned settlement city which means that there remains very little interconnectivity to neighbourhoods and a non-existent prioritised public transport system to the city centre where unsurprisingly all the jobs remain located. 

Mosque in Lilongwe

Foreign investment in the infrastructure and buildings in Lilongwe is truly international it is quite clear to see. If this was a former British colonial city, the trappings thereof are rapidly disappearing. Aid seems to come in many forms and many directions, the ‘Global East’ certainly being emergent. This investment seems now to be getting ‘grounded’ in infrastructure projects including a housing estate for the Chinese in Lilongwe close to the Presidential palace and the Chinese Embassy, a symbol of Sino-African friendship.

But to end as I began, my last stop was again to view the Malawian investment bank, a night time shot didn’t fail to impress. 1970s African modernism at its best. 

Malawi Reserve Bank

Good night Lilongwe… 

‘Archival Urge’ is the second part of the symposium ‘Document Fever’ organised by the Architectural Association in collaboration with the Architecture Space & Society Centre, Birkbeck School of Arts on 25 February 2022. This time in partnership with KNUST, this panel aims to celebrate three projects that ‘collect’ histories of architecture in very different ways. We will think, amongst other questions, about the archival impulse/fever that made these projects coincide in time and space; the archival need to collect histories that are missing in architectural history; and the diverse formats of archive-making that these projects have taken or are taking.  


1. Aalii to Zygomorphic (2020) by Rexford Assasie Oppong (KNUST) 
2. Accra Architecture Archive (ongoing) led by Kuukuwa Manful (SOAS) 
3. Sub-Saharan Africa: Architectural Guide (2021) Edited by Philipp Meuser and Adil Dalbai, with Livingstone Mukasa. 


Adil Dalbai 
Adil graduated from Humboldt University of Berlin with a master’s degree in modern history and cultural theory, specializing in the architectural history of Eurasia and (post)colonial contexts. He worked as an editor and author for DOM publishers, focusing on architecture and urbanism. He went on to study architecture at the Technical University of Berlin and worked at Meuser Architekten on architecture projects in Western Africa. He researches and writes about architecture in Central Asia and Africa and its global interconnections. Additionally, he is a guest critic and lecturer, as well as (co)editor and author of several articles and books on architecture, including Theorising Architecture in Sub-Saharan Africa (DOM publishers, 2021). Since 2014, he has been managing editorial director of Architectural Guide Sub-Saharan Africa (DOM publishers, 2021, with Philipp Meuser and Livingstone Mukasa), a seven–volume documentation of the architecture of all 49 African countries south of the Sahara. 

Kuukuwa Manful 
Kuukuwa is a Doctoral Researcher at the Department of Politics and International Studies at SOAS, University of London. Her research examines the sociopolitics of West African nation-building and citizenship through a study of the architecture of educational institutions. She has a Master of Architecture and a BSc Architecture degree from the Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology (KNUST), and an MSc in African Studies from The University of Oxford. Her previous research has explored the positioning of Ghanaian architects in the modernist movement; Asante architectural identity; and social acceptance of earth building in urban areas. She has published in Al Jazeera, Burning House Press, Africa Is A Country, and The Metropole. Kuukuwa curates Adansisɛm— an architecture collective that documents Ghanaian architecture theory, research and practice, and runs accra archive— an architecture archives digitisation project. She also co-founded and runs sociarchi— a social architectural enterprise that advocates for, and provides architectural services to people who ordinarily cannot afford architects.

Philipp Meuser
Born 1969, Managing director of Meuser Architekten GmbH and head of DOM publishers. From 1991 to 1995, studied architecture at the Berlin Technical University. From 1995 to 1996, editorial work for the Neue Zürcher Zeitung, Switzerland. Part-time postgraduate studies in the History and Theory of Architecture at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology Zurich (ETH Zürich), graduating in 1997. PhD on the Soviet Mass Housing (Berlin Technical University, 2015). Federal Cross of Merit for cultural and scientific exchange with the states of the former Soviet Union (2018). From 1996 to 2001, policy advisor to the Senate Department for Urban Development as part of the Stadtforum Berlin. Visiting Professorship at the Kazakh National Technical University, Almaty (2015). Tutor at the Strelka Institute Moscow (2016/2017) and the Architectural Association London (Easter Island Visiting School 2017). Since 2018 Honorary Professorship at the O.M. Beketov National University of Urban Economy in Kharkiv, Ukraine. 2022 Visiting Professor for Public Humantities at Brown University in Providence/Rhode Island. 

Livingstone Mukasa
Livingstone Mukasa’s career has included architectural practice, urban design, master planning, real estate development, and sustainable development consulting. He founded and managed Archability, an online architectural crowdsourcing start-up, and Afritecture, an online platform on architecture in Africa. He is currently principal of Mahali, a collaborative design studio focused on cultural and contextual architectural engagement, and a frequent guest reviewer at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute’s School of Architecture. Passionate about architecture in Africa, he is coauthor and associate editor of Theorising Architecture in Sub-Saharan Africa (DOM publishers, 2021), and Architectural Guide Sub-Saharan Africa (DOM publishers, 2021, with Philipp Meuser and Adil Dalbai), a seven–volume documentation of the architecture of all 49 countries south of the Sahara. Born in Kampala, Uganda, he holds a bachelor’s degree in Architecture from New York Institute of Technology, and graduate certificates from the Graduate School of Architecture, Harvard University in Urban Housing and Mixed–Use Developments.

Rexford Assassie Opong 
Rexford Assassie Opong (PhD) is currently a Full Professor of Architecture and Dean of International Programmes Office of Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology (KNUST), Kumasi. He is a practicing architect of over twenty years’ experience. He obtained his Doctor of Philosophy in Architecture from the premier Liverpool School of Architecture — University of Liverpool; Masters in Urban Planning and Management from University of Rome-La Sapienza; Postgraduate Diploma in Architecture, KNUST; and Bachelor of Science in Design, UST, Kumasi. He researches and has widely published on the following topics: Architectural Identity, Metamorphosis and Disorderliness, Ecological Aesthetics and Architecture, Architecture and Fractals, The Built Environment and Climate Change,Urbanism and Architectural Modernism in Africa, Architecture and Health, Architectural Habitus, Architecture and land, Taste in Architecture, Architecture; Science and Arts Debate, and Kinship, Land, and Architecture in Urban Ghana. 
 
Organiser and chair: Albert Brenchat-Aguilar 
Albert is a Lecturer (teaching) at the Bartlett School of Architecture, University College London. Previously, he co-curated the public programme and publications of the Institute of Advanced Studies, UCL, edited the digital platform Ceramic Architectures and worked as an architect in Bombas Gens Arts Centre. He is a CHASE-funded PhD student at Birkbeck and the Architectural Association with the project ‘Resource: Humans Matter and the Patterns of International Planning c. 1957-76’, whilst cataloguing the archive of educator, architect, and planner Otto Koenigsberger. His coedited volume ‘Wastiary: A bestiary of waste’ will be published soon he hopes. He has published in Architecture&Culture, Espacio Fronterizo, and The Scottish Left Review, curated shows at UCL and the Polytechnic University of Valencia, and exhibited his artworks at Museu Nogueira Da Silva. He is currently a visiting researcher at the Department of Architecture, KNUST. 

Full event details and booking

This event is held as part of Arts Week 2022, a festival of the latest creativity and research from Birkbeck’s School of Arts

Name: Adefolatomiwa Toye

PhD Research Title and Summary: Development and National Identity: Tropical Modernism in Post-Independence Nigerian Universities 

The aftermath of the Second World War brought a shift in the policies of the British Empire towards the infrastructural development of colonies in West Africa. Massive projects ranging from transportation to healthcare and including education went underway in Nigeria, the largest colony in West Africa. Various commissions from the 1940s and nationalist agitations eventually led to the establishment of the first university in West Africa in 1947- the University of Ibadan, Nigeria. Colonial architects such as Maxwell Fry and Jane Drew, who specialised in modernist designs for the tropics, were hired for this and other major projects. 

Ibadan University

With the country’s independence from colonial rule in the foresights in the late 1950’s, a new desire for a unified national identity arose. This aimed to erase dividing ethnic lines and create a collective identity in the culturally heterogeneous new nation. Infrastructural projects were commissioned, ranging from public buildings to higher education institutions. These projects designed and built following the tropical modernist architecture of the colonial were used in developing a new built environment for Nigeria. I am interested in examining the tropical modernist architecture of Nigerian higher education projects in the 1960s and their role in the country’s development and representing the national identity for the newly independent Nigeria.

Ibadan University

Aims and Objectives:

-examine the position of higher education projects in creating a new sense of identity and nation building

-explore the first universities established in post-independent Nigeria within the social and political context of the 1960s

-highlight the roles of Nigerian actors who championed, designed, and built higher education projects

-compare tropical modernist style of higher educational buildings before independence and post-independence

What did you do before the PhD Research?

I recently completed my master’s degree in Environmental Design at the University of Lagos, Nigeria where I also obtained my undergraduate degree in Architecture. I also worked part-time at A3: Archives of African Architecture, an organization based in Lagos that documents architecture of practices in the country and promotes documentation of endangered built environments in Africa.

Why did you pursue a PhD, and what made you choose the University of Liverpool?

I first made a choice to purse a PhD in the third year of my undergraduate degree. Research satisfied my curiosity and I found it interesting and fulfilling to investigate the unknown and/or under researched areas in architecture (that I could relate to) and share it to the public. I think I also had enough time to weigh the pros and cons and honestly question my reasons and be certain for my interest in undertaking a PhD.

I chose the University of Liverpool for a few reasons. The research area was of great interest to me. I was surrounded by tropical architecture in the University of Lagos and studied some of the buildings only as case studies for studio projects. It was exciting to do a PhD on this topic that didn’t study these buildings in isolation but within the wider context of the period they were designed and built. 

The programme also provided me with the opportunity to gain experience outside academia at the National Archives in London which caught my interest. I was also confident in the calibre of my supervisors and the wealth of experience they had in their fields. It also helped that Liverpool is a coastal city with beaches and waterfront views just like Lagos.

What have you found the most fun part of the PhD, and the most challenging?

I am at the beginning of my PhD, and I find learning more about my research area interesting. There is something new to learn everyday and that alone excites me. 

I think the most challenging part for me is managing the scale of my research. It is still a new experience and managing my project myself is still very unfamiliar. 

Post-PhD? Any ideas of what you’d like to do next?

I do not yet have a clear path post-PhD but I am sure my programme will enable me try new opportunities within and outside academia. I think this will help me make a more informed choice.

Any advice for others interested in doing a PhD?

It is particularly important to like what you want to research. When it becomes challenging, it helps to know that you are working on something that you chose and genuinely enjoy. 

You also don’t have to be very excellent in research, although experience in research helps. A PhD is a learning process, and it gets better.

Call for Papers for Modern Heritage in the Anthropocene Symposium

Modern Heritage in the Anthropocene is part of the MoHoA global collaborative and builds on the Modern Heritage of Africa symposium hosted by the University of Cape Town in September 2021. Coordinated by The Bartlett’s Professor Edward Denison and Head of the University of Liverpool’s School of Architecture, Professor Ola Uduku, along with partners at the University of Cape Town, the Africa World Heritage Fund and around the world, this upcoming hybrid symposium responds to an age of planetary crisis in which a precarious present reflects an inequitable past and a perilous future.

The international railway settlement of Fushun (northeast China), with its modern town planning and the Ryuho Colliery, built by Denang and Siemens, and home to one of the world’s largest open cast mines in the 1930s.

Modern heritage in all its forms and from around the world is the subject of this multidisciplinary symposium, presenting the paradox of being of modernity and yet threatened by its consequences. MoHoA was originally conceived within an African context to interrogate this paradox because the continent encapsulates the historical inequities that characterise the modern and its associated notions of development and progress while also facing the highest rates of urbanisation over the next 30 years, demanding new approaches to the past and present that achieve equitable and sustainable futures on a planetary scale. The outcomes of the two symposia will synthesise in the recognition of the Cape Town Document on Modern Heritage.

Call for papers

Submissions are invited from researchers, academics, and practitioners. The organisers are seeking papers or equivalent submissions that critically engage with reframing, re-evaluating, decentring, and decolonising recent, hidden or marginalised pasts in pursuit of achieving more equitable, just, and sustainable futures. Participants will contribute to the completion of the Cape Town Document on Modern Heritage, supporting policy change at a global level through our partner UNESCO.

Topics can include, but are not limited to:

  • Practices of coloniality, decentring and decolonising history and historiography
  • Considerations and conceptualisations of multiple modernities
  • Modern heritage and Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs)
  • Planetary futures and the Anthropocene
  • Infrastructure and (post)-industrial heritage
  • Combining culture and nature, and the role of natural heritage in society
  • Challenging binaries (rural/urban, modern/traditional, nature/culture, tangible/intangible, racial/non-racial etc)
  • Public space and memory: memorialisation, commemoration and remembering
  • Modern heritage and the World Heritage Convention

How to submit

Submissions should be in English or French and should be emailed to mohoa@ucl.ac.uk by 31 May 2022. 

Notification of acceptance will be provided by 30 June. Abstracts should be a maximum of 300 words or equivalent format (e.g. film shorts, blog, or Instagram story) for other types of digital submissions.

Selected papers or presentations will be published as part of the MoHoA Book Series after the conference and selected extended papers will appear in a special edition of the journal ‘Curator’.

More here: http://www.mohoa.uct.ac.za