The Transnational Architecture Group is 10 year’s old this year. Thank you for supporting the blog and to all of our excellent contributors over the years for enriching the content and generously sharing their work. We’d also like to thank the communities in the places in which we work, the archivists and librarians for making material available to us and sharing their expertise, our respective institutions for supporting our research, and to the research funders who make travel, time, and resources available to us.
The blog started as a means to share our work-in-progress ideas and to promote events – and that is still at the core of what we do. We continue to add updates from our ventures into the archives, travel reports, and to share interesting events and innovative papers. These small reports and updates have compounded into something of a large resource and repository, and we’re delighted so many people have been able to make good use of (and to correct and expand upon) our work and attempts at writing these histories.
To celebrate the 10 year anniversary we held a small gathering at the Liverpool School of Architecture on Wednesday 8th March, curated and organised by Dr Alistair Cartwright. Our speakers were all PhD students, post-doctoral researchers, and research associates at the school. You may watch the proceedings here:
The speakers and titles of the presentations are below, with timings if you’d like to skip to a particular talk:
Rixt Woudstra, “Sapele and Samreboi: Building Company Towns in British West Africa” 5:25
Excy Hansda, “Indigenous Modernities in the Twentieth Century Architecture of Bombay” 20:00
Adefola Toye, “Tropical Modernism in Nigeria’s First Universities: Accessing Sources Beyond the Archives.” 37:00
Ewan Harrison, “Planning for Post/Neo Coloniality: the Paramount Hotel in Freetown” 1:11
Iain Jackson, “Erhabor Emokae and the curious case of the UAC Mural: tropical modernism and decorative arts” 1:31
Daneel Starr, “How and why has the vernacular architecture and intangible cultural heritage of the Akha people changed in the face of globalization: Using the village of A Lu Lao Zhai, Xishuangbanna (sipsongpanna) China, as a case study.” 1:50
Alistair Cartwright, “Ecologies of Vulnerability: Post-Cyclone Reconstruction in Mauritius, c. 1945” 2:35
We also heard an excellent paper from Razan Simbawa, “The Effects of Demolish-based Urban Regeneration on Displaced Residents in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia” – which cannot be shared on the video recording at the moment.
Thank you again to all of the speakers for their wonderful talks, presentations, and work-in-progress. There was such variety and richness in the topics and methods, and at the same time numerous connections and cross-overs between the work.
Please do get in touch if you’d like to know more, or to share your work on the blog.
This edited collection of essays and image-driven pieces by anthropologists, archaeologists, architects, and historians examines the legacies of African architecture from around the time of independence through examples from different countries. Drawing on ethnography, archival research, and careful observation of buildings, remains, and people, the case studies seek to connect the colonial and postcolonial origins of modernist architecture, the historical processes they underwent, and their present use and habitation, adaptation, and decay.
Deriving from a workshop in connection with the 2015 exhibition “Forms of Freedom” at the National Museum in Oslo and the Venice Biennale, the volume combines recent developments in architectural history, the anthropology of modernism and of material culture, and contemporary archaeology to move beyond the admiration or preservation of prized architectural “heritage” and to complicate the contemplation—or critique—of “ruins” and “ruination.”
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.
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.
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).
The George Padmore Library: A Potential Attribution
Text by Dr Ewan Harrison
The George Padmore Library in Accra is a dynamic composition. Its principal block houses a fan-shaped reading room that extends from an apsidal end wall. This is raised up on pilotis, and is entered via a delicately wrought cantilevered staircase that itself springs from a fan-shaped expanse of terrazzo floating above a reflective pool. Externally, the facades are defined by horizontals of louvred glazing which allow for free air circulation, keeping the reading room at a comfortable temperature, and a strongly modelled canopy with sculpturally expressed rain water outflows. The building was established by the first president of the republic of Ghana, Kwame Nkrumah, in memory of the pan-Africanist writer, journalist and activist George Padmore. Padmore, who was born in Trinidiad, Nkrumah during the 5th Pan Africanist Conference, held in Manchester in 1945, and on Ghana’s independence, Padmore moved to Ghana to work for Nkrumah’s government as a diplomatic adviser. Sometime following Padmore’s death, Nkrumah’s government built the library in his memory, to house Padmore’s archive and a growing African studies library collection. The Library continues to function as Ghana’s primary deposit library to this day.
Before visiting, I had assumed that the building was likely designed by Nickson & Borys. Responsible for the design of both the Accra Central Library complex and the nearby Ghana National Archives building in the late 1950s, the practice might have seemed the natural fit for a commission to design a bespoke library in Accra at this date. However, on visiting the George Padmore Memorial Library, after having recently spent time in both of Nickson & Borys libraries in the city, the manifest differences in both spatial planning and design between those and the George Padmore Memorial Library became clear. Whilst both the Accra Central Library and the National Library are simple, cubic buildings, the architect of the George Padmore seems to have rejected the rectilinear in their handling of the main reading room. The Nickson & Borys buildings use brise-soliel and pierced concrete walls to dissolve the wall plane: creating lightweight buildings. In contrast, the George Padmore is a heavier, starker, more sculptural composition: much of its drama comes from strongly modelled canopies and sculptural concrete rainwater outflows, and its main facades feature long planes of unbroken concrete.
This points to another possible attribution, a design by Max Bond Jnr (1935-2009). The scion of a prominent African-American family, Bond studied architecture at the Harvard School of Design before working at Le Corbusier’s Paris atelier (1958-61) and the New York practice Pedersen and Tiley (1961-64). Bond believed that African-American culture should ‘hark back to Africa,’ and thus in 1963 wrote to Nkrumah asking for a job. By 1964 Bond was established in Accra as an employee of the Ghana National Contracting Corporation, the state’s contractor, working on designs for buildings at the government complex at Flagstaff House. Two of the precepts he outlined as central to his practice in Ghana were a ‘responsiveness to climate,’ and ‘modern buildings for new institutions.’ Bond’s most famous commission for the GNCC, the design of a public library at Bolgatanga, in the country’s arid northern region, strongly evidences these concerns. The Bolgatanga library project, which features four discrete volumes – two library reading rooms, a lecture hall and an administration block – under a free-standing roof designed to maximise cooling air circulation throughout the complex, is very different in its massing to the George Padmore Memorial Library. But there is something in Bond’s heavy roof at the Bolgatanga Library, in his handling of the oval wall of the Lecture Hall, and the sculptural treatment of the rainwater goods which show clear affinities with the George Padmore Memorial Library. And there are reasons beyond the stylistic to suggest Bond’s authorship of the building. Padmore’s intellectual project, and, it can be argued, much of Kwame Nkrumah’s political one, resolved around drawing attention to the shared heritage and struggles of Africans and the African diaspora throughout the Atlantic world. In this context, a design by an African-American architect, resident in Ghana, might have seemed especially suitable.
Neither the Accra Town Planning archives, the papers of the Ghana Library Board or the archive of the Padmore Memorial Library itself shed much light on the building’s authorship, although a letter in the National Archives of Accra politely rebuffing an offer from Nickson & Borys to fund a memorial plaque to Padmore is certainly suggestive that the building’s patrons didn’t think a practice headed by European emigres a suitable one to design a memorial to a titan of Pan-Africanism (dated 1961, this letter makes no mention of the project for the Library, suggesting that it predates the library’s construction). Questions remain, however. The Bolgatanga Library was extensively published, if the Padmore is by Bond, why wouldn’t he have seen that it too received attention in architectural publications? Why wouldn’t he accord it a central place in his Ghanian oeuvre? Was this perhaps a collaborative job, an awkward collaboration with one of the expatriate architectural practices that Nkrumah wished to side-line, practices like Nickson & Borys? Or with Eastern European or Yugoslavian architects employed by the GNCC? The last might be the most likely, given Ghana’s political culture in the early 1960s, and Padmore’s own long, if increasingly fractious, association with the Communist Party. Conclusive answer may well lie in the collections of the Avery Library at Columbia, which holds Max Bond Jnr’s archives, or in the private papers of Kwame Nkrumah. For now, a tentative attribution will have to suffice.
 J, Max Bond Jnr and the Approproation of Modernism in a Library Design in Ghana
 J, Max Bond Jnr and the Approproation of Modernism in a Library Design in Ghana
ESALA Architectural History & Theory Seminar Series
INTERVIEWS ON METHOD encompasses a cycle of pre-recorded conversations with scholars of architecture and the built environment across the globe and at all career stages. The conversations span a diversity of methods, including environmental studies, economic history, filmmaking, heritage, the study of colonialism, history of the book, print history, oral history, and exhibition. The interviews were recorded during spring of 2021.
The discussions are centred on methods for the study of architecture and the built environment for a number of reasons. The Seminar Series has always showcased works-in-progress, but turning focus to methods presented an opportunity to scrutinise the mechanisms and techniques of that work. The result is a public and durable record of emergent and changing approaches to research and teaching on the history of architecture and the built environment during the current moment.
‘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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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 firstname.lastname@example.org 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’.