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.
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.
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.
‘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.
In the UAC archive amongst the Public Relations files is ‘Nigeria Magazine‘. From within the mat brown cardboard of the archive box springs a collection of beautifully designed and printed set of publications. The magazine was a Government sponsored venture, published by the Cultural Division of the Ministry of Information in Lagos. It was issuedquarterly from around 1937 until the mid-1980s “for everyone interested in the country and its peoples”. The focus of the editorial was varied and wide ranging, covering topics across the arts, history, architecture, literature, and culture in Nigeria. There was a strong commitment and celebration of ‘local’ art, as well as extensive articles on planning, housing, and architecture from across the ages. The contributing authors were often experts and highly regarded scholars. Ulli Beier was a frequent writer, and the quality and tone of the editorial was consciously accomplished, supplemented by some striking images and high quality graphics.
Articles were published on the history of cities, including “Ibadan, Black Metropolis” in 1961, relishing in the city’s longevity and traditions, as well as welcoming its position as a new centre for finance and media (see Design Group’s Finance building below). Other sections included biographies on key personalities, such as June 1966 with its feature on architect Alex Ifeanyichikwu Ekwueme (1932-2017).
Ekwueme studied at Washington University on a Fullbright Scholarship in 1952, and went onto to work at Nickson and Partners in London (is this Nickson and Boris?) before setting up a firm in Nigeria that grew to 16 offices. He designed the United Christian College at Apapa, Universal Insurance Building Enugu, and the Administration Building for the Nigerian Petroleum Refinery Company, amongst others. Ekwueme’s architectural career ended when he was elected Vice-President of Nigeria in 1979.
Whilst there was a lofty desire to promote local art, culture, and history, other articles appear to focus on trade and industry, presenting what are effectively op-eds or public relations pieces as historical accounts. In 1960 there was a special report on The Niger River Transport Company and Burutu, “Nigeria’s Timber Industry” featured in December 1962, focusing on the work and settlements of the African Timber and Plywood company – both subsidiary companies of of United Africa Company (UAC). Again, the Company features in various other articles, such as “The UAC in Nigeria’s economic growth” in December 1965. It’s a thorough and detailed account, going to some length to stress how the company is ‘inseparable’ from Nigeria’s economic growth. The article was also eager to stress the restructuring of the company and how it now operated as a series of smaller locally managed entities ‘to encourage the growth of industry and trade in local Nigerian hands’.
It seems that the magazine had a mandate beyond art and culture, and sought to shape opinion (particularly in the emerging and educated middle classes) on business and trade matters. The seductive and authoritative format of the journal gave these opinions validity, and allowed a particular and curated message to be carefully presented. The advertisements within the journal also reinforced these messages and narratives of progress through industry.
At the same time, ‘traditional’ and ‘local’ practices were celebrated and discussed. There is something disarming in this technique. An ahistorical image was usually shown on the front cover, often a decontextualised figure in traditional dress sometimes playing an instrument – followed on the inner leaf by an advertisement for the latest fashions from Kingsway department store. The advertisers tended to belong to, or were in partnership with, the UAC group (e.g. Taylor Woodrow, Guinness, Kingsway Stores), and it seems likely their extensive patronage held some sway over the editorial content. The adverts were not geared towards selling specific products, but were there simply to bolster public opinion and shift attitudes towards modernity, progress, and societal advancement alongside a romanticised nationalist sense of history and culture.
The articles on architecture were also propagandist and concerned with presenting Nigeria as a place of rapid progress and impatient ambition. Again, the UAC story is followed with interest, and their newly proposed offices in Lagos (by Watkins and Gray) demonstrates the Company’s commitment to ongoing business in the newly independent country, and also the shift in its focus from import/export to real estate and property development.
John Godwin, wrote an article entitled, “Architecture in Nigeria” in December 1966. It’s a potted history that starts with the regional building types, local materials, and climatic responses before moving onto the impact of corrugated iron sheeting (pan) and its limitations. Godwin sets out this story to demonstrate the sudden change in scale, building types, and growth of the construction industry in West Africa post-1945,
“Tower cranes were on the scene in 1955 and by 1961 two twenty-five-storey buildings had been completed in Ibadan and Lagos built by Italian firms who thirty years earlier were struggling with their labour force to build small houses”
Whilst acknowledging this rapid growth and exciting possibilities, he also goes on to caution that more ‘research’ is required, greater collaboration should exist between architects, and that building components and materials were still being imported at prohibitive costs. Overly extravagant “prestige building” was also targeted whilst low-cost housing problems remained unresolved. Whilst the claims and hopes for air-conditioning now seem somewhat out-dated, his desire for a civic pride and community spirit, tree planting, and care of the environment is pertinent and all the more urgent. Godwin’s approach was to propose an “architecture of ventilators and sun breakers”, a lexicon that he viewed as, “increasingly identifiable as West African.”
Contributing to this West African style was the Design Group’s “Nigerian Institute of International Affairs” (located on Lagos’s Kofo Abayomi Street). It was discussed at length by Alan Vaughan-Richards in the March/May 1968 edition of the magazine, where he particularly admired the sculptural mural, ‘The Art of Understanding” by Erhabor Emokpae in tooled concrete that revealed the granite aggregate. Inside the Institute are further sculptural elements, including a bronze figure representing Knowledge by Ben Enwonwu and positioned hovering above an evaporation pool. The interior includes some grand double-height spaces, dramatic cantilevered spiral staircases and travertine marble cladding (donated by the Italian contractor). At the rear of the plot there is an octagonal conference room with a dramatic star-shaped roof (still visible on Google maps).
The Institute was to promote peace and progress (the internal conflict taking place in Nigeria at that time was not mentioned), and was to operate as a centre for learning, research, and debate on global affairs.
June 1962 edition included an article on “Contemporary Nigerian Architecture” by D. J. Vickery, the former Head of Department at Singapore Polytechnic (did he then go on to work in Nigeria?). This is an exceptional article covering some of the latest construction in Nigeria, and Lagos in particular. As a gazetteer of the latest building work – including the work from recently qualified Nigerian architects – it formed one of the most detailed architectural surveys of the country. Although the crude categorisation of the works under three types; ‘Climate’, ‘Traditional Spirit’, and ‘Skyline’ is somewhat limited, it gets the message across, and more importantly illustrates what the Independence Boom meant to the towns and cities across Nigeria.
In addition to the speculative offices, headquarters and banking halls there was an impressive array of schools and libraries (many designed by James Cubitt who had also designed similar works in Sekondi and Koforidua, Ghana), but the focus here was undoubtedly on real estate and speculative construction.
Nigeria magazine illustrates how UAC and other global companies shifted their approach and emphasis during the early Independence period. UAC was presenting its suite of businesses as nationalist, pro-development, and key partners in the country’s future. They rapidly placed an emphasis on real estate, finance, and industrial development, whilst curating a sophisticated advertisement and public relations campaign, through an arts and culture journal, to bolster their local credentials and legitimacy in the history of Nigeria.
We are pleased to announce an open call for 6 Digital Fellowships, to be awarded to students and young professionals in architecture related fields or with demonstrable interest in architecture, who are based in Ghana, Uganda or Nigeria.
The documentation and investigation of buildings can tell us a lot about how politics works, and a lot about the nature of the relationship between state and society – a concern of all partner organisations. The project focuses on the rediscovery of post-war modern buildings from the 1950-1970s. These fall in the period of independence from colonial rule, here from the United Kingdom (Ghana 1957, Nigeria 1960 and Uganda 1962), and have a great educational and socio-political significance. One focus of our discussions with the respective universities, which were founded by the majority during this period of independence and for which new campuses were usually built, among others:
Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology (KNUST), Kumasi, Ghana (1952/1961),
University of Lagos (UNILAG), Lagos, Nigeria (1962),
University of Nigeria (UNN) (formerly Nigeria College of Arts Science and Technology), Nsukka, Nigeria,(1950s),
Busitema University (formerly National College of Agricultural Mechanisation), Busitema, Uganda (1968),
Kyambogo University (formerly Uganda Polytechnic), Kampala, Uganda (1958).Digital Fellowship ProgramThe 6 month long digital fellowship program involves participants working on documentation, investigation and representation of those post-war modernist buildings from the 1950-1970s in Ghana, Nigeria and Uganda. The fellowship program focuses on development of written and visual material on those buildings through scientific writing, photography and digital publishing using different media (text, photo, film and internet).The fellows will be involved in online tutoring and in-person activities undertaken over the period. They will contribute to the online platform Architectuul and the new digest/Blog “Shared Heritage Africa”, allowing for exchange with the professional actors and society, locally and globally. The results shall be presented and discussed at the 17th International DOCOMOMO Conference (IDC) in Valencia (Spain) in September 2022. Each fellow will receive a travel grant for joining the conference.
EligibilityPlease note the following conditions for participation:
– Students and young professionals in architecture related fields or with demonstrable interest inarchitecture and other related disciplines, such as: Architecture, Urban Design, History, Social Science,Journalism, Urban Studies, Creative Writing, are eligible to participate.
– If they are based in Ghana, Uganda or Nigeria.
– Strong written communication skills and/or photography and/or digital publishing skills are required.
– Previous experience conducting and communicating ideas or research publicly (blogs, articles,dissertations) is desirable.
For the past months, we have been exploring the vast United Africa Company (UAC) archive held at Unilever in Port Sunlight. The archive documents decades of commercial activity in West Africa, which left a significant imprint on the built and natural environment. The UAC extracted raw materials such as palm oil and timber, but also exported finished goods such as cars, building materials, and refrigerators. The UAC also sold British products in its department stores across Ghana, Nigeria, and Sierra Leone. Meanwhile, it operated its own shipping line, named Palm Line, that ferried goods between the UK and West Africa. We have come across a variety of different materials, ranging from maps documenting the company’s palm oil plantations in the Congo and architectural drawings showing the modern Kingsway stores in Lagos and Freetown, to detailed notes related to the design of the UAC’s port, Burutu, in the Niger Delta.
One aspect of the UAC I have been focusing on these past months is the company’s timber operations in Ghana and Nigeria. In the early twentieth century, the UAC founded the African Timber Company (later the African Timber and Plywood Company), located in Sapele, Nigeria. Through a range of concession agreements with local chiefs, they managed to consolidate vast areas of territory around Sapele from which they extracted a wide range of different tropical hardwoods for export to the UK. At the same time, the company began operating in Ghana (then still the Gold Coast), in Samreboi, a hundred miles inland from the port of Takoradi. After World War II, they also built a plywood factory in Sapele—the first of its kind in this area and described as ‘the largest industrial plant in West Africa’—and began producing plywood at a large scale. Using photographs and written documentation, I have begun to explore the construction of these two company towns and their wider infrastructure. While the factories and processing plants were built using prefabricated steel sheds made by Arcon (also responsible for prefabricated houses in the UK during the postwar period), the bungalows for the company’s British employees can be described as traditional. Later, a Timber Research Laboratory was added, as well as showrooms, and several local facilities such as a (plywood) cinema and clubhouse. Through felling hundreds of thousands of logs every year, the company irrevocably left an imprint on these two areas in Ghana and Nigeria and had a devastating impact on the natural environment.
What is interesting is how the work of the African Timber and Plywood Company aligns with the British government’s focus on ‘empire timber’, or the push to use timber in Britain from different parts of the empire for furniture as well as architecture and interior design. While the government attempted to promote empire timber through a variety of exhibitions in the first decades of the twentieth century, the UAC archive reveals how widespread the use of tropical hardwood and plywood produced in Sapele and Samreboi was during the postwar period. Often marketed as giving ‘a feeling of warmth’, it was used for modern furniture made by the Conran Design Group, doors, window frames, and outside paneling for a variety of council housing, but also as interior decoration and flooring in buildings such as the Commonwealth Institute in London and the Commonwealth Royal Pool in Edinburgh. The former headquarters of the UAC in London, United Africa House at Blackfriars, is another case in point: the building’s interior functioned as a display of tropical timber, ranging from mahogany to African walnut and Sapele hardwood—all produced by the company.
Another fascinating aspect is the shift to production for the local, West African market in the 1960s and ‘70s, after Independence. Aside from furniture, one innovation was ATP Systems Building, a prefabricated building system using tropical hardwood and plywood. The company promoted this as an affordable, quick, and flexible way to build without requiring much technical knowledge. Documents I found in the archive point out that ATP Systems Building was widely deployed in, for example, Warri, a rapidly growing oil town in Nigeria, to build houses, offices, and schools.
Overall, the archive of the African Timber and Plywood company demonstrates, once again, how (modern) architectural construction in Britain was shaped by colonialism and, conversely, how British companies continued to impact design in the former colonies after independence. Many questions, however, are still unanswered. How, for example, was the work of the timber companies related to the colonial government’s efforts to promote empire timber from Nigeria? How should we understand the widespread use of (colonial) timber in postwar Britain? What prompted the shift to focus on the Nigerian market after Independence? How successful was ATP Systems Building? Over the coming months, we will continue to explore these issues.
We’ve been making good progress on our latest research on the UAC architecture. Here’s a quick selection of material from our recent twitter feeds. Next week we’ll be joined by Dr. Michele Tenzon which will finally bring the entire research team together in one place. You can expect to see some of Michele’s maps and visual representations of the UAC activity here very soon.