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Call for Papers

The 20th anniversary of the Modern Heritage Programme, jointly initiated by UNESCO, ICOMOS, and DOCOMOMO, in 2021 presents a timely and important opportunity to reflect on the transformative cultural experiences and global consequences of the recent past that heralded the dawn of the anthropocene and its many impacts on climate, society, and the planet. Despite these impacts, the ‘modern’ era and its legacies are comparatively undervalued and overlooked, and disproportionately concentrated and interpreted in ‘the west’. MoHoA contends that Africa’s experiences of plural modernities include the positive and negative, colonial and post-colonial, tangible and intangible, urban and rural, culture and nature. This will need greater scholarly attention and can be instructive and transformative in framing modernities and modern heritage globally, as well as addressing the challenges of sustainability continentally. On the one hand, Africa’s contemporary cities, many of which are products of modern encounters, face the highest rates of urbanisation in the world over the next half a century, straining populations and resources, urban landscapes and rural hinterlands, and placing modern heritage at serious risk of alteration or destruction. On the other hand, the unique human settlement patterns in Africa, provides a new dimension, reflected in the cultural landscapes, “combining works of nature and humankind, they express a long and intimate relationship between peoples and their natural environment”.

The African World Heritage Fund has identified modern heritage as amongst the most marginalised heritage categories on the continent, demanding investment in research and documentation to better protect, increase resilience and subsequently Africa’s representation on the UNESCO World Heritage List. Through improved methods of understanding and assessing significance, raising public awareness and promoting inscription on local or global registers, Africa’s modern heritage has a vital role in contributing to rural and urban sustainability in line with the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), the New Urban Agenda (NUA), the African Union’s Agenda 2063, and the Historic Urban Landscapes (HUL) Approach.

MoHoA plans two symposia over two years and a series of supporting thematic workshops. The first symposium, focusing on Africa, will be hosted by the University of Cape Town in September 2021 and titled ‘Modern Heritage of Africa’. The second will be global in scope and hosted by The Bartlett School of Architecture (UCL) in 2022 and titled ‘Modern Heritage in the Anthropocene’. The outcome UCT symposium will lead to proposing a ‘The Cape Town Document on Modern Heritage’ supporting efforts to modify international policy and guidance on modern heritage in line with present and future planetary challenges of ecological, social and economic equity. This will be presented to the World Heritage Committee as part of the reporting exercise and as a side event at the relevant Committee Session. The UCL symposium will discuss the wider implications of the MoHoA globally.

We invite submissions to the International Symposium on the Modern Heritage of Africa and welcome papers and other forms of communication including video, music, performance and literature accompanied with a commentary and interpretation focusing on any of the following themes evolving from the brain storming isivivana last August, highlighting both cultural and natural heritage, the tangible and intangible and their symbiotic relationships:

  • Considerations of modernities in Africa
  • Modern Heritage and Sustainable Development in Africa (SDGs)
  • Infrastructure development, particularly industrialization and transportation systems, as activators of modernism in Africa
  • Natural heritage and its role in society, linking culture and nature
  • Public spaces, memorialization and commemoration in postcolonial Africa
  • Modern Heritage of Africa and the World Heritage Convention
  • Any other theme not covered by the above

Abstracts: Contributions with African experiences of modernities and the sharing of heritage knowledge and we welcome abstracts of up to 300 words or equivalent format (e.g. film shorts, blog, Instagram story) for other types of digital submissions. For general reference in terms of format – see below. To submit an abstract, emailmodernheritageofafrica@gmail.com

The abstracts: Date to be finalised

forming results: Date to be finalised

Publication: Selected papers or presentations will be published as part of the Modern Heritage of Africa Book Series to be published after the conference.

Audience: academia, heritage fields, professionals and practitioners from diverse disciplines addressing the tangible and intangible, culture and nature, documentation, archives and collections. We encourage participation from colleagues and institutions from Africa, particularly from youth and women.

Networking: Institutions of African Studies, Schools of Cultural Studies, Architecture and Planning – African Union and professional bodies.

Languages: Français and English

Dates: 22 and 23 September and 24 September, South Africa Heritage Day 2021

Venue: University of Cape Town, South Africa

Participation: online registration will be required and is free; a $50 donation will be welcome.

Format: The MoHoA symposium will be a virtual, hybid, academic event, a dialogical field capable of moving beyond disciplinary boundaries with social and cultural exchanges. To ground its activities and foster dialogue, we invite proposals, ranging from operational practices to speculative and theoretical questionings. These can be presented in written, built, coded, drawn, figured, imagined, filmed, modelled or in any other format (do not hesitate to consult with us for any exotic format or idea!).

Contributions may take the following forms:

  • Paper presentations that will be shared and discussed through joint working sessions and panel discussions. These might include theoretical work, but also case studies and project reports. To submit your paper proposal, you must submit an abstract of up to 300 words.
  • Projects, models, images, devices, pieces of coding, hardware and all other kinds of contributions. These must be submitted by sending a 300-word optionally illustrated abstract in the form of a single PDF including text and images (max 5mb).
  • Contributions can be signed individually or collectively.

Contributors are welcome to submit more than one proposal in one or more formats. If selected, all contributors are responsible for covering the costs of sending their work in time for presentation. The conference is led by the University of Cape Town and planned virtually with a possible physical component on campus; please state if you would able to attend in person.

If selected, contributors might be assigned to a 15-min paper/project presentation session or a debate session to discuss their work. Or both. These might be done in person, by possibly attending one of the conference’s sites, or remotely. The final format and topics of the sessions will be configured once all submissions have been received, so it is possible and desirable that participants will be grouped in thematically coherent yet interdisciplinary sessions.

All submissions are to be sent to: modernheritageofafrica@gmail.com

PAC@75 is an exciting four-day celebration marking the 75th anniversary of the 5th Pan African Congress, held in Manchester in 1945.

THURSDAY 15 – SUNDAY 18 OCTOBER 2020

Image created by: Zineb Berrais

Curated by Professor of Architecture, Ola Uduku, PAC@75 will be a multi-institutional series of creative and academic events, led by Manchester Metropolitan University, with contributions from The University of Manchester, the University of Salford, and the University of Bolton, and in association with a host of UK and international academic, creative and cultural individuals and institutions, including prominent local creatives and the Manchester public.

The Pan African Congress in 1945 was a precursor to the development of a number of African independence movements which went on to successfully secure self-rule for countries across Africa. It also signified the movement of the intellectual discourse on African self-realisation and solidarity with other causes; moving from the Americas and the West Indies, to the UK and then on to Africa.

The plaque commemorating this event is situated in the new Manchester Metropolitan University Arts and Humanities Building, facing onto All Saints Square, in what had previously been Chorlton Town Hall where the original six-day event took place. The Congress had 200 attendees from across the world; including delegations from Africa, America, the Caribbean and Asia, as well as black and white delegates from Manchester and across the UK.

Join us online to enjoy a range activities featuring high-profile international speakers, such as the Princeton-based writer and philosopher, Kwame Anthony Appiah, the writer and historian Afua Hirsch, and the poets Lemn Sissay, (Chancellor of The University of Manchester) and Carol Ann Duffy DBE (former Poet Laureate 2009-2019). They will be joined also by student speakers, who represent our next generation of leaders. There will also be public-facing sessions including public literature readings, art projections, and theatrical performances by the Manchester School of Theatre and Contact Theatre. PAC@75 is curated in collaboration with Dr Kai Syng Tan.

PAC@75 will bring together academics, students and the public to celebrate the impact that the diversity of Manchester has had on global history, and how this history relates to today’s contemporary challenges in the face of modern racism and the Black Lives Matter movement.

Full Programme and details here: https://www.mmu.ac.uk/pac75

Infrastructure between Statehood and Selfhood: The Trans-African Highway

Kenny Cupers, Prita Meier

 

Focusing on the 1960s–70s project to build a trans-African highway network, Infrastructure between Statehood and Selfhood: The Trans-African Highway argues for the need to develop a more dialectical understanding of the relationship between people and infrastructure than current architectural and urban scholarship affords. As Kenny Cupers and Prita Meier describe, African leaders imagined infrastructure as a vehicle of Pan-African freedom, unity, and development, but the construction of the Trans-African Highway relied on expertise and funding from former colonial overlords. Based on archival research, visual analysis, and ethnographic fieldwork in Kenya, this article examines the highway’s imaginaries of decolonization to show how infrastructure was both the business of statehood and a means of selfhood.

Map of the Trans-African Highway project, late 1970s (Rolf Hofmeier, “Die Transafrikastraßen: Stand der Planung und Realisierung,” Africa Spectrum 14, no. 1 [1979], 35).

Map of the Trans-African Highway project, late 1970s (Rolf Hofmeier, “Die Transafrikastraßen: Stand der Planung und Realisierung,” Africa Spectrum 14, no. 1 [1979], 35).

From the automobile and the tarmac road to the aesthetics and practices of mobility these fostered, infrastructure was a vehicle for the production of subjectivity in postindependence Kenya. This new selfhood, future oriented and on the move, was both victim and agent of commodification.

The Coloniality of Infrastructure: Eurafrican Legacies:
Call for Papers – 
Conference at the University of Basel, 24-26 June 2020

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When Eurafrica emerged in the 1920s as an intellectual and political project to connect Europe with Africa, its goal was to ensure European colonial dominance in a changing world. Key to the proposed continental merger was infrastructure—not surprising at a time when railways, ports, camps, and other large-scale building projects were facilitating the extraction and movement of things for Europe while curtailing the freedom and mobility of Africans on an unprecedented scale. Recent scholarship has emphasized the centrality of Eurafrica and the type of colonialism it mustered in the history of European integration, from the EU’s founding intellectuals to its Cold-War-era realization. But continental infrastructure also played a role in African struggles for independence. Highways, ports, and dams became tools of state-building and even mobilized hopes of Panafrican integration and international solidarity. In practice, however, large-scale infrastructure required technical and financial aid which further entrenched Africa’s asymmetrical relationship to the Global North.
Today, as Africa enters a new age of development increasingly dominated by China, and the EU is in fundamental crisis, is it still possible to speak of a Eurafrican present? From the physical imprint of cities and the configuration of intercontinental airline routes, infrastructure testifies to the enduring legacies of Eurafrica. Infrastructure shapes territories and governs the mobilities within and across them, but also serves to immobilize and externalize bodies and things. The European infrastructure of the Mediterranean border regime, in which African migrants are systematically being detained or left to die, recalls colonial-era policies that valued life and dictated death along racial lines. At the same time, European aid focused on infrastructural development in Africa is increasingly targeted to counter such unwanted migration—without touching the global extraction economies that have roots in European colonial rule and continue to shape African cities and territories today. Because of these specters of Eurafrica, the EU seems structurally incapable to come to terms with its colonial past.
This conference proposes to explore historical continuities in Africa’s relationship with Europe through the lens of infrastructure. What are the infrastructural histories that bind the unequal destinies of people together across continents, and how do these legacies shape contemporary lifeworlds and international relations? How does infrastructural violence shape international relations between Africa and Europe, and how is the legacy of Eurafrica manifested in the spaces of everyday life? To answer these questions, the conference invites scholars from urban studies, history, political science, postcolonial theory, architecture, border and migration studies, and allied fields. We invite contributions that develop new perspectives of our geopolitical and interconnected urban present through its infrastructural pasts. Such studies of material and aesthetics relationships between Africa and Europe can focus on questions of lifeworlds, urban transformation, migration, territory, citizenship, development, or related themes. We are particularly interested in studies that can reveal the differential entanglements between people and places, and locate alternative forms of infrastructure, imaginaries of belonging, ongoing struggles for decolonization, and practices of world-making that decenter colonial ways of seeing, feeling, and knowing.
Confirmed Keynote Speakers:
Elizabeth Povinelli (Columbia University)
Siba N’Zatioula Grovogui (Cornell University)

 

Scientific Committee:
Peo Hansen (Linköping University, Sweden)
Edgar Pieterse (University of Cape Town)
Muriam Haleh Davis (University of California Santa Cruz)
Samia Henni (Cornell University)
Charles Heller (Forensic Oceanography, Geneva)
Anne-Isabelle Richard (University of Leiden)
Bilgin Ayata (University of Basel, Sociology)
Julia Tischler (University of Basel, Centre for African Studies)
Lorena Rizzo (University of Basel, Centre for African Studies)
Madeleine Herren-Oesch (University of Basel, European Global Studies)
Selection of Speakers:
Please submit an abstract of no more than 300 words and a short C.V. by 10 December 2019 to Michelle Killenberger (michelle.killenberger@unibas.ch). Applicants will be notified of acceptance in February 2020. We will cover travel and accommodation expenses for speakers in need of financial assistance.
 
Conference Organization:
The conference is organized by Kenny Cupers, Urban Studies, Department of Social Science at the University of Basel, in collaboration with Sociology, the Centre for African Studies, and the Institute for European Global Studies, as well as the African Centre for Cities at the University of Cape Town.
Follow-up Conference:
A follow-up conference will take place in collaboration with Prof. Edgar Pieterse at the African Centre for Cities at the University of Cape Town in June 2021. Entitled “Emerging Infrastructural Worlds: Mapping Urban Research in Africa,” this conference will map research approaches to transnational infrastructure projects across Africa and their consequences on the ground.

 

More information:

This conference is funded by the Swiss National Science Foundation. For more information about the conference and associated research projects, please visit: 

This is an excellent opportunity for emerging writers and students. Last year’s gathering produced some excellent work, and this year we will have the exhibition at James Town Cafe as a provocation and stimulus for debate….

WARUH: West African Rapid Urbanisation and Heritage Conservation Research Network

We are pleased to announce that we are now accepting applications for the 2019 British Academy – ASAUK funded 2019 African Architecture Writing Workshops. These workshops are offered for postgraduate students looking to develop their academic writing skills in the areas of architecture, urbanism and related disciplines.

This year there are two workshops. The first to be offered will take place in May 2019

FIRST WORKSHOP DETAILS

“Sharing
Stories from Jamestown and the Creation of Mercantile Accra” Writing Workshop

Monday, May 12 – Sunday, May 18, 2019

This workshop explores the colonial
and mercantile architecture of Jamestown, the British settlement area of
colonial Accra and located in Ga Mashie. This writing workshop is linked to the
May 17 exhibition organized by Professor Iain Jackson (University of Liverpool) and Joe Osae-Addo and Allotey Bruce-Konuah (Jamestown Cafe), which will showcase archival and historical images and
maps of Accra’s…

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A. M. Martin & P. M. Bezemer (2019): The concept and planning of public native housing estates in Nairobi/Kenya, 1918–1948, Planning Perspectives, DOI: 10.1080/02665433.2019.1602785

Open Access PDF: https://doi.org/10.1080/02665433.2019.1602785

Estate lay-out Kaloleni, 1943, A.J.S. Hutton. Source: G.W. Ogilvie, The Housing of Africans in the urban areas of Kenya. The Kenya Information Office: Nairobi. 1944

Abstract: Interwar public housing estates for native citizens in Sub-Sahara African cities, represent hybrids of global and local urban concepts, housing typologies and dwelling habits.

The authors explain such hybrids via exploratory research note as a result of transmutation processes, marked by various (non)human actors. To categorize and compare them, Actor Network Theory (ANT) is applied and tested within an architecture historical framework. Nairobi/Kenya functions as pars pro toto with its Kariakor and Kaloleni estates as exemplary cases. Their different network- outcomes underpin the supposition that actor-oriented research can help to unravel a most essential, though neglected part of international town planning history.

Plan and elevation of two one-room dwellings, Kaloleni, 1943, A.J.S. Hutton. Source: G.W. Ogilvie, The Housing of Africans in the urban areas of Kenya. The Kenya Information Office: Nairobi. 1946

Conference Report: Colonial and Postcolonial Landscapes: Architecture Cities Infrastructure 16th– 18thJanuary, Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation, Lisbon

Text and Photographs by Ola Uduku, Manchester School of Architecture.

This conference took place at the Gulbenkian institute from Wednesday 16th– Friday 18thJanuary. Its central focus was on having its audience explore research findings and aspects of post-colonial architecture and landscapes specifically from an infrastructure perspective in Africa with a primary focus on the Lusaphone African countries of Mozambique and Angola. Sessions however covered a wide range of topics such as the Chinese involvement in building projects in Africa and how to engage in transnational projects from a postcolonial perspective.

The Gulbenkian Institute, Lisbon

The Gulbenkian Institute, Lisbon

The Gulbenkian Institute was a good setting for the event as Lisbon in winter was best encountered from the urban oasis of the institute in its urban landscape setting. The plenary session on the Wednesday afternoon introduced delegates to the themes of the conference and ended with a lecture given by Helder Pereira, a young Angolan architect who was able to give his perspective on Angolan architectural history and the challenges of architectural practice in contemporary Luanda. He felt particularly exercised with the building industry and landscape in Angola today, but was clear that he was happy to work and contribute his skills to the new Angola in his capacity as a private individual with his own practice.

Helder Pereira at plenary session

Helder Pereira at plenary session

On the first full conference day the opening keynote session was given by Johan Lagae,  (University of Ghent)  who emphasised the need to join up and contextualise the research being done into the PWD archives of Angola, Mozambique and a few other former Portuguese possessions or territories. He focused on the non-completed railway network that would have connected Luanda with Lorenco Marques (now Maputo) and the evolution and execution – successfully or otherwise of other communication projects, and the need to collaboratively examine the histories. A honorary award was also given to the architect Fernao Simoes de Carvalho who had been instrumental to designing a number of buildings and plans in Maputo and across Mozambique.

The parallel sessions which followed covered a number of themes. The author contributed to the session titled “The Transnational Live Project: Critical Reflections on the ethics, politics and pedagogies of collaboration between the global North and the global South”, with Baerbel Muller, (University of Vienna)  the Architects Sans Frontiers representative for Portugal, and one other contributor.

The panel was chaired by John Bennett and Peter Russell, and we concluded that it was possible but difficult to challenge the stereotypical student and institutional engagement and view of the Live project, and that this was an area which needed further exploration but that a radical change to the site project was required. The titles of other parallel sessions in the 1400 – 1600 time slot on day 1 included; Colonial Spatiality in African Sahara Regions, chaired by Samia Henni, and DeConstructing the Right to the City: focusing on Portuguese speaking countries.

In the second parallel session, themes included, Interrupted Utopia: Landscapes of Modern Collective Housing in former European (Socialist) Countries, Spaces in America Current efforts towards a non-Eurocentric theory, projecting Power and further sessions on Planned Violence and Deconstructing the Right to the City. The collective Housing session involved papers describing housing in Yugoslavia and how some of the precast design systems were adapted and designed for socialist countries including Angola due to the cold war connection with the post-colonial political party UNITA, the ensuing independence war meant that only two of these projects were built although countries such as Cuba had more connections to these systems.

We then were taken that to view the colonial archives and an exhibition of the infrastructure in the Belem district of the city, titled “Colonizing Africa”, were we had a drinks reception. Amongst the exhibited PWD photographs of bridges and public housing projects were also busts of Portugal’s unreconstructed neo colonial past.

Paul Jenkins Presentation

The second full day of the conference began with a plenary session, where Paul Jenkins, (Wits University) gave an illuminating lecture on hard and soft infrastructure development focusing in Mozambique. He was able to trace the development of hard infrastructure projects from power supply to railway lines and then focused on road networks. He posited that the hard physical infrastructure need a soft (maintenance, services and planning) infrastructure approach to be successful. By taking a contemporary viewpoint he was able to demonstrate that new development partners, in this case the Chinese, and post revolutionary governments are yet to address the problem of having soft infrastructure packages in pace, to the detriment of current infrastructure being built in postcolonial cities like Maputo, with the Matende bridge and new ring road being case studies to support this theory. Paul pointed out that these projects as in the colonial times benefit investors and middle classes and rarely the masses who often have to ‘pay’ for development.

Tribute Lecture and award made to architect Jose Forjaz

Tribute Lecture and award made to architect Jose Forjaz

The session ended with further summaries of research projects being carried out using the newly catalogued archive sources, and then an honorary citation and award was given to the architect Jose Forjaz for the work he had done for Mozambique from the early revolutionary period to the present day.

The final parallel sessions in the afternoon focused again on a range of themes, including Single and collective housing in a modern laboratory in colonial territories, Infrastructural development in European Portuguese territories in the late colonial period, peripheral infrastructure in late colonial cities, and materiality and mobility in colonial landscapes. I attended the China in African, Latin American and Caribbean territories: examining spatial transformations around diplomacy and economic aid panel. Two papers gave illuminating accounts of the history of Chinese building aid in Africa from the 1960s to the present day. They both concluded that this involvement has now been historic, and despite having its tensions they are set to continue as China’s political relations and economic influence on the continent continues.

The last parallel session had a second panel on materiality and mobility, urban legacies, globalised regionalism, population spatialisation and control, and the panel I attended titled Beyond Colonialism: Afro-Modernist Agents and Tectonics as an expression Cultural Independence. The panel was set up to have younger conference delegates discuss their encounters with post-modern architectural images and landscapes in Europe (Belgium) and in Africa (Mozambique) and how todays tensions of identity and race are encountered by the public. The panel paper givers consensus was that this was still a problem in many European cities, whilst in Africa, the post-colonial city has not changed or adequately dealt with post colonial monuments of the past. Unfortunately there was no time to have the proposed debate about this.

The final panel session was in Portuguese and was unfortunately not translated so only a few of the conference delegates were able to participate in the session. We were told by those who were Portuguese-speaking, that some divisive views were aired relating to whether colonialization in Lusaphone Africa was a success. We did have a successful dinner to conclude the conference.

The conference was very focused, as was to be expected on issues related to Lusaphone Africa, but it did attract a wide range of delegates from as far afield as Brazil, China and Serbia. Its pre-occupation with discussing the material now available from its African colonial archives was welcome although most delegates, as international contributors to panel discussions encouraged the organisers to engage more with universities and researchers in Lusaphone Africa to “make sense” of the archival material now available and also to set up collaborative research projects in the same vein.

The exhibition Lisbon-Baghdad, co-curated by Ricardo Agarez, a conference delegate was also on show at the Gulbenkian Art Gallery during the conference. This showed the Gulbenkian links with modernist architecture and planning in Iraq from the late 1950s to 1960s.

 

 

I’ve been spending some time working in and around Accra, and in particular at the Public Records and Archives Department. This archive has undergone major changes in the last five years and is a great place to undertake research with helpful staff and quick responses to queries. Located in a distinctive building with bold concrete brise soleil and a brave concertinaed roof over the entrance space, its interiors rely exclusively on passive ventilation. I was looking mainly at the late colonial records including those of the Public Works Department, sanitation, land, and town planning.

Experimental Swishcrete blocks at Kibi
Experimental Swishcrete blocks at Kibi from 1945
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Experimental Swishcrete housing at Kibi from 1945. Note the arches above the windows and doors

There were many discoveries and lots to celebrate (and eventually publish), but one particularly interesting find related to a folder called ‘Experimental housing at Kibi’. This gave lots of details on an attempt to build a couple of dwellings in swishcrete (i.e. laterite and concrete mix) blocks in the gold mining town of Kibi, with a view to saving on cement costs and also creating an aesthetic that was more in keeping with the vernacular. It was a particularly exciting find, as we had stumbled across these houses earlier this year, and were taken by their unique construction. The archives revealed that Jane Drew was involved in their design and that she visited the site in early April 1945. It must have formed part of her work on village housing. Although modified and extended the houses still stand and clearly demonstrate the strength of this construction method having survived over 70 years.

Outside of the archives, I managed to finally track down Denys Lasdun’s Paterson Simon’s Office in Accra, 1962 (thanks to the help of their current Managing Director John Traynor). It was formerly a supermarket and toyshop called Farisco.

I was hoping to see the Optimist Club in Sekondi, but as suspected, I was too late and the influential African club has been demolished and now replaced with a large youth centre. Fortunately, Nate Plageman did manage to visit the club before it was demolished and you can see his photos here. Despite this loss, it was good to use copies of the early plans of Sekondi from 1900-1920, housed in the UK National Archives, to further explore the town. I was particularly taken by the Venice Cinema located at the edge of the settlement by the lagoon (was this how the cinema got its name?) and the wonderful merchant villas and stores that can still be found in dilapidated abundance throughout the town.

Venice Cinema, Sekondi
Venice Cinema, Sekondi

Accra continues to seduce with its array of late colonial structures and modernist set pieces. At Korle Bu just west over the lagoon from Jamestown the hospital dominates the landscape. The hospital forms part of the trilogy of projects developed by Gordon Guggisberg in the 1920s (along with Achimota Schooland Takoradi town and docks). The old hospital structures remain, looking almost like they did when built (and similar to the harbour board buildings in Takoradi) – as captured on Africa Through a Lens. The later brutalist addition to the hospital was by Kenneth Scott, looking more restrained and orderly than the edgier and abrupt Effia Nkwanta hospital in Takoradi by Gerlach and Gillies-Reyburn. If you visit Korle Bu hospital continue to walk through the grounds and head out to the staff housing, tennis courts and garden sanctums that lie secretly beyond – it is a hidden, gentile world of privilege that still manages to exist just a couple of miles from the excitement and paucity of Jamestown.

 

Korle Bu Hospital, Accra
Korle Bu Hospital, Accra photographed shortly after completion, 1928

 

 

Two New Buildings in Accra

How are we to build today in Ghana? What is our architectural syntax and how are we to generate form, meaning and qualities that somehow resonate with Ghanaians today? This is of course a difficult question, and not all architecture has to be reflective of the country in which it is built. Indeed, it is very problematic to think of architecture in terms of geo-political territories, especially when the architecture of the West is rarely presented like this. It is unusual to hear of architecture referred to as European, or Luxembourgian for example, but the architectures (and architects) of the global south are frequently labelled according to country or region of origin (Indian, South East Asian, West African for example – see http://blog.nus.edu.sg/seaarc/symposium/), furthermore when ‘modern’ architecture is produced in those countries it is labelled as mimicry, inauthentic, or somehow borrowed, imported, or not belonging.

This is the difficulty architects face when working in places like Ghana. However, architects must take a stance and adopt a position. They should be self-conscious of the designs that they are making, and conceive of a direction, or ambition for their work. There were two recent buildings that we visited in Accra that are attempting to deliver a new response to architecture.

One Airport Square

One Airport Square

One Airport Square  (designed by Mario Cucinella Architects) has gone for the attention-seeking approach. A complex façade composition made up of diagonally arranged structure with horizontal fins. The fins and ‘columns’ project from the building’s envelope by almost 2m, acting as a vast brise soleil they provide much needed shade, as well as absorbing heat externally whilst reflecting sunlight light into the building.

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Atrium of Airport Square One

Internally there is a large atrium space that holds the circulation as well as bringing light into the deep plan and pulling fresh air through the courtyard. This kind of building works well when set amongst other less adventurous forms. It is also helping to create a new context for that part of Accra, and is distinctive enough to become a reference point and landmark. I just hope it doesn’t become part of a silly form-making game with each bank trying to out-do each other in the quest for the next distinctive shape.

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Ecobank, Accra

Another new building that has just reached completion is the vast Ecobank Headquarters located adjacent to the Efua Sutherland Children’s Park. This provocative building was designed by a consortium of Ghanaian and South African architects (http://arc.co.za/project/ecobank-ghana/), the local and site architects being Mobius, lead by KNUST graduate Augustus Richardson. A lightweight metal brise soleil is used to protect the glass façade where the sun strikes, and a perforated metal jali screen offers solar protection at the lower levels, as well as being used to depict a map of the world, and a larger drawing of Africa.

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Augustus Richardson with the model of Ecobank

At ground level the building is clad with limestone firmly rooting it into the earth and forming tactile surfaces. The two forms reflect the public banking space, and the private offices of the bank HQ. The bank is orientated on an axis leading towards the concrete obelisk in Africa Liberation Square, and there is a real declaration of optimism in this building. Mobius are an exciting firm to follow, and Richardson kindly took us on a tour of the bank, giving behind the scenes access. The quality of the finish is exceptional and build quality excellent. Richardson clearly cares about architecture and his city; there is a charged excitement in the way he talks about design (see http://www.design233.com/oldhtml/works/augustus_richardson_the_bridge_mobius.html for more on this).

But what of the building envelope? Is it an appropriate response to design an almost entirely glazed building in Accra?

In 1957 Anthony Chitty gave the opening address to the new school of architecture at KNUST and posed this question,

‘Is a regional architecture, a truly African style, possible for West Africa; for Ghana in Particular? I believe the answer to this question is “yes” : not only possible but desirable, something to be striven for.’

In many ways the Ecobank is the perfect response to the clients wishes – they wanted a modern, international office space to reflect their brand, and clearly Ghanaian architects and engineers can deliver this type of work as well as anyone, but, if we are to be critical, are we guilty of what Chitty spoke about 60 years ago when he demanded,

‘Not just a pallid and mediocre edition of the international style, not just the half considered European solution trotted out to make do here, but a real and living architectural answer to your own local problems, social, technical and political, drawing the maximum from such origins as do exist here, a true Ghana aesthetic.’

I don’t think the Ecobank is at all mediocre, or half-considered, and Chitty was over-playing the Ghana aesthetic idea in light of the nationalist tendencies from the time-  but there must be an approach that can make the architecture of this region specific to this place. Other large projects are rapidly springing up (and unlike the Ecobank) they parade the hackneyed multi-coloured cladding approach that is tormenting every city, whereas Ecobank is clearly searching for something more.

The difficulty is how to scale-up ‘tropical’ design. Tropical architecture stems from the bungalow, barracks, and hospitals – it works well for small-scale low-rise buildings, as the Children’s Library, George Padmore, KNUST Senior Staff Club House demonstrate – it wants to be a ground hugging solution set within leafy gardens and evaporation pools.

A bank today however cannot rely on loggias and verandahs, and rising land values and the ability of buildings to generate substantial rental incomes stimulates the high-rise approach.  This was something that Fry and Drew encountered in West Africa. They worked for the Co-op Bank in Nigeria and placed louvres on the facades of multistory buildings, a technique also used by John Addo at Cedi House in Accra. The library at Ibadan presents another alternative – with its delicate screen and effectively double-façade-cum-circulation zone. Fry found the façade too ‘lace-like’ and pursued something more strapping and formal in later works, such as the library at Girls College in Chandigarh’s Sector-11.

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Cedi House viewed from Ecobank roof garden

Fry also set himself the challenge of using a glazed façade in a hot climate, again in Chandigarh. At the Government Printing Press he used glass on the north facing façade only, and included adjustable louvres on the interior to reduce glare. The south facing façade was protected by the walkways and an external aluminium louvre system based on the traditional jalousie reduces solar gain.

There is perhaps just the germ of historical precedent in the two recent Accra buildings – and both reveal a confidence in the city, as well as an ambition to test this type of architecture. The next step will be to put some data-loggers into these buildings and to see how they perform. Their critics might be pleasantly surprised.

 

New Research: Prof. Robert Home, ‘From cantonments to townships: Lugard’s influence upon British colonial urban governance in Africa’ in Planning Perspectives, Pages 1-22 | Published online: 20 Aug 2017

http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/02665433.2017.1359103

Abstract: The cantonment has been a neglected topic of planning history, yet is significant for urban landscapes and governance in both India and Africa. Drawing upon scholarship in critical comparative legal geography, path dependency and Foucault’s genealogical method, the article explores the transfer of laws and regulations for urban governance by networks of knowledge and actors, tracing a line of descent from rules for cantonments in British India, through Lugard’s Nigerian period, and his indirect rule policy to townships and local government ordinances. The influence of Lugard’s Political Memoranda and Dual Mandate books is evidenced through the work of various senior officials moving between colonies, specifically South Africa, Kenya, and Northern Rhodesia.