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Crucibles, Vectors, Catalysts: Envisioning the Modern City

Hosted online across two days in March 2021, the Hyundai Tate Research Centre: Transnational and Liverpool School of Architecture’s “Crucibles, Vectors, Catalysts: Envisioning the Modern City” seminar investigated 20th century identities for postcolonial and post-independence cityscapes in Africa, South Asia and the Middle East.

Convened by Iain Jackson, Professor at the Liverpool School of Architecture, Clara Kim, the Daskalopoulos Senior Curator for International Art at Tate Modern and Nabila Abdel Nabi, Curator for International Art at Tate Modern; the seminar explored stories from these ‘highly charged moment[s] in the history of city making or shaping’.[1]

The seminar specifically positions cities as incubators for the generation of national identity and for ‘Modernity’. However, were individual cities sufficient for such grand objectives, or were they more isolated and fragmented sites for local, yet innovative gestures? Presenters demonstrated examples where both centralised urban contexts (including major urban planning initiatives and more piecemeal developments) and wider networks proved valuable in creating or indeed reasserting national and regional identities.

The destructive process of creating mid-century urban environments defined many global contexts. Whether in response to the need for new national identities in postcolonial contexts, reconstruction and housing following the devastating effects of war and a baby boom or strategies to address perceived ‘blight’ and urban flight, urban renewal, with its top-down, Bauhausian, car-focused, and federally funded backbone epitomised Modernity.

Some cities benefitted from a relatively early reconsideration of the blank slate approach to city planning. Lukasz Stanek described how Miastoprojekt, a Krakow-based state planning office of designers envisioned the future of post-revolutionary Baghdad through their experiences with reconstructing historic Warsaw after the Second World War.[2]

Using architectural and design services as a politically and financially motivated form of state aid during the Cold War, the Miastoprojekt plans rejected key aspects of Baghdad’s first modern city plan, including the demolition of the city’s Ottoman era historic and vernacular architecture, and tripling the size of the city at a local level without consideration for expansion through regional developments.[3]

Miastroprojekt’s legacy continued beyond the Baghdad planning commissions through design work and education with Polish and Czechoslovakian architects teaching Polish perspectives of Modernism in Iraqi universities. By the 1990s, with the fall of communism, Polish designers reversed Miastroprojekt’s strategy and were thinking Warsaw through Baghdad to revitalise their cities.

Big plans were not constrained to single urban environments. Fahran Karim’s ‘archaeology of the future’ presentation explored the role of a foreign designer in creating Pakistani nationalism; Greek architect and planner Constantinos Doxiaidis. Karim asks, “How do you represent a country without a past. Fractured geographically into East and West wings… 1000 miles of India between it?”[4]

Doxiaidis preferred stark Modernism, justified through statistical analysis and designed without classical Islamic aesthetic details. He utilised plan forms, practical details and building types that he believed (or presented) to be essentially Islamic.[5] Doxiaidis planned refugee settlements and Islamabad to include ’gossip squares’, souks, Dochala huts and central mosques.

Despite conducting ethnographic fieldwork and survey (aerial photography), Doxiaidis imported his understanding of Islamic community planning and architecture from his research in the middle east and projected the needs and traditions of widely dispersed refugees on narrow local contexts. Unsurprisingly, the communities adapted or removed many of Doxiaidis’ design features or simply did not use the spaces created for them, preferring to adapt their homes or build vernacular sites suited to their cultural preferences instead. While in practice, many of these adaptations and rejections were practical, Doxiadis’ technical expertise and foreign perspective failed to deliver built environments that suited and sustained the needs and preferences of Pakistan’s new citizens.[6]

Considering what was happening between East and West Pakistan, Ram Rahman shared a richly illustrated and personal view of the cultural and political context for his father Habib Rahman’s contributions to the ‘Nehruvian post-independence renaissance of Delhi.’

Habib Rahman, a young MIT-trained Bauhausian architect, was recruited by Nehru to work in Delhi, where he organised an international low-cost housing exhibition in 1954, including plans and a model for his own design for low-cost housing. Rahman’s house design was reproduced across India 100,000’s of times to address a critical housing shortage.

Rahman was a prolific designer and his work, including the World Health Organisation headquarters building of 1963 (demolished) and later designs for three monumental tombs epitomised Indian modernity.

Professional training and architectural education were key vectors for transnational exchange and development in postcolonial contexts. However, as Patrick Zamarian described in his presentation, the development of the Department of Tropical Architecture (DTA) at the Architectural Association (AA) in London was related as much to the independent administrative structure of the AA and its struggling economic position in the 1950’s as it was to meeting the challenges of Modern design in foreign contexts.

Zamarian recognised the problematic and homogenizing term ‘Tropical Architecture’ and then described the global networks of designers, patrons and educators who delivered training for a generation of British and international students, with a curriculum based on technological solutions for climatic design and a Modern design aesthetic that disregarded local aesthetic and cultural traditions.[7]

When the department visited Ghana, “these ideas for Tropical Architecture fell apart. [The curriculum] shifted from a generic science-based approach to a local and sensitive one, focused increasingly on housing, planning and eventually sustainable development.”[8]

Ola Uduku’s exploration of Modernist Lagos focused on the cumulative impacts of the DTA trained architects, engineers and Italian contractors who contributed to the rapid development of the marina district for independent Nigeria’s first capital city.[9] Although Lagos benefitted from major infrastructure improvements, the architecture described in Uduku’s presentation was piecemeal and demonstrated the evolution and intensification of development for the district from colonial centre to financial district.

Examples include Maxwell Fry and Jane Drew’s Co-operative Bank Lagos (1959) and the Architects Co-Partnership’s Bristol Hotel.[10] A Lagos building that encapsulated the international design collaborations for the time is the James Cubbitt and Partners’ Elder Dempster Lines building (1961), which introduced sleek modern lines, natural cross-ventilation, engineering innovations (pile foundations) contributed by Ove Arup and a distinctive funnel-shaped top structure alongside a notable collection of Nigerian artworks in the lobby. Nigerian designs for the time include Oluwole Olumuyiwa’s Crusader House (1955) and elegant villas outside Lagos by Obi Obembe Associates.

In other contexts, a national approach to recreating identity was accomplished through the redevelopment of pilgrimage networks and tourist destinations, including hotels and museums.

Talinn Grigor introduced the Society for National Heritage (SNH) and the role of the Shah’r in asserting the hegemony of the ruling class and Iranian elite (and recreating national identity) through the demolition and reconstruction of over 40 historic mausoleums to encourage secular and cultural tourism.[11] Examples include the mausoleums of Ferdawsi (1934) in Tus and Hafiz (1938) in Shiraz. Grigor argues that these new Modern mausoleums were integral to the creation of an aspirational middle-class culture in Iran, becoming a network for national tourism that remains today.

The Shah’r and the tremendous wealth generated by the Iranian oil industry funded the design and construction of avant-garde Modern environments and later more traditionally inspired art and architectural contexts, culminating in the uniquely Iranian expression of modernism inspired by traditional wind towers for the Tehran Museum of Contemporary Art (Kamran Diba, 1977).[12]

Lahbib el Moumni and Imad Dahmani’s presentation on post-independence Moroccan architecture included a second example of state-sponsored activities to promote tourism with Modern architecture. This was developed through hotels constructed outside urban centres in the country’s dramatic landscapes. Examples of exquisite and richly contextual forms from architects Abdeslem Faraoui and Patrice de Mazieres include the Hotel Les Gorges du Dadès (1974) and Hotel at Taliouine (1971-72) were shared, both to demonstrate the value of these sites and to explore the challenges of engaging communities with their recent past. [13]

The expressive and contextual Modernism of Morocco was certainly not isolated for post-colonial contexts. Amin Alsaden’s presentation demonstrates how urban renewal programmes in Baghdad in the 1950s created a sense of cultural and heritage loss, which predicated a culturally specific interpretation of Modern art and architecture for the city. He focused particularly on the work of architect Rifat Chadirji who merged globalism and regionalism in his designs.[14]

Alsaden described Rifat’s earliest buildings as somewhat derivative but noted that through the 1960’s his designs evolved to incorporate traditional shapes and plan forms, marrying social needs to social forms, and incorporating the narrow round arch form, in both elevation and plan.

Anna Tostoes’ presentation on the work of Amâncio (Pancho) Guedes in Mozambican cities clearly demonstrates how the architect’s designs coupled global technical, aesthetic, and cultural movements for the time with traditional and vernacular forms to create unique buildings for Maputo which continue to engage with local communities, including the Saipal Bakery (1954), Smiling Lion Building (1954-55) and the Abreu Santos and Rocha Building (1953-56).[15]

These Guedes landmarks remain relevant to 21st century contexts, but many other postcolonial buildings have been heavily altered or demolished. In my experience as a built heritage professional, architecture of the recent past, whether in postcolonial contexts, Europe, or the Americas is especially vulnerable to inappropriate alterations and loss.

Coupled with the experimental, academic, inefficient and sometimes foreign or dehumanising aspects of mid-century Modern architecture and urban renewal, it can be difficult ‘to love’ and costly to restore for sustainable 21st century purposes. Outside losses from the traumatic impact of military conflict or political maneuvering, it comes as no surprise that the architecture that has sustained and remains relevant to local communities is the architecture that originally engaged with its local context and traditions.

These landmark buildings need champions like Mémoire des Architectes Modernes Marocain’s (MAMMA) and DoCoMoMo to promote their value against ever greater development pressures. “Crucibles, Vectors and Catalysts” moved the discussion forward, but there are clearly collaborative opportunities for research and advocacy to be progressed.

Heather McGrath Alcock is PhD researcher at University of Liverpool’s School of Architecture studying the global development of planned company towns. Heather returned to academia after twenty years as a built heritage practitioner based in New York City and later London and the Wirral. Heather had the opportunity to work on landmarks of the Modern movement, including the United Nations Headquarters in Manhattan, a thematic survey of mid-century modern houses in New Canaan, Connecticut started by “the Harvard Five”, and the former Pan American Building at 200 Park Avenue, Manhattan.

References

Daechsel, Markus. 2011. ‘Seeing like an expert, failing like a state? Interpreting the fate of a satellite town in early post-colonial Pakistan.’ in Marcel Maussen, Veit Bader and Annelies Moors (eds.), Colonial and Post-Colonial Governance of Islam (Amsterdam University Press).

Talinn, Grigor. 2004. ‘Recultivating “Good Taste”: The Early Pahlavi Modernists and Their Society for National Heritage’, Iranian Studies, 37: 17-45.

Uduku, Ola. 2006. ‘Modernist architecture and ‘the tropical’ in West Africa: The tropical architecture movement in West Africa, 1948–1970’, Habitat International, 30: 396-411.


[1] Jackson, Ian. “Introductory remarks for Crucibles session” from “Crucibles, Vectors, Catalysts: Envisioning the Modern City”. Online. 2nd March 2021.

[2] In his presentation, “Rupture, Transition and Continuity in Baghdad’s Master Plans: From Minoprio to Miastoprojekt” on 2nd March 2021, Stanek noted that the Iraqi coup which toppled the monarchy in 1958 instigated a new era of collaboration with Eastern European architects and planners; networks established to “compete with and confront Western European and American hegemony to establish a new independent Iraq through its capital city Baghdad.”

[3] Baghdad’s first modern city plan was completed in 1956 by the British architect and town planner Sir Charles Anthony Minoprio, Hugh Spencley and Peter Macfarlane for the country’s Western aligned Hashemite monarchy.

[4] Karim, Fahran. “Archaeology of the Future: Constantinos Doxiaidis in East and West Pakistan”, from Crucibles, Vectors, Catalysts: Envisioning the Modern City seminar, Session 2, Vectors; 2nd March 2021.

[5] Ibid. According to Fahran Karim, Doxiaidis’ patron Ayub Khan “subscribed to a social theory of development but weakened democracy to validate his authoritarian rule because he felt that the poor, uneducated [masses] couldn’t participate in democracy.” 

[6] According to Markus Daechsel in his 2011 contribution ‘Seeing Like an Expert, Failing Like a State?

Interpreting the Fate of a Satellite Town in Early Post-Colonial Pakistan’, in Colonial and Post-Colonial Governance of Islam, ed. by Marcel Maussen, Veit Bader and Annelies Moors (Amsterdam University Press, 2011), p 159-160, there were many problems associated with the rapid and uneven development of the refugee settlements (lack of basic services (running water, electricity, sewers) and infrastructure (storm sewers), unfinished civil engineering works and the relatively poor refugee communities could not afford rents for the shop spaces, so were not used.

[7] Including Michael Pattrick, Director of the AA in the 1950’s who saw the new department as a way to improve the Association’s finances and academic standing, to Maxwell Fry who supervised the first few years of the department and then culminating in Otto H. Königsberger’s (1908 – 1999) leadership. From Zamarian, Patrick. “Global Perspectives and Private Concerns: The AA’s Department of Tropical Architecture”, from Crucibles, Vectors, Catalysts: Envisioning the Modern City. Online. 2nd March 2021. 

[8] Ibid. 

[9] Lagos was the original capital city for independent Nigeria. However, it is now the capital of Lagos State since the Nigerian capital city moved to Abuja in 1991.  

[10] Ola Uduku, ‘Modernist Architecture and ‘the Tropical’ in West Africa: The Tropical Architecture Movement in West Africa, 1948–1970’, Habitat International, 30 (2006), 399.

[11] In ‘Recultivating “Good Taste”: The Early Pahlavi Modernists and Their Society for National Heritage’, Iranian Studies (2004), Talinn Grigor noted that “For the modernists, therefore, the control over the physical and conceptual “heritage” enabled them to erase the immediate past to construct the “progressive” future. Destruction of building-as-representation [traditional sites of religious pilgrimage] proved central to the construction of the pending utopian future. Architecture was imperative to the success of the [Society for National Heritage] SNH’s modernizing agenda.”

[12] The Museum opened months before the revolution started which saw the monarchy overthrown and exiled from the country.

[13] While more ancient histories and built heritage are preserved and underpin 21st century cultural identity in Morocco, the architecture of the mid-twentieth century has been over-looked, inappropriately altered or destroyed. Mémoire des Architectes Modernes Marocain (MAMMA) was created in 2016 by young architects concerned with the loss of these sites. 

[14] Alsaden noted in his 9th March 2021 presentation “Syntheses Across Disciplines: Rifat Chadirji and Art-Architecture Liaisons in Modern Baghdad” for Crucibles, Vectors and Catalysts: Envisioning the Modern City, Chadirji was part of the elite bohemian culture of Baghdad, which included artists and architects who were educated in Europe and America. Against the backdrop of political turmoil, they created a vibrant, creative society that embraced Modernism ‘as an act of rebellion against the legacy of British architects who had used Neo-classical designs with orientalist tropes’. 

[15] Tostoes, Ana. “Correspondences, Transfers and Memory: Maputo’s ’Age of Concrete’”, from Crucible, Vectors, Catalysts: Envisioning the Modern City seminar, Session 2, Vectors; 2nd March 2021.

Crucibles, Vectors, Catalysts: Envisioning The Modern City 2nd March Part 1

https://www.liverpool.ac.uk/architecture/events/filmarchive/

Here are the recordings from the Crucibles, Vectors, Catalysts: Envisioning The Modern City, event from 2nd and 9th March 2021. Thank you to all of our excellent speakers, and for the interesting questions and discussions.

PROGRAMME: Session 1: Crucibles, 15:00-16:30 (UTC) Building the Modern City: Expressions of Identity, Change and Power, Moderated by Iain Jackson

This panel will explore state-sponsored programmes, planned cities and masterplans in cities such as Lagos, Tehran and Baghdad. It will examine architecture as expressions of nationalism and nationalist political agendas as well as its relationship to big business, corporations and mercantile ventures.

Speakers:
  • Talinn Grigor (University of California, Davis)
    • Building a (Cosmopolitan) Modern Iran
  • Ola Uduku (Manchester School of Architecture)
    • Lagos International Metropolis: A city’s adventure in tropical architecture as an expression of dynamic modernism and growth in the mid 20th century
  • Lukasz Stanek (University of Manchester)
    • Rupture, Transition and Continuity in Baghdad’s Master Plans: From Minoprio to Miastoprojekt
Session 2: Vectors, 17:00-18:30 (UTC) Connecting the Modern City: Networks, Alliances and Knowledge Production; Moderated by Clara Kim

This panel will explore the practice of modern architecture through colonial-postcolonial networks and geopolitical alliances. It will explore cities in Mozambique within the context of other Lusophone countries, post-Partition East & West Pakistan, as well as the dissemination of knowledge and technical expertise through pedagogy.

Speakers:
  • Ana Tostões (University of Lisbon)
    • Correspondences, Transfers and Memory: Maputo’s “Age of Concrete”
  • Farhan Karim (University of Kansas)
    • Archaeology of the Future: Constantinos Doxiaidis in East and West Pakistan
  • Patrick Zamarian (University of Liverpool)
    • Global Perspectives and Private Concerns: The AA’s Department of Tropical Architecture
TUESDAY 9 MARCH Session 3: Catalysts, 15:00-16:30
  • Fragments of the Modern City: Memories, Echoes and Whispers Moderated by Osei Bonsu

This panel will explore the collaborations, connections and entanglements that developed between art and architecture during a dynamic period of building in Morocco, India and Iraq. It will examine the legacy and afterlives of these projects through the investigation of under-recognised figures and narratives in art and architecture.

Speakers:

  • Lahbib el Moumni & Imad Dahmani (founders of MAMMA, Mémoire des Architectes Modernes Marocain)
    • Initiatives toward saving modern heritage of Morocco
  • Ram Rahman (Photographer/Curator)
    • Building Modern Delhi, The Nehruvian Post-Independence Renaissance
  • Amin Alsaden (Independent Scholar)
    • Syntheses Across Disciplines: Rifat Chadirji and Art-Architecture Liaisons in Modern Baghdad

This event was organised by Hyundai Tate Research Centre: Transnational and Liverpool School of Architecture.

Explore modern cities and architectural production in the blurred era of the independence and postcolonial period

Join us for three sessions which will bring together scholars, researchers and curators to explore architectural production in the blurred era of independence to the post-colonial period of the mid-20th century, focussing on cities in Africa, Middle East and South Asia. 

Register here: https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/crucibles-vectors-catalysts-envisioning-the-modern-city-tickets-138966892717

Whether driven by socialist agendas (Nehruvian in India and Nkrumah in Ghana), monarchies (Pahlavis in Iran and Hashemite in Iraq), quasi colonial protectorates, or pan-continental aspirations, architecture (and especially Modernism) was a key apparatus for nation-building, for re-imagining identities and a means to project and invent a new image of the future. The seminar seeks to explore the use of architecture as both physical infrastructure and symbolic expression, as well as its vulnerability to the vicissitudes of changing politics and policies of the times.

The role of cities as crucibles, vectors and catalysts for developing new expressions of identity, change and power is key. Cities in this period saw the emergence of schools of thought, dynasties and collaborations were formed, networks and ideas were shared and publications were disseminated. While the desire of a newly independent nation was often to consolidate a single national collective identity, it was through the urban centres that strands of coherent, yet often multiple identities were formed. The role of figures such as Rifat Chadirji, Mohamed Makiya, Jane Drew and Maxwell Fry were important as they often operated within multiple cities and cross-cultural contexts that spanned the colonial to postcolonial divide. 

These urban centres were either newly built, or they were remade and reimagined through city infrastructure, government buildings, universities, cultural institutions and national monuments. Architecture schools, state sponsored projects and external agencies feed into the discussion and warrant further exploration. The seminar explores the transnational connections, diverse political agendas and complex allegiances which informed architectural development in this period. 

Seminar convenors:

  • Iain Jackson, Professor of Architecture and Research Director, Liverpool School of Architecture
  • Clara Kim, The Daskalopoulos Senior Curator, International Art, Tate Modern
  • Nabila Abdel Nabi, Curator, International Art, Tate Modern

PROGRAMME
TUESDAY 2 MARCH

Session 1: Crucibles, 15:00-16:30 (UTC)

  • Building the Modern City: Expressions of Identity, Change and Power
    • Moderated by Iain Jackson

This panel will explore state-sponsored programmes, planned cities and masterplans in cities such as Lagos, Tehran and Baghdad. It will examine architecture as expressions of nationalism and nationalist political agendas as well as its relationship to big business, corporations and mercantile ventures.

Speakers:

  • Talinn Grigor (University of California, Davis)
    • Building a (Cosmopolitan) Modern Iran
  • Ola Uduku (Manchester School of Architecture)
    • Lagos International Metropolis: A city’s adventure in tropical architecture as an expression of dynamic modernism and growth in the mid 20th century
  • Lukasz Stanek (University of Manchester)
    • Rupture, Transition and Continuity in Baghdad’s Master Plans: From Minoprio to Miastoprojekt

Session 2: Vectors, 17:00-18:30 (UTC)

  • Connecting the Modern City: Networks, Alliances and Knowledge Production
    • Moderated by Clara Kim

This panel will explore the practice of modern architecture through colonial-postcolonial networks and geopolitical alliances. It will explore cities in Mozambique within the context of other Lusophone countries, post-Partition East & West Pakistan, as well as the dissemination of knowledge and technical expertise through pedagogy.

Speakers:

  • Ana Tostões (University of Lisbon)
    • Correspondences, Transfers and Memory: Maputo’s “Age of Concrete”
  • Fahran Karim (University of Kansas)
    • Archaeology of the Future: Constantinos Doxiaidis in East and West Pakistan
  • Patrick Zamarian (University of Liverpool)
    • Global Perspectives and Private Concerns: The AA’s Department of Tropical Architecture

TUESDAY 9 MARCH

Session 3: Catalysts, 15:00-16:30 (UTC)

  • Fragments of the Modern City: Memories, Echoes and Whispers
    • Moderated by Nabila Abdel Nabi

This panel will explore the collaborations, connections and entanglements that developed between art and architecture during a dynamic period of building in Morocco, India and Iraq. It will examine the legacy and afterlives of these projects through the investigation of under-recognised figures and narratives in art and architecture.

Speakers:

  • Lahbib el Moumni & Imad Dahmani (founders of MAMMA, Mémoire des Architectes Modernes Marocain)
    • Initiatives toward saving modern heritage of Morocco
  • Ram Rahman (Photographer/Curator)
    • Building Modern Delhi, The Nehruvian Post-Independence Renaissance
  • Amin Alsaden (Independent Scholar)
    • Syntheses Across Disciplines: Rifat Chadirji and Art-Architecture Liaisons in Modern Baghdad

This event is organised by Hyundai Tate Research Centre: Transnational and Liverpool School of Architecture.

Rachel Lee, ‘Engaging the Archival Habitat: Architectural Knowledge and Otto Koenigsberger’s Effects
Comparative Studies of South Asia, Africa and the Middle East (2020) 40 (3): 526–540; https://doi.org/10.1215/1089201X-8747502

Drawing on experiences of researching India’s architectural history, this article explores the affect generated by architectural archives as a source of knowledge. It traces the affective life of the archives and practices of a singular historical figure: Otto Koenigsberger, the chief architect and town planner of the princely state Mysore, the architect of Jamshedpur (a.k.a. Tatanagar, the “Steel City,” India’s first planned industrial town), the first director of housing of the federal government of India, cofounder and director of the Department of Tropical Studies of the Architectural Association in London, and architecture and planning consultant at-large to the United Nations.

Arguing that the affective archive has disruptive historiographical potential, the article posits that it exists fundamentally beyond the architectural object and archival documents themselves, and indeed fully in discourse with its users. The article argues for a more expansive and inclusive understanding of what constitutes an archive, designating the “archival habitat” as a place of active scholarly engagement.

Congratulations to Zaha Hadid for winning the 2016 RIBA Gold Medal and for being the first women to do so in her own right.

zaha-hadid-interview-united-nude-re-inventing-shoes-milan-design-week-designboom-10-818x523

A very interesting radio interview is transcribed here about the fate of construction workers at the Qatar World Cup Stadium. Don’t call Zaha scary and then attempt a series of poor, under researched questions is the moral here.

Read the interview transcript at: http://www.theguardian.com/artanddesign/ng-interactive/2015/sep/24/zaha-hadid-radio-4-interview-sarah-montague-qatar 

Further info at the RIBA site here: https://www.architecture.com/Awards/RGM/RGM2016/ZahaHadid.aspx

‘The Influence of Fry and Drew’ Conference, Abstract 11

José Luís Possolo de Saldanha, ‘Luís Possolo – The Portuguesespeaking Architect at the 1st AA Course in Tropical Architecture’

Luís Gonzaga Pedroso Possolo (Lisbon, 1924) was the only Portuguese‐speaking architect at the 1954/55 first edition of the Architectural Association’s Course in Tropical Architecture, held under Maxwell Fry.

Possolo’s performance seems to have been of a high standard there. In his report for the Portuguese Overseas Affairs Undersecretary of State, he points out that from all 120 designs by the students in class, only seven were selected for an exhibition at the AA ‐ Possolo being the only one to have two designs shown.

The grading panel at the course was made of Fry, Jane Drew, and J. Mckay Spence (who was Deputy Director for the Department). All grading reports on Possolo’s designs are extant, as well as his AA Diploma and a number of interesting documents ‐ such as his letters to, and from, Fry, Drew, Drake & Lasdun, upon finishing his Course at the AA, that show he was close to being hired by the office. However, he chose instead to return to Portugal, where he worked at the Overseas Planning Office (Gabinete de Urbanização do Ultramar) and produced a number of fine designs for Portuguese Africa.

Possolo’s auspicious period at the GUU then led him to privately design a number of highly creative projects – two of which were particularly important in Mozambique and Angola’s development and modernisation: the buildings for the Cambambe Dam, in Angola, and the Nacala Cement Factory, a mile north of the Mozambican city and port of Nacala.

In Possolo’s papers, we also find sketches deriving from projects by Fry and Drew, and a number of black‐and‐white photographs of tropical architecture by British offices. These provide evidence of the young architect’s keenness in following tropical architecture along the guidelines of the AA course. This also clearly comes through in his own built projects for Africa.

..

José Luís Possolo de Saldanha graduated in architecture at the Universidade Técnica de Lisboa Faculty of Architecture in 1990. He held a scholarship (1999–2002) from Fundação Calouste Gulbenkian for his PhD, which he presented in 2003 at the University of Seville Superior Technical School of Architecture.

He has lectured in Architecture since 1996, and is an Assistant Professor with tenure in the Architecture and Urbanism Department at ISCTE-IUL (University Institute of Lisbon), where he has been teaching since 2006. He is presently President of the Pedagogic Council of this Higher Education Institution for the 2013–2014 biennium.

José Luís Saldanha is a member of the Dinâmia-CET Research Centre at ISCTE-IUL and has presented papers and authored, or co-authored, articles, books and chapters of books on a wide range of architectural themes, such as landscape, building design and tropical architecture. He has also been active in designing architecture for private and institutional clients in continental and insular parts of Portugal.

Tropical Architecture in … Massachusetts

Jane Drew

From February to June 1961, Jane Drew took up a visiting professorship at MIT in Boston. Ostensibly this was to allow an uninterrupted period of work on the manuscript for Tropical Architecture in the Dry and Humid Zones (1964), yet it also allowed Drew to undertake lucrative television and radio interviews, and she toured Canada giving lectures in Montreal, Toronto, Winnipeg and Vancouver. Perhaps most significantly, the post enabled Drew to participate in the lively modernist architectural community in New England. She wrote to Maxwell Fry back in London:

‘I have seen everyone lunched with Gropius dined with Serge [Chermayeff], drinks with Sert breakfast with Gidion [sic]. Have started my class taken part in a jury with Kahn its all very stimulating and interesting and I am learning at quite a rate.’

She also worked with Eduardo Catalano (1917-2010), the Argentinian-born architect and a professor at MIT. Drew was perhaps already acquainted with him through his six-year post at the Architectural Association (AA) in London, which began in 1945. Their collaboration was an important one: Drew and Catalano established a MIT Tropical Architecture course using the AA’s Tropical Architecture programme as a model. Established by Fry and Drew in 1955, the AA course was the first of its kind  and the couple evidently saw it as a blueprint for other institutions to use and develop. At MIT Drew and Catalano did just that as Drew later wrote to Fry:

‘Catelanno [sic] and I have worked hard and produced a course on tropical architecture for M.I.T. very different from that at the A.A. and I think better but life has to evolve slowly.’

Three Buildings by the Architects’ Co-Partnership

Iain’s last post mentioned Leo De Syllas, one of the founders of the Architects’ Co-Operative Partnership (ACP) created in London in 1939. The practice originally consisted of 11 members recently graduated from the Architectural Association who wished to work without office hierarchies and on projects of a predominantly social character. They were strongly influenced in their methods by Berthold Lubetkin’s Tecton. The original members other then De Syllas were: Kenneth Capon, Peter Cocke, Michael Cooke-Yarborough, Anthony Cox, Michael Grice, A. W. Nicol, Anthony Pott, Michael Powers, Greville Rhodes and John Wheeler.

De Syllas was the African mastermind of the firm that set up a studio in Lagos in the early 50’s. Their contribution to Tropical Architecture has never been fully studied and is greatly underestimated. De Syllas was one of the most important figures of the second generation of tropical modernists alongside other designers such as James Cubbitt, John Godwin and Gillian Hopwood. Works from Architects Co-Partnership are largely displayed in Fry and Drew’s masterpiece, Tropical Architecture in the Dry and Humid Tropics in 1964. This shows how Tropical Architecture was intended as an innovative design system used by a small group of designers willing to disseminate their design ideas, in an article on Architectural Design in 1959 De Syllas stated: the work shown on the following pages is a record of the adaptation of the principle of tropical architecture to various requirements and some of the lessons learned in the process may be universally useful. 

Architects CoP - Ansarur Deen School - Lagos - Nigeria

I would like to present three buildings by the Architects Co-Partnership that show their highly experimental attitude. I believe that the appliance of scientific principles and climatic design tools such as solar diagrams and wind charts is highly sophisticated and a perfect example of the tropical design approach. The first building (above) is the Ansar-Ud-Deen School in Lagos, it is a simple design with a concrete structure common to many of the school buildings built in those years. The interesting part of the design is the usage of a single device, simple but yet highly effective. It consist of an horizontally pivoted timber framed shutter that can change position in the different time of the day and become a shading device while assuring cross-ventilation.

Architects CoP - House - Kano - Nigeria

The second building is a private house in Kano, in northern Nigeria. I see this building as the direct architectural result of the appliance a periodic heat flow diagram. The materials used, the type of openings and the general concept are all chosen in order to control the diurnal variation of temperature inside the building. The first floor, where the daily life takes place, has 60cm thick stone walls and small openings while the first floor with the bedrooms is a light timber structure with floor-to-ceiling openings. This structure, alongside the use of the double height internal patio, allows to reduce the time lag period in the diagram assuring a longer comfort period. In this case we can assume the whole building as a single climatic device acting towards a specific purpose.

Architects CoP - Department of Marketing exports - Ibadan - Nigeria

The last building is the Department of Marketing Exports in Ibadan, a t-shaped building with facades facing all four of the cardinal points. A different device was used in each facade: in the east and west facades we find vertical pivoted shades, in the south facade fixed overhead shades and a system of openings assuring cross-ventilation and in the north pivoting storm shutters. The facades reach highly sophisticated solution dealing at the same time with sun-protection, air flow and protection from occasional rainstorms. In the north and south facade in particular we can see the usage of mixed devices: shutters, shades, venetian blinds both movable or steady. The highly experimental will of this building is demonstrated by the fact that it was first built on two floors and then after experiments were made on the function of the different devices increased to three floors.

I’m currently conducting a deeper investigation and a re-drawing of many other Architect Co-Partnership buildings and I would love to be able to get in contact with someone who works or worked in the firm. Have you worked in the office? Have you got any information on this African designs? I’d love to hear from you, feel free to contact me!

Tropical Architecture and the West Indies

The work undertaken in the West Indies during WW2 was to have a significant impact on the later works that followed in West Africa. Robert Gardner-Medwin was posted to the West Indies during WW2 whilst serving in the Corps of Royal Engineers. His mission, working with funding from the Colonial Development and Welfare legislation, was to undertake ‘research’ into building techniques, materials, indigenous housing and new educational buildings. The funding was triggered by riots and general unrest during the 1930s. The British West Indies was the name given to a disparate collection of islands, as well as two mainland territories, Honduras in Central America, and Guyana in South America. Gardner-Medwin plotted this on a map which he overlayed with European capital cities to emphasize the scale of the region he was responsible for.

002_plan_WI

A small team who accompanied him, including two of his former students from the Architectural Association, London, Leo De Syllas and Gordon Cullen.

Leo De Syllas is of particular interest as he was commissioned to design several schools in the West Indies, including Bishops High School, Georgetown. Here we see the use of local materials, simple but expressive detailing, the use of verandahs, covered walkways and courtyards – all deployed in an attempt to control the interior temperatures of the spaces and all indebted to the colonial architecture that preceded it. De Syllas would go one to work in Africa with the Architects Co-Partnership.

Bishops High School, Georgetown

They also proposed schemes that moved the existing dwellings from one place to another in an attempt to reduce density, which they believed correlated with better health.

When a fire broke out in Georgetown destroying the town centre, Gardner-Medwin was on hand to replan it, and noted how the local hardwoods were more fire-resistant than steel framed buildings. After the war he returned to the UK, working in Scotland and designing health centres before taking over from Lionel Budden as head of the Liverpool School of Architecture. His work in the tropics was not over however, and he joined a UN sponsored team investigating low cost housing in India in 1951. On this tour he met with and was shown Otto Koenigsberger’s work in Delhi as well as many other schemes throughout the country. India was a hotbed of planning activity at this time, with Chandigarh being constructed and the low cost housing exhibition being staged in New Delhi (organized by Jacqueline Tyrwhitt).

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Jackson has recently published a paper that discusses this topic in greater detail; it can be downloaded here.