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

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



May 2022



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

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

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

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

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


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


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

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

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


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


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

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


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

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

Private archive Vittorio Farronato


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

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

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


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


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

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

INTERNATIONAL CONFERENCE

Trains & Tracks in Africa — A Dialogue on Infrastructures and Mobilities in Africa

Thursday 17.03.22, 9h30 – 19h00 / Location: Africa Museum, Leuvensesteenweg 13, 3080 Tervuren

During this international conference, a series of scholars from different disciplines (history, anthropology, political science, architecture,..) and backgrounds will present their (ongoing) research on railways in Africa and engage in a conversation with Anne Wetsi Mpoma  and two artists currently in residence in the context of Europalia Arts Festival, Alexandre Kyungu Mwilambwe and Arnaud Makalou. Aymar Nyenyezi Bisoka will start the day with a keynote lecture. Please note that interventions will be in French and/or English, with no simultaneous translation.

More info on the program via: https://assets.ctfassets.net/h7vzq2rtwdqn/55gupj1LDvB36PCNfN1Yh/418013f8b9a463687bfe86b13752e562/Trains___Tracks_in_Africa_1603.pdf

and: https://webappsx.ugent.be/eventManager/events/exhibitionbordersmobilitieslandscapes

and: https://www.africamuseum.be/fr/see_do/agenda/trains_tracks/17.03.22

OPENING EXHIBITION BORDERS, MOBILITIES AND LANDSCAPES

Wednesday 16.03.22, 19h00 – 22h00 / Location: VANDENHOVE, Rozier 1, 9000 Gent

We will open a work-in-progress exhibition of work produced by students and staff of the Department of Architecture and Planning of Ghent University on the theme of the railway in Africa, conducted over the last couple of years. Two keynote lectures, one by historian Geert Castryck (University of Leipzig, Germany) and one by digital humanities scholar Chao Tayiana Maina (African Digital Heritage, Kenya) will provide a broader context on the theme. The interventions will be in English.

Eager to secure the provision of raw materials at low cost to its flourishing soap factories in Liverpool, Lever Brothers and the United Africa Company (UAC) acquired land concessions from colonial states across the oil palm belt in West Africa. Beginning from the early 1910s, subsidiaries such as the Huilieries du Congo Belge (HCB, later Huilever and Plantations du Congo), and Pamol, established oil palm plantations in today’s DR Congo, Congo-Brazzaville, Nigeria, Ghana and Sierra Leone.

Plantation workers holding a bunch of fruit of Elaeis Guineensis (African oil palm). Oil is derived from fruit’s outer layer and cracked kernel. The photo was taken near the Alberta plantation in the Belgian Congo, probably in the 1930s or 1940s.
Agronomists selected oil palm varieties to maximise the quantity of oil and facilitate the cracking of the kernels.
Plan of a plantation on the Benin river in Nigeria showing the subdivision of the planted area in square sectors; the location of the oil mill and wharfs where palm oil was extracted and loaded on boats; and the area where worker houses were built.


Historians such as Jules Marchal lengthily detailed the brutality of Lever Brother’s exploitation especially in the Belgian Congo, the forced resettlement of local population, and the violent repression of “uncooperative workers”. However, this attitude uneasily coexisted with a paternalistic, but probably genuine, hope that plantations would bring “progress and civilisation”. Such hope – Benoit Henriet argues – was compromised by the overriding need to turn a profit but it requires to be analysed beyond oversimplifying narratives of predatory capitalism.

Our initial exploration of the rich UAC archival collection revealed that plantations had been the locus of a wide array of experiments combining agronomic knowledge with political, economic, social, and cultural tools. The plans and photos of worker houses and communal facilities, and the numerous written exchanges on the social aspects of work organisation and the daily life of workers in the plantation shows that architecture played a relevant role in giving tangible form to the company’s largely unfulfilled ambitions to widespread social development.

Diorama showing two HCB oil palm plantations presented at the Ghent Universal and International Exhibition in 1913.
“Model houses” for workers in the Brabanta plantation, Belgian Congo.
Native dwelling quarters in an unidentified Huilever plantation.
Views of worker houses and public facilities in Leverville, Belgian Congo.


While the construction of villages for plantation workers such as Leverville offers the occasion for a critical reflection on the role of architecture in private colonial exploitation, other documents from the UAC archives suggest that plantations had been the testing ground for innovative spatial planning models. Indeed, over the course of the 20th century, changes in plantation management and spatial structure overlapped with the evolution of ideas on social engineering and rural development.

In the 1930s and 1940s for example – as Jonathan Robins highlights – in response to the well grounded critiques on the social and environmental sustainability of plantations in West Africa, UAC proposed plans for a reformulation of plantation organisational system. The model they proposed would later influence policy recommendations given by international organisations such as the World Bank to developing countries across the globe. The experimental plantation model, the Nucleus Estate-Smallholder (NES) model, claimed to combine the virtues of the plantation system of management with the “social attractions” of peasant agriculture. This farming system entailed a spatial structure in which a nucleus, composed of a plantation established on a land concession and managed by UAC, is surrounded by further plantation sectors operated by smallholders.

The extent to which this and other models were successful in improving the living condition of local farmers or rather were functional smokescreens for the perpetuation of colonial or neo-colonial extractivism remains an highly debated topic. Certainly, plantations remains, both at the architectural and territorial scale, a fascinating subject which we will continue to explore in the following months and an opportunity to explore the multiple intersections between development ideologies, colonial and post colonial histories, and architectural and planning knowledges.




Henriet, B. (2021) Colonial impotence: virtue and violence in a Congolese Concession (1911-1940), De Gruyter Oldenburg.

Robins, J.E. (2021) Oil palm: a global history, University of North Carolina Press.

Marchal, J. (2008) Lord Leverhulme’s ghosts, Verso. First published in French as (2001) Travail force’ pour l’huile de palme de Lord Leverhulme: l’histoire du Congo 1910-1945, vol.3, Paula Bellings.

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.

Tropical hardwood at Sapele, Nigeria
African Timber and Plywood Concessions in Ghana, ca. 1955

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.

The plywood factory in Sapele, Nigeria
Sapele, Nigeria, in the 1950s
The Timber Research Laboratory at Sapele, Nigeria

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.

Modular furniture designed by the Conran Design Group, made of African walnut
Different types of tropical hardwood used for the interior of United Africa House, London, 1960s

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.

The ATP Showroom in Benin City, Nigeria (originally built for the Lagos Trade Fair of 1962)
An ATP employee selling an ATP Systems Building bungalow in Nigeria, ca. 1970

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.

From the 1950s to the late 1980s, the politics and economies of foreign aid — instigated by both the ‘capitalist West’ as well as the ‘communist East’ — gave rise to a whole infrastructure destined to assist the progress of ‘developing countries’ on their ‘path to development’. The various North-South exchanges that took place in the name of ‘development’ have left a deep imprint on the geopolitical landscape of postcolonial Africa, Asia, and Latin America.

(1) Bertil Melin, the Swedish director of the Nordic Tanganyika Project in Kibaha, showing a model of low-cost housing to (2) President Julius Nyerere, c. 1963-64. To the far left, (3) Mr. Dennis, the carpenter who made the models, co-designed the housing project, and “test-lived“ in the first constructed house with his family. From Torvald Åkesson, ‘Education – In Marble Halls or Under Trees. Low-Cost Houses in East Africa, Especially Ethiopia and Tanzania’, compiled self-published report, c. 1965, Stockholm. Collection KTH Library.

Largely instituted through bilateral relations between individual states, these ‘aid’ initiatives involved not only financial and material resources but also various forms of knowledge and expertise; as such, the modalities of this global, foreign aid-funded infrastructure boosted the creation and reinforcement of all sorts of institutional actors to efficiently exchange knowledge — largely through training courses, educational programs and/or research projects. In the light of widespread rural migration and intensive, rapid urbanization processes, expertise on the built environment was a particularly salient form of knowledge to the aims of foreign aid. Hence, architecture, urbanism and planning were no strangers to an emerging foreign aid-funded knowledge economy — a context in which the production and circulation of knowledge were intimately tied to the political-economic value attributed to them by foreign aid diplomacy.

How did architectural knowledge figure in foreign aid-sourced international relations, and what frameworks were set in place to efficiently exchange that knowledge?

For this two-day symposium, we seek scholarly work that critically analyzes, contextualizes, or theorizes the establishment and functioning of such institutional actors, training courses, educational programs, research centers, and other infrastructures for knowledge exchange that emerged under the aegis of development and targeted ‘Third World’ clients. We welcome a wide range of methodological and creative perspectives as well as less empirical (but well-informed) theoretical approaches that interpret this phenomenon from a postcolonial or decolonizing perspective. We also encourage contributions that scrutinize the intersections of these histories with discussions of gender, race, religion and nationalism.

More information and Register here: https://www.architectureforeignaid.arch.kth.se

Tania Sengupta, “Papered spaces: clerical practices, materialities, and spatial cultures of provincial governance in Bengal, Colonial India, 1820s–1860s”, Journal of Architecture, vol 25, issue 2, 2020

British colonial governance in India was built upon global technologies of writing produced through European mercantile colonialism; the extraction of the embodied Mughal administrative knowledge from a Persianette (or Tamil-proficient, as in Southern India) Indian clerical class, and its materialisation into official paper-based forms, as shown by Christopher Bayly; and a scribal-clerical ‘habitus’ as described by Bhavani Raman. This research focuses on the architecture, spaces and material culture associated with the paper-bureaucracy of the colonial government of Bengal that Jon Wilson calls one of the world’s earliest modern states.

A provincial administrative town in colonial Bengal. George Francklin Atkinson, Our Station, Plate 1, lithograph, from Atkinson, Curry and Rice (On Forty Plates) Or the Ingredients of Social Life at Our Station in India (London: Day & Son, 1859), © British Library Board, 1264.e.16

A provincial administrative town in colonial Bengal. George Francklin Atkinson, Our Station, Plate 1, lithograph, from Atkinson, Curry and Rice (On Forty Plates) Or the Ingredients of Social Life at Our Station in India (London: Day & Son, 1859), © British Library Board, 1264.e.16

It argues that this paper-/ writing-oriented habitus also mandated a chain of materialities and spatialities (paper-records, furniture, spaces, and architectures of colonial governance). Focusing on the colonial cutcherry(office), the nerve-centre of Bengal’s zilla sadar (provincial administrative) towns, I analyse such ‘papered spaces’ as record rooms and clerical offices. The work is conceptualised around paper as a key agent of colonial governance, including the expanding spheres of its logic, which profoundly permeated the cutcherry’s material-spatial culture and experiential ‘lifeworld’. I also reflect on how colonial paper-practices intersected with other more immaterial and mobile circuits of knowledge and information spread over the town and country, and how such paper-governance was fed, for example, by spatial geographies of paper supply and printing. For the research, I combined extensive on-ground documentations of the material fabric of the buildings with archival research (governmental papers, period literature and art) in India, Bangladesh and Britain.

 

 

https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/13602365.2020.1733861 

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

IMG_0730

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: 

 Architectural Theory Review Special Issue Call for Papers: Africa Critical (Vol. 20, No. 3)

Unlike every other populated continent, Africa retains a monolithic description that flattens and abrogates the complexities inherent across its 54 countries. The connotations of the name bear witness to a phantasmatic mobility for which crises have opened various regions to reinvention via mediated spectacle, while also occluding the hegemonies of imperialism and its afterlives. Such transfers, intensified during the violent insurgencies of colonial possession and subsequent ethnic conflicts, has continued into the twenty-first century at an alarmingly rapid pace affecting how and why power is reified among urban centres. Competing ventures, including the fabrication of new infrastructures, unlimited mineral processing and the (de)mobilisation of humanitarian aid all can be read as dynamic indexes of those “networks of concrete becoming” (AbdouMaliq Simone) which quickly eschewed lingering colonial systems in favour of the global. We seek to interrogate how the mapping of environmental impacts and encoding of borders dismantle the “invisible” systems (Filip de Boeck) that once connoted security and development in the post-colony.

This issue invites essays that investigate how displacements such as the phenomena of sovereignty, citizenship, the deployment of health systems, the radicalisation of race and gender, and the manifestations of diaspora are registered in the built environment. More broadly, the issue seeks contributions that reflect on how architecture, art, and landscape confront such divisive forms on the African continent while ensnaring agendas of the everyday.

Africa Critical will attempt to recentre Africa as a source for and mirror of a spatial politics that is rendering a new map of global capital. How can humanistic inquiries begin to move away from the monumental to suggest a holistic yet critical mode to address these incursions? This issue commences with the unmitigated resourcing of Africa throughout history as a platform for staging an alternative reading of global modernity.

Architectural Theory Review, founded at the University of Sydney in 1996 and now in its twentieth year, is the pre-eminent journal of architectural theory in the Australasian region. Published by Taylor & Francis in print and online, the journal is an international forum for generating, exchanging, and reflecting on theory in and of architecture. All texts are subject to a rigorous process of blind peer review.

Enquiries about this special issue theme, and possible papers, are welcome, please email the editor, Sean Anderson: sean.anderson@sydney.edu.au
F
urther details are also posted on http://explore.tandfonline.com/cfp/pgas/ratr-cfp-africa-critical 

***The deadline is 26th August 2015 – but please do contact Sean Anderson if you need a short extension….***

Beyond postcolonialism: New directions for the history of nonwestern architecture

Prof. Kathleen James-Chakraborty
UCD College of Art History and Cultural Policy Belfield, University College Dublin, Dublin 4, Ireland

An article first published in Frontiers of Architectural Research (2014), 3, pp1-9. Open Access and available in the original PDF format here > beyond_postcolonialism <

Abstract

Overturning assumptions that nonwestern architecture has been static over time, new scholarship focused on colonial and postcolonial architecture and urbanism and on nonwestern modernism has made a significant contribution to our understanding of the history of architecture. Much more, however, remains to be done. Comparative studies of colonialism, especially between empires, attention to innovation outside Europe and the English-speaking world and more consideration of memory and migration are among the most exciting possible new directions.

 

Keywords

Architecture; Architectural history; Colonial; Postcolonial; Modern; Globalization

 

 

1. Introduction

The notorious frontispiece of the 1905 edition of A History of Architecture on the Comparative Method, written by the two Banister Fletchers, father and son, and entitled “The Tree of Architecture,” illustrated various style of European architecture emerging out of a trunk labeled “Greek” and “Roman”, while Peruvian, Mexican, Egyptian, Assyrian, Indian, Chinese, and Japanese architecture were shown as stunted branches (Fletcher 1905). Sub-Saharan Africa did not even merit inclusion. Although until the 1980s survey books continued to follow this line of thought, grouping such nonwestern examples as were included early in the text, today few remain convinced of the appropriateness of this approach (Janson, 1962). Not only has scholarship on the rest of the world mushroomed, but the key issue is no longer defining the essential core of a particular pre-modern corpus. Instead the dynamism it has exhibited over time, acquired not least through outside influence, is now increasingly widely recognized and equally valued (James-Chakraborty, 2014andMcKean, 2007). This shift has opened up an entirely new field of inquiry, that of the emphatically non-traditional architecture of the places that the Fletchers presumed incapable of change. Two generations of scholarship have made clear the importance of colonial and postcolonial buildings, as well modern ones erected in areas outside Europe that were never colonized, to the history of nineteenth and twentieth century architecture in particular. While assessing the portion of that considerable achievement published in English, this study also suggests new directions for such scholarship. In particular it advocates a comparative study of imperialism that would stretch beyond chronicling European colonization of the sixteenth through the twentieth centuries to encompass earlier and also nonwestern empires. More comprehensive challenges to the presumption that innovation moves from the core to the periphery rather than emerging at the edges of political and economic systems are also needed, as are explorations of the contribution that the study of memory might make to an understanding of nonwestern modernism. Finally, we should also be considering the way in which migrants are transforming the metropolitan centers of the so-called “west.”

 

  1. Historiography

For more than a generation, the history of colonial and postcolonial architecture and urbanism has been one of the most dynamic sub-disciplines of architectural history. The literature on the rest of the history of Latin American, African, and Asian architecture has also been growing, albeit at a slower pace. For many years the proportion of papers given on these subjects at the Society of Architectural Historians (SAH) annual conferences held in North America has been impressively high; papers on it are so frequent as to be routinely scheduled to conflict with one another. Despite its name, the International Association for the Study of Traditional Environments (IASTE) has in fact focused most of its attention on the topic since shortly after its founding in 1988; by the time its second conference, held in Brussels in 2012, the situation was little different at the European Architectural History Network (EAHN) than at SAH, although more papers were on Africa than on Asia. Moreover this body of scholarship has been unusually distinguished; the SAH, for instance, has since the 1980s bestowed an increasingly high proportion of its awards for books and articles to work on these topics. Nor has the field been static. Like all historical writing, no matter how great its claim to objectivity, architectural history responds to present conditions, in its case above all to shifts in contemporary architectural style and taste as well as in the composition of the community of architectural historians. Furthermore, as a relatively new subset of that community, those who address the history of colonial and postcolonial environments as well as other nonwestern modernisms, have been quick to engage new scholarly approaches. Thus the books published in the 1980s on India’s colonial architecture (Evenson, 1989, King, 1984 and Metcalf, 1989) saw it through the lens of postmodern classicism, renewed interest in local traditions, and the writings of Edward Said, Michel Foucault, and Eric Hobsbawm (Foucault, 1977, Hobsbawm and Ranger, 1983 and Said, 1977). More recently, an updated focus on style has accompanied explorations of the relationship between modern architecture, once understood to be emancipatory and international, with both colonialism and nationalism. Outstanding examples of this approach have focused on Turkey and Brazil (Bozdogan, 2001 and Deckker, 2001). The mainstream is no longer devoted, however, exclusively to questions of style and symbolism. Instead landmark studies published in the first decade of the twentieth-century explored space, more often at the scale of the city than individual buildings. Scholars influenced by Stuart Hall and Henri Lefebvre described the way in which struggles over the control and use of specific places within the city captured larger truths about the way in which power was deployed within colonial societies (Hall, 1980 and Lefebvre, 1991). And contemporary political events, above all 9/11 and the subsequent invasion of Iraq, brought to the fore the Middle East’s considerable modernist heritage, especially when written by scholars prone to challenge the new respectability of empire.

There was an explicit tension at the heart of much of the literature written in the 1980s, which was when colonial architecture in Africa and Asia first became the subject of sustained inquiry. On the one hand, these buildings beguiled because they retained an impressive amount of handcrafted detail. That they were also more obviously exotic in both setting and style than metropolitan examples of similar styles only enhanced their appeal. At the height of postmodernism’s challenge to modernism, it looked as if a return to historicist architecture enriched with ornament was inevitable, and yet there was something slightly dull about simply repeating Georgian certainties à la Quinlan Terry. Thus Lutyens’s work in New Delhi awakened more admiration than did the details of his only slightly more conventionally classical country houses, while his overtly imperial contributions to the center of London were largely ignored (Irving, 1981). Yet the work of Said and Foucault in particular, suggested that the romantic engagement with style suffused with the haze of nostalgia that characterized the first popular surveys of the subject obscured the often very ugly realities of colonialism and its legacy (Morris, 1983). The attention Said and Foucault focused on the relationship between architecture and power made it difficult to continue to hide power relations, especially when they were expressed spatially, behind the discussion of pretty surfaces. Recent work on Europe pointed as well toward the conclusion that architecture was inherently political (Lane, 1968 and Vidler, 1990). The earliest scholarship analyzing the relationship between colonial authority and built form, such as Thomas Metcalf’s An Imperial Vision: Indian Architecture and Britain’s Raj, focused on stylistic labels and the exterior surfaces of buildings. It made clear that the substitution of the Indo-Saracenic style, in many ways a transposition of the Gothic Revival into Indian conditions, for the classical styles the British had heretofore employed in India was not a sign of respect for indigenous tradition but a shrewd if unsuccessful effort to solidify political power ( Metcalf, 1989). More specifically rooted in the particularities of architecture was Mark Crinson’s perceptive Empire Building: Orientalism and Victorian Architecture ( Crinson, 1996). Crinson’s discussion of the interface between indigenous and imported ways of building set the stage for the emergence of technology transfer as a key theme in the discussion of nonwestern modernism, although much remains to be done ( Cody, 2003).

As the enthusiasm for postmodernism gradually faded at the end of the last century, historians turned their attention from the sixteenth through nineteenth century colonial architecture that served as potential sources for new postmodern buildings to the history of nonwestern modernism. What postmodernists had condemned as homogenous postcolonial modernity is now cherished mid-twentieth century modernism that may signal international savoir faire, attentiveness to indigenous precedent, or both. Published in English but often written by natives of the countries under discussion, new studies of this subject have turned the spotlight on the local context of both iconic examples of mid-century modernism and their lesser known, and often far more humble counterparts. In many cases the motive has been to emphasize the modernity of the places that had nurtured modernism in the 1930s and forties when it was under threat in Europe (Nitzan-Shiftan, 2009). The most exciting of these works, however, focused on the indigenous taste for a style that had generally been considered the handiwork of imported European talent. Sibel Bozdogan, for example, demonstrated that an architecture that was often termed the International Style could equally easily serve nationalist goals, as it did in Turkey in the 1930s (Bozdogan, 2001). Meanwhile Crinson showed that, although modern architecture was widely equated with independence, it had also been the architecture of choice for colonial officials in the 1950s (Crinson, 2003). Indeed the same architects, Maxwell Fry and Jane Drew, nearly simultaneously built housing in Chandigarh, the showcase of post-independence India, and in Nigeria, which became independent only in 1960 (Prakash, 2002). Tom Avermaete has further challenged the assumption that modernism was inherently politically and socially progressive. His perceptive study of ATBAT Afrique directly contradicted the rosier interpretation of the International Style in North African advanced by Jean-Louis Cohen and Monique Eleb (Avermaete, 2005, Avermaete et al., 2012 and Cohen and Eleb, 2002). Even the recent return of modernism to fashion in the 1990s has received sustained scholarly attention in the case of China (Zhu, 2009).

The scholarship described above had multiple sources. Crinson had participated in what was probably the first graduate seminar on colonial architecture, taught by Renata Holod at the University of Pennsylvania in 1984, and Bozdogan taught from 1991 to 1999 at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, where she proved an effective and stimulating mentor. Anthony King at SUNY Binghamton was another important voice and teacher (Kusno, 2000). Others, like Zhu, were trained entirely at home and in Europe. Most of the ground-breaking literature on the colonial city emanated out of a single campus, however: the University of California Berkeley. Norma Evenson, who wrote pioneering books on urban planning in Brazil and in colonial and post-colonial India, taught there from 1963 to 1993 (Evenson, 1966, Evenson, 1973 and Evenson, 1989). Her example, eventually supplemented by that of her colleague Spiro Kostof, established Berkeley as a place where the issue of modern nonwestern urbanism occupied center stage (James-Chakraborty, 2009). The second key step in the emergence of what became a Berkeley school were the pair of books on French colonial urbanism written by Paul Rabinow, and Gwendolyn Wright (Rabinow, 1989 and Wright, 1991). By the early 1990s, a constellation of Berkeley faculty committed to the study of nonwestern modernism that included Nezar AlSayyad, Paul Groth, Thomas Metcalf, Dell Upton, and myself was working with students who would publish a string of important monographs on nineteenth and twentieth century urbanism in China, South Asia, and Turkey as well as elsewhere (AlSayyad, 1992, Broudehoux, 2004, Celik, 1986, Chattopadhyay, 2005, Chopra, 2011, Fuller, 2006, Gillem, 2007, Ginsburg, 2011, Glover, 2007, Göktürk et al., 2010, Hosagrahar, 2005, Lai, 2007, Lu, 2006, Pieris, 2009, Rajagopalan and Desai, 2012, Sen and Silverman, 2014 and Zandi-Sayek, 2012).

 

The work of those trained at Berkeley was distinctive for the degree to which it focused not on issues of architectural style or its relation to identity but instead on space and the social processes through which it was constituted. Although cognizant of the way in which colonial authorities had deployed their considerable authority, they were equally interested in mapping out the quite important roles also played by indigenous elites. Natives in many cases of the cities they studied, they eagerly refuted the idea, widespread in the 1980s, that there was something inauthentic about the use their ancestors had made of imported styles (Tillotson, 1989 and Sachdev and Tillotson, 2002). Moreover, having grown up in twentieth-century buildings, they were acutely aware of the degree to which their interior organization often differed from western precedent in ways that scholars with easier access to facades than plans had often missed. Informed by geography and cultural studies as much as by architectural history, their work was often alert to the distinctions between competing local actors.

More recently, the political events of the early twenty-first century have drawn renewed attention to the Arab Middle East and to the consequences of war more generally. Architectural historians have pushed back against the prominent apologists for empire in American and British policy and academic circles in two distinct ways. The first has involved detailing the degree to which in the middle of the twentieth century the Arab Middle East embraced modern architecture and thus modernism (Isenstadt and Rizvi, 2008). Designed to demonstrate that Islam was never monolithic and that fundamentalist terrorism has specific and often shallow roots, this point of view restores the equation of modernism and progress challenged by scholars like Crinson and Avermaete. The second, as detailed below, examines the damage wrought by warfare and the way in which the ruins are or are not repaired or left on display. Most of this work, however, has focused on European examples.

Postmodern architecture has long since lost its respectability in architectural circles. Postmodern intellectual theories, above all Said’s formulation of Orientalism, have, however, for well over three decades provided architectural historians with a sophisticated toolkit. They have used it to analyze environments that previously stood outside the borders of a discipline that had long opposed the progression of styles in Europe and the English-speaking world with the relatively static “traditions” of the rest of the world. Until Said, books on Chinese, Islamic, and Japanese architecture generally ended before the architecture that was their subject was “tainted” by industrialization and contact with the west. While the relationship between modernism and modernity remains a matter of considerable debate, as does that between modernism and social progress, that modern architecture was widely distributed around the world and that both ordinary as well as iconic examples of it merit study is now beyond dispute (Lara, 2008, Lim and Chang, 2012, Lu, 2010 and Nasr and Volait, 2003).

 

  1. New directions

The question is where to go from here. Obviously there is a great deal still to be surveyed. Organizations like Docomomo, which is dedicated to the preservation of modern architecture and has chapters all over the world, play a crucial role here. Serious scholarship on nineteenth and twentieth-century sub-Saharan Africa has lagged far behind that on South and Southeast Asia and the Middle East. The same can still be said for the architecture of the last two centuries in China and the rest of East Asia versus Japan or most of Latin America versus Brazil and Mexico, although all of this is thankfully beginning to change (Fraser, 1990, Fuller, 2006, Ginsburg, 2011, Nelson, 2007, Osayimwese, 2013a, Osayimwese, 2013b and Zhu, 2009). But the issue is also how to cover new intellectual as well as geographical ground. Four topics that appear particular promising are the comparative study of the architecture of empire, the recognition of the periphery as the location of innovation, the analysis of architecture as the locus of cultural memory, and the study of the way in which the fabric of European and English-speaking cities is changing in response to the arrival of immigrants from the rest of the world. Although a considerable literature already exists on each of these topics, none has as yet achieved the prominence it deserves.

 

The beginning student addressing the topic of empire and architecture might conclude that empires had been built at only two stages in human history. Ancient Rome on the one hand and the Asian and African colonies accumulated by the major European powers across the course of the nineteenth and early twentieth century on the other still dominate the story. Few connections are drawn even between these examples. Nor, although many of the scholars who have written about British and French colonialism are based in the United States, Canada, and Australia, has there been much work addressing the similarities or the differences between the ways in which empire worked in the colonies where indigenous peoples were usually pushed aside by white settlers and those where they were not.

Empires have occurred throughout human history, and architecture has often been key to their construction. Did the colonies that Venice and the other Italian city states, especially Genoa, accumulate in the late middle ages along the Mediterranean and Black Sea have any bearing upon European settlement strategies in Africa and the Americas (Georgopoulou, 2001)? If, as Nicholas Canny has argued, there were important continuities between British activities in sixteenth and seventeenth century Ireland and the American colonies, what was the relationship between both of these and empire-building in India (Canny, 1988 and Smyth, 2006)? Maya Jasanoff has linked British and French colonial enterprises in the nineteenth and twentieth century, but to date Alex Bremner’s Imperial Gothic is one of the few works that ties together the architecture of the far-flung British empire ( Bremner, 2013, Jasanoff, 2005 and Jasanoff, 2011). Even the way in which British colonization of India informed its approach to the architecture and urbanism of Africa remains under-examined, although Mia Fuller has written a comparative study of Italian colonial architecture to stand beside Wright’s work on French colonial urbanism across Africa and Asia ( Fuller, 2006). And empire was never an exclusively European phenomenon, as Zeynep Celik’s study of the modernizing ambitions of the French and Ottoman empires in the Middle East makes clear ( Celik, 2008).

Much remains to be done not only on empire, but also on its dissolution. The slow breakup of the Ottoman Empire spawned independent states in Europe, as well as the establishment of European colonies in North Africa and the Middle East. How did the shared heritage of Ottoman administration affect the development of the built environment in its former provinces? And what is the relationship, if any, between the architectural strategies adopted by the new European countries created in the first three decades of the twentieth century, such as Norway, Ireland, and the countries carved out of the former Austro-Hungarian and Russian empires on the one hand and the territories in Asia and Africa that achieved independence following World War II on the other? How, in other words does one go about creating the architectural infrastructure of a modern nation state and how does it differ from the administrative armature of a colony (Sonne, 2003)? Answers to these questions will cast important light on the relationship between architecture and politics and particularly the construction of collective identities. The challenge of establishing nationhood in ways that would be legible abroad spurred many of these new governments, for example, to eschew local precedent and experiment with styles with global reach, first neoclassicism and later modernism.

Empire is only part of this story, however. Post-independence buildings around the world as well as the architecture and urbanism of countries, such as Thailand, much of China, and Japan, that largely escaped colonization all need to be better integrated into a global history of modern architecture in which it not presumed that all new ideas come from Europe or from architects of European descent (Junhua et al., 2001, Denison and Ren, 2006 and Zhu, 2009). The story of the dissemination of modernism cannot be reduced to the story of European émigrés; equally important were the local clients, builders, and in many cases architects, although professional architectural education and practice as we know it today was certainly imported, and in many cases the requisite training became available locally only in the second half of the last century (Oshima, 2009, Reynolds, 2001 and Sand, 2005). Nor are the origins of particular forms and materials always as important as the reasons for which they have been used. These do not necessarily accord, as Bozdogan in particular has shown, with the emphasis scholars of European modernism have put upon its supposedly socialist roots. Who wanted the modern, when, and why?

That the Brazilian, Indian, and Japanese governments sponsored some of the most important examples of mid-century modern architecture is known to anyone with a cursory command of architectural history. And yet too often the credit for modern architecture outside of Europe is divided only between Le Corbusier and German émigrés. Too often even writers who champion engagement with the local overlook the degree to it shaped and encouraged the new architecture, especially when they are writing mainstream histories of modernism (Cohen, 2012 and Frampton, 1980). It increasingly clear, however, that imported talent was only effective when local demand already existed for what it offered (Bacon, 2001 and James-Chakraborty, 2006). Arguably modernism only survived the aggressive challenges posed to it first in the 1930s, when it went out of fashion in its original European strongholds, and again at the end of the 1970s because clients from the fringes of Europe to the shores of distant continents found it useful (James-Chakraborty, 2008 and James-Chakraborty, 2014). Indeed, modernism was often accepted in inverse proportion to the technological modernity of the society that sponsored it, especially when the resources existed to invest in more expensive alternatives (Forty, 1986). Nowhere was it more popular than among the urban middle class in Africa, Asia, and Latin America, who were looking for inexpensive ways to signal economic progress as well as to distance themselves politically from wealthier elites.

This is hardly surprising if one considers the degree to which innovation has long flourished at the periphery (O’Kane, 2005 and O’Kane, 2013). Whether one maps the spread of technology or style, new ideas about architecture and urbanism were often adopted more quickly beyond Europe and the English-speaking world than within it. The collection of highrises clustered already by 1940 along the Bund and Nanjing Road in Shanghai, for instance, or in the center of the Brazilian cities of Rio de Janeiro and Sao Paulo had no rival in Europe, except perhaps for Stalin’s Moscow, until well into the 1960s. Nor were these isolated examples. Rabinow and Wright explored the degree to which the French colonies in particular served as “laboratories of modernity,” places where administrators could impose the latest urban planning ideas outside of the checks upon them imposed in France itself by representative government and strong property rights. More recently Arindam Dutta has explored the way in which the English Arts and Crafts esthetic emerged out of contact with the exotic other and was used, under the guise of stewardship of indigenous handicraft, to inhibit colonial access to new manufacturing techniques (Dutta, 2006 and Scriver and Prakash, 2007). The resultant poverty was as modern as the textile mills or the railroad. Moreover the rupture with the past was arguably greater in places that were stripped by industrialization of the international markets for their finished products than in the manufacturing heart of Europe or even the United States. In the west it was often masked by recourse to invented tradition, whether the castellated homes of rich manufacturers or the Italian Renaissance palazzo from which their businesses were run. And how does knowing that the development of prefabrication in Germany was closely intertwined with its short-lived empire in Africa change our understanding of method more often associated with improving the standard of working class housing (Osayimwese, 2013a)?

 

Precisely because the rupture with “tradition” was so great in many nonwestern settings, the insistence often voiced during the 1980s that to deviate from it was somehow inauthentic rings hollow. Nuanced histories demonstrate that the architecture of high profile buildings, if not always of vernacular dwellings, has almost always been in flux. The mastery many European colonial regimes eventually acquired over the architectural pasts of those they colonized, quoting secular and sacred precedent alike on the surfaces of infrastructures devoted to administration, education, and health, further called into question the extent to which it was possible after independence to link the present to either the pre-colonial or indeed the pre-industrial past. Inexpensive, easy to construct concrete that bore the imprimatur of Le Corbusier was more often the preferred alternative in Beijing or Bombay than in Baltimore or Bruges. Yet we still know too little about what technologies were imported where and when, about how they were disseminated to builders who may never have heard of Le Corbusier, and why they were and remain so popular with clients.

 

More attention has been paid to the issue of memory than to vernacular modernism. Nonetheless there could be greater engagement with what has become one of the most rapidly expanding areas of inquiry in the humanities. What role do buildings and cities play in shaping the shifting ways in which we understand the past? How do their own histories, including changes in how they are used and even how they appear, affect our understanding of the environments we inhabit? The willingness of scholars of colonial space to consider how existing structures have been used and transformed, often long after they were originally created, has helped upend architectural history’s longstanding focus upon design intentions rather. Systematic use of the vast literature on memory, beyond chronicling the history of monuments and memorials, remains unusual, however, among architectural historians. Instead this is territory too often ceded to scholars based in departments of literature or, less often, history (Huyssen, 2003, Jordan, 2006, Ladd, 1998, Rosenfeld, 2000, Till, 2006 and Young, 2002). Indeed the very idea that the city might function as the repository of collective memory, while rightly challenged from within architectural history by Adrian Forty, is the legacy of an architect, Aldo Rossi (Forty, 2004 and Rossi, 1982). More recent work on cultural memory by Aleida and Jan Assmann has largely rendered Rossi and his own source, Maurice Halbwachs, obsolete, but historians of nonwestern modernism have not yet addressed the consequences of their analysis (Assmann, 2008, Assman, 2011 and Halbwachs, 1992).

The potential of this work on cultural memory has been highlighted by recent scholarship prompted by the destruction of cultural monuments in recent years in Afghanistan and Iraq and, more recently, Syria (Bevan, 2006, Cohen, 2011, Crane, 2011 and Hell and Schönle, 2010). Focusing on the place of ruins in the cityscape and the cultural imagination, much of this work references European conflicts. It supplements a large literature on memory in Germany, focused on events both before and after the fall of the Berlin Wall, that includes arguments for and against literal reconstruction (Nerdinger, 2010 and von Buttler et al., 2011). This attention to the consequences of war is far more wide-ranging in its scope than the focus on memorial and monuments that characterized earlier work on architecture and memory. In particular it highlights the way in which structures acquire the associations that make them meaningful targets and the way in which the violence done to them in turn makes them symbols of conflict itself. These approaches are equally promising for the study of colonial architecture.

Colonial architecture and post-independence modernism are both increasingly appreciated as are nineteenth and twentieth-century buildings erected in countries that were never colonized yet what these buildings mean to those who live amidst them deserves far more attention than it has as yet received. Highlighting the paradox of the fond preservation of buildings that were meant to be shockingly new and the meticulous conservation of what was often planned obsolescence is insufficient, as is the presumption that the careful conservation of buildings erected by an imperial power represents affection for colonialism. The explosion of literature on how a united Germany, for instance, inhabits the architecture bequeathed it by the Second Empire, the Weimar Republic, the Third Reich, and cold war divisions has no match, as of yet, in scholarship focused on Latin America, Africa, or Asia. And yet the issues raised by the adaptive reuse of Lutyens’s New Delhi for an independent India are equally profound. Memory may be socially constructed but it remains individual. The full range of associations particularly buildings acquire remains beyond the reach of any scholar, but it behooves architectural historians to trawl more than the usual suspects (most often film) for evidence of what they have meant and continue to mean. Taste plays a role here, but there are always other factors at play as well (Thomas, 2002). This also represents a new opportunity to build an architectural history that addresses the public for architecture, rather than speaking only to the profession, even as distinctions should remain between attempts to construct official public memories and the recording and analysis of more private individual experiences.

Finally, the issue of migration deserves sustained attention. Because architecture is one of the most peripatetic of professions, and the history of the architecture of almost any locale features migrant design talent and labor as well as imported ideas, a good deal of attention has justifiably been paid to the travels of architects and artisans (Akcan, 2012, James-Chakraborty, 2006 and Nicolai, 2003). Most of this focuses, however, on either the transfer of ideas from Europe to the United States or from these two to the rest of the world. The architecture of world’s fairs, where orientalist architecture often formed an exotic and entertaining counterpoint to displays of technological progress, has also received well-deserved attention (Celik, 1992, Mitchell, 1991 and Morton, 2000). Left unacknowledged, however, is the degree to which even the most celebrated western architects, such as Le Corbusier and Louis Kahn, served as conduits bringing new ideas and fresh perspectives back with them (James, 1995). Le Corbusier’s adaptation of the Mughal palace pavilion as developed during the reign of Shah Jahan and Kahn’s philosophizing about brick are only two examples. Even less examined are the contributions that professionals from outside Europe and the English-speaking world have made to architecture there. An important exception is the Bengali-born engineer Fazlur Khan, who worked as an engineer for Skidmore Owings and Merrill in Chicago (Ali, 2001). Even the African girlhood and early training of Denise Scott-Brown or Zaha Hadid’s Iraqi heritage are typically overlooked in appraisals of these key figures.

 

Designers and builders are not the only people who move. So do clients and users (Akcan, 2010). Architectural historians, too, remain wedded to a model in which innovation is disseminated largely by architects and particularly by male political exiles. The literature on the impact of immigrant communities on the American cultural landscape is small but promising (Chow, 2002, Sen and Johung, 2013 and Upton, 1987). There is almost nothing of this kind, however, available in English on the impact that immigrants have had on the European cityscape that goes beyond decrying the impoverishment and social problems of the neighborhoods where the poorest among them dwell in the largest numbers. Middle and upper class migrants are invisible, except when they are pushing up real estate prices in New York and London (Lyall, 2013). The scholarship on European mosques is slim; that on immigrant grocery shops and restaurants almost nonexistent (Baus, 2009, Erkocu and Bucdaci, 2009 and James-Chakraborty, 2011). Left entirely unsaid is that many immigrants arrive from cities where modernism is more deeply entrenched in the communities and their mass culture than it is in their new homes. Most of their European and American neighbors are entirely unaware of any but the most traditional environments associated with the countries from which these migrants come, whose newspapers they still often read and whose television and film they almost always still watch. Also left unexplored is the impact that migrants have upon the places they left behind. Many of India’s largest cities, for instance, have been transformed by the taste of “Persons of Indian Origin,” whose expensive new apartments, kitted out with infrastructure admired abroad, often sit empty much of the year. Not all of this is yet history, of course, and some of it remains the purview of geographers and sociologists rather than architectural historians. Nonetheless discussions of globalization will become much richer if we move beyond the simplistic assumption that a homogenizing global capitalism is alone responsible for the appearance of cityscapes around the world.

 

  1. Conclusion

Architectural history is important for its own sake but it is also significant because of the centrality of buildings to human experience. Buildings shelter and shape daily lives; people in turn attempt to craft their environments to tell stories about the way in which they would like to be perceived and understood. Members of an academic discipline with firmly European origins, architectural historians initially devoted most of their attention to the built heritage of that continent. Those who focused on buildings of the last two centuries long assumed that the topography of technological and esthetic innovation closely correlated and that buildings that did not aspire to change the way the world looked were peripheral to the story. None of these generalizations still hold true. Instead historians of the architecture of Africa, Asia, and Latin America have shown that dynamism of the built environments of those places changes the way in which we understand buildings everywhere.

Much remains, however, to be done. Not only are there many avenues that merit a great deal more exploration, but the boldest findings also deserve much larger audiences than they have yet received. New knowledge about the people who commissioned, designed, constructed, inhabited and viewed colonial and postcolonial buildings has implications for the humanities and the social sciences as a whole, as it overturns preconceptions by no means unique to architectural historians. What does it mean if some of the most potent symbols of modernization created during the twentieth century sunk deeper roots in Calcutta and Cairo than in the suburbs of Chicago and even possibly Copenhagen? Who was the modern movement really for and why? Did it more effectively express the aspirations of working class Europeans for political empowerment or middle class Indians and Egyptians for economic progress? Was it above all the purview of a small cluster of immensely talented designers intensely aware of what each other were doing or is it the property as well of relatively unskilled labor and of housewives? And is it a living tradition, or is it time for it to be consigned to history as the tree of architecture gains a new crown in response to different concerns, such as sustainability. The answers to these questions remain to be written, but there is no doubt that they will contribute to the continued vitality of the history of the architecture of the last two centuries and the resonance of its conclusions among all those who chart human experience in the past and present.

 

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Scottish independence. Should there be an independent Scotland, or should Scotland remain an integral part of the United Kingdom? As the clock ticks closer to the proposed referendum on 18 September 2014, the debate rages on. Although the mid-twentieth century independence of West African nations took place under completely different circumstances, this article uses the present independence debate to re-ignite a discussion on Nigeria’s decolonization years, the attainment of independence and the architecture which emerged as a consequence.

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The Governor General of Nigeria Sir James Robertson, and the new Nigerian Prime Minister Sir Abubakar Tafawa Balewa on Oct 1, 1960

 

The clamour for independence and self-rule in West Africa gradually began after World War II.  This achieved its highpoint in 1957, when Ghana became the first African nation to attain independence and transit from colonial rule to self-governance. One feature which perhaps, became widely synonymous with the country’s drive for independence was the Pan-Africanist movement and the frontline role of Kwame Nkrumah, who later became Ghana’s pioneering president. However, a less referenced but equally important tribute to Ghana’s independence, were the architectural monuments which were constructed to commemorate the event. Chief among these is the Accra independence arch.

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Independence Arch, Accra, 1957

 

As with Ghana, self-governance calls had pervaded different levels of Nigerian society before the October 1 1960 independence date. The most prominent perhaps were those propagated through African edited newspapers like the West African Pilot, and which echoed the voices of native elites and politicians. Nigeria’s formal decolonization process however appears to have started with the 1945 promulgation of Richard’s constitution. Not only had this constitution granted greater levels of native participation in the legislative house, it equally paved way for the much sought after regional system of governance. Nigeria was therefore reorganized along political and administrative lines into a Western region with headquarters at Ibadan, a Northern region with headquarters at Kaduna, and, an Eastern region with headquarters at Enugu, while Lagos remained the Federal Headquarters. With this new organizational structure came the formation of regional houses of Assembly and the election of its representative members.

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Design for Eastern Nigeria parliamentary complex, 1960

Of equal importance were the new parliamentary complexes being built to usher in the emerging era of self-governance, beginning from October 1 1960. The new buildings may therefore be described as some of Nigeria‘s most prominent symbols of transition to self-rule, and were indeed the ‘architecture of independence’.