Call for Papers for Modern Heritage in the Anthropocene Symposium
Modern Heritage in the Anthropocene is part of the MoHoA global collaborative and builds on the Modern Heritage of Africa symposium hosted by the University of Cape Town in September 2021. Coordinated by The Bartlett’s Professor Edward Denison and Head of the University of Liverpool’s School of Architecture, Professor Ola Uduku, along with partners at the University of Cape Town, the Africa World Heritage Fund and around the world, this upcoming hybrid symposium responds to an age of planetary crisis in which a precarious present reflects an inequitable past and a perilous future.
Modern heritage in all its forms and from around the world is the subject of this multidisciplinary symposium, presenting the paradox of being of modernity and yet threatened by its consequences. MoHoA was originally conceived within an African context to interrogate this paradox because the continent encapsulates the historical inequities that characterise the modern and its associated notions of development and progress while also facing the highest rates of urbanisation over the next 30 years, demanding new approaches to the past and present that achieve equitable and sustainable futures on a planetary scale. The outcomes of the two symposia will synthesise in the recognition of the Cape Town Document on Modern Heritage.
Call for papers
Submissions are invited from researchers, academics, and practitioners. The organisers are seeking papers or equivalent submissions that critically engage with reframing, re-evaluating, decentring, and decolonising recent, hidden or marginalised pasts in pursuit of achieving more equitable, just, and sustainable futures. Participants will contribute to the completion of the Cape Town Document on Modern Heritage, supporting policy change at a global level through our partner UNESCO.
Topics can include, but are not limited to:
Practices of coloniality, decentring and decolonising history and historiography
Considerations and conceptualisations of multiple modernities
Modern heritage and Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs)
Planetary futures and the Anthropocene
Infrastructure and (post)-industrial heritage
Combining culture and nature, and the role of natural heritage in society
Public space and memory: memorialisation, commemoration and remembering
Modern heritage and the World Heritage Convention
How to submit
Submissions should be in English or French and should be emailed to email@example.com by 31 May 2022.
Notification of acceptance will be provided by 30 June. Abstracts should be a maximum of 300 words or equivalent format (e.g. film shorts, blog, or Instagram story) for other types of digital submissions.
Selected papers or presentations will be published as part of the MoHoA Book Series after the conference and selected extended papers will appear in a special edition of the journal ‘Curator’.
Name: Heather Lynn McGrath Alcock PhD Research Title: Beyond the Village: The Global Value of Port Sunlight
Dissertation Supervisors: Professor Iain Jackson, Dr Ataa Alsalloum and Dr Cheryl Hudson
Research Question: Does Port Sunlight village express Outstanding Universal Value and if so, what material and intangible aspects of the site express its influential, unique, and exemplary character?
Aim: The aim of my research is to define the heritage values of Port Sunlight village in a comparative global context.
Figure 1: Mapping global planned worker villages. Sites are mapped by latitude and longitude and key characteristics are recorded for each site, including dates for development, designer, industry, and heritage site management indicators such as statutory protections.
Identify, map, and analyse the transmission of ideas and images for Port Sunlight village and two similar sites Bournville and New Earswick from 1889-1939.
Complete desk-based research to identify, map and briefly describe global planned worker settlements, garden suburbs, and Garden Cities.
Compare transmission of ideas and images research against the development of planned worker settlements, garden suburbs and Garden Cities research to identify and describe possible connections and influences.
Undertake case studies for more in-depth comparative analysis, including archival research, field work and interviews with stakeholders.
Analyse findings to determine if there is a correlation between the transmission of images and ideas and the development of planned worker villages. If so, would it be possible to identify the primary influence? Were direct or indirect forms of transmission most prevalent? What methods were most effective or enduring? Lastly, is it possible to directly trace Port Sunlight’s influence?
Define Port Sunlight’s heritage values within UNESCO’s framework for world heritage site inscription.
Figure 2: The model worker village at Port Sunlight was both a highly local and ‘tied’ manufacturing community and a global phenomenon. Foreign visitors toured the site regularly and Lever Brothers had a global business operation by 1900. This 1901 quote from the Crown Prince of Siam featured in the opening pages of the 1905 “Souvenir of Port Sunlight” by Lever Brothers Limited. (Held by Port Sunlight Museum, Collection Reference S13 1905)
Background to Port Sunlight
Port Sunlight is a planned worker village created by industrialist William Lever (1851-1925) for the workers in his soap manufacturing company Lever Brothers, which later became global manufacturing corporation Unilever, plc. Port Sunlight holds a unique place in the history of British town and country planning, where two significant traditions meet: picturesque town and country planning and improved housing and amenities for working class people”.1
Construction of the Lever Brothers’ works started in 1888 and the first houses were occupied by 1889. By 1891, Lever Brothers had built their first community facility, Gladstone Hall and they were publishing visitor ‘guidebooks’ to promote the works and village.
By the start of the first world war, the village had a wide range of facilities, including two schools, cottage hospital, an open-air swimming bath, 3000-seat auditorium, gymnasium, library, savings bank, social clubs, shops, church, tennis and bowling lawns, football pitch and pub. The houses and facilities were set in a generous landscape with passive green spaces, designed landscapes and allotments.
Figure 3: Plan of Port Sunlight as it was in 1938 by historian Michael Shippobottom in consultation with Edward Hubbard. The plan, reproduced in Hubbard and Shippobottom’s A Guide to Port Sunlight Village (3rd Edition, Page 34, Figure 32) illustrates the village at its first Jubilee.
Port Sunlight village became a conservation area in 1978 and includes over 900 Grade II-listed buildings within 130 acres of parkland and gardens.
Port Sunlight faces many challenges, articulated in a suite of evidence-based strategic documents developed from 2018-2021 by Port Sunlight Village Trust (PSVT), the independent charity charged with the care and promotion of the village.2 PSVT, working in partnership with key stakeholders, plans to undertake significant projects and to advance key business objectives to address these challenges and to ensure the long-term sustainability, accessibility and inclusivity of the site.3 The research will support PSVT, village stakeholders, academics and practitioners to better understand the global value and significance of the site and to make more informed decisions about its future.
My work will be informed by extensive archival research, case studies and oral histories, and my professional experience and understanding of heritage values (including current dialogue challenging the processes for identification and management of heritage sites), but it will also engage with the theoretical, contextual and historiographic approaches of others who have studied the design, development, transformation and impact of planned worker villages from multiple disciplines.
Figure 4: Bridge Street and Park Road terraces houses in Port Sunlight by Douglas and Fordham, 1893. Digital version from the Drawn Together collection under Creative Commons CC-BY-NC-ND. Original drawing held by Unilever, plc.
What did I do before the PhD Research?
As a British-American citizen and a mature student, I enjoyed twenty years in built heritage practice in the USA and UK. My academic degrees in Cultural Anthropology and Historic Preservation from the University of Pennsylvania led to private heritage consultancy in New York City. There I worked for Building Conservation Associates, Inc. on many aspects of built heritage practice across the country. In New York, I developed a practical approach for the creative adaptation and conservation of listed buildings for tax credit projects, which resulted in the regeneration of at-risk heritage sites. Research underpinned my practice, including heritage policies for the United Nations Headquarters in New York and a serial listing for the New Canaan Moderns.
Before starting my PhD at Liverpool, I served as the Heritage Conservation Officer for PSVT, where I had the opportunity to draft one of England’s first Local Listed Building Consent Orders, to design and implement a conditions and integrity survey of the 923 listed houses in the village, co-authored the Conservation Management Plan (2018) and managed Drawn Together, a Lottery-funded partnership project to digitise original drawings for Port Sunlight. It was through my work for PSVT and direct engagement with village residents that I developed an appreciation for my research site and its stakeholders.
Why did you pursue a PhD and what made you choose the University of Liverpool?
Since immigrating to the UK in 2009, I had felt the pull towards further education, particularly in a British context. I found time during the disrupted life of the pandemic to apply for both a PhD and research funding. The Society of Architectural Historians of Great Britain (SAHGB) awarded me their Graham Child Scholarship, so the question of funding was very happily and gratefully resolved. My choice of university was straight forward. I was well-acquainted with the School of Architecture, the excellent reputation of its researchers, its facilities, and resources. Both the Architecture and Planning departments had ties to Port Sunlight and the archives hold significant collections for the transmission of ideas research. I had met both Ataa and Iain through my work at Port Sunlight and felt they would make an ideal team to supervise my cross-disciplinary dissertation. Everything fell into place!
What are your first impressions of life as a PhD researcher and what do you think you will do after you have finished?
I am perhaps one of the most grateful and fortunate people in Wirral as I am being paid to learn, think, and write about Port Sunlight. Working with Ataa and Iain has been incredibly rewarding as their global expertise and experiences in architecture, history and heritage connect and complement my own experiences and practice. Our differences make for lively and enjoyable discussions, and I always go away feeling a bit daunted but inspired.
However, there is no denying the dramatic change of pace and the different daily rhythms I experienced when I became a PhD researcher. In my professional life, there were meetings, colleagues, volunteers, emails, public engagement, and strategic considerations. In short, there were people. Now, my world is quiet and contemplative (when my children are at school). My ‘to do’ list is long and exciting, but undeniably solo. I rather like working with a team and know that once my dissertation is finished, I will welcome back the noisy collaborative world of heritage practice and possibly the even noisier world of teaching.
This film documents work songs of a fishing community in Ghana, the West-African roots of the work-song tradition shown in the films “Afro American Worksongs in a Texas Prison” and “Gandy Dancers”. The film shows the community singing as it pulls fish nets onto the shore and men on boats in heavy surf singing to pace their rowing. It was shot 40 miles northeast of Accra, Ghana, January 7th or 8th, 1964.
The film material is part of the Seeger collection at the Library of Congress.
The 20th anniversary of the Modern Heritage Programme, jointly initiated by UNESCO, ICOMOS, and DOCOMOMO, in 2021 presents a timely and important opportunity to reflect on the transformative cultural experiences and global consequences of the recent past that heralded the dawn of the anthropocene and its many impacts on climate, society, and the planet. Despite these impacts, the ‘modern’ era and its legacies are comparatively undervalued and overlooked, and disproportionately concentrated and interpreted in ‘the west’. MoHoA contends that Africa’s experiences of plural modernities include the positive and negative, colonial and post-colonial, tangible and intangible, urban and rural, culture and nature. This will need greater scholarly attention and can be instructive and transformative in framing modernities and modern heritage globally, as well as addressing the challenges of sustainability continentally. On the one hand, Africa’s contemporary cities, many of which are products of modern encounters, face the highest rates of urbanisation in the world over the next half a century, straining populations and resources, urban landscapes and rural hinterlands, and placing modern heritage at serious risk of alteration or destruction. On the other hand, the unique human settlement patterns in Africa, provides a new dimension, reflected in the cultural landscapes, “combining works of nature and humankind, they express a long and intimate relationship between peoples and their natural environment”.
The African World Heritage Fund has identified modern heritage as amongst the most marginalised heritage categories on the continent, demanding investment in research and documentation to better protect, increase resilience and subsequently Africa’s representation on the UNESCO World Heritage List. Through improved methods of understanding and assessing significance, raising public awareness and promoting inscription on local or global registers, Africa’s modern heritage has a vital role in contributing to rural and urban sustainability in line with the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), the New Urban Agenda (NUA), the African Union’s Agenda 2063, and the Historic Urban Landscapes (HUL) Approach.
MoHoA plans two symposia over two years and a series of supporting thematic workshops. The first symposium, focusing on Africa, will be hosted by the University of Cape Town in September 2021 and titled ‘Modern Heritage of Africa’. The second will be global in scope and hosted by The Bartlett School of Architecture (UCL) in 2022 and titled ‘Modern Heritage in the Anthropocene’. The outcome UCT symposium will lead to proposing a ‘The Cape Town Document on Modern Heritage’ supporting efforts to modify international policy and guidance on modern heritage in line with present and future planetary challenges of ecological, social and economic equity. This will be presented to the World Heritage Committee as part of the reporting exercise and as a side event at the relevant Committee Session. The UCL symposium will discuss the wider implications of the MoHoA globally.
We invite submissions to the International Symposium on the Modern Heritage of Africa and welcome papers and other forms of communication including video, music, performance and literature accompanied with a commentary and interpretation focusing on any of the following themes evolving from the brain storming isivivana last August, highlighting both cultural and natural heritage, the tangible and intangible and their symbiotic relationships:
Considerations of modernities in Africa
Modern Heritage and Sustainable Development in Africa (SDGs)
Infrastructure development, particularly industrialization and transportation systems, as activators of modernism in Africa
Natural heritage and its role in society, linking culture and nature
Public spaces, memorialization and commemoration in postcolonial Africa
Modern Heritage of Africa and the World Heritage Convention
Any other theme not covered by the above
Abstracts: Contributions with African experiences of modernities and the sharing of heritage knowledge and we welcome abstracts of up to 300 words or equivalent format (e.g. film shorts, blog, Instagram story) for other types of digital submissions. For general reference in terms of format – see below. To submit an abstract, email: firstname.lastname@example.org
The abstracts: Date to be finalised
forming results: Date to be finalised
Publication: Selected papers or presentations will be published as part of the Modern Heritage of Africa Book Series to be published after the conference.
Audience: academia, heritage fields, professionals and practitioners from diverse disciplines addressing the tangible and intangible, culture and nature, documentation, archives and collections. We encourage participation from colleagues and institutions from Africa, particularly from youth and women.
Networking: Institutions of African Studies, Schools of Cultural Studies, Architecture and Planning – African Union and professional bodies.
Languages: Français and English
Dates:22 and 23 September and 24 September, South Africa Heritage Day 2021
Venue: University of Cape Town, South Africa
Participation: online registration will be required and is free; a $50 donation will be welcome.
Format: The MoHoA symposium will be a virtual, hybid, academic event, a dialogical field capable of moving beyond disciplinary boundaries with social and cultural exchanges. To ground its activities and foster dialogue, we invite proposals, ranging from operational practices to speculative and theoretical questionings. These can be presented in written, built, coded, drawn, figured, imagined, filmed, modelled or in any other format (do not hesitate to consult with us for any exotic format or idea!).
Contributions may take the following forms:
Paper presentations that will be shared and discussed through joint working sessions and panel discussions. These might include theoretical work, but also case studies and project reports. To submit your paper proposal, you must submit an abstract of up to 300 words.
Projects, models, images, devices, pieces of coding, hardware and all other kinds of contributions. These must be submitted by sending a 300-word optionally illustrated abstract in the form of a single PDF including text and images (max 5mb).
Contributions can be signed individually or collectively.
Contributors are welcome to submit more than one proposal in one or more formats. If selected, all contributors are responsible for covering the costs of sending their work in time for presentation. The conference is led by the University of Cape Town and planned virtually with a possible physical component on campus; please state if you would able to attend in person.
If selected, contributors might be assigned to a 15-min paper/project presentation session or a debate session to discuss their work. Or both. These might be done in person, by possibly attending one of the conference’s sites, or remotely. The final format and topics of the sessions will be configured once all submissions have been received, so it is possible and desirable that participants will be grouped in thematically coherent yet interdisciplinary sessions.
PhD Profile: Here’s the latest in our PhD profile series
Name: Rim Yassine Kassab PhD Research Title and Summary: The medina’s continuity, between revitalization and reconstruction – Cases of Old Rabat and Old Aleppo
The difficult balance between preservation of heritage authenticity and integrity, and adaptation to contemporary needs requires urban heritage to change and evolve. Transformation is a natural process of a city, but when the change is drastic, sudden and unplanned due to a conflict, a new context emerges. This is the case of Old Aleppo in Syria, that has seen 75% of its heritage being either destroyed or damaged. On the other hand, new socio-economic dynamism and urban practices can also transform the face of the urban heritage. The pace of this transformation is slower, but can be equally drastic. Rabat’s old city, in Morocco, for example, is currently undergoing many such ‘rehabilitation’ projects.
Both of these medinas are inscribed in the Unesco’s World Heritage Sites. A medina is the historic core of the city, and the cultural, social and economic hub of everyday life in the cities of the MENA region (Middle East and North Africa). The urgency of reconstruction and revitalisation are crucial : safeguarding the values of the urban and social fabrics of the medinas is not only important for them as World Heritage Sites, but also pivotal for the continuity of lives and livelihoods in these historic places.
However, community participation is lacking within government and international regulations for the processes of reconstruction or revitalization. Without taking people into consideration, many issues arise:
-a furthering of the conflict,
-a neglect of the community’s needs
-the loss of the medina’s values through inacceptable change.
How can we safeguard the continuity of the past, to inform the future of the medina, particularly in the face of its current challenges ? How does the authentic medina look in the eyes of its various communities? How should reconstruction and revitalization be considered, so that the values and tangible/intangibles attributes of the medina are preserved while meeting the current needs of its users ?
The choice of Morocco and Syria is not arbitrary: they were the first countries to be studied in the literature, and they belong to the extreme West and East in the Islamic World, as well as diverse conditions of change. This will allow us to study the nuances of the concept of continuity and the values associated with it: continuity in times of peace (Morocco) is totally different than after a conflict (Syria), as the first is about bettering peoples lives, while the latter is about reconciliation as well.
The methodology is built around primary data gathered from cases studies, along with conducting field work, such as mapping, photographing and cataloguing, as well as interviewing a wide range of current users of medinas (inhabitants, shop owners, street vendors, police officers, tourists) and the old community that have a strong link and many memories associated with it.
Aims and Objectives:
-Presenting the voices of the medina’s community
-Documenting the changes of the medina, from archival to before the current transformations to now
-Cataloguing the tangible and intangible attributes of the medina
-Presenting the values on which reconstruction/regeneration should be considered
-Incorporating methods such as the Walk and Talk interview, and gathering data through social media
What did you do before the PhD Research?
Before the PhD research, I completed both my masters degree: one in Architecture at the National School of Architecture in Rabat (Morocco), and one master research in University of LeMans (France) on history, civilisations and heritage. Throughout my double degree studies, I wrote three master dissertations. The first one, “Habous district, a colonial urban adventure”, shows how the French have understood and built a district in Casablanca following the urban model of the medina. The second one, “Damascus : resilience of a city at war”, which is an urban analysis of the Syrian capital city and provides solutions to its resilience during and after the crisis. The last one, “The old city of Damascus, history of its urban resilience” investigated the resilience of the city’s historic core whilst facing urban modernity.
After graduating, I started directly applying for a PhD. While sending applications and doing interviews, I was doing an internship at the United Nations, working on research in conflicted areas, through the lens of international relations. I also joined “Rabat-Salé mémoire”, a non-profit organisation for Rabat’s cultural heritage, where I was the head of the research department, and carried out a comprehensive analysis on a Moroccan urban heritage called the Oudayas Qasba. I was also responsible for training volunteer tour-guides for this same heritage, for the ‘week of heritage’ in Rabat.
Why did you pursue a PhD, and what made you choose University of Liverpool?
Born in a mixed family and being exposed to two different cultures (Syrian and Moroccan) always triggered my curiosity about people’s culture and the impact it has on their building and tangible and intangible heritage. As a result, from my youngest age, I became aware of the cultural diversity the world has and was interested in its representation in form of cultural expressions, architecture and urban heritage. This also gave me hope about human kind, because we don’t just fight each other through war, but we can achieve many beautiful things. I became interested in cultural heritage, but more specifically the heritage of my countries: the medinas. Even if I studied them in my Masters, I wanted to know more because not enough attention has been paid to their set of tangible and intangible values. The subject is the first reason why I wanted to do a PhD. The second reason is that pushing boundaries and exploring new ideas is the core of my personality. I don’t like repetition and predictability, whereas research is a continuous new intellectual adventure. Each day we learn something new about the world but also about ourselves. Finally, my aim is not only the educational qualification, which is absolutely great, but I hope to make even the smallest impact on people’s life and experience.
For the choice of Liverpool University, I started by looking for an UK institution thanks to its reputation for research and all the good things my cousins said about the excellence of the anglo-saxon system. Secondly, I wanted to challenge myself. Being in the French system all my life, I aimed to explore a new system of thoughts and new ways of doing research . Also, having a better proficiency of the english language is a remarkable asset to have in life, and another challenge I was looking forward to. The University of Liverpool brought an optimal environment for me to carry out my research: its reputation as an excellent university in terms of teaching and research encouraged me to pursue the application process. Also, my research aligns with the Heritage theme, one of the key research theme at the University of Liverpool in general and the School of Arts in particular. Finally, the research group ArchiAM provides a notable research platform where I can share my ideas and exchange reflective and critical discussions with fine researchers.
What have you found the most fun part of the PhD, and the most challenging?
The most fun part of the PhD is the data collection: going to the field (in my case the medina), meeting and interviewing a considerable range of people, taking pictures of beautiful monuments, of everyday life activities, of domestic buildings, of street atmospheres, immersing yourself in the old city. Each day, people surprise me with original information. Some even invited me to their house to visit, others came to me asking me if I needed anything, some gave beyond what was asked because they were happy to have their opinion listened to. It is a pleasure to see people eager to talk about their heritage. I feel the most grateful when I realise that I am studying a subject people are passionate about, that I am doing something worthwhile and meaningful. This is when I feel the most productive: when my research is progressing, I feel the most motivated by it. However, this is not to idealise field work neither, because setbacks, rejections and difficulties are omnipresent.
The most challenging part of the PhD is this roller-coaster of emotions between being confident about your research’ subject and thinking you’re going in the right direction, then loosing track of your initial idea by getting lost in a myriad of interesting subjects. Feeling like you have no idea what you are doing and that you lost valuable time is the worst feeling that I have during the PhD. There are so many interesting methods, concepts and problematics that it is difficult for me to focus on one thing. Besides, there is an ongoing anxiety about feeling like I haven’t read enough: literature review never finishes !
Post-Phd? Any ideas of what you’d like to do next?
I would like to leave my options open at this point. Like during PhD, there are so many interesting options, both academia and industry sounds good. Academia will allow me to continue doing research and to teach, something that I would love to try. Another considerable option is working with my home country government or international organisations like Unesco to implement better management policies for heritage.
In general, I know that the best end result of doing a PhD is to develop valuable transferable skills: problem-solving capacities, working independently, managing stress, better communication skills (both oral and written), time management. So no matter which job I will take up after, a PhD is definitely an incredibly useful experience for me.
Any advice for others interested in doing a PhD?
The first and most important advice is that you should embark in a PhD for the right reasons: a drive for research and a subject you’re passionate about. Do not apply just to be called Dr. one day.
The second advice is for the PhD journey: it is a marathon, not a sprint. It is crucial to have a good work-life balance. You should be prepared for difficult times, and if you don’t take care of yourself properly, it will be harder for you to continue, or worse, you might hate the PhD. As much as you can, enjoy the process ! It is as important, or even more important, than the end result, which is obtaining the degree.
We are delighted to offer researchers at select partner universities an opportunity to apply for one of University in Liverpool’s Virtual Fellowships.
The Fellowships are open to researchers working in the field of heritage and are open to early career as well as established researchers.
The Fellowships provide an opportunity for selected candidates to gain collaborative research experience in an international research environment with the aim of publishing or co-publishing a specific piece of research in an international journal or equivalent venue and fostering long-term collaboration.
The Fellowships are fully online and travel to the UK is not required.
Successful candidates will have the opportunity to collaborate virtually with a research group or designated individuals at the University of Liverpool.
The Fellowship will offer:
one to one research mentoring, including support in analytical and interpretive methods in heritage research: this will be delivered at a distance through zoom or similar platforms
relief from teaching and other duties to pursue the completion and write-up of a piece of research for publication
access to online research resources and training including GIS training; Photogrammetry; AutoCAD and visualisation (3D Max); 3D scanning; Fieldwork/ documentation methods support and guidance with academic writing in English
opportunities for research collaboration through “virtual” participation in relevant research group activities in Liverpool.
This is a move that will destroy traditional livelihoods, as well as damage the historic built environment. It will drastically change not only the tangible fabric of this historic town, but also impact the fishing methods, market traders and community that’s reliant on the sea.
Since 2011 I have been researching the history of Ghanaian architecture and urbanism, and have been particularly struck by its impressive collection of heritage structures and associated narratives.
The harbour at Accra’s district of Jamestown was built to provide shelter from the heavy surf that pounds this part of the coast. The breakwater and pier were equipped with railway tracks, gantries and cranes to handle the large produce exports following the cocoa boom of the early 1900s. The wealth created from this trade saw some fine buildings being built. An array of warehouses, stores and villas survive (some very precariously) in Jamestown to this day.
The shallow waters of the harbour utilised smaller surf boats who ferried the goods in and out to the ships anchored in deeper water. The creation of new ports rendered the Jamestown harbour superfluous by the 1950s and it was no longer used for international trade.
While this profoundly affected the livelihoods of the surf boat owners, as well as the economic prosperity of the Jamestown area, it has still remained an active harbour, returning its focus to fishing. New canoes are still built on the beach, nets are made, repaired and dried, and a large, if casual, fishing market trades off the shore.
Although described as a beach, it’s still a working harbour rather than a place for leisure. Businesses, residences, schools, places of worship and bars have all been established on the beach and a large population considers it their home and community. The place has a very different feel to the rest of the city. It has an intimate connection to the sea, dictated by the tides, rituals, songs and danger that accompanies all fishing communities.
It is “informal”, sometimes appears anarchic, and while not suitable in its current format for freight shipping, its potential for commercial development has caught the attention of the municipality and international investors.
Earlier this year a billboard was suddenly erected on the beach displaying an “artist’s impression” of how the beach is to be developed. It’s a disturbing image in many ways, showing the beach completely cleared of its inhabitants. There’s also a large car park and a series of somewhat bland sheds or factories. There is not one single canoe in sight.
The proposal (and its backers) see this site as a convenient place to construct a new factory for the mechanised processing of fish. There is nothing inherently wrong with this as an idea. But the current proposal would not only occupy a prime site with historical significance: it would displace a large community along with their heritage, skills and traditions.
There are four main considerations that have not been addressed by the current proposal. And with the beach already being cleared of its residents and traders, time is running short.
Seafront heritage site: A shoreline development with an historic waterfront requires sensitive and appropriate proposals. A failure to deliver this undersells the site’s potential. It is not appropriate for a factory and car park to be placed on this important plot.
It is hard to imagine any other international port city using its most important natural features in this way. The attractive view over the ocean offers lots of possibility for this site. Reducing it to a fish-gutting production line is shortsighted and lacks ambition.
Community discussion and liaison: The settlements and businesses located on the beach are “informal” (like most of Ghana’s economy). But this must not discount or invalidate their contribution to future development. No one is more invested in this place than the current population, part of the minority Gā community, with their own language and traditions, who have lived and traded here for centuries.
Individual fishing boats and their small hauls may not be the most efficient or lucrative methods of extracting the bounty of the sea. But they bring many advantages. The main traders (and controllers) are women affectionately known as “mammies”, who set the prices and manage supply.
This matriarchal system has been largely responsible for ensuring a strong community. Whilst these traders are fiercely competitive, they care for each other and their lives. Memories and stories are inherently bound to this place – the proposed factory would completely undermine and destroy this market and cohesion.
Mechanised production would also result in fewer employment opportunities. The power would be taken from market traders and fewer fishermen would be required.
Fish stock: Environmentally the mechanised processing and trawlers would be disastrous for the fish stock. The existing method marries periods of fallow with festivals, allowing the sea to recuperate and replenish. There is a rhythm to the current fishing method that responds to the seasons and traditions. It is unlikely this approach will be respected by the new process and the factory’s profit driven approach.
Tourist potential: The first place tourists visit when arriving in Ghana is usually Jamestown and the harbour area. Its two former slaving forts and the historic mercantile core of the town, coupled with the array of festivals and events, have so much potential as revenue creators.
They must be treated as rare commodities, not as cheap development plots. If this district is gradually eroded, its natural features, historic charm and engaging community dismissed, then what else is there for visitors to see in Accra?
In the last six months eviction processes have started to clear the beach. This is an earnest plea for this proposal to be rethought – and for this fascinating part of the city to be regenerated in a way that celebrates and respects the history and people of Jamestown.
Thank you to Prof. Ola Uduku of Manchester School of Architecture for reviewing the ‘Sharing Stories from Jamestown’ exhibition. The exhibition has been extended to run until the end of June 2019. Below I’ve uploaded a 360 degree panoramic view – you can ‘click and drag’ the film to have a look around….
Iain Jackson’s exhibition co-curated by Allotey Konuah-Bruce and Joe Addo opened to great acclaim on Saturday evening at the Jamestown Café, venue, near Ussher Fort. Curiously the café it was confirmed by local elders who attended the opening is accurately in Usshertown; the exhibition launch providing a great forum for these questions to be aired and for detailed discussions to be had.
Historic photographs and maps of ‘old’
Jamestown buildings have been placed next to those which show their age,
condition and use, in ‘contemporary’ Jamestown have been displayed in the lower
gallery of the Jamestown Café, which itself features in the exhibition as Tarquah
house, the dwelling and warehouse of one of Jamestown’s wealthy local
merchants, who had originally had it built. The exhibition represents a true
joint collaboration between Iain Jackson and Allotey Konuah-Bruce who have formed a close and productive working relationship as they have spent the…
Architecture in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction: Glasgow School of Art and its Future
Like many people, I was again saddened, shocked, and frankly annoyed to see Charles Rennie Mackintosh’s masterpiece, the Glasgow School of Art, engulfed in smoke and flame for the second time in just four years. It was a radical piece of architecture that helped to shape the development of early 20thC Modernist architecture, and unlike a lot of contemporary and experimental work it was much loved and held a popular appeal.
The charred remains have yet to cool, but a fierce debate has erupted on the future of the building. On the one hand there is an impassioned plea to demolish and rebuild a new structure that would be something of ‘our time’; with any attempts to refabricate the ‘original’ resulting in a ‘replica’, that is, a fake.
Glasgow School of Art, by Charles Rennie Mackintosh
This faction argues that a rebuilt school would be rendered a ‘museum piece’, and that a new school would somehow respond better to the needs of today’s students. For sure, it is a compelling argument and after the shock of the tragic event it shows a fighting spirit and an optimism that all architects possess to create a better future. If an architect were to design a new building today that mimicked, or somehow parodied the ‘Mackintosh style’, then for sure, that would not be the way forward for architecture. But this is not a newly commissioned project, rather it should be a restoration of a dilapidated shell.
“The handle has been replaced several times, and the blade was changed once, but this knife has been in our family for centuries”
Unlike other works of art, such as painting or sculpture, there is a utilitarian, designerly approach in building, and buildings are made of many components, materials and finishes. They can all be replaced or remade. Certain parts of a building inevitably wear-out and have to be replaced; lead flashing is carefully reinserted, roofs are precisely re-laid, window frames rot, and sometimes windows are smashed and replaced. We accept this continual, sensitive remaking and in the case of buildings like the GSA undertake this process with extreme diligence. This is all part of a building’s ability to endure time and survive, and whilst a fire rapidly accelerates this process, it need not be the end. Buildings are never complete, they are always unfinished and being continually remade through the acts of everyday use. They develop patina, tarnishes, stains, and are weathered, changing all buildings for better or for worse. This aging cannot be replicated of course, but it demonstrates that a building is not a pristine artefact, there is a spectrum of aging and renewal.
The surviving GSA structure could be retained and kept in its ruinous state as a kind of memorial to what we once had. Some of the ‘original’ fabric would be retained and fixed to commemorate Mackintosh’s genius. It could become a shrine with a steady pilgrimage of architects’ eager to touch the stone relics with their direct link back to the hand of the Mackintosh. This would surely be the worst type of preservation – for whilst we would have the vestiges of the School there would be no joy, no use, just a sad lament. The surviving stones might enable a façade to be retained, or possibly form a similar condition to that deployed by Basil Spence at Coventry Cathedral, in the aftermath of World War Two. Whilst this might preserve the outer shell, or image, it wouldn’t suffice because the interiors at GSA were so rich and possibly even more important than the building’s skin.
We should not be afraid to remake architecture, because architecture as a concept is detached from its manifestation as a building. There is the idea and its representation often in the form of drawings and physical models, and then there is the physical construct. The physical entity is of course very important, but it is an outworking of an idea. Unlike painting, where the hand of the artist is important (but not essential) architecture is always remote from the act of construction. Architects make drawings that are then interpreted and fabricated by teams of artisans, technicians and craftspeople into the built object. Inevitably there are gaps between the artist’s intentions and the drawings they produce, and then of course there are numerous clefts between the drawings and the constructed piece. Decisions are made ‘on site’ and changes made on the hoof – this is all part of the construction process. In many buildings there is even a devolution of some parts of the design to the craftspeople on site, especially in decorative pieces, or commissioned artworks and sculptures. The core idea remains and is entirely the responsibility (and gift) of the designer, but it is important not to overly fetishize the object as a fixed, pristine artefact.
A burned out Jaguar E-Type can be fully restored, and even enhanced to suit modern environmental standards as the ‘Concept Zero’ illustrates. In no way does this detract from the ‘original’ duplicated model, nor the enjoyment of driving the vehicle. Indeed, there is pleasure and pride to be had from such a restoration. There is certainly room to manoeuvre here in construction and many buildings are sensitively restored and enhanced for modern living and reduced energy use. The drawings produced by Mackintosh (and his wife Margaret) survive and the recent scans and computer models of the building produced in response to Fire no.1 will enable a faithful rebuilding of the GSA. There is no technical reason why this school could not be rebuilt. Other art forms revel in this ability to be remade and enjoyed; music is recorded, plays are performed, artists issue facsimile casts and photographers offer limited edition prints. Walter Benjamin foresaw this in his seminal writing, ‘Art in the age of mechanical reproduction’. I’m not suggesting that multiple GSAs are licensed, but rather the single edition we had is carefully remade in honour of Mackintosh and the city which this building has helped to define and create.
India Buildings by Herbert Rowse
There are claims that a rebuilt School would not be ‘of our time’. Some, like eminent architect Alan Dunlop have claimed that Mackintosh’s would indeed want ‘to see a new school of art fit for the 21stcentury’ – but we can never truly know the wishes of the deceased. Surely the GSA is an excellent didactic tool for today’s students, and in any case it is not very old – it’s a mere blink of an eye in the broader scheme of things. To remake it now would not be a disservice to ‘our time’ but would be a measure of how we value and cherish such works of art. So many buildings have been regrettably erased following fire – to the detriment of our built environment. Gavin Stamp’s publication, Britain’sLost Citiesis a roll call of this approach, whereas when the decision to rebuild has been made the results are rarely questioned. We do not hear claims of, ‘we should have pulled this down and replaced it with something else’. Herbert Rowse’s India Buildings in Liverpool was carefully rebuilt after the effects of incendiary bombs – its authenticity is not questioned because of this; it simply becomes part of the building’s story. Mies van der Rohe’s Barcelona Pavilion was also famously remade and it continues to bring pleasure and delight to all who see it. It is far better to experience this wonderful design than to imagine it’s ‘spirit’ or look at the old photographs. Plus, we live in an age when this is possible – it is ‘of our time’ to replicate and reproduce components and objects that are better than the ‘originals’.
Hansen Road looking towards the Methodist cathedral
James Town is an old district in Accra running along the coast and associated with the British during the early colonial period – when the Dutch and Danish were also grappling for control of the town. Set behind the Usher Fort are many warehouses, trading posts and residences. A fine array of historical buildings can still be found here, but much of its rich tangible and intangible heritage is at risk through insensitive development, lack of maintenance and the departure of large businesses from the area. Despite this, it remains a vibrant and charming district full of markets, traders and the cultural epicentre that is the James Town Café, recently frequented by Emmanuel Macron during his visit to Accra.
James Town Café
Led by the charismatic Allotey Bruce-Konuah we weaved our way through the markets and informal structures that now occupy the gaps and leftover sites, punctuated by a vast collection of colonial-era buildings. Our first stop is a stone obelisk encased within an old market hall. The obelisk was built shortly after 1900 to commemorate the last of the Anglo-Ashanti wars. One of the plaques is in Arabic script, perhaps in recognition of Nigerian-Islamic troops who fought the Ashanti with the British. From here we went to the adjacent market hall. It was used until quite recently – and with some minor repairs could make for a very fine market venue today, perfectly sited on a strong axis and at the centre of the district.
Obelisk base with Allotey Bruce-Konuah (L), Ola Uduku (C) Irene Appeaning Addo (R)
Obelisk within the market
Interior of the Market Hall
We visited Azumo house, built in 1914 – the original owner’s escapades of shipwrecks and ‘salvaging’ are apparently recorded in the Red Book of West Africa. The quality and number of historical buildings is surprising – a case of preservation by leaving-be. The warehouses of the Compagnie Francaise de L’Afrique Occidentale (based in the Royal Liver Building in Liverpool) occupy a prominent site, and Ellen House built in 1918 boasts a rich history – we will attempt to uncover more.
Bruce-Konuh Family Residence
Our trip concluded with a visit to the studio of Deo Gratias. You may remember some of the photos from this studio featuring in The Guardian (and here) not so long ago. It was extraordinary to see these images printed and in large format. Kate Aku Tamakloe, the granddaughter of the studio’s founder, JK Bruce Vanderpuije, and curator of the collection kindly gave us a tour. Kate told us there are many, many more images to scan, some from glass plates. We look forward to seeing more of this important work.