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Notes from James Town, Accra.

Hansen Road, James Town

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 Cafe

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.

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.

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.

Deo Gratias Studio

Deo Gratias Studio James Town

Ola Uduku and colleagues at Edinburgh University hosted an excellent workshop this week on West African Modernism, combining some of the sessions with Docomomo Africa. The result was a very rich series of encounters, exchanges and discussions.

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Ilze Wolff presenting Rex Truform’s factory in Cape Town

Ilze Wolff gave a very poignant paper on Rex Truform, the clothing factory in Cape Town designed by Max Policansky in 1937. Ilze’s investigation goes beyond the built fabric and stylistic qualities of the structure – it considers the workers’ stories and what it was like to be a part of the everyday life of this significant building in the city. Ilze is also publishing her findings and interventions through a series of booklets: see Open House Architecture for more details.

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Shantanu Subramaniam’s presentation on Community Centres and Libraries in Ghana

Shantanu Subramaniam presented his recent fieldwork on the community centres and libraries of Ghana. In addition to architectural surveying and cataloguing Shantanu is also considering the environment performance of these structures and testing their ability to modify climate and interior temperatures.

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Joe Addo’s skype presentation on modern architecture in Accra

Joe Osae-Addo joined us via Skype and shared his film on modern architecture in Accra. The film presented an autobiographical account of Accra and its modern architecture, as seen and experienced by Joe from his childhood onwards. It is a compelling piece that will deliver far more impact in changing ‘hearts and minds’ than reports and conservation legislation.

You can watch the film here: https://stream.liv.ac.uk/s/hav96uun

We also discussed the DOCOMOMO presence in Africa and whether there should be regional groups [such as West Africa, Southern Africa and so on], to generate a more critical mass and greater influence. The reliance on the fiche methodology was also questioned – or at least its limits acknowledged – and we considered the use of ‘narrative’ and social history as a means of generating meaning, significance and connection to these structures beyond the fetishisation of the physical attributes, and tangible qualities.

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Cumbernauld townscape

On the final day we were treated to a site visit to the new town of Cumbernauld, and Stirling University.

New Film: Citizen Jane: Battle for the City

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In 1960 Jane Jacobs’ book The Death and Life of Great American Cities sent shockwaves through the architecture and planning worlds, with its exploration of the consequences of modern planners’ and architects’ reconfiguration of cities. Jacobs was also an activist, who was involved in fights in mid-century New York to stop ‘master builder’ Robert Moses from running roughshod over the city. This film retraces the battles for the city as personified by Jacobs and Moses, as urbanization moves to the very front of the global agenda. Many of the clues for formulating solutions to the dizzying array of urban issues can be found in Jacobs’ prescient text, and a close second look at her thinking and writing about cities is very much in order. This film sets out to examine the city of today though the lens of one of its greatest champions.

DIRECTOR’S STATEMENT

In the face of developers and the overzealous parks commissioner Robert Moses, who, in
the 1950s, wanted to run a four-lane highway through the middle of the park, Jacobs and
other Greenwich Village residents and activists organized a formal opposition to the city’s plans.
Through community-driven support, a large neighborhood coalition, a series of public protests, and a years-long letter-writing campaign to officials at every level of city government, Jacobs and her compatriots eventually triumphed and Moses’s park-destroying plan was shelved.
It was a battle much like the one Sanders’s campaign has framed today: a grassroots coalition of regular people fed up with the top-down impositions of the powers that be running roughshod over regular citizens.

Jacobs, whose centenary will be celebrated on May 4, is something of a spiritual soul mate to Sanders. The parallels between their underlying ideologies are striking. And as
Sanders’s popularity and fame continues to skyrocket, it’s time to give his fellow New
Yorker, Jacobs, her due. Jacobs’s fight for Washington Square Park—and for the people’s right to the city—is a story I tell in Citizen Jane (which is produced by one of New
York’s newer grassroots activists, High Line co-founder Robert Hammond).

Like the modern-day opposition to the role of big banks and the political influence of the wealthiest one percent, Jane Jacobs and the Greenwich Village community members were fighting against a power structure that valued its own perseverance over the public it was ostensibly serving. She, more than anyone else of her era, deserves credit for unmasking this unseemly cabal.

A BATTLE FOUGHT IN THE STREETS 

Citizen Jane: Battle for the City is a story about our global urban future, in which nearly three-fourths of the world’s population will live in cities by the end of this century. It’s also a story about America’s recent urban past, in which bureaucratic, “top down” approaches to building cities have dramatically clashed with grassroots, “bottom up” approaches. The film brings us back mid-century, on the eve of the battles for the heart and soul of American cities, about to be routed by cataclysmically destructive Urban Renewal and highway projects.

The film details the revolutionary thinking of Jane Jacobs, and the origins of her magisterial 1961 treatise The Death and Life of Great American Cities, in which she single-handedly undercuts her era’s orthodox model of city planning, exemplified by the massive Urban Renewal projects of New York’s “Master Builder,” Robert Moses. Jacobs and Moses figure centrally in our story as archetypes of the “bottom up” and the “top down” vision for cities. They also figure as two larger-than-life personalities: Jacobs—a journalist with provincial origins, no formal training in city planning, and scarce institutional authority—seems at first glance to share little in common with Robert Moses, the upper class, high prince of government and urban theory fully ensconced in New York’s halls of power and privilege.

Yet both reveal themselves to be master tacticians who, in the middle of the 20th century, became locked in an epic struggle over the fate of the city. In three suspenseful acts,

Citizen Jane: Battle for the City gives audiences a front row seat to this battle, and shows how two opposing visions of urban greatness continue to ripple across the world stage, with unexpectedly high stakes, made even higher and more unexpectedly urgent in the suddenly shifting national political landscape of 2017, in which the newly inaugurated U.S. President is a real estate developer, who is calling for a new era Urban Renewal, echoing the traumatic period in which this film takes place. In perilous times for the city and for civil rights, Citizen Jane offers a playbook, courtesy of Jane Jacobs, for organizing communities and speaking the truth to entrenched and seemingly insurmountable powers.

https://dogwoof.com/citizenjane#screenings

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We included an article on these structures exactly one year ago today – and were still hopeful that the Indian Government would see sense and agree to retain these important pieces of architecture. Alas, they made a terrible decision and sent in the wrecking ball.

There was no real justification for this act of cultural vandalism. It is a disgraceful destruction of modern heritage, not to mention the environmental waste.

Next month the AHRC and Indian Council for Historical Research will be sponsoring a workshop on ‘Cultural Heritage and Rapid Urbanisation in India‘ in Delhi. Its too late for the Maidan but let’s hope the workshop can provoke some much needed change.

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Read and see more at the Hindustan Times.

The 6th Conference on Infrastructure Development in Africa, has just concluded with a particular focus this year on ‘Building Resilience through African Urban Culture’. Held at KNUST in Kumasi, Ghana the conference welcomed speakers from Nigeria, South Africa and UK, as well as a host of research papers presented from scholars based in Ghana.

Key note speakers (including Prof. Chike Oduoza, Dr Obuks Ejohwomu and Prof. Mugendi M’Rithaa) lucidly presented the varied and many challenges facing African cities today – with particular focus on energy use, digital infrastructure and the internet of every/things.

Prof. M’Rithaa’s presentation included some very striking map visuals, including the image below that shows the true size of Africa relative to other countries – something that Mercator projection of the world fails to reveal. You can just make out on the poor quality photo below the outlines of USA and India. He also spoke very eloquently on how our solutions must be people centred, rather than imposed solutions. Dr Ejohwomu also challenged us with many provocative questions and themes – including a cartoon showing an emaciated cow and a worker abandoning it in pursuit of an obese cattle. His challenge was that we can’t simply walk away from the problem and that Africa needs us to focus on its problems rather than attempting to flee them in the ‘global north’. This message also reinforced by Prof. David Edwards and Dr. Erica Parn in their presentation.

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I gave a presentation on the rich modern architectural history of Ghana, and the infrastructure of culture that exists here. I focused on a series of building types including education, community centres, and libraries, as well as the town planning and historical development of Kumasi.

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Nearly 50 papers followed on a vast array of topics as well as a striking art installation on the plight of the African Giant Snail’s ecosystem. A new journal was launched ‘Journal of Built Environment (ISSN: 2026-5409) and next year the conference will migrate to Lagos – we look forward to hearing more from this important gathering.

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Simulizi Mijini/Urban Narratives is an interdisciplinary inquiry into urban heritage in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, and Berlin, Germany. Through artist residencies, student exchanges and discursive events, the project seeks to develop a more inclusive approach to urban heritage that embraces multiple voices and supports diverse readings of urban environments from a ‘bottom-up’ perspective. For more information about the project and the programme of events, which have already included two summer schools, 10 artist residencies and a one-day symposium in Dar es Salaam, please visit our website: www.urbannarratives.org

We now announce a call for abstracts for a two-day international conference at the Technical University Berlin from 16-17 March 2017, which, together with a coinciding exhibition at ZK/U, will culminate the project.

For the Berlin conference we invite contributions that focus on heritage activism in diverse geographical and cultural contexts. Abstracts that address the political ramifications of urban heritage, particularly in postcolonial environments, are particularly welcome. We wish to engage the grassroots movements around the world that are demanding a more inclusive approach to heritage, redefining how places in the built environment are valued and preserved. In addition we will question the role of research and scholarship as well as other forms of political, cultural and arts practice in supporting heritage movements. Rather than convening an academic event, we will create a multidisciplinary platform for activists, scholars, artists, cultural producers, students and local residents to debate urban heritage, present innovative approaches and put forward inclusive solutions.

Abstracts are invited that address case studies in urban heritage activism in relation to the following topics:

(curating urban heritage)

How can information about urban heritage be gathered in diverse urban contexts at a community level? What are appropriate methods and tools for data collection? What role does oral history play? How can the data be archived in an open, accessible and transformable way? What strategies for curating urban heritage ‘from below’ have been successfully tried and tested?

(media and protest)

What can new technologies, such as augmented reality or virtual reality, offer to urban heritage research, curation and communication? What effects have social media had on documenting and archiving urban heritage? How have they affected protest movements? How can technologies be employed to hack or amend existing official heritage narratives?

(activating urban heritage)

Building on the Faro Convention, how can awareness be raised about urban heritage as a common cultural good and human right? What tactics can be used to increase public consciousness and foster local participation in the heritage discourse? How do we begin to (re)determine what is preserved and what is recognised as ‘historically relevant’ at a community level, thereby including diverse, minority and forgotten, ignored, or silenced voices?

(performing and preserving)

How can urban heritage be communicated to a wider audience effectively? How can its significance be understood and supported beyond the community level? What artistic, performative and curatorial strategies have been developed to convey the significance of certain places and practices within communities and neighbourhoods? How can these be used to protect and support their continued presence?  

Submissions and Deadline
Please submit a 300 word abstract including contact details and a brief CV to rachel.lee@tu-berlin.de by 15 December 2016.

Travel Bursaries
A limited number of travel bursaries will be available towards covering the costs of traveling to Berlin.

Book Publication
A selection of contributions will be included in a book publication, forthcoming in 2017. Authors interested in contributing to the book will be expected to submit a 1500 word synopsis of their conference presentation by 15 February 2017.

Dar es Salaam Symposium
The Berlin conference picks up on issues raised at the Reconfiguring Heritage from Below symposium held in Dar es Salaam in April 2016. There speakers from Tanzania, Zanzibar, Kenya, South Africa, Turkey, Belgium and the UK presented heritage case studies and projects from postcolonial contexts.

http://urbannarratives.org/en/events/

Notes
As an interdisciplinary, transnational programme, we encourage contributions from all horizons to apply. We seek to increase the number of women, people with disabilities and non-Western contributors in those areas where they are underrepresented and therefore explicitly encourage them to apply.

This project is funded by the TURN Fund of the German Federal Cultural Foundation.

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INVITATION – International Symposium on Urban Heritage: Simulizi Mijini/Urban Narratives

The Dar Centre for Architectural Heritage (DARCH) in collaboration with the Technical University Berlin and the Architects Association of Tanzania have the pleasure of inviting you to participate in the:

International Symposium “Simulizi Mijini/Urban Narratives“

1 April 2016, 9:00 – 17:00 hrs
@ The British Council, Samora Avenue
urban narratives
Urban Heritage: What is it? Whose is it? Who defines it?
How can it build inclusive cities?
We will look at international examples of inclusive heritage practices and discuss their relevance for the context of Dar es Salaam.
The detailed programme will follow soon, kindly share with your network and RSVP to darch.tz@gmail.com
We will be delighted to welcome you to the event!
Sincere regards,
Aida Mulokozi
CEO DARCH

AHRC Workshop on Cultural Heritage and Rapid Urbanisation in India

The AHRC, with the Indian Council for Historical Research and the British Library, invites expressions of interest to attend a workshop on cultural heritage and rapid urbanisation in India. The event will bring together academic experts from both countries to address an issue of growing importance as India seeks to preserve and position its rich cultural history within the context of an emerging urban landscape.

It will draw on a range of disciplinary perspectives including urban history, heritage, languages, the digital humanities and archaeology. The development of longer-term collaborations and impacts, including possible links to other Newton programmes, wider inter-disciplinary UK-India research forums and subsequent funding bids, is one of the key objectives of the workshop.

There is lots more detail here: http://www.ahrc.ac.uk/Funding-Opportunities/Pages/Workshop-on-Cultural-Heritage-and-Rapid-Urbanisation-in-India.aspx