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Maxwell Fry, the architect and planner of Ibadan University, considered the campus to be the highlight of his career, although he confessed that he found the Kenneth Dike library elevation too ‘lace-like’.

It is an extraordinary structure and we’ve covered it on the TAG blog previously, as well as printing a 3D sectional model of the structure. Taking a more retro step, I’ve now produced a hand-drawn (rotring, ink wash) front elevational drawing of the building (minus the small reading room on the RHS and smaller structure on the LHS, for clarity).

Kenneth Dike Library at Ibadan University, Nigeria

The drawing stretches over 2 x A1 sheets and has been scanned, pieced together, and the blue ‘sky’ added in Photoshop. I’m going to follow drawing with some additional studies into various libraries in Ghana – especially the Children’s Library in Accra (Nickson and Borys); Sekondi Regional Library (James Cubitt); Koforidua Library (also by Cubitt); KNUST Library (?) and the iconic Bolgatanga library by Max Bond.

TAG Press Launched

The Transnational Architecture Group has published its first book, on none other than Maxwell Fry and Jane Drew. The aim of TAG press is not to publish lengthy peer-reviewed and ‘academic’ books, but rather to serve as an outlet for photographic material, catalogues, surveys and short essays.
The Fry and Drew Tropical Source Book contains photographic material on Fry and Drew’s projects in India and West Africa; including some previously unpublished letters sent by Fry in the early 1950s whilst he was working in Chandigarh to his site architect, Tony Halliday based in Ibadan, Nigeria.

Tropical Source Book

Available as soft back on the Publications Page above.

‘The Influence of Fry and Drew’ Conference, Abstract 18

Ola Uduku, ‘Rediscovering Fry and Drew’s “Tropical Design” within the contemporary Frame’

How does today’s writing on climate and ‘adaptive’ comfort differ significantly from these earlier literary endeavours after more than half a century after Fry and Drew’s books and other writing on tropical building design?  Furthermore are we able to compare or undertake a critical analysis of today’s building guidance and codes as relates to climate and programme, within our current sustainable low-carbon design context? The premise that this paper proposal seeks to investigate is whether there has been real change in conception or thought about the word ‘tropical’ design, in intellectual or practical design terms, or there has simply been a reinvention of the names, tools and narratives in which this semantic theme is engaged with in the 21st century.

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Ola Uduku is a faculty member at the Architecture School, at Edinburgh University, and has research interests in Environmental Design as well as Modernist Architectural History in Africa. She is a director and foundation member of the organisation ArchiAfrika, which actively seeks to spread knowledge about African architecture within and outside Africa. Ola is co-researcher on the Alan Vaughan-Richards Archive Project.

‘The Influence of Fry and Drew’ Conference, Abstract 16

Alan Powers, ‘Maxwell Fry and Jane Drew – the Romantic turn’

The paper will start from Fry’s ‘A Letter about Architecture’ in Horizon magazine, May 1946, in which Fry addressed Drew as well as a wider non-specialist  readership. It represents a transitional period in Fry’s career that began before the war with some lesser known buildings such as the brick built house Warham’s Ash, Hereford, and the Cecil Residential Club in North Gower Street. These were more varied in materials and form than the Modernist buildings through which he first acquired fame in the years 1933-36, and anticipate, along with Goldfinger’s Willow Road houses and some other examples, the next ten or fifteen years of stylistic development in English and European Modernism. There is no accepted term for describing this romantic turn in Modernism, at least until the 1947 coinage ‘New Empiricism’. The style remained current in much of Fry and his practice’s work well into the 1950s.

In the Horizon text, and in Fine Building, 1944, Fry reveals the thinking that moved him and other members of his generation to move on to a second version of Modernism that was deliberately anti-machine and reflected the writings of D. H. Lawrence and Lewis Mumford to which he referred. In the paper, these written sources will be related to Fry’s work and that of his contemporaries in Britain, Sweden and the USA to fill out a more complete account of this change of direction.

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Dr Alan Powers, FSA, Hon. FRIBA, has written widely on twentieth century British architecture, art and design and curated a number of exhibitions. He was Professor of Architecture and Cultural History at the University of Greenwich before becoming an independent scholar with a range of teaching activities. He has had a long association with the Twentieth Century Society, becoming Chairman 2007–12. He was founder editor of its journal Twentieth Century Architecture and with Elain Harwood and Barnabas Calder is a joint editor of the monograph series, jointly with English Heritage and RIBA, Twentieth Century Architects. His books include Britain, in the series Modern Architectures in History and Serge Chermayeff, designer, architect, teacher. Eric Ravilious, artist and designer will be published by Lund Humphries in October 2013. In 2011–12, Alan Powers was awarded a British Academy Mid-Career Fellowship on the theme, Figurative Architecture in the Time of Modernism.

Contemporary Architecture in East Africa: An Empire of Good Practice[i] or Shadows of Neocolonialism?

Killian Doherty

The expression of individual and collective black identity flourishes in various diverse cultural endeavors. Architecture seems to have been circumvented by this program of intense cultural expression; one wonders whether this is a result of a latent bias within the processes of architectural discourse or merely a time lag before an important and creative awakening.

Edward Ihejirika, “Identity as Intensive Continuity”[ii]

Throughout the mid to late twentieth century the former colonies in Africa were viewed as a fecund terrain, a creative test-bed for architects eager to “cut their teeth” on modernism. European architects practicing under the auspices of postcolonial religious and state powers, in a quasi-missionary capacity, built churches, schools, and cultural institutions. These have since become regarded as “powerful symbols and logical citadels” attesting to the “prestige of western knowledge.”[iii] A 2011 documentary entitled Build Something Modern captures this period in which architects working during the 1950s were inspired and eager to replicate the monumentality of Le Corbusier’s Chandigarh in India across East and West Africa. These architects referred to themselves as “card-carrying modernists” and regaled with frenzied zeal about the joys of being able to build nearly whatever one wanted at that time.

In 1946 the German architect Ernst May moved to East Africa, initially to work as a farmer, but then was drawn back into architectural practice in order to complete several large housing, educational, and master planning commissions across Kenya, Tanzania, and Uganda (notably a cultural master plan for Kampala), mainly for British clients and expatriates.[v] However, it was actually with the work of the British architectural duo Maxwell Fry and Jane Drew in West Africa, some ten years earlier, following World War II (Fry and Drew worked on Chandigarh with Le Corbusier), that European modern architecture was transposed to Nigeria, Ghana, and Togo. This delicately revised modernism fuelled desires of these decolonized states to become first world countries and alluded to a superiority of Western architectural methods, particularly evident within Maxwell Fry’s abrasive comments on the impossibility of anything else.

A Nigerian aesthetic? On what would it be based that is as solid as the plywood techniques, the old timber traditions of Finland?

Ola Uduku, “The Colonial Face of Educational Space”[vi]

Dubbed “an Empire of good practice,”[vii] Fry and Drew’s work in West Africa forged the basis of teachings that became the Department of Tropical Architecture at the Architectural Association in London. This work of this period however, “fabricated a mythology”[viii] that architecture as a cultural artefact was somehow independent from political influences; the modern built environment across Africa was and since then has been irrevocably influenced by this period.

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Maxwell Fry and Jane Drew, Mfantsipim School, Cape Coast, Ghana, 1947 / Alfred Edward Savige Alcock, How to Plan Your Village (London and New York, 1953), front cover

Today, rapid growth in East African cities has brought about intense urban redevelopment, with modernity still held aloft as the panacea. This has consequently bifurcated the agenda of those working in architecture and urban planning, resulting in built work based on lofty neoliberal urban visions replete with an imported, bland modernism (such as in Kigali[ix] and Nairobi[x]), as well as of those working in the field of humanitarian aid and development. It is within the latter field of development that a wave of contemporary architectural practice has emerged, which is also being acknowledged by the exhibitionAfritecture – Building Social Change.[xi] 

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New building in Kigali as part of the city master plan. Courtesy Killian Doherty

Given that Maxwell Fry’s “Empire” is readily acknowledged for its limited ability to legitimize African modern architecture[xii] and that the majority of architectural NGOs from the West are still very much disseminating modernism within Africa, one has to ask whether any lessons have been learned. How can Western practice outrun the ghosts of the postcolonial and come closer to a modern African architecture? As interests between local governments, international NGOs, and architectural projects are inextricably intertwined, is this contemporary mode of practice simply the newest facet of neocolonialism?

Quite simply it is the design in Western psychology to set Africa up as a foil to Europe, a place of negations at once remote and vaguely familiar in comparison with which Europe’s own state of spiritual grace will be manifest.

—Chinua Achebe, “An Image of Africa”[xiii]

As a Western architect in Africa, I feel perpetually tainted by the postcolonial legacy, the remnants of which obscure one’s ability to practice with clarity. Looking at recent projects, it is abundantly clear there is still relative freedom to experiment in (East) Africa. Considering that, in the past, Africans have “had little to say in response” to architecture, the question remains whether this wave of contemporary architecture has emerged from an engaged, local critical dialogue, or from one that remains entrenched in Western discourse.

 

Much in the way that the modern movement heralded the promise of social improvements, the same ideology is very much at the root of humanitarian design and evident within today’s developmental lexicon. This is a lexicon with which one is constantly bound by the reality that interests are never truly neutral. As such, we as architects might be accused of being fluent in NGO rhetoric, something that the urbanist Kai Vöckler calls “Donor Speak.”[xiv] Here, interventionist work does not emerge from a “neutral system of values,” but, in fact, “[its] goal is to align everything with the political aims of the donor” or stakeholders, who, more often than not, consist of a first-world audience.

“Architecture is business as well as culture,”[xv] Fredric Jameson has claimed, and as such, projects are permanently locked into conflict between the tangible and the intangible, between that of costs and programme versus the articulation of local identity and culture. This is an exasperating paradox whereby the programmatic factors within the process of architectural design are prioritised, obfuscating an understanding of particular cultural practices. A paradox which Christopher Cripps, a practitioner in Ghana, also acknowledges suggesting “a slice from the budget of any construction project be used to force attention on its cultural context.”[xvi]

Form and aesthetics tend to dictate conversations about architecture and local identity. The architect and theorist Neal Leach acknowledges the complexity of how cultural identity may, or may not, influence architectural form, stating that “cultural identity, therefore, emerges as a complex field of operations that engages with—but is not defined by—cultural artifacts such as architecture.” Also addressing this issue, Homi Bhabba, a cultural theorist who writes about postcolonial identities, suggests an approach of “hybridity,” whereby a combination of multiple identities, not a fusion of them, is considered as a method to acknowledge divergent practices and traditions; in the case of architecture, as a consideration of contextualizing built form.[xvii]

As culture becomes increasingly globalized, and African identity subsequently becomes more watered down, it is much harder to define the purpose and give clarity to one’s work within these muddied contexts. As such, the risks of running aground are greater as architecture, when done wrong, is incongruously invasive and culturally deleterious.

With these complexities and constraints in mind, it can be difficult to dispel fears of neocolonialism. To dispel the legacy of the so-called superiority of Western architectural practices one must make an effort to engage in a more meaningful manner. New architectural agendas, for instance, call for an attuned reflexivity toward the respective socioeconomic contexts in which they operate, yet still manage to deal with budgetary limitations and aesthetic, form-related inquiries into identity. Therefore, the approaches exhibited by new agendas of contemporary practice throughout Africa, in which the “application of universal principles to local conditions”[xviii] is no longer the dominant mode of thinking, are all the more critical.

It is this era’s underwriting of service to society within architecture as a profession that sets it apart from the former, postcolonial Empires of good practice. A forceful mode of practice that combats the legacies of colonialism impedes the threats of a globalized culture, but, most importantly, hopefully, stirs an elusive “creative awakening”[xix] in an emerging generation of African architects.

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Community centre under construction, Kimisagara. Courtesy Killian Doherty

 


[i] R. Windsor Liscombe, “Modernism in Late Imperial British West Africa: The Work of Maxwell Fry and Jane Drew, 1946–56,” Journal of the Society of Architectural Historians 65, no. 2 (June 2006), pp.188–215. Taken from Maxwell Fry’s biographer.

[iii] O. Uduku, “The Colonial Face of Educational Space,” in White Papers, Black Marks, ed. L. Lokko (London, 2000).

[iv] Nicky Gogan and Paul Rowley, Build Something Modern (Dublin, 2011), film, 70 min.

[v] K. Gutschow, “Das Neue Afrika: Ernst May’s 1947 Kampala Plan as Cultural Program,” in Colonial Architecture and Urbanism in Africa: Intertwined and Contested Histories, ed. F. Demissle (London, 2009).

[vi] Uduku, 2000.

[vii] Liscombe, 2006.

[viii] Ibid.

[ix] The Kigali Conceptual masterplan, Rwanda.

[x] Tatu City Masterplan, Kenya.

[xi] At the Munich Architecture Museum.

[xii] Liscombe, 2006.

[xiii] C. Achebe, “An Image of Africa,” Research in African Literatures 9, no. 1, Special Issue on Literary Criticism. (Spring 1978), pp. 1–15.

[xiv] K. Vöckler, Volume issue 4 (2010).

[xv] F. Jameson, “Is Space Political?,” in Rethinking Architecture, ed. N. Leach et al. (London, 1997).

[xvi] C. Cripps, (2003) “Architecture in Europe and the South: Some African Experiences,” paper delivered at the N-AERUS Annual Seminar, Beyond the Neo-Liberal Consensus on Urban Development: Other Voices from Europe and the South, Paris, 2003, Network-Association of European Researchers on Urbanization in the South (website), http://www.n-aerus.net/web/sat/workshops/2003/papers/docs/13.pdf (accessed on June 5, 2013)

[xvii] N. Leach, “Belonging: Towards a Theory of Identification with Place,” Prospecta 33 (2002), pp. 126–33; and “‘Belonging,’ London: Postcolonial City,” AA Files 49 (2003), pp. 76–82.

[xviii] Liscombe, 2006.

[xix] E. Ihejirika, “Identity as Intensive Continuity,” in White Papers, Black Marks, ed. L. Lokko (London, 2000).

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This post appears in full in the catalogue accompanying the forthcoming exhibition ‘Afritecture – Building Social Change’ to be held at Munich Architecture Museum, 14 September 2013 to 12 January 2014.

‘Aim for the moon’

Jane Drew

In about 1991, Jane Drew lectured to students at the Hull School of Architecture and advised them to ‘aim for the moon’. Drew gave a good overview of her life and career, showing images of her work at Chandigarh, Ibadan University and in Iran. During this period she was writing her biography, although never published, and similar ideas and themes are present in the lecture here: most notably, her willingness to work hard and make mistakes, and her (perceived) luck in becoming an architect. Of being a woman architect, she said: ‘I think its a bit like making a monkey draw. If a monkey can draw it’s wonderful. If a woman can do something well it’s … I think being a woman is really a help or has been, rather than otherwise.’

A transcript of the interview has been kindly sent in by Malcolm Dickson and can be downloaded here: Drew Lecture at Hull, c1991

‘The Influence of Fry and Drew’ Conference, Keynote 2

Elizabeth Darling, ‘The Conditions for an Architecture for To-day: A discussion of the inter-war architectural scene in England’

Taking its cue from the title of a 1938 lecture by Wells Coates, this paper considers the conditions that created the generation of architects in inter-war England that included Jane Drew and Maxwell Fry. Its ultimate concern is to offer some conclusions about how such conditions shaped Fry and Drew’s desire to transform space and society in particular, and, at a broader level, the nature of English modernism as a whole.

The paper will explore several conditions in order to achieve this goal. Chief among them are the educational contexts in which Drew and Fry studied, and hence what this might tell us about the modernisms they would practise. Among the earliest of the generation of women to train professionally, Drew attended the Architectural Association at a time when it was just beginning its shift towards a more avowedly ‘modern’ stance. Fry, by contrast, was a product of the Liverpool Beaux-Arts system that the AA would eschew not long after Drew graduated.  Important too, were the intellectual milieux which the pair inhabited, and their friendship networks. This is evident in the comradeship of Coates and Fry, an alliance forged following their first meeting some time in 1923-4. Out of this emerged a commitment to training themselves in modern culture and to make connections with allied avant-garde groups, a strategy which allowed them to become the natural leaders of an institutionalising English modern movement. Drew, likewise, shared a network of progressive friends – such as the Communist architect Justin Blanco White –an engagement particularly with modern art, and an equal skill at organisation and propagandising, something which did much to keep the movement alive during the war years.

Referencing other collaborations, and key inter-war architectural projects, particularly by Fry, the paper concludes its concern to contextualise the English side of Drew and Fry’s modernism.

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Elizabeth Darling works on 20th century British architectural history with a particular interest in inter-war modernism, social housing, and gender. She has published on the nature of authorship in the design process; the innovative practices of the inter-war voluntary housing sector, the housing consultant Elizabeth Denby and the relationship between citizenship and the reform of domestic space in inter-war Britain. Her book, on British architectural modernism, Re-forming Britain: Narratives of Modernity before Reconstruction, was published by Routledge in early 2007 while an edited volume (with Lesley Whitworth), Women and the Making of Built Space in England, 1870-1950 was published by Ashgate in autumn 2007. Her research focuses on three main areas: the link between urban renewal and social (especially child welfare) reform in the slums of Edinburgh in the early 20th century; the arena in which progressive ideas about design and space were developed and disseminated in 1920s Britain, and an in-depth study of the work and life of the architect-engineer Wells Wintemute Coates, which research is supported by funding from the Paul Mellon Centre for the Study of British Art and the RIBA Research Trust. She is most recently the author of Wells Coates, published by the RIBA in collaboration with the 20th Century Society & English Heritage (2012).

Village Housing in the Tropics: With Special Reference to West Africa

The seminal book on Tropical Architecture by Jane Drew and Maxwell Fry has been republished by Routledge 66 years after its first edition was bravely produced by Lund Humpries.

villagehousing

The slender volume loaded with Fry’s cartoons and sketches became an instant hit, with its engaging insights and empirical findings.  It was not aimed at the specialist or technician, rather the generalist and interested reader looking for quick tips to solve familiar problems. The book gives pragmatic advice on the siting of villages, housing orientation and matters relating to sanitation and health. Although the content was far from novel or radical, it presented previously dry and mundane material in a manner that was easy to understand, and encouraged greater attention to be given to the everyday housing problems of West Africa.

The book was used by Fry and Drew as a promotional tool,  they included a copy along with their CV’s when applying to be considered for the University of Ibadan project and it almost certainly influenced their consideration for Chandigarh. It set them apart from others working in tropical regions,  and with its emphasis on village housing firmly aligned them with the Colonial Office’s desire to promote ‘Development and Welfare’.

It almost goes without saying, but the publication was a product of its time and formed part of the colonial enterprise. Within the front and back endpapers of the book a map of the world is coloured to highlight Britain’s Colonial territories, highlighting where the book’s advice could be dispensed and treating all ‘tropical’ territories as one and the same irrespective of their specific contexts and climatic variations.

Available to purchase here: Village Housing in the Tropics: With Special Reference to West Africa (Studies in International Planning History)

‘The Influence of Fry and Drew’ Conference, Keynote 1

Hilde Heynen, ‘Modernism, colonialism and feminism. Theoretical reflections on the entanglements in the life and work of Jane Drew’.

The entanglement between modernism and colonialism has been a topic of serious consideration in recent decades. Following the lead of Edward Said, it is argued that colonial discourse was intrinsic to European self-understanding: it is through their conquest and their knowledge of foreign peoples and territories (two experiences which usually were intimately linked), that Europeans could position themselves as modern, as civilized, as superior, as developed and progressive vis-à-vis local populations that were none of that. The crucial – if often only implicit – role of colonial discourse in the endeavour of modernism thus has to be acknowledged. Likewise it seems that modernism and feminism are in some sort of entanglement: they share – at least – the ideals of emancipation and liberation for all, although it is also clear that modernist discourse favours male protagonists and masculine interests.

Jane Drew as a person and an architect found herself in the midst of these entanglements. As a committed participant in the Modern Movement, she was engaged in questions of housing in the UK as well as elsewhere, in British colonies or ex-colonies. Her commitment to the Modern Movement was not contradictory to, but rather continuous with, her service to the colonial state. Her involvement in the construction of Chandigarh was also consistent with the hegemonic position of modernism, criticized by later postcolonial thinkers. As one of the very few active woman architects of her generation, she must have encountered quite some antagonism and sexism from colleagues, clients and superiors.

This lecture will ponder these entanglements, inquiring about Jane Drew’s position as a woman architect in the tropics, investigating whether the ‘colonial’ conditions offered her a kind of laboratory for deploying her full capacities as an architect, which might have been more difficult in the more conventional environment of the UK. The lecture will not focus on the life and work of Jane Drew as such, but rather use these as a starting point for developing some theoretical reflections.

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Hilde Heynen is Full Professor and Chair of the Department of Architecture, Urbanism and Planning at the University of Leuven. Her research focuses on issues of modernity, modernism and gender in architecture. She is the author of Architecture and Modernity. A Critique (MIT Press, 1999) and the co-editor of Back from Utopia. The Challenge of the Modern Movement (with Hubert-Jan Henket, 010, 2001), Negotiating Domesticity. Spatial productions of gender in modern architecture (with Gulsum Baydar, Routledge, 2005) and The SAGE Handbook Architectural Theory (with Greig Crysler and Stephen Cairns, Sage, 2012). She regularly publishes in journals such as The Journal of Architecture and Home Cultures.