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Inês Nunes is a PhD student at University of Coimbra, Portugal and is investigating, “The Social Within the Tropical: Jane Drew and Minnette de Silva designing an inclusive modernism in the tropics”. Here’s an update on a recent visit to the RIBA archive.

“My dearest, darling Jane”: unfolding Fry and Drew Papers

In a conversational tone, Maxwell Fry addresses Jane Drew from the ‘remote’ mid-1940s Accra. “Darling Max”, she replicates. Their correspondence, a lively itinerary from West Africa, India, Iran, or Mauritius, belongs to a treasure chest named Fry and Drew Papers. It is accessible, along with unrivaled archival material, in the RIBA Architecture Study Rooms of the Victoria & Albert Museum (London).

Love notes handwritten on hotel letterheads, diaries displaying candid reflections about life, and memoirs manuscripted on paper bags are entangled with professional-wise material. Included are lectures and articles revealing narratives about architecture, extraordinarily illustrated with colourful drawings or sharp pencil sketches. Both are complemented by miscellaneous data: postcards, press cuttings, administrative files, address books… The characters gain life in every opened box. Their voices echo through calligraphies, signatures, ideas.

In its uniqueness, Fry and Drew Papers are an overwhelming resource regarding the life and work of both architects and an efficient record of the dynamic of their global scope partnership. Even so, it excels. Flexible and embracing enough to accommodate diverse interests and aims, unpublished personal letters, diaries, and autobiographies provide captivating details to any enthusiast – for instance, Fry’s diary was only made accessible in 2021. Furthermore, the archive is a source of knowledge about British historiography and significant architectural thematics: the MARS Group, the Modern Movement, Tropical Architecture, and Chandigarh are noteworthy.

Overall, the research was a privilege and the expectations were exceeded. My deep gratitude to Dr. Shireen Mahdavi for supporting this endeavour. The wealth of these primary sources allows an experience that couldn’t have been more rewarding. By immersing in Fry and Drew’s universe, how inspiring becomes their lifetime of respect and companionship, the robustness of their practice, and the profound vow to “produce towns and housing that will be loved, lived in and cared for” (Drew, F&D/27/2).

Invented Modernisms: Getting to Grips with Modernity in Three African State Buildings
Kuukuwa ManfulInnocent Batsani-NcubeJulia Gallagher

Jubilee House, Accra, Ghana. Source: Julia Gallagher, March 2019

This article examines recent attempts to create specifically African forms of modernist political architecture that draw on ‘traditional’ or ‘pre-colonial’ aesthetic forms and ideas. Taking examples of three prestigious structures – the presidential palace in Ghana, the parliament in Malawi and the Northern Cape regional parliament in South Africa – the article shows how vernacular ideas have been incorporated into state-of-the-art political architecture, producing new or explicitly ‘African’ forms of modernism. It explores how such buildings, which draw on ‘invented traditions’, are used alongside conventional, monolithic representations of the state to produce ‘invented modernisms’ that both uphold and question the African state as a project of modernity.

Read the full article here: https://doi.org/10.1111/cura.12505

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

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

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

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

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

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

Seminar convenors:

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

PROGRAMME
TUESDAY 2 MARCH

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

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

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

Speakers:

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

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

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

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

Speakers:

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

TUESDAY 9 MARCH

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

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

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

Speakers:

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

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

‘The architectural production of India’s everyday modernism: middle-class housing in Pune, 1960-1980’ in Architecture Beyond Europe Journal, no.16, 2019.

Sarah Melsens, Inge Bertels et Amit Srivastava

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Architects United, Freestanding Bungalow for Mrs. Shroff, Pune, 1966

The large-scale appropriation of modernist architectural features in everyday housing projects in postcolonial India is remarkable. This article examines how regional architects adapted their engagement with architectural modernism to the evolving circumstances of architectural production within the context of the developing world. Drawing on Pierre Bourdieu’s “field theory”, it presents a detailed case study of two decades of residential work by Architects United, a medium-scale architectural practice founded in the Indian city of Pune in 1961. While the architects’ earliest projects demonstrated an opportunity and desire for architectural innovation, this approach became increasingly restricted as new patterns for housing provision emerged, resulting in a more subdued and hybrid form of modernist architecture. The paper makes use of the architects’ previously undisclosed archive and oral history to demonstrate that these architectural adaptations were the indirect result of governance practices and societal change, particularly the government’s stimulation of co-operative housing initiatives and the emergence of a postcolonial middle class with distinct housing expectations. As such, this “peripheral” case exposes some of the processes that have been overlooked in the rhetoric of Architectural Modernism as a Western import in India, which is primarily centered around the discussion of exceptional public building commissions by “global experts” or their Indian disciples. The paper further highlights the need to investigate the processes of architectural production, in addition to the built product itself, so that a pluralistic rather than romanticized understanding of architectural practice may emerge.

The full article is freely available here: https://doi.org/10.4000/abe.7011

Otto Koenigsberger & Global Histories of Modernism by Vandana Baweja

Thursday 28 November 6pm – 7.30pm

Room 106 – Birkbeck School of Arts
43 Gordon Square, London WC1H 0PD

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Otto H. Koenigsberger (1908–1999) was a German émigré architect who worked as the state architect in princely Mysore in British India in the 1940s. Upon emigration to London in 1951, he subsequently became an educator of Tropical Architecture (1954–1971) at the Architectural Association School of Architecture.

This presentation by Vandana Baweja (University of Florida) examines how Koenigsberger’s career can illuminate “global” as a paradigm in modernist historiography.
Book Tickets (free)

An Update from Takoradi, Ghana

We started at the Takoradi Train Station, completed by 1928 as part of the coastal rail and docklands development. The train lines were initially constructed to transport cash crops, minerals and metals from the northern agricultural and mining districts to the awaiting ships, sheltered in the newly constructed breakwater and deep water harbour. When we visited in 2012 the train station was completely derelict and not in use. Today we found it carefully restored and new tracks laid. The plan is to reuse it for a local transport network. We walked up the hill to the small commercial district made up of international banks and a post and telegrams office. The mishmash of styles reveals the incremental development, as well as the fierce competition between the banks eager to differentiate themselves from the competition.

The former European hospital clock tower up on the hill overlooks the banks and docklands, as well as benefiting from the cooling sea breeze.

We drove to the 1920s part of Takoradi, a major new town extension that was built to accompany the docks development of that time. This portion of the town was primarily for the African population, although it also contains the Lasdun designed Bank of Ghana [built 1957]. Lasdun was also the architect of the National Museum in Accra. The bank was vacant when we visited in 2012, but now it stands in a state of complete dereliction, its fine materials and fixings being stripped from the building. This is a real tragedy. It was once an outstanding building, recorded in the Architecture journals of the day and surely one of Lasdun’s greatest works from this period.

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Somewhat downbeat, we bid farewell to the bank, and made our way to the rond-point in the middle of the town. The map was deceiving, as this was built as a major market place – our driver told us it was one of the largest markets in West Africa. It had the feel of Kariakoo market  in Dar es Salaam, and also contains a delightful little PWD post office with its signage graphics still intact.

Adjacent to the market is Amanful Village. Laid out in 1922-3 it is a mixed use area of housing and commercial properties. The basic PWD-type houses and layout remained in place, but more wealthy owners had transformed much of the upper part of the estate to suburban housing.

We then went to the Takoradi Technical Institute, shown above (Left, b+w) in the Africa Through a Lens Collection at the UK National Archives. There is a forcefulness to this scheme that takes the familiar two storey gallery access format, and emboldens into more ‘clunky’ yet determined architectural-structural forms.

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Nearby is the Effiekuma housing and the Effia Nkwanta hospital. The hospital has evolved overtime from a European hospital-cum-sanatorium in the colonial period, to a major health provider today. The careful layering and response to the site contours offers delightful views as well as a most welcome breeze to all the small structures that each have a view of the docks. At the top of the hill is a large brutalist extension that dates from c. late 1960s early 1970s. But who designed it?

As part of our British Academy Internationalisation and Mobility grant Iain Jackson and Ola Uduku visited Rexford Opong at KNUST in March (we included some brief updates here: Notes from Kumasi and Notes from Kumasi: part 2 and also Notes from Kumasi Part 3). We were fortunate enough to visit the Estate Planning Department and drawing offices and photographed some of the original drawings made of the university estate and buildings. Whilst every effort is being made to carefully preserve these drawings they have been subject to the ravages of time, humidity and vermin attack and many are in a poor state of repair. They are unlikely to survive for much longer.

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Drawing of the First Floor Senior Staff Club House, KNUST

In an attempt to remedy and counter this we are putting together an ‘Archives in Danger’ grant that, if successful, will enable these important artefacts to be digitally scanned/carefully photographed and then carefully preserved and archived for future scholarship.

In the meantime we’ve used the photographed drawings to produce a series of new CAD files. Pedro Bittencourt, a student based at Liverpool School of Architecture, has worked dilligently on translating the imperial scales into a metric format and has produced all of the new drawings. He has then used these drawings to construct a beautiful scale model of the Club House, utilising a laser cutter as to form the delicate components.

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Pedro with the completed scale model

We’re hoping to produce additional models of other buildings on campus that can be used in exhibitions and as part of our lecture series.

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Are the pleas to save Delhi’s iconic Pragati Maidan falling on deaf ears?

by 

The pleas against the “mindless destruction” have been met with deaf ears.

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Last year, architect and planner Arun Rewal started a petition on Change.org to appeal to Prime Minister Narendra Modi to save three iconic buildings in Delhi’s Pragati Maidan from demolition. The Hall of Nations, Hall of Industries and Nehru Pavilion, the petition says, are acknowledged the world over as “icons of modernity”. To raze them would be to destroy a part of our heritage.

The Indian Institute of Architects made a similar plea around the same time. “We have learnt that some of the iconic structures… which stood testimony to the nation’s prowess in structural engineering and architecture… are being demolished,” the national body of architects said in a letter to the Indian government. It beseeched against the razing of the structures.

By all signs, the entreaties have swayed nobody.

It was in November 2015 that the demolition of the exhibition halls at Pragati Maidan, under a redevelopment project proposed by Commerce Ministry’s India Trade Promotion Organisation, was confirmed. In their stead, the government plans to construct a state-of-the-art convention centre, a hotel and a parking lot – much to the horror of Indian architects.

In a written reply to the Lok Sabha in 2015, Commerce and Industry Minister Nirmala Sitharaman said, “As per preliminary details of phase-I, it is proposed to develop 100,000 sq. m. of exhibition space and a 7,000 seater convention centre along with support facilities and parking space for 4,800 passenger cars. Other details, such as funding and schedule of completion, are yet to be firmed up.”

The threatened buildings were constructed between 1969 and 1972, the year independent India turned 25. Designed by architect Raj Rewal, Arun Rewal’s uncle, and engineer Mahendra Raj, the three structures were held up as symbols of a progressive India and they have gained iconicity for their modern architecture.

Anyone who has grown up in the national capital knows them intimately. Most Delhiites have visited the buildings during one fair or another at Pragati Maidan, be it a book fair, auto expo (before it shifted to Noida) or trade fair. Just walking through the zig-zag, fenced path leading up to Pragati Maidan’s ticket counter, dragging a tote bag (or four) for books, is enough to inspire nostalgia in many.

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Raj Rewal in front of the Hall of Nations

The Hall of Nations was designed by Raj Rewal in the traditional jali (mesh) form to serve as a sun breaker. As architect Malini Kochupillai wrote, the buildings “had an effective system of environmental control, thanks to the three-dimensional structure, with solid triangular panels at regular intervals providing sunscreens – a modern equivalent of the traditional jali ubiquitous in Indian architecture ” . The modernist icons were built despite the constraints of time and material.

Raj Rewal was awarded the French Knight of the Legion of Honour, the highest civilian distinction, in March for his outstanding service to the country. It is ironic that the award comes at a time when his best-known creation in India is about to be pulled down.

“It is not just me who wants these buildings left up,” said Raj Rewal. “The entire architectural profession thinks it is an important part of New Delhi and that it will be in everyone’s best interest if these are not demolished. It has been showcased all over the world in exhibitions as a model for 20th century architecture. These need to survive. They are a reflection of what India was in the 1970s. Destroying them would be like destroying any historic building.”

When various bodies representing art and architecture in India and around the world – the Indian Institute of Architects, the Centre national d’art et de culture Georges Pompidou in Paris, and New York’s Museum of Modern Art – got to know about the demolition proposal, they wrote letters to Sitharaman, asking that the architectural sites be preserved.

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The Nehru Pavilion

“The Hall of Nations is known in Europe as in United States as the first large-scale spatial structure in concrete in the world,” writes MoMA in its letter. “Built in a time of great optimism for the future, both structures were seminal in forging a new, modern identity for Indian society and architecture. They are architectural masterpieces and important witnesses of an important chapter of Indian history.”

In another letter, Aurelien Lemonier of Centre Pompidou, which houses the largest museum for modern art in Europe, requests the preservation and maintenance of these structures: “From our understanding, the Hall of Nations and the Nehru Pavilion should be considered as a major heritage of the post-independence architecture and need to be preserved. We want then to express our support and our wish to contribute to the recognition of these two great pieces of architecture and their proper maintenance as part of the architectural heritage.”

There has been no response to the letters from the India Trade Promotion Organisation or from the office of Nirmala Sitharaman.

“It is a part of the city’s memory and people should care because it is a space that belongs to people,” said Arun Rewal. “The importance and potential of the building would be obvious to me even if I wasn’t an architect. The Hall of Nations is a space that can be used in a million different ways. It could be the new Jantar Mantar where the public could stage protests. It could be a new city hall of sorts. It is a little rundown but it’s nothing that can’t be fixed and definitely doesn’t warrant its demolition.”

Arun Rewal stressed that there are very few covered public spaces in Delhi where people can go, sit, and hang out. The Hall of Nations can be adapted for any of these various uses, he says.

According to historian and photographer Ram Rahman, the demolition of the Pragati Maidan structures, especially of the Nehru Pavilion, is ideological in nature. His architect father Habib Rahman is credited with several buildings built under Jawaharlal Nehru’s leadership. “It is a part of a concerted effort to demolish Nehru’s legacy and symbols of Nehru’s modern India,” said Rahman. “It is a part of India’s collective cultural heritage. When these were constructed in 1972, there was no question of the general public not knowing about its existence. The problem is that the public has never been made to think of contemporary architecture as heritage. They need to be educated in the importance of these buildings.”

Architects have noted that there is sufficient space within Pragati Maidan and around the threatened buildings, which take no more than about 3% of the 150 acres of Pragati Maidan, to accommodate new programmes and “adaptive reuses”.

“Efforts should be made to update these spaces with modern facilities and amenities rather than let weak arguments, such as ‘lack of air conditioning’, become reasons for their demolition,” said Arun Rewal. “Just because these buildings are old doesn’t mean they need to be removed. You won’t get rid of your elderly grandmother because she is taking up space, would you?”

Republished from: http://scroll.in/article/806025/are-the-pleas-to-save-pragati-maidan-falling-on-deaf-ears

Notes from Kumasi Part 2

The KNUST campus continued to delight as we explored its many building types, landscape and wildlife. The staff housing [over twenty different types], is generally low density bungalows generously positioned along the sweeping roads to the west of the campus. The Vice-Chancellor’s lodge is also set amongst the staff housing, its pierced screen providing shading to the verandah-cum-corridor behind.

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Vice-Chancellor’s Lodge

At Unity Hall, the two high-rise accommodation blocks dominate the arrangement, but they also frame the quadrangle that contains badminton courts, refectory and other social spaces. The space is also commandeered for laundry drying and we observed architecture students surveying the landscaped elements with their drawing boards set up under the shade of the loggia. Just a short walk from Unity is the sports track and Paa Joe Stadium. The seating is set within the raked landscape and the grandstand has a graceful concertinaed concrete roof that reduces in depth as it cantilevers over the seating.

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Unity Hall

We were fortunate enough to view the architectural drawings of these buildings – but sadly, the climate has rendered them in a poor state and plans for digitization must be urgently progressed to preserve this important archive of material.

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Paa Joe Stadium

Off campus we visited the Manhyia Palace built in 1925. Upon returning from exile the Ashantehene Nana Prempeh 1 was offered the building by the British (the former palace having been destroyed in the ‘War of the Golden Stool’ in 1900). The palace is now a museum with some excellent artifacts and collections. The palace grounds also contain the Manhyia archives, managed by the West African Studies department of Legon University. The archives contain records dating back to 1926 including many documents on land development, sanitation, state buildings and town planning. We’re looking forward to seeing what this archive holds – an initial inspection revealed many plans and previously untapped material!

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Manhyia Palace Museum