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Beyond postcolonialism: New directions for the history of nonwestern architecture

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

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

Abstract

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

 

Keywords

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

 

 

1. Introduction

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

 

  1. Historiography

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

 

  1. New directions

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

  1. Conclusion

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

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

 

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‘The Influence of Fry and Drew’ Conference, Abstract 17

Tim Livsey, ‘Fry and Drew at Ibadan: rethinking the “colonial modern”‘

This paper considers Fry and Drew’s buildings for University College Ibadan (UCI), Nigeria. These buildings have often recently been interpreted as part of a post-war ‘colonial modern’ moment, which saw a pact between rationalist urban planning and authoritarian colonial power. Colonial modern planning, including Fry and Drew’s work at Ibadan, has been interpreted as excluding indigenous voices from planning and upholding colonial power.

The paper uses the history of the UCI buildings to qualify colonial modern interpretations. It shows how Nigerian agendas influenced the planning of the buildings through a long pre-history of Nigerian thinking on higher education, and the acquisition of the site, which involved negotiations between the colonial state and local chiefs. Fractures within the colonial establishment are considered, including those between architects and client, suggesting that there was not an integrated colonial modern machine. The unexpected variety in the buildings’ reception and use is also considered, to explore the ways the buildings were interpreted by Nigerians.

However, the paper also endorses aspects of the colonial modern view, showing how Fry and Drew’s apparently apolitical ‘modern’ spaces were closely imbricated with colonial-era urbanism and constructions of whiteness. As such the buildings represented an ambivalent legacy to a decolonizing country.

..

Tim Livsey is an AHRC funded PhD student at Birkbeck College, University of London. He is currently completing a thesis on ‘The University Age: Development and Decolonisation in Nigeria, 1930 to 1966’, which makes special reference to built environments, including Fry and Drew’s work at the University of Ibadan.

‘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.

..

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.

‘The Influence of Fry and Drew’ Conference, Abstract 12

Claire Louise Staunton and James Price, ‘Subverting modernism through autonomous urbanism’

The film Corrections and Omissions (2013, James Price) presents two cases of anarchic urbanism in contemporary Chandigarh. The first concerns the domestic dwellings built for low and mid-rank government employees in Sector 22, designed by Jane Drew & Maxwell Fry. Residents have defied the Chandigarh edict on a small scale by adapting the buildings to their individual and family needs; by altering the room size, use and the building shape as well as permitting “homeless” low caste families to squat on their allocated land in exchange for services such as cleaning, guarding or ironing.

Secondly, the film introduces to the viewer the off-grid village of Burail. In a struggle to keep perfect order and perfect form within the 56 sectors that make up the city, the temporary slums which appear on the fringes of the grid are systematically flattened by the state. The exceptions to this are the villages that pre-date the arrival of Le Corbusier and his team, and still exist enclosed by the masterplan. Burail lies in the centre of sector 45. Its community has persistently defied all planning regulations, is built along an irregular, diagonal axis; its thoroughfares and alleyways missing from the official city map.

The paper unpacks and allies these two examples of anarchic architecture as a subaltern creation of complex spaces, which subvert the grid, and disrupt several current narratives that de-politicise or renew colonialism. Such urbanism operates within an alternative economy outside of the dominant forces of capital and development and is an inherently political act. The paper proposes that these practices expose the contradiction between the principles of indigenous architecture (Drew 1963, Drew & Fry 1964) which insisted upon learning from the vernacular thus adapting designs for the needs and habits of future Chandigarh residents and the modernist imperative to uphold the truth of materials, which guards pure design from “from whims of individuals” (Chandigarh Edict). Furthermore, this paper suggests that the increasing heritagisation of Drew & Fry’s buildings are antithetical to their ambitions for their architecture and renders the planned districts de-politicised.

..

Claire Louise Staunton is the director/curator of Inheritance Projects and Flat Time House, London. Inheritance is a small group of independent curators and researchers (Laura Guy, Becky Ayre) that organises exhibitions, events, new commissions, publications and research projects. Initiated in 2007 as a vehicle to interrogate museological schemata, the narrations of history and personal and national heritage Inheritance has developed into wider territories of investigation. Inheritance works with artists, musicians and writers in collaboration with institutions to produce new knowledges and develop politically informed, critical discourses around particular topics or situations. The exchange between Inheritance curators with filmmakers, artists, writers, residents and historical artefacts offers a multiperspectival narration by a number of speakers from different places and times.

Inheritance leads a long-term investigation of the visual culture of intentionally planned urban areas (New Towns) and their migrant populations. This research project has involved a project space in Shenzhen which served to question heritage and art history in a new migrant city, an exhibition and ‘Research Lab’ unpacking the theoretical and practical applications of community at MK Gallery, Milton Keynes and more recently a performative presentation concerning the willing blindness of new developments, at Sarai, New Delhi. Other key project areas include the destabilisation of heritage through artists’ activities often redressing colonial, feminist and wider political histories in the contemporary. This has included a residency programme with the National Trust, a radio show and exhibitions in traditional museum spaces.

James Price is a documentary and experimental filmmaker who has been working with Inheritance Projects since 2010. Price’s films have been shown on the BBC, Channel 4, and More4, in art exhibitions and international film festivals. Television projects include the mini-series What is Freedom? (Channel 4, 2009) a critical investigation of liberty and freedom in USA, and A Piece of the Moon (Channel 4 / More 4, 2008) an exploration of the capitalising of outer-space and the agents who are establishing the market. The People In Order series (Channel 4, 2006) has gone on to be shown at festivals in the UK, Germany, the Netherlands, Poland, Australia and the USA and was the first series of 3 Minute Wonders to be selected by Channel 4 in their annual review of work. James Price has also exhibited video installations and photography in the UK. His 2006 installation, Conversation, an exploration of human interaction and judgment, has shown in the UK, Canada, the USA, and Iran. This work is being distributed as an educational aid in the UK, Australia and North America. In 2012 he produced The Body Adorned a semi-permanent installation in the Anthropology Department at the Horniman Museum, London.

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.

Image_5

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.

Building a New Middle East – Israeli architect in Iran

Neta Feniger

bandar abbas and bushehr

Models of the neighborhoods in Bushehr (left) and Bandar Abbas (right)

In the spring of 1972 representatives of the Iranian Navy arrived in Israel in search of an architect. The Navy was building bases on the shores of the Persian Gulf and when the facilities were almost completed, it was realized that no accommodation had been provided for the troops and their families. The Israeli construction firm assigned to the project suggested employing an Israeli architect known for speedy planning and implementation skills acquired during nation-building.

The Israeli-Iranian relations (1950-1979) opened up a new market for Israeli architects and construction companies for whom work in Iran was a chance to extend professional enterprise in the Middle East. Iran was in the midst of modernization, and was looking for foreign professionals with high levels of expertise. Israelis were looking for work as the Israeli market declined after the years of intense nation building. In the course of two decades (mainly the 1960s and 1970s) Israeli architects were involved in varied projects in Iran, demonstrating manifold approaches for adjusting their practice acquired back home.

The Navy project was one of the bigger projects by Israeli architects in Iran. The Israeli architect, Dan Eitan (1931-) was chosen especially by Navy representatives on account of his housing project in Israel. Nevertheless, Eitan saw this project as an opportunity to rectify modernism and make it more considerate of cultural and social needs and of local environmental conditions.

The project was planned in three locations, Bandar Abbas and Bushehr – then small fishing towns – and the island of Kahrg where a major oil port was already operating. At the latter site, Eitan’s project consisted of a few dwelling units. For Bandar Abbas and Bushehr it included a master plan, detailed town plans, designing three types of housing, infrastructures, and neighbourhood amenities. The Navy planning office provided a brief programme specifying different dwelling units for different ranks, including densities and unit sizes. The final plans for all three sites amounted to about 12,000 dwelling units and the required amenities. Some of the buildings, such as mosques and the admiral’s villa, were included in Eitan’s plans but they were designed by Iranian architects.

Hadish in Bandar Abbas

Google Earth image of Bandar Abbas, marked – the area built according to Eitan’s plan.

bushehr 2

Bushehr during construction (1975): in front detached houses, in the middle 4 floor housing and 15 storey buildings in the background.

Eitan’s scheme followed Israeli town-planning models of the time, avoiding street grids and creating building clusters with public and semi-public areas. This was very different from the pattern of the surrounding built-up areas, which is still distinguishable in the overall developed areas. The housing design was modular, with different module units for each housing type. The 15-storey building comprised 100 split-level apartments. Each mezzanine floor included 4 apartments radiating out from the elevator shaft. The four-storey buildings were comprised of modular units linked to each other like dominoes on each side, resulting in the creation of semi-public enclosed courtyards. Single-family detached houses for senior officers varied in design, to allow flexibility of purpose, had fiberglass-covered pedestrian atria between them. The whole neighbourhood was connected by shaded pathways leading for the community amenities.

Attention to the harsh local climate was of main concern. Eitan, assisted by an Israeli climate planning expert, integrated new techniques for moderating heat and glare in homes and public areas. The local amenities were carefully planned with inner patios and shaded outdoor spaces. The cultural centre (which was never built) was to be surrounded by a moat, with a bridged entrance, and external concrete prisms shading the windows.

bandar abas officers

Fibreglass covered pedestrian walks in Bandar Abbas

tarbut perspective

Perspective of plan for Bandar Abbas cultural centre (never built)

Eitan, unlike many of his Israeli contemporaries, never adopted vernacular elements in his design, neither in Israel nor in Iran. For him, the quest for the locale was not a question of appearance, but of deep cultural understanding of the society in which he worked, and a desire to create architecture appropriate to local needs and conditions. Thus, his project in Iran was not about representing Iranian culture, but about understanding this culture and how its inhabitants lived. He even consulted a psychologist, trying to comprehend the experience of women left behind for long periods of time when their men are at sea, and created a community centre designed to accommodate their needs.

Sensitivity to local tradition was part of Eitan’s intention to make modern architecture less intrusive. He felt that his professional integrity, especially as a Haraji – a stranger, and a Jew – demanded sensitivity and respect for his clients and their Muslim tradition. The location of the bathrooms is an example of his attitude. According to Iranian Islamic law, all bathrooms should face away from Mecca, i.e. in accordance with the geographic position of Tehran, should be in the north-east corner of the house. However, since the Gulf lies further to the south, he pointed out that the south-eastern location was more correct and insisted on obtaining religious authorization for the bathrooms’ new location.

For Eitan, architectural modernism was a means of creating better living environments. In the Navy Project, however, his approach to modernism often became a point of friction with his employers. The navy’s officials explained that he had been hired as a foreign expert, based on his architectural achievements in Israel. Eitan, however, was striving for socio-cultural harmony in his projects, while the Iranians required a plan that would provide the necessary amenities, and be easily implemented in the fastest way possible. Eitan explains:

“At one point the Navy asked me why the project wasn’t moving faster. I told them that I needed to learn their culture. They said – ‘No. Bring your own culture. That’s why we hired you’. But I told them I only brought my profession. I merged my culture with theirs and then integrated it in the plan.”(Eitan in interview- August 2010)

In Israel, Eitan rarely had a chance to work with clients, since he was building housing for new immigrants who had not yet arrived. In Iran he received detailed information concerning prospective users, and was able to get acquainted with his clients, and plan for their needs.

Eitan’s approach was universal, but at the same time local and specific, though the project was also greatly influenced by Israeli architectural discourse of the time. It was not an Israeli-Iranian hybrid, mainly because Israeli architecture had no apparent tradition, and Eitan did not seem to be influenced by contemporary or traditional Iranian architecture.The Navy Project was specifically planned for a specific location and users, but was nonetheless modernist and universal.

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This post is based on the article: Neta Feniger& Rachel Kallus (2013): “Building a ‘new Middle East’: Israeli architects in Iran in the 1970s”, The Journal of Architecture, 18:3, 381-401. Materials are with permission of architect Dan Eitan, who I would like to thank for his kindness and full access to his archive and memory.

‘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.

CFP Deadline Extended

Jane and Max on beach in N Wales001

**ABSTRACT DEADLINE EXTENDED TO SUNDAY 9TH JUNE 2013**

Thanks for your great response to the call for papers.

We have received a few late entries this week, so if you’ve missed the 2nd June deadline but would like to submit a proposal, please send in your abstract by the 9th of June and we’ll add it to the pile… Thanks!

Notifications will be still sent out by mid-June, with details of speakers and a conference programme to follow.

The Alan Vaughan Richards Archive Project

Ola Uduku and Hannah Le Roux

13.4.30_AVR House Interior

Alan Vaughan-Richards House Main Living Room Interior, photo for Nigerian Interiors Magazine.

The Alan Vaughan Richards archive project seeks to preserve, record and archive the works of the late British-Nigerian Architect, Alan Vaughan-Richards (1925-89). Its ultimate aim is to make available a digital and physical archive of Vaughan-Richards work to the public. This archive, comprising drawings, artefacts, and texts will be made accessible to the public to view online, or by visiting the renovated Alan Vaughan-Richards house in Ikoyi, Lagos. The Vaughan-Richards House, built by the architect in the 1960’s, is acknowledged as a unique example of West Africa tropical modernist architecture.

The archiving project is being funded by the British Academy with a further University of Edinburgh research grant held by Ola Uduku, at the University of Edinburgh, with Hannah Le Roux, at the University of the Witwatersrand, along with financial and logistical support from the Goethe Institute in Lagos and Remi Vaughan-Richards, Alan’s daughter. In 2012 over 300 drawings and other artefacts were brought from Alan Vaughan Richards’ home office in Lagos to be digitized and preserved for archiving. In September 2012 a short exhibition showing the work completed in digitizing the first batch of artefacts, and documenting Alan Vaughan-Richards’ career and life in Lagos was presented at the Matthew Gallery at the University of Edinburgh. This digital archive is held in the name of the Vaughan-Richards family in Edinburgh. The Alan Vaughan Richards blog was created as part of this process.

At the same time as the exhibition, Candice Keeling from Katholieke Universiteit Leuven documented the condition of the existing house in-situ and created as-built drawings. It is hoped in the future to develop the house as an artists’ residence and the home to a physical archive, accessible by appointment to academics and West African architecture enthusiasts. There are ongoing plans for the renovation and redevelopment of the Vaughan-Richards house in Lagos to enable its transformation into the archive and art residency space planned.

The project throws a number of challenges. The harshness of the tropical climate has contributed to considerable decay of materials such as carpeting and textiles. The cost of restoring the structure and aesthetic of the house requires the transformation of use of part of the property in ways that will sustain the conservation of its elements and intentions. These challenges will be addressed by ongoing design and research. On a broader note this project is hoped to generate interest in conservation in West Africa, where many other modernist buildings are in need of maintenance, conservation and reappraisal of use.

The archival work, residency proposals and related information on the Vaughan-Richards family form the material for an exhibition proposed to coincide with the ArchiAfrika conference in Lagos in December 2013.

The project welcomes participation from with researchers and modernist conservation practioners in West Africa, as well as anyone who has further information on the architecture and other work of Alan Vaughan Richards, as a partner in the  Architects’ Co-Partnership and later as an architect in Lagos.

Contact email:  o.uduku@ed.ac.uk and hannah.leroux@wits.ac.za

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Permission to publish all images on the blog for educational purposes, has been granted on behalf of the Vaughan-Richards Estate, by his daughter, Remi Vaughan-Richards, a film director, whose feature films and documentaries throw a sharp lens onto contemporary Africa.

Tropical Architecture in … Massachusetts

Jane Drew

From February to June 1961, Jane Drew took up a visiting professorship at MIT in Boston. Ostensibly this was to allow an uninterrupted period of work on the manuscript for Tropical Architecture in the Dry and Humid Zones (1964), yet it also allowed Drew to undertake lucrative television and radio interviews, and she toured Canada giving lectures in Montreal, Toronto, Winnipeg and Vancouver. Perhaps most significantly, the post enabled Drew to participate in the lively modernist architectural community in New England. She wrote to Maxwell Fry back in London:

‘I have seen everyone lunched with Gropius dined with Serge [Chermayeff], drinks with Sert breakfast with Gidion [sic]. Have started my class taken part in a jury with Kahn its all very stimulating and interesting and I am learning at quite a rate.’

She also worked with Eduardo Catalano (1917-2010), the Argentinian-born architect and a professor at MIT. Drew was perhaps already acquainted with him through his six-year post at the Architectural Association (AA) in London, which began in 1945. Their collaboration was an important one: Drew and Catalano established a MIT Tropical Architecture course using the AA’s Tropical Architecture programme as a model. Established by Fry and Drew in 1955, the AA course was the first of its kind  and the couple evidently saw it as a blueprint for other institutions to use and develop. At MIT Drew and Catalano did just that as Drew later wrote to Fry:

‘Catelanno [sic] and I have worked hard and produced a course on tropical architecture for M.I.T. very different from that at the A.A. and I think better but life has to evolve slowly.’