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Crucibles, Vectors, Catalysts: Envisioning the Modern City

Hosted online across two days in March 2021, the Hyundai Tate Research Centre: Transnational and Liverpool School of Architecture’s “Crucibles, Vectors, Catalysts: Envisioning the Modern City” seminar investigated 20th century identities for postcolonial and post-independence cityscapes in Africa, South Asia and the Middle East.

Convened by Iain Jackson, Professor at the Liverpool School of Architecture, Clara Kim, the Daskalopoulos Senior Curator for International Art at Tate Modern and Nabila Abdel Nabi, Curator for International Art at Tate Modern; the seminar explored stories from these ‘highly charged moment[s] in the history of city making or shaping’.[1]

The seminar specifically positions cities as incubators for the generation of national identity and for ‘Modernity’. However, were individual cities sufficient for such grand objectives, or were they more isolated and fragmented sites for local, yet innovative gestures? Presenters demonstrated examples where both centralised urban contexts (including major urban planning initiatives and more piecemeal developments) and wider networks proved valuable in creating or indeed reasserting national and regional identities.

The destructive process of creating mid-century urban environments defined many global contexts. Whether in response to the need for new national identities in postcolonial contexts, reconstruction and housing following the devastating effects of war and a baby boom or strategies to address perceived ‘blight’ and urban flight, urban renewal, with its top-down, Bauhausian, car-focused, and federally funded backbone epitomised Modernity.

Some cities benefitted from a relatively early reconsideration of the blank slate approach to city planning. Lukasz Stanek described how Miastoprojekt, a Krakow-based state planning office of designers envisioned the future of post-revolutionary Baghdad through their experiences with reconstructing historic Warsaw after the Second World War.[2]

Using architectural and design services as a politically and financially motivated form of state aid during the Cold War, the Miastoprojekt plans rejected key aspects of Baghdad’s first modern city plan, including the demolition of the city’s Ottoman era historic and vernacular architecture, and tripling the size of the city at a local level without consideration for expansion through regional developments.[3]

Miastroprojekt’s legacy continued beyond the Baghdad planning commissions through design work and education with Polish and Czechoslovakian architects teaching Polish perspectives of Modernism in Iraqi universities. By the 1990s, with the fall of communism, Polish designers reversed Miastroprojekt’s strategy and were thinking Warsaw through Baghdad to revitalise their cities.

Big plans were not constrained to single urban environments. Fahran Karim’s ‘archaeology of the future’ presentation explored the role of a foreign designer in creating Pakistani nationalism; Greek architect and planner Constantinos Doxiaidis. Karim asks, “How do you represent a country without a past. Fractured geographically into East and West wings… 1000 miles of India between it?”[4]

Doxiaidis preferred stark Modernism, justified through statistical analysis and designed without classical Islamic aesthetic details. He utilised plan forms, practical details and building types that he believed (or presented) to be essentially Islamic.[5] Doxiaidis planned refugee settlements and Islamabad to include ’gossip squares’, souks, Dochala huts and central mosques.

Despite conducting ethnographic fieldwork and survey (aerial photography), Doxiaidis imported his understanding of Islamic community planning and architecture from his research in the middle east and projected the needs and traditions of widely dispersed refugees on narrow local contexts. Unsurprisingly, the communities adapted or removed many of Doxiaidis’ design features or simply did not use the spaces created for them, preferring to adapt their homes or build vernacular sites suited to their cultural preferences instead. While in practice, many of these adaptations and rejections were practical, Doxiadis’ technical expertise and foreign perspective failed to deliver built environments that suited and sustained the needs and preferences of Pakistan’s new citizens.[6]

Considering what was happening between East and West Pakistan, Ram Rahman shared a richly illustrated and personal view of the cultural and political context for his father Habib Rahman’s contributions to the ‘Nehruvian post-independence renaissance of Delhi.’

Habib Rahman, a young MIT-trained Bauhausian architect, was recruited by Nehru to work in Delhi, where he organised an international low-cost housing exhibition in 1954, including plans and a model for his own design for low-cost housing. Rahman’s house design was reproduced across India 100,000’s of times to address a critical housing shortage.

Rahman was a prolific designer and his work, including the World Health Organisation headquarters building of 1963 (demolished) and later designs for three monumental tombs epitomised Indian modernity.

Professional training and architectural education were key vectors for transnational exchange and development in postcolonial contexts. However, as Patrick Zamarian described in his presentation, the development of the Department of Tropical Architecture (DTA) at the Architectural Association (AA) in London was related as much to the independent administrative structure of the AA and its struggling economic position in the 1950’s as it was to meeting the challenges of Modern design in foreign contexts.

Zamarian recognised the problematic and homogenizing term ‘Tropical Architecture’ and then described the global networks of designers, patrons and educators who delivered training for a generation of British and international students, with a curriculum based on technological solutions for climatic design and a Modern design aesthetic that disregarded local aesthetic and cultural traditions.[7]

When the department visited Ghana, “these ideas for Tropical Architecture fell apart. [The curriculum] shifted from a generic science-based approach to a local and sensitive one, focused increasingly on housing, planning and eventually sustainable development.”[8]

Ola Uduku’s exploration of Modernist Lagos focused on the cumulative impacts of the DTA trained architects, engineers and Italian contractors who contributed to the rapid development of the marina district for independent Nigeria’s first capital city.[9] Although Lagos benefitted from major infrastructure improvements, the architecture described in Uduku’s presentation was piecemeal and demonstrated the evolution and intensification of development for the district from colonial centre to financial district.

Examples include Maxwell Fry and Jane Drew’s Co-operative Bank Lagos (1959) and the Architects Co-Partnership’s Bristol Hotel.[10] A Lagos building that encapsulated the international design collaborations for the time is the James Cubbitt and Partners’ Elder Dempster Lines building (1961), which introduced sleek modern lines, natural cross-ventilation, engineering innovations (pile foundations) contributed by Ove Arup and a distinctive funnel-shaped top structure alongside a notable collection of Nigerian artworks in the lobby. Nigerian designs for the time include Oluwole Olumuyiwa’s Crusader House (1955) and elegant villas outside Lagos by Obi Obembe Associates.

In other contexts, a national approach to recreating identity was accomplished through the redevelopment of pilgrimage networks and tourist destinations, including hotels and museums.

Talinn Grigor introduced the Society for National Heritage (SNH) and the role of the Shah’r in asserting the hegemony of the ruling class and Iranian elite (and recreating national identity) through the demolition and reconstruction of over 40 historic mausoleums to encourage secular and cultural tourism.[11] Examples include the mausoleums of Ferdawsi (1934) in Tus and Hafiz (1938) in Shiraz. Grigor argues that these new Modern mausoleums were integral to the creation of an aspirational middle-class culture in Iran, becoming a network for national tourism that remains today.

The Shah’r and the tremendous wealth generated by the Iranian oil industry funded the design and construction of avant-garde Modern environments and later more traditionally inspired art and architectural contexts, culminating in the uniquely Iranian expression of modernism inspired by traditional wind towers for the Tehran Museum of Contemporary Art (Kamran Diba, 1977).[12]

Lahbib el Moumni and Imad Dahmani’s presentation on post-independence Moroccan architecture included a second example of state-sponsored activities to promote tourism with Modern architecture. This was developed through hotels constructed outside urban centres in the country’s dramatic landscapes. Examples of exquisite and richly contextual forms from architects Abdeslem Faraoui and Patrice de Mazieres include the Hotel Les Gorges du Dadès (1974) and Hotel at Taliouine (1971-72) were shared, both to demonstrate the value of these sites and to explore the challenges of engaging communities with their recent past. [13]

The expressive and contextual Modernism of Morocco was certainly not isolated for post-colonial contexts. Amin Alsaden’s presentation demonstrates how urban renewal programmes in Baghdad in the 1950s created a sense of cultural and heritage loss, which predicated a culturally specific interpretation of Modern art and architecture for the city. He focused particularly on the work of architect Rifat Chadirji who merged globalism and regionalism in his designs.[14]

Alsaden described Rifat’s earliest buildings as somewhat derivative but noted that through the 1960’s his designs evolved to incorporate traditional shapes and plan forms, marrying social needs to social forms, and incorporating the narrow round arch form, in both elevation and plan.

Anna Tostoes’ presentation on the work of Amâncio (Pancho) Guedes in Mozambican cities clearly demonstrates how the architect’s designs coupled global technical, aesthetic, and cultural movements for the time with traditional and vernacular forms to create unique buildings for Maputo which continue to engage with local communities, including the Saipal Bakery (1954), Smiling Lion Building (1954-55) and the Abreu Santos and Rocha Building (1953-56).[15]

These Guedes landmarks remain relevant to 21st century contexts, but many other postcolonial buildings have been heavily altered or demolished. In my experience as a built heritage professional, architecture of the recent past, whether in postcolonial contexts, Europe, or the Americas is especially vulnerable to inappropriate alterations and loss.

Coupled with the experimental, academic, inefficient and sometimes foreign or dehumanising aspects of mid-century Modern architecture and urban renewal, it can be difficult ‘to love’ and costly to restore for sustainable 21st century purposes. Outside losses from the traumatic impact of military conflict or political maneuvering, it comes as no surprise that the architecture that has sustained and remains relevant to local communities is the architecture that originally engaged with its local context and traditions.

These landmark buildings need champions like Mémoire des Architectes Modernes Marocain’s (MAMMA) and DoCoMoMo to promote their value against ever greater development pressures. “Crucibles, Vectors and Catalysts” moved the discussion forward, but there are clearly collaborative opportunities for research and advocacy to be progressed.

Heather McGrath Alcock is PhD researcher at University of Liverpool’s School of Architecture studying the global development of planned company towns. Heather returned to academia after twenty years as a built heritage practitioner based in New York City and later London and the Wirral. Heather had the opportunity to work on landmarks of the Modern movement, including the United Nations Headquarters in Manhattan, a thematic survey of mid-century modern houses in New Canaan, Connecticut started by “the Harvard Five”, and the former Pan American Building at 200 Park Avenue, Manhattan.

References

Daechsel, Markus. 2011. ‘Seeing like an expert, failing like a state? Interpreting the fate of a satellite town in early post-colonial Pakistan.’ in Marcel Maussen, Veit Bader and Annelies Moors (eds.), Colonial and Post-Colonial Governance of Islam (Amsterdam University Press).

Talinn, Grigor. 2004. ‘Recultivating “Good Taste”: The Early Pahlavi Modernists and Their Society for National Heritage’, Iranian Studies, 37: 17-45.

Uduku, Ola. 2006. ‘Modernist architecture and ‘the tropical’ in West Africa: The tropical architecture movement in West Africa, 1948–1970’, Habitat International, 30: 396-411.


[1] Jackson, Ian. “Introductory remarks for Crucibles session” from “Crucibles, Vectors, Catalysts: Envisioning the Modern City”. Online. 2nd March 2021.

[2] In his presentation, “Rupture, Transition and Continuity in Baghdad’s Master Plans: From Minoprio to Miastoprojekt” on 2nd March 2021, Stanek noted that the Iraqi coup which toppled the monarchy in 1958 instigated a new era of collaboration with Eastern European architects and planners; networks established to “compete with and confront Western European and American hegemony to establish a new independent Iraq through its capital city Baghdad.”

[3] Baghdad’s first modern city plan was completed in 1956 by the British architect and town planner Sir Charles Anthony Minoprio, Hugh Spencley and Peter Macfarlane for the country’s Western aligned Hashemite monarchy.

[4] Karim, Fahran. “Archaeology of the Future: Constantinos Doxiaidis in East and West Pakistan”, from Crucibles, Vectors, Catalysts: Envisioning the Modern City seminar, Session 2, Vectors; 2nd March 2021.

[5] Ibid. According to Fahran Karim, Doxiaidis’ patron Ayub Khan “subscribed to a social theory of development but weakened democracy to validate his authoritarian rule because he felt that the poor, uneducated [masses] couldn’t participate in democracy.” 

[6] According to Markus Daechsel in his 2011 contribution ‘Seeing Like an Expert, Failing Like a State?

Interpreting the Fate of a Satellite Town in Early Post-Colonial Pakistan’, in Colonial and Post-Colonial Governance of Islam, ed. by Marcel Maussen, Veit Bader and Annelies Moors (Amsterdam University Press, 2011), p 159-160, there were many problems associated with the rapid and uneven development of the refugee settlements (lack of basic services (running water, electricity, sewers) and infrastructure (storm sewers), unfinished civil engineering works and the relatively poor refugee communities could not afford rents for the shop spaces, so were not used.

[7] Including Michael Pattrick, Director of the AA in the 1950’s who saw the new department as a way to improve the Association’s finances and academic standing, to Maxwell Fry who supervised the first few years of the department and then culminating in Otto H. Königsberger’s (1908 – 1999) leadership. From Zamarian, Patrick. “Global Perspectives and Private Concerns: The AA’s Department of Tropical Architecture”, from Crucibles, Vectors, Catalysts: Envisioning the Modern City. Online. 2nd March 2021. 

[8] Ibid. 

[9] Lagos was the original capital city for independent Nigeria. However, it is now the capital of Lagos State since the Nigerian capital city moved to Abuja in 1991.  

[10] Ola Uduku, ‘Modernist Architecture and ‘the Tropical’ in West Africa: The Tropical Architecture Movement in West Africa, 1948–1970’, Habitat International, 30 (2006), 399.

[11] In ‘Recultivating “Good Taste”: The Early Pahlavi Modernists and Their Society for National Heritage’, Iranian Studies (2004), Talinn Grigor noted that “For the modernists, therefore, the control over the physical and conceptual “heritage” enabled them to erase the immediate past to construct the “progressive” future. Destruction of building-as-representation [traditional sites of religious pilgrimage] proved central to the construction of the pending utopian future. Architecture was imperative to the success of the [Society for National Heritage] SNH’s modernizing agenda.”

[12] The Museum opened months before the revolution started which saw the monarchy overthrown and exiled from the country.

[13] While more ancient histories and built heritage are preserved and underpin 21st century cultural identity in Morocco, the architecture of the mid-twentieth century has been over-looked, inappropriately altered or destroyed. Mémoire des Architectes Modernes Marocain (MAMMA) was created in 2016 by young architects concerned with the loss of these sites. 

[14] Alsaden noted in his 9th March 2021 presentation “Syntheses Across Disciplines: Rifat Chadirji and Art-Architecture Liaisons in Modern Baghdad” for Crucibles, Vectors and Catalysts: Envisioning the Modern City, Chadirji was part of the elite bohemian culture of Baghdad, which included artists and architects who were educated in Europe and America. Against the backdrop of political turmoil, they created a vibrant, creative society that embraced Modernism ‘as an act of rebellion against the legacy of British architects who had used Neo-classical designs with orientalist tropes’. 

[15] Tostoes, Ana. “Correspondences, Transfers and Memory: Maputo’s ’Age of Concrete’”, from Crucible, Vectors, Catalysts: Envisioning the Modern City seminar, Session 2, Vectors; 2nd March 2021.

New Research:Suzanne Francis-Brown & Peter Francis Norman & Dawbarn, the UCWI, and Tropical Modernist Architecture in Jamaica” in Caribbean Quarterly, 65:1, 27-56, DOI: 10.1080/00086495.2019.1565219

The University College of the West Indies (UCWI) At Mona, Jamaica, established immediately following World War II, was one of the early greenfield university developments among British colonies in the Southern Hemisphere, as the British sought to ameliorate patently negative social conditions.

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UCWI Designed by Norman and Dawbarn. Image courtesy of Special Collections and Archives at University of Liverpool

It was also one of the early tropical iterations of the modernist aesthetic that affected European landscapes from the early to middle decades of the twentieth century, sparked by the Bauhaus school of design and the work of iconic architects of the modern movement. British architectural firm Norman & Dawbarn received the contract to design the nascent West Indian university and its associated teaching hospital only weeks after the arrival of the first principal on site in Jamaica in 1946, and the overall scheme proposed in 1947, parts of which were built in stages between 1949 and the mid-1960s, remains recognisable today despite differences at the time and subsequent shifts in architectural approach.

Full Paper here: https://doi.org/10.1080/00086495.2019.1565219

 (sub) URBAN TROPICALITY: Urban challenges in the tropical zone

International Network of Tropical Architecture (iNTA) Conference at The University of Queensland, Brisbane, Australia,  5 – 8 December 2019

The cities and urban centres of the (sub) tropics are where the greatest challenges facing our collective future can be found. They are where the challenges of global warming, inequality and the migration of people fleeing political unrest or climate change are at their most extreme. The 2019 International Network of Tropical Architecture (iNTA) conference provides a forum to discuss architectural and design solutions for a resilient, smart and just future for urban centres in the tropics.

Founded in Singapore in 2004, the International Network for Tropical Architecture (iNTA) is a networking platform for international researchers and practitioners to collaborate and learn from each other about problems and solutions pertaining to architecture and urban design in the tropical (and sub-tropical) regions and brought together by the shared climatic imperatives and opportunities of these regions. The iNTA permanent secretariat is located at the Department of Architecture, School of Design and Environment at the National University Singapore.

The 2019 iNTA conference is hosted by the School of Architecture at The University of Queensland, located in Brisbane, capital city of the state of Queensland, Australia. Brisbane is proximate to both the fastest growing urban centres in Asia and many Small Island Developing States (SIDS) most at risk from climate change, including Kiribati, Marshall Islands, Federal States of Micronesia, Marshall Islands, Niue and Tuvalu amongst others. Queensland’s most northern extremity, Cape York, sits at the confluence of the Indian and Pacific Oceans, those very same oceans that generate the weather systems that circle the globe and affect the destiny of millions of people.

For those who live in the so-called “global south,” there is a sense of urgency about the challenges arising from rapidly changing climate conditions. Matters are not merely academic, but dynamic and concrete. Before the launch of iNTA, discourse around architecture and urbanism in the tropics was framed by centres of scholarship in Europe and North America. The malingering aftermath of devastating tropical storms such as Maria and Irma (2017) in the Caribbean and Typhoon Haima (2016) in the Philippines challenges such ascendancy. The 2019 iNTA conference in Brisbane brings discourse to a subtropical city at the crossroads of cultures, regions and climate zones. At a time when Australia’s role in the region continues to be questioned, it provides an opportunity to enhance north-south dialogue. 

Submission Information & Instructions

Submit abstracts of no more than 300 words in length by email as Word documents to:  https://easychair.org/conferences/?conf=inta2019.  Please name the email subject ABSTRACT-SURNAME and use this name for your submission file as well.

  • Abstract deadline: 26 April 2019
  • Submission of full papers for review: 26 July 2019
  • Submission of final papers for publication: 18 October 2019

 All abstracts will be considered by the conference academic committee; authors will be invited to prepare a full paper (no longer than 4,500 words); authors wishing their papers to be published in conference proceedings should submit their final papers for peer review on or before 26 July 2019. The date for submission of final papers is 18 October 2019. Authors may opt out of publication.

Conference Streams 

Tropical Architecture refers to constructed architectural and urban environments relating the climatic and natural conditions of the tropical (and sub- tropical) regions, and interacting with various local specifics of culture, urban fabric and technology. Contributions to the following conference streams are sought. 

1.            Tropical Urbanism  

Stream focussing on challenges to and solutions for enhanced liveability in urban centres of the tropics. Papers might address:

  • projects or propositions for reversing or healing the degradation and collapse of urban centres under rapid growth; 
  • urban infrastructures at risk: rising sea-levels, increasing storm intensity, expanding torridity and aridity.
  • urban adaptation responses : design planning policy, governance and codes
  • urban forms shaped by determinants other than climate alone, such as topography, nature, cultural life. 
  • vegetation in (sub) tropical cities: cultivation in gardens and the peri-urban or neglect in terrain vague

2.             Tropical Architecture :: Contemporary Tropical-isms

Stream focussing on individual designs/ architectural, infrastructure, adaptation projects.  What is it that makes the contemporary architectural project tropical? Or the tropical project contemporary? Papers might illuminate projects that demonstrate instances of : 

  • building technologies: tropical and subtropical applications including 
  • passive low energy and carbon neutral architecture
  • climate mitigation strategies
  • equity in the tropical city
  • the (sub)tropical tower
  • contemporary architecture (still) learning from vernacular traditions
  • reciprocities/dialogue between architecture and tropical environments: between the zeitgeist of a globalized culture and a project’s specific circumstance. 

3.            Narratives of Disease, Discomfort, Development and Disaster ::  Reconsidering Tropical Architecture and Urbanism  

The idea of tropical architecture and urbanism initially developed through a particular connection between discourses on disease, spatial practices and optimum architectural typologies, which were believed to circumvent the spread of tropical diseases and to maintain the comfort of the white settler. After the Second World War, the focus shifted from the European settlement of the colonial tropics to the self-development and governance of the world’s tropical regions; a phenomenon necessitated and propelled by post-war decolonization and global regimes of development aid. Accompanying this change was a shift away from the physiological comfort of the colonial settler to a new focus on indigenous cultures, vernacular building traditions, use of local materials, and increasing appreciation for the psychological value of cultural conventions, including superstition and taboo. The aim of this stream is to examine how “triumph” in the tropics was imagined across multiple geographies, by various subjects, through diverse discourses, and at different times and to critically investigate the roles architecture and urban planning played in this process. We particularly welcome papers that offer historical case studies of tropical and subtropical architecture and urbanism examined through one of four lenses: 

  • disease 
  • discomfort
  • development or disaster.

This stream will be convened by Dr Deborah van der Plaat (The Univerity of Queensland), Dr Vandana Baweja (University of Florida) and Professor Tom Avermaete (ETH Zurich).

4.             Historic Urban Landscapes and Tropicality 

The Historic Urban Landscape is a new approach recommended by UNESCO that recognises and positions the historic city and its core as a resource for the future and the centre for the urban development process. Papers might address:

  • operational principles for urban conservation models: respecting values, traditions and environments of different cultural contexts.
  • historic urban centres and tropical vulnerability 
  • mapping urban heritage values and attributes
  • planning, design and implementation of development projects in historic urban centres
  • adaptive use and re-use impacting authenticity and integrity of physical and social fabric in historic urban centres
  • Small Island Developing States (SIDS) of the Pacific and Caribbean: their vulnerability and resilience

Two New Buildings in Accra

How are we to build today in Ghana? What is our architectural syntax and how are we to generate form, meaning and qualities that somehow resonate with Ghanaians today? This is of course a difficult question, and not all architecture has to be reflective of the country in which it is built. Indeed, it is very problematic to think of architecture in terms of geo-political territories, especially when the architecture of the West is rarely presented like this. It is unusual to hear of architecture referred to as European, or Luxembourgian for example, but the architectures (and architects) of the global south are frequently labelled according to country or region of origin (Indian, South East Asian, West African for example – see http://blog.nus.edu.sg/seaarc/symposium/), furthermore when ‘modern’ architecture is produced in those countries it is labelled as mimicry, inauthentic, or somehow borrowed, imported, or not belonging.

This is the difficulty architects face when working in places like Ghana. However, architects must take a stance and adopt a position. They should be self-conscious of the designs that they are making, and conceive of a direction, or ambition for their work. There were two recent buildings that we visited in Accra that are attempting to deliver a new response to architecture.

One Airport Square

One Airport Square

One Airport Square  (designed by Mario Cucinella Architects) has gone for the attention-seeking approach. A complex façade composition made up of diagonally arranged structure with horizontal fins. The fins and ‘columns’ project from the building’s envelope by almost 2m, acting as a vast brise soleil they provide much needed shade, as well as absorbing heat externally whilst reflecting sunlight light into the building.

IMG_0838

Atrium of Airport Square One

Internally there is a large atrium space that holds the circulation as well as bringing light into the deep plan and pulling fresh air through the courtyard. This kind of building works well when set amongst other less adventurous forms. It is also helping to create a new context for that part of Accra, and is distinctive enough to become a reference point and landmark. I just hope it doesn’t become part of a silly form-making game with each bank trying to out-do each other in the quest for the next distinctive shape.

IMG_0840

Ecobank, Accra

Another new building that has just reached completion is the vast Ecobank Headquarters located adjacent to the Efua Sutherland Children’s Park. This provocative building was designed by a consortium of Ghanaian and South African architects (http://arc.co.za/project/ecobank-ghana/), the local and site architects being Mobius, lead by KNUST graduate Augustus Richardson. A lightweight metal brise soleil is used to protect the glass façade where the sun strikes, and a perforated metal jali screen offers solar protection at the lower levels, as well as being used to depict a map of the world, and a larger drawing of Africa.

DSC_0549

Augustus Richardson with the model of Ecobank

At ground level the building is clad with limestone firmly rooting it into the earth and forming tactile surfaces. The two forms reflect the public banking space, and the private offices of the bank HQ. The bank is orientated on an axis leading towards the concrete obelisk in Africa Liberation Square, and there is a real declaration of optimism in this building. Mobius are an exciting firm to follow, and Richardson kindly took us on a tour of the bank, giving behind the scenes access. The quality of the finish is exceptional and build quality excellent. Richardson clearly cares about architecture and his city; there is a charged excitement in the way he talks about design (see http://www.design233.com/oldhtml/works/augustus_richardson_the_bridge_mobius.html for more on this).

But what of the building envelope? Is it an appropriate response to design an almost entirely glazed building in Accra?

In 1957 Anthony Chitty gave the opening address to the new school of architecture at KNUST and posed this question,

‘Is a regional architecture, a truly African style, possible for West Africa; for Ghana in Particular? I believe the answer to this question is “yes” : not only possible but desirable, something to be striven for.’

In many ways the Ecobank is the perfect response to the clients wishes – they wanted a modern, international office space to reflect their brand, and clearly Ghanaian architects and engineers can deliver this type of work as well as anyone, but, if we are to be critical, are we guilty of what Chitty spoke about 60 years ago when he demanded,

‘Not just a pallid and mediocre edition of the international style, not just the half considered European solution trotted out to make do here, but a real and living architectural answer to your own local problems, social, technical and political, drawing the maximum from such origins as do exist here, a true Ghana aesthetic.’

I don’t think the Ecobank is at all mediocre, or half-considered, and Chitty was over-playing the Ghana aesthetic idea in light of the nationalist tendencies from the time-  but there must be an approach that can make the architecture of this region specific to this place. Other large projects are rapidly springing up (and unlike the Ecobank) they parade the hackneyed multi-coloured cladding approach that is tormenting every city, whereas Ecobank is clearly searching for something more.

The difficulty is how to scale-up ‘tropical’ design. Tropical architecture stems from the bungalow, barracks, and hospitals – it works well for small-scale low-rise buildings, as the Children’s Library, George Padmore, KNUST Senior Staff Club House demonstrate – it wants to be a ground hugging solution set within leafy gardens and evaporation pools.

A bank today however cannot rely on loggias and verandahs, and rising land values and the ability of buildings to generate substantial rental incomes stimulates the high-rise approach.  This was something that Fry and Drew encountered in West Africa. They worked for the Co-op Bank in Nigeria and placed louvres on the facades of multistory buildings, a technique also used by John Addo at Cedi House in Accra. The library at Ibadan presents another alternative – with its delicate screen and effectively double-façade-cum-circulation zone. Fry found the façade too ‘lace-like’ and pursued something more strapping and formal in later works, such as the library at Girls College in Chandigarh’s Sector-11.

DSC_0553

Cedi House viewed from Ecobank roof garden

Fry also set himself the challenge of using a glazed façade in a hot climate, again in Chandigarh. At the Government Printing Press he used glass on the north facing façade only, and included adjustable louvres on the interior to reduce glare. The south facing façade was protected by the walkways and an external aluminium louvre system based on the traditional jalousie reduces solar gain.

There is perhaps just the germ of historical precedent in the two recent Accra buildings – and both reveal a confidence in the city, as well as an ambition to test this type of architecture. The next step will be to put some data-loggers into these buildings and to see how they perform. Their critics might be pleasantly surprised.

 

The Transnational Architecture Group Blog is 5 Today!

It’s five years since our first tentative blog post. Since that day we’ve posted over 200 articles, calls for papers, and general research updates on all things architecturally transnational.

One of our major research interests has of course been the work of Maxwell Fry and Jane Drew, with the publication of the monograph in 2014 and international conference. But that was just the start. Since then we’ve covered Shama Anbrine and Yemi Salami’s PhD work in Pakistan and Nigeria respectively, as well as Cleo Robert’s PhD work in India. Rachel Lee tested and developed our Timescape App in Bangalore and also published a wonderful monograph (with TAG Press) on Otto Koenigsberger. She was also responsible for a major heritage symposium in Dar es Salam. Ola Uduku has been our most prolific ‘commenter’ as well as providing many research updates on our findings in Ghana and organising numerous workshops on the Architecture of Africa. Our current research project has been sponsored by the British Academy and we’re delighted to be collaborating with Rexford Assasie Oppong (KNUST) and Irene Appeaning Addo (Legon University) on this work.  There is going to be a lot more research stemming from this initial project, not least the cataloguing and archiving of the major drawings collection at KNUST, with Łukasz Stanek from Manchester University.

Other forays have taken us to Thailand and the work of Nat Phothiprasat, as well as to Sri Lanka and the plans of Patrick Abercombie.  We’ve posted abstracts and links to many other papers and projects, not least Johan Lagaes and Kathleen James-Chakraborty’s papers. Killian Doherty and Edward Lawrenson’s film on Yekepa promises to be one of the highlights of 2018.

More recent posts have revealed the rich architecture of the Middle East, including Levin’s paper on Ashkelon, William A. Henderson‘s work at Little Aden,  Ben Tosland’s research into Kuwait, Alsalloum’s moving paper on Damascus and Jackson’s paper on the PWD in Iraq. There’s surely a lot more to investigate here.

It’s been great fun, and here’s to the next five years of exciting research, difficult questions, dusty roads and even dustier archives, and of course new discoveries that make everything worthwhile.

We’d like to thank all of the blog contributors (please do continue to send us your updates, research findings and short articles). Thanks also to our committed readers and for all of your kind comments and emails.

Iain Jackson.

 

Lou Moon:   Viewing tropical materials, renewable technologies and local community engagement at a coastal resort.  

Ola Uduku Writes:

Climate responsive, tropical architecture using locally sourced materials remains a rarity in West Africa, therefore setting foot at the remote coastal Lou Moon resort was a revelation. At first glance this seemed like yet another ‘safari-architecture’ beach resort on the Ghanaian coastline [20 minutes drive from Axim]. The first view of a dining area with non-local thatch roofing initially suggesting a copy of an aesthetically pleasing safari ‘hang out’ for expatriates and daring local tourists willing to get to this off-the-beaten-track location.

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“Are we nearly there yet?” The track to Lou Moon

On closer inspection and conversation with Lou Moon’s designer and owner Paul Ramlot, it was explained to us that the roofing is not indigenous to Ghana’s coastal communities but was indeed an import from the middle to northern part of Ghana. He had worked with northern Ghanaian thatchers and local craftsmen to ensure the construction of a watertight roof covering. He explained that this had been achieved successfully, and the only problems that had been encountered since it had been completed were with with local bats and grass cutters, that from time to time nest and forage in the thatch. Catching them was tricky  – but sonic deterrents were now being successfully used.

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Architect and owner of Lou Moon, Paul Ramlot with Ola Uduku

After a good lunch from an impressive menu boasting  European – Ghanaian ‘gastro’ cuisine and the option of good French wine (which we declined) we were shown more of the resort. The owner had worked hard to tame the land jutting out to the sea and create a number of secluded chalets, using locally sourced building materials and oriented to allow local ventilation and lighting. Whilst specialist bath fittings were imported, 90 % of the materials were sourced locally and the owner worked  with local craftsmen to develop the accommodation at the resort. This was a textbook demonstration on what is possible but has rarely been achieved in contemporary West Africa.

By working with local craftsmen, and employing local staff at the resort he had also both given employment opportunities in a part of Ghana where there are few such opportunities available. He also had a working arrangement with the ‘chief’ and ultimate owner of the land on which the Lou Moon Resort has been built. A share of the profits is paid to the chief and his community.

Resort chalets had solar photovoltaics incorporated into their design, and wireless communication, and electricity were freely available along with a large satellite dish in clear view. Interestingly on arrival we noted a number of vehicles with diplomatic number plates, possibly the remoteness of the location had in the past made it the perfect retreat, one wonders whether this remains so appealing, now that it is hooked up to the world via its telecommunications systems. Judging by the resident clientele at the resort in the January off peak season this didn’t seem to be the case.

We left musing that it took a Belgian expatriate to rediscover local materials and encourage local design talent in this remote part of Ghana. His design model had been so successful that he was in conversation with local elites to develop a similar resort on private land to reap these benefits. What was his most serious problem we asked him? He responded that it was the noise from the local community at funerals and other festivals…

We hope that a cordial arrangement can be agreed to secure the serenity of this snapshot of tropical architectural paradise. We made ‘design attribution’ peace with the non-local indigenous thatch roofing, we saw no vermin, enjoyed the shade and couldn’t fault its aesthetic contribution to what had been a truly revealing ‘Lou Moon’ experience.

Notes from Accra

Iain Jackson and Ola Uduku have spent the last two days in Accra catching up with 20th century architecture, and meeting with contacts as part of the British Academy funded ‘From Colonial Gold Coast to Tropical Ghana’ architecture project. Tuesday 23rd February was spent visiting the Ghana National Museum complex, the gem in the crown being Denys Lasdun’s prefabricated dome shaped museum, currently closed for refurbishment. The imagination and vision of the building were still clearly there in our viewing of the stripped down structure ready for conservation.

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Our next stop took us to Nickson and Borys’ Children’s library building nearer to Central Accra. This had been sympathetically restored, and again was a great demonstration exemplar of ‘West African Modern’ and the developmental vision of the departing colonial government to establish libraries that were open to all citizens. The upper area remained devoid of activity but had potential to be a great multipurpose programme space.

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Children’s Library

The final visit of the day was to Joe Osae-Addo’s Archi-Africa – TuDelft Berlage Architecture school studio, in Accra’s Jamestown neighbourhood, on the urban fabric of everyday life in Accra. The impromptu crit we were invited to take part in was an enjoyable experience and the schemes were full of promise.

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TU Delft and Archi-Africa in the newly converted Jamestown Studio

Day two involved visits to Jamestown – as a walking visit this time to take in early 20th century colonial PWD, and also warehouse architecture in the neighbourhood. A visit to Adabraka also yielded a few examples of early PWD worker housing, which was followed by an afternoon visit to Achimota School, which conveyed the height of the colonial education project with architectural symbolism and style. A few later additions to the campus by Nickson and Borys and other’s also fitted well into the College’s narrative of colonial imperialism and privilege. The final visit for the day was to Scott House, which lived up to its deified tropical modernism status, whilst the Western Tessano neighbourhood had transformed into an upper class gated area, that unexpectedly gave us a glimpse of an earlier [likely Cubitt?] designed semi detached housing unit, currently undergoing a further 21st century upgrade..

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One of the few surviving examples of its type in Adabraka

We will be moving onto Kumasi on Friday and will update from there early next week.

3D Printed Model of Kenneth Dike Library

We’ve been playing with a couple of 3D printers [Makerbot and Ultimaker] and testing how they might be used to create a small collection of models to supplement our History of Architecture lectures.

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In the age of ‘Stream Capture’ and recorded lectures including a small exhibition of key case study models in the lecture theatre will hopefully entice the students to attend the live event and will also form an opportunity to further explore light, scale and the qualities of buildings that are not as easily expressed through photographs and orthographic drawings.

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Our first test case used a computer model of the Kenneth Dike Library, Ibadan [designed by Fry and Drew] expertly produced by Jacopo Galli and generously shared with us. The model doesn’t show the entire buiding but a key section enabing the interior to be viewed. The ambition is a for an online library of models that can be downloaded and then printed as and when they are required by faculty and students.

 

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Conserving West African Modernism Workshop and Conference Report

KNUST Kumasi, 2 – 18th July 2015

From the 2nd to 18th July 2015 Ola Uduku spent time at the Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology (KNUST), Kumasi Ghana, working with Dr Rexford Assasie Oppong, to set up and run the inaugural “Conserving West African Modernism” workshop culminating in an international conference held from the 13th – 14th July at KNUST.

There were a number of objectives for the project; firstly the visit provided an initial attempt to explore the possibilities of Edinburgh University’s Scottish Centre for Conservation Studies, (SCCS) and Architecture School becoming involved in research collaboration activities centred on the Modernist heritage of the KNUST campus both in terms of architectural history and also international- tropical conservation practice. Also included in this collaboration was the Liverpool University School of Architecture, (LSA) which has research expertise and archival material on the work of Maxwell Fry and Jane Drew who were involved in the development of Kumasi and Ghana’s post-WW2 architectural heritage.

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Second, the project sought to make an initial assessment of the modernist heritage site and buildings at KNUST with a view to using these as a basis for documentation, to support the application for Ghana to become a member of the international modernism conservation organisation Docomomo International. This also included a public outreach element in which the project engaged with local university school children in a campus buildings tour and questionnaire session to raise awareness and interest in the buildings on the KNUST campus.

Third, the project sought to explore the possibilities of having the SCCS at Edinburgh University support the development of an MSc. Course in conservation and also contributions to architectural history teaching, initially via online courses, using available media technology at both institutions. In connection with this, linkages to architectural history teaching at the Liverpool School of Architecture and its future research-links with Ghana were also examined.

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Also at public and international outreach level, work was undertaken with Junior high school students to raise awareness about the modernist architectural legacy on the Kumasi campus, via a series of tours, discussions and ‘snap-voting’ on buildings judged ‘best’ by the pupils. At the international level the project enlisted PG architecture students to work on listing key campus buildings, using the Docomomo, (the international organisation for conserving modernist buildings and landscapes), fiche listing template. This is with a view to working with KNUST staff and students towards compiling material required to apply for Ghana’s membership of Docomomo in the next biennial conference in 2016.

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The project culminated with a well-attended two-day conference at KNUST, where keynote speeches were given by; KNUST Professor emeritus H. Wellington, and Professor Miles Glendinning, Director SCCS, University of Edinburgh. Teams of Junior High School and KNUST Architecture PG students also gave presentations, showing the work they had done during the preceding week’s ‘KNUST Modernism’ workshops.

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Providently the conference also heard the views and reminiscences of Profs Wellington, Owuso Addo, and Arc. J Larbi, all eminent Ghanaian architects and educators, who had been historically involved with the development of the campus, since its inception in the mid 1950s to the 1990s, who attended the workshop. Representatives from the Ghana Institute of Architects, the Lands and Survey office at KNUST, associated faculty staff from the College of Architecture, Arts, and Planning, and from the ArchiAfrika organisation, were also in attendance.

The various workshops and final conference was made possible by funding and in–kind support received from a number of bodies including: The African Studies Association UK, ArchiAfrika, The University of Edinburgh, The University of Liverpool and KNUST.

The Communique below was issued at the conclusion of the conference:

Conserving West African Modernism and Urbanism Research Workshop and Conference Communiqué

 At the inaugural workshop / conference, ‘Conserving West African Modernism and Urbanism’, held at KNUST, Kumasi, Ghana on 13-14 July 2015 – an event which involved staff and student participants from the KNUST Junior High School, KNUST Architecture postgraduates, and which was attended by a range of national and international invitees including the Ghanaian architectural luminaries Prof. J. Owusu-Addo, Prof. H. N. A. Wellington, and Arc. S. O. Larbi, along with Prof. Miles Glendinning from the University of Edinburgh, Scotland – it was agreed to pursue the following specific objectives:

  • To continue with the primary objective of the project in supporting and developing an appreciation and culture of conservation in West Africa, in collaboration with DOCOMOMO International – commencing with the task of researching and conserving the heritage modernist movement campus layout and buildings at KNUST, Kumasi, and pursuing the establishment of a Ghanaian national chapter of DOCOMOMO;
  • To work to develop collaborative research links related to KNUST’s building history, with the Edinburgh School of Architecture and Landscape Architecture (University of Edinburgh) and the Liverpool School of Architecture (University of Liverpool), with expected joint academic research outputs.
  • To explore the possibilities of developing a Department of Architecture -KNUST Masters programme in history/ conservation studies with support and collaboration from the Scottish Centre for Conservation Studies (SCCS) at the University of Edinburgh, and the Liverpool School of Architecture (LSA);
  • To seek funding to develop a West African Modernism Archival Project, (WAMAP) which would have the Department of Architecture, KNUST as its centre. Its objective will be to create a digital archive of KNUST’s extant material records of its historical development, comprising plans, models, and oral histories contributed by surviving actors involved in the founding and development of the campus. This project would aim ultimately to evolve into an international centre and nexus for modernist building research in West Africa.

In this communiqué we also acknowledge the desirability of developing full links with cognate research and academic bodies within Ghana, including the Institute of African Studies and the Department of Archaeology and Heritage Studies, at the University of Ghana, Legon, together with other associated educational and professional institutions, including the Ghana Museums and Monuments Board, the Ghana National Archives, the Ghana Institute of Architects, and ArchiAfrika.

  15th July 2015
Dr Rexford Assasie Oppong Dr Ola Uduku
Department of Architecture,

Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology, Kumasi, Ghana

Edinburgh School of Architecture and Landscape Architecture,

University of Edinburgh, Scotland

*** Further news, Iain Jackson, Rexford Assasie Oppong and Ola Uduku will be collaborating on a British Academy Funded International Partnership and Mobility Grant “Architecture and planning in the Tropics; from Imperial Gold Coast to Tropical Ghana“,  starting in November 2015. ***

Sri Lanka, Oliver Weerasinghe and Patrick Abercrombie

I’ve been interested in the work of Patrick Abercrombie for some time now. His 1943 London County Plan (developed with John Forshaw) was a war-time best seller and is filled with wonderful drawings and coloured plans that I enjoy looking at, and I frequently cycle past the white rendered late Georgian house in Oxton that he used to live in. This is a quick post to show some of the material I’ve uncovered to date.

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Figure 1 Patrick Abercrombie

In addition to developing several plans for UK cities, he also produced a plan for Dublin, but far less known is the work he did in Sri Lanka in the 1940s and 1950s. It is this work that I’m currently (and very slowly/intermittently) researching. He prepared a a regional plan for Colombo in 1948 working with a local architect Oliver Weerasinghe (Government Town Planner, b?-1980), as well as editing the town planning policy for the city. In their report they noted,

‘The re-planning and re-construction of the slum areas of Colombo and the obsolete parts of the built-up areas of the city to meet present day requirements is also a regional planning problem of first importance. The adoption of lower housing densities and greater recreational open space in these re-planning schemes will leave an “overflow” population which will have to go outside the existing built-up areas.’

To accommodate the ‘overflow’ population they proposed to build three towns at Ratmalana, Homagama and Ragama. Each town, located around 10 miles from the centre of Colombo and linked together via a ring-road was each to accommodate around 40,000 residents.

I’ve found the broad planning proposal they proposed for Colombo, along with some photographs of the three settlements prior to their development.

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Figure 2 Colombo Regional Development Plan: New towns coloured in magenta.

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Figure 3 Ratmalana New Town, as existing.

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Figure 4 Homagama New Town, Hospital prior to development

Weerasinghe and Abercrombie also worked on the Anuradhapura preservation scheme together, developing a plan in 1942 that was subsequently developed post-war with a view to preserving the ancient temples and monuments as well as developing new housing proposals for the town.

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Figure 5 Proposed plan for Anuradhapura

Weerasinghe was one of the first qualified engineers in Sri Lanka. He studied at Cambridge, and later as one of Abercrombie’s Civic Design students at Liverpool (which explains their subsequent collaboration). After practicing as Government Planner he served as Sri Lanka’s Ambassador to the United States in the 1960s before returning to his planning roots as an Inter-Regional Advisor in Urban Development of the United Nations (1971-1973), working in the Middle East, Africa and the Caribbean. From 1974 he continued as a UN development consultant.

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Figure 6 Oliver Weerasinghe