Centring Africa: Postcolonial Perspectives on Architecture

Georg Lippsmeier, photographer. Image from slide, National Printing Press, Nouakchott, Mauritania, ca. 1971. Georg Lippsmeier Collection, CCA. ARCH280728. Gift of African Architecture Matters

The Canadian Centre for Architecture is launching a collaborative and multidisciplinary research project on architecture’s complex developments in sub-Saharan African countries after independence. The architecture practice and discipline, along with academic institutions, archives, libraries, and museums, have been integral to what Valentin-Yves Mudimbe calls “the invention of Africa” by the West. This project therefore asks, first, how to understand architecture’s historical role in decolonization, neocolonialism, globalization, and their manifestations across the continent, at local and regional scales; and, second, how this understanding can challenge established methods and disciplinary conventions of architectural and urban studies. “Centring Africa: Postcolonial Perspectives on Architecture” seeks to contextualize such seemingly paradoxical relations as those among building and unbuilding, formal and informal, appropriated and expropriated, and modern and traditional. The project aims to question, and eventually shift, perspectives shaped by North/South knowledge divides.

This research initiative is catalyzed in part by the recent arrival at the CCA of three important archival collections related to architecture, urbanism, and territoriality in Africa: those of Dutch planner Coen Beeker, German architect Georg Lippsmeier, and Kiran Mukerji, an employee of Lippsmeier. Together, these archives form a unique research library of nearly three thousand titles, which will serve either as a main source or an investigative starting point for the studies developed, individually or collectively, in the framework of a new Mellon project as part of the CCA Multidisciplinary Research Program. Generally, the CCA considers archival research essential to building new forms of evidence, understanding the archive broadly, even as one which still needs to be constructed. Research may look beyond institutional archives to others constructed around single buildings, international organizations, urban spaces, new policies, statistics, laws, photography, financial programs, and philosophical, intellectual, or cultural propositions.

The CCA solicits proposals for research projects that will address crucial but unresolved historiographical questions of architecture in postcolonial Africa, arising from the transnational, multidirectional complexities of the new world order created around the idea of the Global South in the second half of the twentieth century. This order remains shaped, in large part, by the impact on the built environment of multilateral organizations such as the United Nations, UNESCO, and the International Monetary Fund, of international financial institutions such as the World Bank, the African Development Bank, and the European Development Bank, and of private philanthropic agencies such as the Ford Foundation and the Aga Khan Foundation.

The thematic spectrum includes a variety of entry points across different scales of development. Research could explore the:

• Architectural scale: new buildings, representative of the formation of new states whose independence is complicated by entanglements with international development bodies; the ethics of investment by private or state businesses, such as construction companies, from more developed economies; the operation of architects as global experts able to mediate geopolitical collaborations between Cold War powers, or between movements such as the Non-Aligned Movement, pan-Africanism, and Negritude; the design, building, and implementation of typologies of modernization such as schools, playgrounds, and hospitals.
• Urban and rural scale: the role of international aid in development projects such as so-called self-help housing and informal urbanization; the fostering of knowledge exchange through new university campuses and especially architecture curricula; the professionalization of city planning authorities as organizations for international collaboration; the implantation of emergent national and international markets through spaces like fair grounds, hotels, and airports; the importance of worship in shaping societal formations and therefore models of urbanization; the distribution of infrastructure required for rural-urban mobility and the development of peri-urban zones; the urbanization of transnational migration through the appropriation of existing buildings or the establishment of migrant camps.
• Territorial scale: the development of new spatial systems based on access to land, limited by the architectural imprint of industrialized processes, such as cultivating, harvesting, processing, and distributing food; extracting and mining oil and minerals; or constructing large infrastructure like dams, highways, and railways.

With funding from The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, the CCA will direct an eighteen-month project to analyze and historicize the ways in which architecture manifests transformations in post-independence African countries, potentially tracing these processes back to colonial periods. The grants will support original, case-based research on concrete projects, actors, architectural typologies, key geographies, or urban developments that explore the history of architecture’s agency in sub-Saharan Africa.

Applicants may propose projects that complicate Africanist, global, and postcolonial approaches to architectural history. Projects addressing cases that cannot be contained within a post-independence periodization and the sub-Saharan context will still be considered. Collective projects are also welcome, but responsibilities and roles must be clearly defined. Proposals should also address the multidisciplinary methodology inherent to the theme of architecture’s role in decolonization, articulating how their project addresses broader questions in disciplines beyond architecture, urbanism, and planning such as anthropology, cultural studies, history, geography, political science, and political economy.

External advisors
• Johan Lagae, Ghent University, Belgium
• Taibat Lawanson, University of Lagos, Nigeria
• Ijlal Muzaffar, Rhode Island School of Design, USA
• Itohan Osayimwese, Brown University, USA

CCA Committee
• Mirko Zardini, CCA Director
• Giovanna Borasi, CCA Chief Curator
• Kim Förster, CCA Associate Director, Research

Application requirements

The collaborative and multidisciplinary research project is open to researchers, journalists, practitioners, and cultural producers from architecture history and other relevant disciplines. Those interested should submit a proposal through our online application portal by 31 October 2018.

Applications must include a project outline based on clearly defined cases (750 words); a synopsis locating the proposed research within larger narratives on architecture’s concerns and connections on the African continent and beyond (500 words); a video statement about the project (2 minutes); a bibliography of key literature and of pertinent holdings in the CCA Collection or other archives, or an outline for a different research methodology and fieldwork practice, such as oral history (2 pages maximum); a CV (5 pages maximum); and a bio that highlights the applicant’s previous engagement with their subject and existing professional networks on the African continent that may be instrumental in carrying out the project (500 words).

For questions regarding the program, please contact studium@cca.qc.ca.

Selection process

“Centring Africa: Postcolonial Perspectives on Architecture” will unfold in two phases. First, the CCA will invite sixteen shortlisted applicants to participate in a Mellon Seminar to collect ideas and discuss the scope and urgency of such a project. Seminar participants will present their research projects and debate the conceptual terms and the methodological structures for conceptualizing African architecture’s agency through history writing. The multi-day Mellon Seminar will be held in an African city in the spring / summer of 2019 and all sixteen shortlisted applicants will receive a stipend to attend. Second, through a peer-review evaluation process, eight applicants will be selected to participate in the Mellon-funded research project based at the CCA in Montreal. It is essential that applicants demonstrate a productive engagement with the work of the other participants to be considered in the final selection.

CCA Mellon Multidisciplinary Research Project

The eight selected Mellon Researchers will reconvene in the fall of 2019 to begin their eighteen-month engagement with the Mellon Research Project on “Centring Africa: Postcolonial Perspectives on Architecture,” and will continue the work through the winter of 2021. Each Mellon Researcher will receive a grant of US$12 000, paid in four instalments, to support their research and production (to be shared in the case of collective projects). Further support will be provided for a residency of twenty to thirty working days total (either to work at the CCA, to access other archives, or to conduct fieldwork) and participation in three multi-day workshops and seminars (location will depend on the composition of the group). Mellon Researchers will contribute to various objectives and outcomes of the research project by writing a collaborative white paper, by producing individual essays (visual and written) in conversation with the group and with CCA staff, and by critically engaging the CCA Collection and library holdings.

This is the CCA’s fourth Mellon Multidisciplinary Research Project; please click here for more information on the program.

Frequently asked questions

Does the proposed project have to directly relate to the CCA Collection and the work of Coen Beeker, Georg Lippsmeier, or Kiran Mukerji?
The proposed research projects do not have to relate specifically to the archives of the architects mentioned in the call. However, since the Coen Beeker collection, the Georg Lippsmeier collection, and the Kiran Mukerji collection encompass a research library of more than 3000 titles, you might find literature here that could be of use.

Can someone with a background in a discipline other than architecture apply?
The project is open to academics and professionals from all disciplines, as long as the object of study is related to the built environment at the architectural, urban, or territorial scale.

Why do I need to include a video?
The video is a way to present your project visually, different from the abstract. You might want to include images or documents to the video. The video will be used in the selection process and might be part of future communication about the project—but don’t worry: we will always ask your permission before using your video or making any part of it public.

Will collective projects be considered?
Proposals for clear, case-based, and original research can be submitted by groups. The prospective role of individual members of a collective must be clearly defined in the application, with one person representing the project team as a whole. The grant will be shared.

Can I submit my book manuscript?
While we encourage previous engagement with the proposed research topic, our CCA Mellon Multidisciplinary Research Project supports the development of new, original research. If the proposal is part of or derived from a dissertation or larger project, the application must indicate how this research will be distinct. We cannot support ongoing projects.

Who will do the selection?
The CCA will select participants in correspondence with a blind peer-review, similar to academic publishing.

Is command of the English language necessary?
Application materials can be submitted in French or in English. The working language of the project will be English.

Who will pay for expenses to the participation in the Mellon Seminar, and in the Workshops/Seminars in Montréal, Canada?
Expenses for travel and accommodation, as well as a per diem allowance, will be reimbursed to participants by the CCA, with the generous support of the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation.

What are the expected deliverables?
The first aim of the CCA/Mellon Multidisciplinary Research Project is research, and a final outcome will be established over the course of the project (18 months). With past projects, Mellon Researchers have worked on textual and visual essays. Nevertheless, deliverables in the form of writing, photography, mapping, films, and other media projects can be considered primary contributions.


Sign up to get news from us

Email address
First name
Last name
By signing up you agree to receive our newsletter and communications about CCA activities. You can unsubscribe at any time. For more information, consult our privacy policy or contact us.

Thank you for signing up. You'll begin to receive emails from us shortly.

We’re not able to update your preferences at the moment. Please try again later.

You’ve already subscribed with this email address. If you’d like to subscribe with another, please try again.

This email was permanently deleted from our database. If you’d like to resubscribe with this email, please contact us

Please complete the form below to buy:
[Title of the book, authors]
ISBN: [ISBN of the book]
Price [Price of book]

First name
Last name
Address (line 1)
Address (line 2) (optional)
Postal code
Email address
Phone (day) (optional)

Thank you for placing an order. We will contact you shortly.

We’re not able to process your request at the moment. Please try again later.

Folder ()

Your folder is empty.

Please complete this form to make a request for consultation. A copy of this list will also be forwarded to you.

Your contact information
First name:
Last name:
Phone number:
Notes (optional):
We will contact you to set up an appointment. Please keep in mind that your consultation date will be based on the type of material you wish to study. To prepare your visit, we'll need:
  • — At least one week for primary sources (prints and drawings, photographs, archival documents, etc.)
  • — At least twenty-four hours for secondary sources (books, periodicals, vertical files, etc.)