Centring Africa: Postcolonial Perspectives on Architecture
In 2018 the Canadian Centre for Architecture launched 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.
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. 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.
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 as 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. Specifically, this project reconsiders the archive in order to challenge the reliance on Western sources by looking 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.
“Centring Africa: Postcolonial Perspectives on Architecture” will unfold in two phases. Following an open call for applications, the CCA has invited sixteen shortlisted applicants to participate in a Mellon Seminar to collect ideas and discuss the scope and urgency of such a project. Shortlisted applicants 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 Addis Ababa in May 2019 with all sixteen shortlisted applicants. Second, through a peer-review evaluation process eight applicants will be selected to participate in the 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,” meeting regularly in Montreal, and will continue the work through the winter of 2021.
Doreen Adengo proposes to document the modernist architecture of Kampala, Uganda, and its post-occupancy adaptations from the perspective of the local user. Adengo is the principal of Adengo Architecture.
Dele Adeyemo’s proposal takes the modernist new town and harbour at Tema, Ghana, as a case study to research how the emergence of logistics, as a networked spatial system, has governed urbanization in Africa. Adeyemo is a doctoral student at the Centre for Research Architecture at Goldsmiths, University of London.
Tomà Berlanda’s proposal surveys the projects nominated in the first three cycles of the Aga Khan Award for Architecture and the influence of the Award in defining a contemporary African architecture. Berlanda is a professor at the School of Architecture, Planning and Geomatics, University of Cape Town.
Caitlin Blanchfield proposes to research Cuba’s La Unión de Empresas Constructoras Caribe in Angola, Mozambique, and Ethiopia as an example of South-South exchange. Blanchfield is a doctoral candidate at Columbia University.
Warebi Gabriel Brisibe and Ramota Obagah-Stephen propose to study the courtyard houses built on formerly segregated land in Old Port-Harcourt Town during Nigeria’s late- and postcolonial periods as an architectural form of creolization. Brisibe is a senior lecturer and Obagah-Stephen is a lecturer at Rivers State University.
Simon De Nys-Ketels proposes to trace how architects sought to carve out a professional niche in hospital construction within an institutional constellation heavily imprinted by Cold-War politics in African development projects. De Nys-Ketels is a PhD candidate at Ghent University.
Robby Fivez’s starts from traces in the colonial archive of the former Belgian Congo to relocate the epistemological origins of the technique of lime burning from Europe to Africa, showing how this predecessor of cement has a long-standing tradition on the African continent that lasts into the present. Fivez is a PhD candidate at Ghent University.
Ayala Levin’s proposal investigates the planning of the Nigerian capital of Abuja at a territorial scale through its interdisciplinary teams of experts and the roles that Nigerian academics, architects, and universities assumed in the process. Levin is an Assistant Professor at Northwestern University.
Rachel Lee and Monika Motylinska propose to investigate a selection of the Institut für Tropenbau’s “social infrastructure” projects within the context of German foreign policies and Tanzanian and Senegalese agendas. Rachel Lee is a post-doctoral fellow at the Institute of Art History, Ludwig-Maximilian-University Munich, and Monika Motylinska is a postdoctoral researcher at the Leibniz Institute for Research on Society and Space.
Ikem Stanley Okoye proposes to use the African-produced early modern buildings of Nembe, Okrika, Old Awka, Ibi, Little Popo, and Beau in West Africa, originating well before the (inter)nationalist turns in the vicinity of WW II, as critical prologues to writing new and decolonized histories of architecture and of its imagined futures. Okoye is an Associate Professor at the University of Delaware.
Mark Olweny’s proposed research explores architecture education in East Africa over the past 60 years to conceptualize the connection between architecture education and the African architecture canon. Olweny is Associate Professor in the Faculty of the Built Environment, Uganda Martyrs University.
Petros Phokaides proposes to research the United Nations’ Food and Agricultural Organization’s pilot project of water management in Kordofan, Sudan, to study the role of rural landscapes in postcolonial visions and developmental agendas. Phokaides is a researcher at the National Technical University of Athens and at the Mesarch Lab, University of Cyprus.
Cole Roskam proposes to examine the history of China’s involvement on the African continent, in particular, the Chinese Communist Party’s efforts to redefine intermediacy as an empowering geopolitical position through African-Chinese architectural collaboration since 1949. Roskam is an Associate Professor of at the University of Hong Kong.
Lukasz Stanek proposes to study how the Africanization of architecture in independent Ghana was facilitated by its opening towards multiple networks of solidarity at regional and global scales. Stanek is a Senior Lecturer at the Manchester Architecture Research Centre, University of Manchester and an Associate Visiting Professor at the Taubman School of Architecture at the University of Michigan.
Huda Tayob, senior lecturer at the Graduate School of Architecture, University of Johannesburg, proposes to examine the event-architecture of the Kumasi, Accra, Addis Ababa, and Dar es Salaam pan-African conferences between 1953 and 1974. Tayob is a senior lecturer at the Graduate School of Architecture, University of Johannesburg.
Rixt Woudstra proposes to study the Commission for Technical Co-operation in Africa South of the Sahara and its conferences on low-cost mass housing construction during the 1950s as sites of inter-African knowledge exchange. Woudstra is a PhD candidate at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
CCA Mellon Multidisciplinary Research Project
The CCA committee prepared the open call for applications and selected seminar participants with advisors to the project.
• Mirko Zardini, CCA Director
• Giovanna Borasi, CCA Chief Curator
• Kim Förster, CCA Associate Director, Research
• Johan Lagae, Ghent University, Belgium
• Taibat Lawanson, University of Lagos, Nigeria
• Ijlal Muzaffar, Rhode Island School of Design, USA
• Itohan Osayimwese, Brown University, USA
This is the CCA’s fourth Mellon Multidisciplinary Research Project; please click here for more information on the program.
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