A new exhibition opening later this month at Chicago's Graham Foundation seeks to explore the complex history and legacy of modernist architecture in sub-Saharan Africa during the 1960s and 1970s. Architecture of Independence: African Modernism will feature nearly eighty buildings in commissioned photographs by Iwan Baan, Alexia Webster, and Manuel Herz. Alongside archival material, the exhibition "imparts a new perspective on the intersection of architecture and nation-building in Ghana, Senegal, Côte d’Ivoire, Kenya, and Zambia and investigates some of the most compelling yet under-studied examples of 1960s and 1970s architecture worldwide."
The story of the African built environment is often told through historical perspectives of colonization and political crises, emphasizing the difficulties that African people have faced. Economic perspectives such as poverty, development and globalization also create stereotypes of the continent. Often missing from these are the transformations in space that result from daily and repeated use. These transformations emerge from ideas exchanged between people and their movements through their neighborhoods, cities, regions and countries. The quality of spaces that we may find will paint a complex picture of Africa.
The Department of Human Settlements at the Royal Danish Academy of Fine Arts' School of Architecture, Design, and Conservation has developed a new low-income housing prototype for Maputo, Mozambique in southeast Africa as part of the Casas Melhoradas research project. The prototype reinterprets the area’s traditional “Casa de Madeira e Zinco,” which is made of wood and corrugated iron sheets, and the "Casa de Blocos," which is composed of concrete blocks.
In designing and building multiple successful public buildings in central Africa and around the world, MASS Design Group has employed and guided thousands of local craftsmen, curating the building process to inspire dignity. Now, they wish to help the African people obtain the skills necessary to guide the process themselves. At the United Nations Solutions Summit this Sunday Christian Benimana, a program director for the non-profit design studio, will present plans for what they are calling the “Bauhaus of Africa”: three “African Design Centers” to be built over the next 10 years in strategic locations throughout the continent. The design centers will house an education program tasked with training a new generation of African architects - a workforce certain to be indispensable as Africa enters a period of unprecedented urban growth.
By the year 2025, the urban population in Sub-Saharan Africa is predicated to increase by almost 70% -- a rapid urbanization that will inevitably affect the construction sector.
To address this expected growth and to help lay the foundations for a sustainable urban and social development, students from the Institute of Experimental Architecture at Bauhaus-Universität Weimar and EiABC (Ethiopian Institute of Architecture Building Construction and City Development) worked together to build three residential prototypes at a 1:1 scale for Addis Ababa: the capital of Ethiopia and the heart of hyper-urbanization. See all of the project details, below.
Kéré Architecture has placed first in a competition to design a protective shelter on the UNESCO-protected Meroe Royal Baths in Sudan, North Africa. Believed to have served nearby palaces from the great African Kingdom of Kush (now modern-day Sudan), the Meroe Royal Baths were listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2011 and is the focus of joint research by the German Archaeological Institute and the National Corporation for Antiques and Museums. Still marked by temples, palaces and over two hundred pyramids, the ruins of Meroe are a testimony to the exchanges of culture between the Mediterranean and Africa. Find out more about the proposal after the break.
The exhibition AFRICA is the third and last in the series architecture, culture and identity. It focuses on the area called sub-Saharan Africa – the part of Africa south of the Sahara Desert. Louisiana’s wish to mount this exhibition has its origin in a very simple observation: despite the fact that Africa is the world’s second-largest continent, surprisingly little contemporary culture from there comes our way.
Storefront for Art and Architecture hosts Facing East: Chinese Urbanism in Africa, an exhibition by journalist Michiel Hulshof (Tertium, Amsterdam) and architect Daan Roggeveen (MORE Architecture, Shanghai). Facing East investigates the impact of Chinese development on fast-growing African cities, and is built around personal stories of individuals involved in the urbanization process.
Architecture is a unique component of a country's culture just as much as its language, music, art, literature or food. Architecture is also the most visual of those cultural components; the pyramids in Egypt, skyscrapers in New York, a temple in Japan, and onion domes in Russia all convey a unique image. This is called “genius loci,” the “spirit of a place”. Every country has its own genius loci, its own uniqueness. Vernacular architecture is composed of local materials and derived from local customs, techniques that have been passed on from generation to generation. But vernacular architecture in most (if not all) African countries is disappearing, being abandoned for western materials and techniques.
The American Institute of Architects (AIA) and the Africa Union of Architects (AUA) has signed a cooperative agreement to "share practice tools and resources, creating a framework for American and African architects to work collaboratively in achieving development and infrastructure goals in Africa." The agreement articulates their mutual interests to advance the “Africa Sustainability Campaign” in spirit of the 2014 U.S.-Africa Leaders’ Summit in Washington DC.
"I am thrilled to have the opportunity to reinvigorate and formalize the AIA's relationship with our colleagues in Africa,” said AIA 2015 President, Elizabeth Chu Richter, FAIA. “We look forward to increased knowledge sharing on topics such as health and resilience which are critical to the sustainable future of our planet."
On display until May 31st, the Vitra Design Museum's "Architecture of Independence – African Modernism" exhibition displays a cross-section of Africa's experimental architecture from the post-colonial years of the 1960s. Covering more than 80 projects in Kenya, Zambia, Ghana, Côte d’Ivoire, and Senegal, the exhibition aims to shed light on this little-known period of architecture history, and challenge Western notions of African countries. In this interview, originally published by Metropolis Magazine as "Q&A: Curator Manuel Herz on Africa's 'Grandiose' Modern Architecture," Curator Manuel Herz reveals the origins of the exhibition and shares his thoughts light on some of the buildings which the exhibition highlights.
Clare Dowdy: What triggered your interest in the post-colonial architecture of Central and Sub-Saharan Africa?
Manuel Herz: I was in Nairobi a couple of times around 2007 and noticed the architecture of that period was of outstanding quality but virtually unknown outside Kenya. This triggered an interest to research the whole of Sub-Saharan Africa. I found that the political urgency that existed at the time of the independence process is embodied in the architecture.
In many African countries, clean water is still a luxury. Wars are fought over it, families are uprooted for it, and entire communities perish without it. The scarcity of freshwater has plagued nations in Africa and around the world for centuries. Now, non-profit group PITCHAfrica is fixing the problem with a novel combination of sport and design. Part of a 10-acre Waterbank Campus comprised of 7 water-harvesting buildings, the soccer (or “futsal”) stadium is capable of hosting up to 1500 people, helping to save, educate and unite communities that are most in need.
Adjaye Associates has announced plans to transform a 17-floor post-modernist structure in Johannesburg’s central business district into a luxury mixed-use building that will be known as the “Hallmark House.” Scheduled for completion mid-2016, the project aims to “combine an African aesthetic with a contemporary vision” and form a new typology for urban living.
“The transformation of Hallmark House is an opportunity to apply fresh thinking to urban community and to address changing lifestyles with a more fluid approach to the way we inhabit cities,” says David Adjaye.
As the legacy of the Cold War fades and Western preeminence gradually becomes a thing of the past, population booms in Asia followed by the growth of a vast non-western middle class have seriously challenged the Western perception of the world. The East has become the focal point of the world’s development.
If East Asia is the present focal point of this development, the future indisputably lies in Africa. Long featuring in the Western consciousness only as a land of unending suffering, it is now a place of rapidly falling poverty, increasing investment, and young populations. It seems only fair that Africa’s rich cultures and growing population (predicted to reach 1.4 billion by 2025) finally take the stage, but it’s crucially important that Africa’s future development is done right. Subject to colonialism for centuries, development in the past was characterized by systems that were designed for the benefit of the colonists. Even recently, resource and energy heavy concrete buildings, clothes donations that damage native textile industries, and reforestation programs that plant water hungry and overly flammable trees have all been seen, leaving NGOs open to accusations of well-meaning ignorance.
Fortunately, a growth in native practices and a more sensible, sensitive approach from foreign organizations has led to the rise of architectural groups creating buildings which learn from and improve Africa. Combining local solutions with the most appropriate Western ideas, for the first time these new developments break down the perception of monolithic Africa and have begun engaging with individual cultures; using elements of non-local architecture when they improve a development rather than creating a pastiche of an imagined pan-African culture. The visions these groups articulate are by no means the same - sustainable rural development, high end luxury residences and dignified civic constructions all feature - but they have in common their argument for a bright future across Africa. We’ve collected seven pioneers of Africa’s architectural awakening - read on after the break for the full article and infographic.
From February 20 the Vitra Design Museum will host "Architecture of Independence - African Modernism," an exhibition curated by architect and author Manuel Herz. Featuring numerous photographic contributions by Iwan Baan, "Architecture of Independence" explores the experimental and futuristic architecture produced in 1960s Central and Sub-Saharan Africa during the region's period of newfound independence.
Pemba, a small Tanzanian island off of Africa's Eastern coast, is undergoing something of a construction boom. With half of the population aged under 30 and a culture in which a man must build a house before he can get married, a wave of new informal housing is sweeping the island. Historically, construction methods used by the islanders have been problematic: traditional wattle & daub construction typically survives for just 5-7 years; its replacement, bricks made of coral, not only require large amounts of energy to extract but have a devastating effect on the environment; and modern cement bricks most be imported at high costs.
Sensing an opportunity to help the islanders at a critical time in their development, Canadian NGO Community Forests International is promoting a solution that combines the economy and sustainability of wattle & daub with the durability of masonry: Interlocking Stabilized Compressed Earth Blocks (ISCEBs). Find out how this simple technology can help the island community after the break.
As the continent with the fastest growing population in the world, African frontiers will soon become attractive areas for urban settlements and the potential for conflicts arising from colonial borders may inhibit necessary economic growth. Colonialism’s legacy continues to spark conflict revolving around arbitrary borders established by Europeans in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries with no regard for ethnic, linguistic, and religious disparities across the continent. These decisions resulted in the separation of cultural communities within each nation and the creation of political boundaries that often did not reflect shared civil interests. Consequently sub-Saharan Africa has experienced sustained conflicts in the years following independence, resulting in diminished potential for further economic development in many regions. Today, border disputes have led to a rise in separatist movements in numerous countries, but African governments are hesitant to abandon the colonial borders to avoid further disruptive conflicts.
As political approaches to this issue continue to be extremely contentious, an architectural intervention at the urban scale proposed by Sebastian Irarrazaval Arquitectos may be the key to a prosperous cultural and economic future for Africa. In their concept for an ideal African city, Sebastian Irarrázaval and his team have conceptualized their solution as a network of trans-border cities. This set of “bi-national urban entities” will serve to erase the old colonial borders and "will reintegrate the continent as it was prior to European domination when cultural and economic exchange flourished."
Find out how the proposal aims to address some of Africa’s longest-standing social and political problems after the break
Valode & Pistre is set to break ground on Africa’s tallest tower next June. More than doubling the height of Johannesburg’s 223-meter Carlton Center, which has been the continent’s tallest building since 1973, the Al Noor Tower (Tower of Light) will most likely rise 540-meters on a 25-hectare site in the Moroccan city of Casablanca.
It’s program will center around business, providing accommodations with a 200-suite luxury hotel, a trading platform, conference hall and large art gallery, as well as an astonishing 100-meter-tall atrium that hollows the tower’s base.