P032 – Building Promise – Past and Emerging Architectures of Anticipation in Africa
10 July, 14:00-15:30

Tousignant Noémi / Cambridge University / University of Montreal
Lagae Johan / University of Gent


The bold lines of modernist architecture and urban planning endure in contemporary African landscapes. From the 1940s to the 1970s, the material and aesthetic forms of colonial and national development were laid down in a proliferation of boxy but well-aired schools, universities, laboratories, hospitals, public housing and government buildings; and in new urban designs, along the roads, pipes, drains and ditches of expanded transport and sanitary infrastructures. Traces of the modernist dream have in many places been erased or worn down by decay, in others restored or renewed. They stand as ambivalent temporal signals, pointing forward but also to promises of progress that appear blocked, utopic or obsolete, or which must instead be preserved and reactivated. In the past decade, this older strata of the landscape has, across Africa, been modulated by a renewed wave of construction and design and its aesthetic of promise that is seductive but also illusory even obscene. Luxury housing developments and shopping malls, but also new roads and buildings for favored ministries and government programs, and hotels sustained by seminars announce the (speculative) growth of a new middle class, the influx of remittances, and state promises of an entrepreneur-driven “African renaissance.” Our panel invites papers on the anticipations – of forms of power, prosperity, provisioning and the public – built into the African landscape in the mid-20th and early 21st century.

Promesse de construction – Architectures de l’anticipation en Afrique : passé et futur
Les lignes audacieuses de l’architecture et de la planification urbaine moderniste marquent de leur empreinte les paysages africains contemporains. Des années 1940 aux années 1970, les formes matérielles et esthétiques du développement colonial et national se sont concrétisées dans une série de bâtiments – écoles, universités, laboratoires, hôpitaux, logements sociaux et bâtiments gouvernementaux – et dans les routes et les canalisations d’une infrastructure urbaine en pleine expansion. Les restes des rêves modernistes ont souvent été effacés ou abîmés par le temps, parfois restaurés ou remplacés. Ils font figure de signaux temporels ambigus, pointant vers le futur mais matérialisant aussi des promesses de progrès qui semblent obsolètes, figées ou utopiques, ou qu’il faudrait au contraire réactiver. Ces dernières décennies, cette couche du paysage a été remaniée par une vague de construction portée elle aussi par une esthétique de la promesse – cette fois sur un mode séduisant, mais parfois aussi illusoire voire obscène. Ensembles immobiliers de luxe, centres commerciaux, bâtiments ministériels, travaux routiers spéculent sur le boom à venir, sur la croissance d’un nouvelle classe moyenne africaine et sur la promesse d’une « renaissance africaine » par l’esprit d’entreprise. Notre panel appelle des contributions sur les anticipations qui se sont ainsi inscrites, au milieu du 20e siècle comme en ce début de 21e siècle, au cœur des paysages africains.

Paper 1

Berre Nina / The National Museum of Art, Architecture and Design, Norway

Monuments and Ruins in mid 20th century Africa: Remnants of Nordic Aid

The liberation of Tanzania, Kenya, and Zambia in the 1960s coincided with the founding of state development aid in the Nordic countries, where there was widespread belief that the social democratic model could be exported, translated, and used for nation-building, modernization and welfare in Africa. During a few intense years in the 60s and 70s, Nordic architects contributed to the rapid process of modernization in this part of Africa. This paper will discuss the decay and renewal of two building cases in Kenya, designed by a less known Norwegian Architect. Karl Henrik Nøstvik was among the first group of experts sent to Kenya in 1965 as part of the aid package, two years after Kenya’s independence. Nøstvik was commissioned by Kenya’s first president, Jomo Kenyatta, to design the country’s first government building, now Kenyatta International Conference Centre. It was immediately absorbed as a national icon of independence, progress and modernity, and is still viewed as an important architectural masterpiece in Nairobi. In 1977 Nøstvik was commissioned to design a fish factory and freezing plant in Kalakol near Lake Turkana, in the northern desert part of Kenya. The factory has never been in use as initially planned and stands today as a symbol of failed foreign aid policies. Nevertheless, the architectural structure, a monumental ruin alternatively used by the citizens of Kalokol, gives ambivalent signals of good intentions, decay and a persistent optimism for the future.

Paper 2

De Raedt Kim / University of Gent

The era of development. Architectures of education in the image of (whose?) progress and modernization

The 1960s and 70s was the era par excellence of anticipation in Africa. While charismatic new leaders envisaged the future of their countries in terms of progress and ‘catching up’, existing as well as newly created development aid bodies approached the continent with their own conceptions and interpretations of modernization, and their promises of welfare and growth. Backed by a heavy bureaucracy, an army of specialists and experts, and a huge load of cash, they financed large scale infrastructure and building projects embodying these promises. All this unfolded against the background of the Cold War, rising African nationalism, and increasing economic globalization.
In my contribution to this session, I would like to take a birds eye perspective on some of the tendencies that characterized this era of building for development, concentrating specifically on the architecture of education. I propose to address three specific themes in a panoramic yet meticulous analysis : the policies and approaches developed by the various organizations as well as the operational framework that allows to implement them ; the architect-experts and consultants recruited to translate policies and visions into design guidelines and/or actual building projects ; the nature of the architecture that resulted from the two former.

Paper 3

Smith Constance / University College London (UCL)

Homes for the Future: Material Pasts and Urban Regeneration in Nairobi

Kaloleni is a public housing estate in the Eastlands area of Nairobi. Built as a garden suburb for African families, by the 1950s it was home to Nairobi’s emergent middle classes and was subsequently an important site of nationalist politics. With bungalows arranged around a central village green, the estate was leafy and orderly. The architecture was intended to discipline colonial bodies, producing a model urban community. Yet elderly residents today remember a time of opportunity and anticipation of a brighter future.
But from the 1970s Kaloleni was gradually neglected: new residential opportunities meant many inhabitants moved elsewhere, whilst the estate’s fabric decayed as the council abandoned its maintenance duties. Today, neat paths have crumbled to dust, roofs have fallen in, rubbish piles up. Meanwhile, amid an official rhetoric of ‘Vision 2030’ and the reinvention of Nairobi as a ‘world-class metropolis’, Kaloleni is slated for demolition and redevelopment. Vision 2030 anticipates the future city as glossy, modern, prosperous: a sharp contradiction to residents’ fears of eviction and displacement.
This paper explores how, as they negotiate this precarious future, residents are turning towards the past. Etched with personal and political histories, Kaloleni’s materiality generates new practices of history-making, as residents try to disrupt official visions of the future by deploying alternative narratives of ownership, tenancy rights and national heritage.

Paper 4

Prince Ruth / University of Oslo

Anticipating progress: medical modernisms in Kenya, 1968 and 2014

In 1968 a new hospital was built in the city of Kisumu in Kenya. It was designed by Russian architects and funded by the USSR. The hospital was to be Kenya’s largest. It was to serve the new nation, a citizenry whose intimate experience of racial exclusion under British colonialism made them eager for a new kind of medical modernity. For the Kenyan bureaucrats involved in its planning, the hospital – an imposing three story, modernist structure -promised to be the most “up-to-date” in East Africa.
Drawing on Kenyan archives, this paper attends to the hopes and dreams of progress that surrounded the project, situated as it was amidst cold-war-mediated anticipations of solidarity and inclusion. The letters, meeting minutes and reports exchanged between the medical services, urban planning, housing, and lands departments trace out the lines of a new nation that sought to provision the public. I follow this paper trail, and place of the hospital as a central symbol of progress.
Still known by its nickname, ‘Russia’, today the solid modernist building continues to offer public medical care. After decades of resource drain, however, only those who cannot afford the exclusive private hospitals catering to the city’s growing middle class use it. I bring the anticipations of modernity that saturated the planning of ‘Russia’ in 1968 in dialogue with the very different expectations and longings for medical progress that the new private hospitals engender in the city today.

Paper 5

Osayimwese Itohan / Brown University

Tropical Architecture in the Service of Tropical Agriculture: the International Institute for Tropical Architecture, Foreign Aid, and Nationalism in Post-Independence Nigeria

This paper considers the role of architecture in the vision for the International Institute for Tropical Architecture (IITA) in Ibadan, Nigeria. The Institute was founded in 1967 with the philanthropic goal of improving the quantity and quality of food production in developing countries. The Rockefeller and Ford Foundations collaborated with the government of the newly-independent state of Nigeria to create what was described as one of the most modern facilities to support this forward-looking mission—architecture and urban design were seen as crucial to the project’s success. Despite its romanticized projections, however, IITA was also a tool in a new American approach to foreign policy that emphasized technical assistance to potential new American markets and spheres of influence in the developing world. Meanwhile, Nigeria, itself in the midst of the difficult and at times violent task of defining its sovereign, modern identity, saw IITA as a means to its own ends. This paper asks how these tensions coexisted between the Americanist and internationalist agendas of the Rockefeller and Ford Foundations and the nationalist goals of the former British colony and its variegated constituencies. It looks at intersections between the systems-building strategies dominant in agricultural research, politics and economics, and architectural and urban design.

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