PhD Profile: Here’s the latest in our PhD profile series

Name: Rim Yassine Kassab
PhD Research Title and Summary: The medina’s continuity, between revitalization and reconstruction – Cases of Old Rabat and Old Aleppo

The difficult balance between preservation of heritage authenticity and integrity, and adaptation to contemporary needs requires urban heritage to change and evolve. Transformation is a natural process of a city, but when the change is drastic, sudden and unplanned due to a conflict, a new context emerges. This is the case of Old Aleppo in Syria, that has seen 75% of its heritage being either destroyed or damaged. On the other hand, new socio-economic dynamism and urban practices can also transform the face of the urban heritage. The pace of this transformation is slower, but can be equally drastic. Rabat’s old city, in Morocco, for example, is currently undergoing many such ‘rehabilitation’ projects. 

Both of these medinas are inscribed in the Unesco’s World Heritage Sites. A medina is the historic core of the city, and the cultural, social and economic hub of everyday life in the cities of the MENA region (Middle East and North Africa). The urgency of reconstruction and revitalisation are crucial : safeguarding the values of the urban and social fabrics of the medinas is not only important for them as World Heritage Sites, but also pivotal for the continuity of lives and livelihoods in these historic places. 

However, community participation is lacking within government and international regulations for the processes of reconstruction or revitalization. Without taking people into consideration, many issues arise: 

-a furthering of the conflict, 

-a neglect of the community’s needs 

-the loss of the medina’s values through inacceptable change. 

How can we safeguard the continuity of the past, to inform the future of the medina, particularly in the face of its current challenges ? How does the authentic medina look in the eyes of its various communities? How should reconstruction and revitalization be considered, so that the values and tangible/intangibles attributes of the medina are preserved while meeting the current needs of its users ? 

The choice of Morocco and Syria is not arbitrary: they were the first countries to be studied in the literature, and they belong to the extreme West and East in the Islamic World, as well as diverse conditions of change. This will allow us to study the nuances of the concept of continuity and the values associated with it: continuity in times of peace (Morocco) is totally different than after a conflict (Syria), as the first is about bettering peoples lives, while the latter is about reconciliation as well.

The methodology is built around primary data gathered from cases studies, along with conducting field work, such as mapping, photographing and cataloguing, as well as interviewing a wide range of current users of medinas (inhabitants, shop owners, street vendors, police officers, tourists) and the old community that have a strong link and many memories associated with it. 

Aims and Objectives: 

-Presenting the voices of the medina’s community 

-Documenting the changes of the medina, from archival to before the current transformations to now

-Cataloguing the tangible and intangible attributes of the medina

-Presenting the values on which reconstruction/regeneration should be considered

-Incorporating methods such as the Walk and Talk interview, and gathering data through social media

  • What did you do before the PhD Research? 

Before the PhD research, I completed both my masters degree: one in Architecture at the National School of Architecture in Rabat (Morocco), and one master research in University of LeMans (France) on history, civilisations and heritage. Throughout my double degree studies, I wrote three master dissertations. The first one, “Habous district, a colonial urban adventure”, shows how the French have understood and built a district in Casablanca following the urban model of the medina. The second one, “Damascus : resilience of a city at war”, which is an urban analysis of the Syrian capital city and provides solutions to its resilience during and after the crisis. The last one, “The old city of Damascus, history of its urban resilience” investigated the resilience of the city’s historic core whilst facing urban modernity.

After graduating, I started directly applying for a PhD. While sending applications and doing interviews, I was doing an internship at the United Nations, working on research in conflicted areas, through the lens of international relations. I also joined “Rabat-Salé mémoire”, a non-profit organisation for Rabat’s cultural heritage, where I was the head of the research department, and carried out a comprehensive analysis on a Moroccan urban heritage called the Oudayas Qasba. I was also responsible for training volunteer tour-guides for this same heritage, for the ‘week of heritage’ in Rabat.

  • Why did you pursue a PhD, and what made you choose University of Liverpool?

Born in a mixed family and being exposed to two different cultures (Syrian and Moroccan) always triggered my curiosity about people’s culture and the impact it has on their building and tangible and intangible heritage. As a result, from my youngest age, I became aware of the cultural diversity the world has and was interested in its representation in form of cultural expressions, architecture and urban heritage. This also gave me hope about human kind, because we don’t just fight each other through war, but we can achieve many beautiful things. I became interested in cultural heritage, but more specifically the heritage of my countries: the medinas. Even if I studied them in my Masters, I wanted to know more because not enough attention has been paid to their set of tangible and intangible values. The subject is the first reason why I wanted to do a PhD. The second reason is that pushing boundaries and exploring new ideas is the core of my personality. I don’t like repetition and predictability, whereas research is a continuous new intellectual adventure. Each day we learn something new about the world but also about ourselves. Finally, my aim is not only the educational qualification, which is absolutely great, but I hope to make even the smallest impact on people’s life and experience. 

For the choice of Liverpool University, I started by looking for an UK institution thanks to its reputation for research and all the good things my cousins said about the excellence of the anglo-saxon system. Secondly, I wanted to challenge myself. Being in the French system all my life, I aimed to explore a new system of thoughts and new ways of doing research . Also, having a better proficiency of the english language is a remarkable asset to have in life, and another challenge I was looking forward to. The University of Liverpool brought an optimal environment for me to carry out my research: its reputation as an excellent university in terms of teaching and research encouraged me to pursue the application process. Also, my research aligns with the Heritage theme, one of the key research theme at the University of Liverpool in general and the School of Arts in particular. Finally, the research group ArchiAM provides a notable research platform where I can share my ideas and exchange reflective and critical discussions with fine researchers.

  • What have you found the most fun part of the PhD, and the most challenging?

The most fun part of the PhD is the data collection: going to the field (in my case the medina), meeting and interviewing a considerable range of people, taking pictures of beautiful monuments, of everyday life activities, of domestic buildings, of street atmospheres, immersing yourself in the old city. Each day, people surprise me with original information. Some even invited me to their house to visit, others came to me asking me if I needed anything, some gave beyond what was asked because they were happy to have their opinion listened to. It is a pleasure to see people eager to talk about their heritage. I feel the most grateful when I realise that I am studying a subject people are passionate about, that I am doing something worthwhile and meaningful. This is when I feel the most productive: when my research is progressing, I feel the most motivated by it. However, this is not to idealise field work neither, because setbacks, rejections and difficulties are omnipresent. 

The most challenging part of the PhD is this roller-coaster of emotions between being confident about your research’ subject and thinking you’re going in the right direction, then loosing track of your initial idea by getting lost in a myriad of interesting subjects. Feeling like you have no idea what you are doing and that you lost valuable time is the worst feeling that I have during the PhD. There are so many interesting methods, concepts and problematics that it is difficult for me to focus on one thing. Besides, there is an ongoing anxiety about feeling like I haven’t read enough: literature review never finishes !

  • Post-Phd? Any ideas of what you’d like to do next? 

I would like to leave my options open at this point. Like during PhD, there are so many interesting options, both academia and industry sounds good. Academia will allow me to continue doing research and to teach, something that I would love to try. Another considerable option is working with my home country government or international organisations like Unesco to implement better management policies for heritage.

In general, I know that the best end result of doing a PhD is to develop valuable transferable skills: problem-solving capacities, working independently, managing stress, better communication skills (both oral and written), time management. So no matter which job I will take up after, a PhD is definitely an incredibly useful experience for me.

  • Any advice for others interested in doing a PhD? 

The first and most important advice is that you should embark in a PhD for the right reasons: a drive for research and a subject you’re passionate about. Do not apply just to be called Dr. one day.

The second advice is for the PhD journey: it is a marathon, not a sprint. It is crucial to have a good work-life balance. You should be prepared for difficult times, and if you don’t take care of yourself properly, it will be harder for you to continue, or worse, you might hate the PhD. As much as you can, enjoy the process ! It is as important, or even more important, than the end result, which is obtaining the degree.

A number of new PhD researchers have joined us in the last 12 months, and we’d like to make some introductions.

Name: Noor J. Ragaban

Research Title and Summary: How the Home Works: The lived-in experience | A Case Study of Jeddah, Saudi Arabia
The research aims to decentre the position of architects and convention that places architecturally designed elements as the primary components . It considers users as a major element in redefining architecture.
The study focuses on the city of Jeddah in Saudi Arabia. There is a scarcity of studies in this region that examines the interior domain of the dwelling.

The project seeks to answer the following questions: how do families in Jeddah live? Does the architecture reflect their lifestyle, or is there a conflict or tussle between the built fabric and lifestyle? How do the homes ‘work’; which family members occupy which parts of the house, how are the houses decorated, embellished, and furnished? And why?

The interest in domestic architecture stems from the various tangible and intangible practices that the home enshrines. This is especially important in cities like Jeddah where a broad spectrum of genres de vie are found, and are only observed (and even visible) when one is socially immersed in the community. The existing cultural diversity of Saudis in this city is the result of two major migration phases that occurred due to the city’s strategic geographical location. The first phase took place before the creation of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, and was a result of pilgrims visiting the Islamic holy cities of Makkah and al-Madinah, as well as traders from all over the world exploiting the coastal position between Europe and the East. The second wave took place after the unification of the Kingdom (a prolonged process that was only resolved in 1932) and the discovery of oil, which attracted major migration and rapid expansion to the city.
The study investigates two of the most common types of dwellings in Jeddah, namely flats and villas (based on the 2019 Saudi General Authority of Statistics survey). It targets a wide range of participants, 30-90 year old males and females who live with their families. Emphasizing the users’ experience, the research deploys a number of qualitative methods such as semi-structured interviews; observation; auto-photography and mapping, and architectural survey of the domestic properties. Through these methods a number of common and intertwined sociocultural values can be scrutinised to understand notions of family, privacy, and hospitality.

Aims and Objectives:

1-     Explore and describe the various domestic lifestyles of Jeddawis.
2-     Identify the architectural elements of Saudi houses in Jeddah.
3-     Analyse the tangible and intangible effects of the architectural elements on the domestic life of Jeddawis, looking into three intertwined sociocultural aspects: family, hospitality and privacy.
4-     Analyse the physical and non-physical effects of the sociocultural aspects on domestic architecture.
5-     Develop customised qualitative data collection methods to suite the culture and the private researched domain.
6-     Document the diverse users’ lived-in experience.

What did you do before the PhD Research?
After completing my B.A. in Interior Design in 2008 at Dar al-Hekma University in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, I have worked as an interior designer for 9 months at C1, a workplace specialized architecture firm. In 2009 I decided to go to the UK for further studies and was able to successfully complete an M.A. in Architectural and Urban Studies in 2011 at the University of Brighton, United Kingdom.
From 2011–2018 I have been working as a lecturer in the Architecture department at Dar al-Hekma University, where I have taught several courses ranging from foundation courses to advanced studios, and theoretical courses. In 2015, I have also taught in the Interior Design department for two semesters. From 2018 –2019 I have taught in the Interior Design department at King Abdulaziz University, College of Art and Design in Jeddah, SA.
During summer breaks, since 2011, I have yearly enrolled in architecture and urban studies courses that focuses on culture, all of which took place in Germany and Austria. As my interest grew stronger in culture, I started learning the German language while in Germany. During the summers of 2017-2019 I also took a number of art courses while in Turkey to explore new mediums and experience the culture in an artistic environment.
In parallel with my academic career, and as part of community service that have always complemented my career and personal life, art education was on my agenda. From 2012–2017 I have taught drawing to autistic children in one to one sessions.
Recently in 2019, I have volunteered to work at Verve Studio, SA, in hope to contribute the art scene in Jeddah. For six months, as an art director, I have curated their first exhibition; set up sculpting and drawing course plans; and taught drawing courses.

Why did you pursue a PhD, and what made you choose University of Liverpool?
My graduate studies and the summer courses have exposed me to several culture-related topics that encouraged me to observe spaces and users simultaneously, to find out how they affect each other. My interest developed to observing family activities in different environments, often houses. There I noted a number of dissatisfactory remarks on both the architecture and lifestyle, that were sometimes merged with nostalgic comments. Considering how varied the dwellings types are today, I started reading about traditional dwellings to form a comparison between life in both architectures. That was when I realised that research on Jeddah traditional dwellings have studied the architecture only, excluding the users; also, there was no recent research that discusses inhabitants life within contemporary houses. Thus, I have decided to feed my curiosity and contribute to knowledge through pursuing my PhD, in hope that a close understanding of Jeddawis home use will eventually result in user-friendly homes, besides documenting the unique private environments experience.

Why I chose the University of Liverpool- After carrying out an extensive research into a number of prestigious and top ranking universities, I have selected the University of Liverpool for a number of reasons. Number one, the diversity of international students and the welcoming supportive environment the university provides for them. Its genuine care about academics and interpersonal skills progress and development of its students, as well as their wellbeing rendered a positive environment where I saw an opportunity to grow and succeed.
Number two, the broad spectrum of conducted research subjects and interests, not only collectively across the School of Architecture, but also of each faculty member. Which for me is an important factor as it allows further exploration and investigation of new areas beyond expectations.
Number three, I believe the University of Liverpool will help me achieve my long-term goal in Saudi as a young female. Due to its long history and record of achievement, the university is one of the most reputable universities amongst Saudis, and is acknowledged by the Saudi Ministry of Education, making it highly respected in the industry as well as academia.

What have you found the most fun part of the PhD, and the most challenging?
What I have found truly fun about the PhD is involving participants and acquiring information from them, as opposed to relying solely on  literature. The interviews, focused on the lifestyles within dwellings, allowed a significant number of questions to be asked. Questions that I could not ask in a normal conversation (or otherwise be called nosy and ill-mannered!) Similarly are the observations, where as a researcher I was welcome to scrutinise homes, viewing rooms I might have never seen under any other circumstances.
Equally, that was also one of the most challenging aspects. Even though all participants fall under the umbrella of Saudis living in Jeddah, that did not mean they were all the same, especially in regard to their little private kingdoms. Thus, constantly considering how and when to inquire about an information, without giving the impression of prying, was quite challenging. Another challenge is acquiring data from government sources and architectural offices in Saudi.
The lockdown, I must admit, was quite challenging at first, having lost the work dedicated space -campus office- and the idea of being forced to stay home. However, that soon became yet another part that I have found quite pleasant. It provided me unlimited reading and working dedicated time, especially that I am on my own. Such a joyful productive solitude.

Post-Phd? Any ideas of what you’d like to do next?
I am fortunate enough to have a job to go to back home, teaching at King Abdulaziz University, where I plan to return in order to continue working on my proposal of improvements in the university. Alongside, as a Saudi university faculty member, I plan to become a member of the Saudi Building Code National Committee, in hope to take part in informing policies and decision making. I’d like to achieve this goal before going back home.

Any advice for others interested in doing a PhD?
While the right time and perfect opportunity maybe motivating factors to pursue a PhD, I’d personally recommend to only start once having found the right subject. It needs to be a subject that you’re truly passionate about, and are willing to commit to for a long period of time (rather than only doing PhD for the sake of it). I would also add that the topic, or the interest indeed, should be initially broad. A broad interest will allow endless possibilities of focuses for the researcher to choose from, which certainly requires the student to be fixable and open to explore new spheres within their area of interest.

International Perspectives on the Future of Architecture and Urbanism in the Post-COVID Age
Online Symposium, January 29-30, 2021, 11am-2pm US Eastern Time

Register for this conference at https://bit.ly/EpidemicUrbanism to join us for one or both days. If you have any questions, please contact epidemicurbanism@gmail.com. The deadline for registration is January 25th. 

Organizers: Mohammad Gharipour and Caitlin DeClercq, Epidemic Urbanism Initiative

Long before the appearance of COVID-19, the urban fabric of cities across the world had been shaped by prior epidemics. Indeed, the study of historic, global epidemics has illuminated the many ways in which urban life and architecture have changed during times of pestilence. With the outbreak of each epidemic has come new scientific understandings of disease, new modes of governing of social life and interaction, novel efforts to intervene in and prevent infection, the exacerbation of social inequities, and the creation of new occupational and social roles. Each of these outcomes has been enacted and emplaced in the built environment over time and across diverse geographies through the design or re-design of buildings and public spaces, the quarantine or redirection of goods and people, the adoption of new social roles, and the imposition of new urban design policies and practices. Spanning two days, this symposium, comprised of scholars and practitioners from twenty countries, will confront the impacts of this pandemic on cities and imagine new possibilities for a post-COVID urban landscape through topics including:

  • January 29th, 2021 (11am-2pm EST) topics: Response and Experience; Ecology and Sustainability; and Education and Pedagogy 
  • January 30th, 2021 (11am-2pm EST) topics: Design and Interventions; Healthcare Design; and Social Justice and Equity

Register for this conference at https://bit.ly/EpidemicUrbanism to join us for one or both days. If you have any questions, please contact epidemicurbanism@gmail.com. The deadline for registration is January 25th. This virtual conference is sponsored by the AIA Design & Health Research Consortium (DHRC). The Epidemic Urbanism Initiative (EUI) was founded by Dr. Mohammad Gharipour and Dr. Caitlin DeClercq in March 2020. This is the fourth international conference hosted by the EUI. All prior conferences and additional conversations are publicly available at the EUI YouTube channel

Panel 1. Response and Experience (Friday, January 29)
Moderator: Eliana Abu-Hamdi Murchie (USA)
Impacts of COVID-19 on Liming as a Form of Commoning in Trinidad and Tobago Nicole de Lalouvière and Renelle Sarjeant (Trinidad and Switzerland)
Superblocks as a Promising Pandemic Response and Experience in Barcelona, Spain Federico Camerín, Luca Fabris, and Riccardo Balzarotti (Italy)
Paradigm Shift of Work and the Workplace amid the Pandemic in the UAE Mouza Al Neyadi and Kheira Aoul (UAE)
Experiential Learning to Support Remote Instruction in an Australian Architecture Design Studio Ross T. Smith and Cecilia de Marinis (Australia)
Protective Barriers in US Cities During and After the COVID-19 Pandemic Aki Ishida (USA)

Panel 2. Ecology and Sustainability (Friday, January 29)
Moderator: Michael Vann (USA)
Landscape and Eco-systemic Intensification Strategies During and After Pandemics in Milan, Italy Andrea Oldani (Italy)
Communities, Schools, and Future Ecologies in Washington DC, USARebecca Milne, Sean O’Donnell, and Bruce Levine (USA)
Urban Form and Thermally Comfortable Pedestrian Streetscapes in Post-COVID Mendoza, Argentina Maria B. Sosa, Erica Correa, and Maria A. Canton (Argentina)
Emergency Responsive Design in Housing Typologies in the Post-COVID Kigali, Rwanda Manlio Michieletto (Rwanda)

Panel 3. Education and Pedagogy (Friday, January 29)
Moderator: Ashraf Salama (Scotland)
Equitable Remote Design Education in the Post-COVID the American Great Plains Bud Shenefelt (USA)
Implications for Placemaking Pedagogy in an Archipelagic Setting during Pandemics in the Philippines Richard Carraga, Shirley Maraya, Maria Joelyca Sescon, and Iderlina Mateo-Babiano (The Philippines and Australia)
An Online Student Workshop as a Pedagogical Experiment Necessitated by COVID-19 in Serbia Mladen Pešić and Miloš Kostić (Serbia)
Pedagogical Responses to COVID-19 and Rethinking Norms of Architectural Education in the UAEAhmad Sukkar and Emad Mushtaha (UAE)
Assessing the Experience of Virtual Learning Techniques in an Urban Design Studio in the USAHessam Ghamari and Nasrin Golshany (USA)

Panel 4. Design and Interventions (Saturday, January 30)Moderator: Louisa Iarocci (USA)
The Fall of Starchitecture and the Future of Architectural Practice in the Post-COVID UK Elizabeth Walder (Wales)
Urban Design and Public Transport in the Age of Pandemics in Harare, Zimbabwe Brilliant Mavhima (Zimbabwe)
Envisioning a Post-COVID Hybrid Work/Housing Solution in an Architectural Studio in Berlin, Germany Robinson Michel (Germany)
Sustaining Safe Construction Operations in the U.S. During COVID-19 Babak Memarian, Sara Brooks, and Jean Christophe Le (USA)

Panel 5. Healthcare Design (Saturday, January 30)
Moderator: Anjali Joseph (USA)
Spatial Strategies to Separate COVID Patients within Hospital Building Infrastructure Pleuntje Jellema, Ann Heylighen, and Margo Annemans (Belgium)
Hospital Ward Flexibility, Equity, and Virus Exposure Risk in Freetown, Sierra Leone Stavroula K. Koutroumpi (England)
Rethinking Personal Space Needs in Hospital Settings in the Post-COVID Era Lusi Morhayim (Israel)
Epidemic Metabolism in Oncology Hospital Design Practices during the Post-COVID Age Katarina Andjelkovic (Serbia)
Visualizing Healthcare Design’s Alternative Futures through Technical and Typological InnovationJeremy Kargon and Rolf Haarstad (USA)

Panel 6. Social Justice and Equity (Saturday, January 30) Moderator: Irene Hwang (USA)
Responding to an Unequal Society through Agile and Adaptable Teaching Strategies in South Africa Melinda Silverman and Sandra Felix (South Africa)
Pandemics and the Exacerbation of Social Inequities in Urban Informal Settlements in Pakistan Amna Shahzad (Pakistan)
Reinterpretation of Traditional Urban Space and Social Justice in the Post-COVID Lagos, Nigeria Timothy Odeyale (Nigeria)
Shared, Accessible, and Healthy Streets in Post-Pandemic American Cities Celen Pasalar and George Hallowell (USA)

Call for Participants: Writing Group on Architecture and Empire
Society of Architectural Historians of Great Britain

https://www.sahgb.org.uk/news/architectureandempire

With a formal existence spanning early modern to contemporary history, the British Empire supported complex networks of trade, war and settlement. It intervened in land-based expansions as well as maritime worlds and prefigured a global architectural history. Yet research that seeks to critically address the empire and its legacy poses complex challenges for the architectural historian: the mental-mapping of bureaucratic systems across multiple continents, finding evidence of buildings and landscapes for which little documentation exists, sitting with a complex past and present of race, gender, religion, nationalism and capitalism.

This writing group is formed as an empathetic structure for scholars writing books and dissertations on imperial and colonial histories. We seek to create a space for researchers to share resources on chapter writing, structuring and revision. Writing is often an isolating activity, particularly for emerging scholars with non-Eurocentric specialisations that are underrepresented in the academy. To this end, we especially encourage applications from early-career researchers and those whose primary field sites are located outside of Great Britain. This project is among the first within the society’s new Race and Ethnicity network, a new effort to foster greater equality, diversity and inclusivity within the Society of Architectural Historians of Great Britain.

The group will meet for two hours every two months, with participants alternating between workshopping their own draft chapters and that of another in the writing group. Participants must commit to reviewing and presenting once every four months. To mitigate time zones and geographies, all events will be held over Zoom.

HOW TO JOIN

To join, please send a one-page cover letter and a brief project abstract to info@sahgb.org.uk with the subject line ‘Application: Writing Group on Architecture and Empire’ by 15 January 2021. The cover letter should state why you would like to be a part of the group and your general meeting availability, and the abstract should address the dissertation or book project you hope to work on as part of the writing group. All interested participants will be notified by 31 January 2021. The group will meet every other month beginning in February 2021. The meeting times, format and specific group expectations will be refined amongst participants during the first meeting and reviewed on a regular basis.

This writing group is convened by Sonali Dhanpal (Newcastle University), Sben Korsh (University of Michigan) and Y.L. Lucy Wang (Columbia University).

Rachel Lee, ‘Engaging the Archival Habitat: Architectural Knowledge and Otto Koenigsberger’s Effects
Comparative Studies of South Asia, Africa and the Middle East (2020) 40 (3): 526–540; https://doi.org/10.1215/1089201X-8747502

Drawing on experiences of researching India’s architectural history, this article explores the affect generated by architectural archives as a source of knowledge. It traces the affective life of the archives and practices of a singular historical figure: Otto Koenigsberger, the chief architect and town planner of the princely state Mysore, the architect of Jamshedpur (a.k.a. Tatanagar, the “Steel City,” India’s first planned industrial town), the first director of housing of the federal government of India, cofounder and director of the Department of Tropical Studies of the Architectural Association in London, and architecture and planning consultant at-large to the United Nations.

Arguing that the affective archive has disruptive historiographical potential, the article posits that it exists fundamentally beyond the architectural object and archival documents themselves, and indeed fully in discourse with its users. The article argues for a more expansive and inclusive understanding of what constitutes an archive, designating the “archival habitat” as a place of active scholarly engagement.

The aim of this project is to investigate if, and to what extent do ‘tropical modernist’ structures modify or mitigate climatic conditions to create more ‘comfortable’ interiors. 

Most of these structures were designed to be passively cooled and as such have a permeable façade composed of concrete screens or louvres to facilitate cross ventilation air-flow, and to create shade. A good example is the Children’s Library in Accra, designed by Nickson and Borys in 1957.

Mainly built during the 1930s-70s, these buildings are now at an age when they require refurbishment and rehabilitation – although this is mainly superficial and does not involve structural correction. There are various options pursued, many involving the installation of air-conditioning units. For the AC to be effective it ideally requires a sealed interior volume, rendering the existing permeable façade unsuitable. 

Standard Chartered Bank: as built and passively cooled
Standard Chartered Bank: refurbished, clad in glazed panels and reliant on AC

One solution being increasingly used in Ghana is to externally clad the façades with a glazed screen, as seen on the Standard Chartered Bank on Accra’s High Street. 

The glazing cuts out street and traffic noise and reduces dust infiltration, as well as enabling the interior to be mechanically cooled. But in terms of energy usage (consumption of AC and in the fabrication of the glazed units) it is far from ideal. Furthermore, there is the financial cost of cooling what is now effectively a greenhouse in a hot and humid climate. Architecturally the building has also been dramatically altered. It is now a bland non-descript block, and lacks the patterns, shading effects, and references to the floors behind the façade. I’m not suggesting that this example is a prestigious heritage monument, but rather using it to illustrate what is becoming an increasingly common approach to refurbishment. Fortunately, in this case glazing can be easily removed and the older structure has been preserved inside.

Our project has several objectives, including to:

  1. Recognise and promote the significance of these 20thC modernist structures.
  2. Determine if the passive cooling approach does create sufficiently comfortable interiors.
  3. Investigate what conditions are comfortable for the occupants of these buildings.
  4. Investigate alternatives to AC that provide low cost and low energy comfortable interiors without detrimentally impacting upon the architectural quality.

To test both inland and coastal conditions we’ve selected a case study at KNUST in Kumasi, and another at the University of Ghana, Accra.  Both buildings are university libraries, and as such have a large number of daily visitors that we can consult. The library at KNUST was designed as a louvred screen wall, fully adjustable from the interior, and also has a later brutalist extension with a twin façade arrangement and partially air-conditioned interior. 

KNUST Library: a facade of adjustable louvres

At Accra, the Balme Library takes a more colonial/traditional approach with a series of courtyards, loggias and high ceilings. Some of the rooms have been retro-fitted with air-conditioning, whilst at the same time naturally ventilated. Both libraries are large institutional buildings and have the potential to consume large amounts of energy should they be refurbished with full AC and cooled to ASHRAE recommendations. Furthermore, it is important for the health and education of the staff and students that these buildings are comfortable places to spend time in, and to study. 

Balme Library at University of Ghana

In each building we’ve installed a number of Hobo data-loggers that record the temperature and humidity at regular intervals. Whilst this data allows us to determine whether the internal temperature/humidity is different to the external condition, it does not tell us if the conditions are comfortable to the inhabitants. To establish this, we’ve consulted the library users and staff to enquire how comfortable they feel in the various library spaces. The respondents also recorded their attire, age, sex, and how long they have been in the library prior to completing the survey.  Over 250 people completed the survey at KNUST in January 2020. We will repeat this in the ‘rainy season’, and conduct similar surveys at Accra. When we’ve gathered this data we can correlate the data-logger findings with those of the user surveys. We’re also constructing 3d computer models of the buildings to test various refurbishment scenarios and cooling options.

Our partners in this project are Dr. Haniyeh Mohammadpourkarbasi at University of Liverpool; Dr. Irene Appeaning-Addo and Dr. Dan Nukpezah from University of Ghana; and Prof. Rexford Assasie-Oppong at KNUST. We’re also indebted to the library staff and students at each institution. Funding has been generously provided by the University of Liverpool ODA Seed Fund 2019-2020.

Updates to follow when we have more data and findings to report.

Mojca Smode Cvitanovic, ‘New Paper: Tracing the Non-Aligned Architecture: Environments of Technical Cooperation and the Work of Croatian Architects in Kumasi, Ghana (1961-1970)’ Histories of Postwar Architecture, 3(6), 34-67. Full paper available here: DOI: https://doi.org/10.6092/issn.2611-0075/10450

Unity Hall, KNUST, designed by Miro Marasović and John
Owusu Addo, 1968.

Focusing on the work of a group of Croatian i.e. Yugoslav architects in Ghana, the paper explains the nature of technical cooperation as a model of temporary international contract work in relation to the specificities of the environment built consequently. It focuses on the engagement of Miro Marasović as the head of the Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology Development Office from 1961 to 1964. As its contextual framework, the paper addresses bilateral technical cooperation as a form of international communication and exchange, the practices of the Non-Aligned Movement, and the interrelations of the pre- and post-independence generation of modern architecture in Africa.

[See also KNUST archival drawings here ]

This thematic section of ABE Journal, edited by  Jiat-Hwee Chang and Daniel J. Ryan, explores the wide-ranging socio-environmental implications of comfort for architectural history. The contributions over this and the next issue complicate and expand upon our understanding of comfort. Each essay unpacks how comfort was situated and assembled in the built environment of different temporalities and geographies, beyond the taken-for-granted immediacy of the present and the discursive familiarity of temperate European and North American contexts.

 “The five zones showing in a graphic manner the climates, peoples, industries and productions of the earth” published by Western Publishing House, Chicago, in 1887

Drawing from the cognate fields of scholarship in, among others, Science and Technology Studies, Postcolonial Studies, and Sociology of Practice, the contributions show how, during the past two centuries, comfort and the built environment were historically entangled with (settler) colonialism and decolonization, and the various (dis)enchantments of modernities and modernization in Asia, Australia, Latin America, and West Africa. By understanding comfort in relation to these cross-cultural and cross-climatic encounters, these contributions have far-reaching implications for comprehending our shifting and situated relationships with not just built environmental transformations but also planetary climate change.

Full edition freely available here: https://doi.org/10.4000/abe.7853

PAC@75 is an exciting four-day celebration marking the 75th anniversary of the 5th Pan African Congress, held in Manchester in 1945.

THURSDAY 15 – SUNDAY 18 OCTOBER 2020

Image created by: Zineb Berrais

Curated by Professor of Architecture, Ola Uduku, PAC@75 will be a multi-institutional series of creative and academic events, led by Manchester Metropolitan University, with contributions from The University of Manchester, the University of Salford, and the University of Bolton, and in association with a host of UK and international academic, creative and cultural individuals and institutions, including prominent local creatives and the Manchester public.

The Pan African Congress in 1945 was a precursor to the development of a number of African independence movements which went on to successfully secure self-rule for countries across Africa. It also signified the movement of the intellectual discourse on African self-realisation and solidarity with other causes; moving from the Americas and the West Indies, to the UK and then on to Africa.

The plaque commemorating this event is situated in the new Manchester Metropolitan University Arts and Humanities Building, facing onto All Saints Square, in what had previously been Chorlton Town Hall where the original six-day event took place. The Congress had 200 attendees from across the world; including delegations from Africa, America, the Caribbean and Asia, as well as black and white delegates from Manchester and across the UK.

Join us online to enjoy a range activities featuring high-profile international speakers, such as the Princeton-based writer and philosopher, Kwame Anthony Appiah, the writer and historian Afua Hirsch, and the poets Lemn Sissay, (Chancellor of The University of Manchester) and Carol Ann Duffy DBE (former Poet Laureate 2009-2019). They will be joined also by student speakers, who represent our next generation of leaders. There will also be public-facing sessions including public literature readings, art projections, and theatrical performances by the Manchester School of Theatre and Contact Theatre. PAC@75 is curated in collaboration with Dr Kai Syng Tan.

PAC@75 will bring together academics, students and the public to celebrate the impact that the diversity of Manchester has had on global history, and how this history relates to today’s contemporary challenges in the face of modern racism and the Black Lives Matter movement.

Full Programme and details here: https://www.mmu.ac.uk/pac75

We are delighted to offer researchers at select partner universities an opportunity to apply for one of University in Liverpool’s Virtual Fellowships.

The Fellowships are open to researchers working in the field of heritage and are open to early career as well as established researchers.

The Fellowships provide an opportunity for selected candidates to gain collaborative research experience in an international research environment with the aim of publishing or co-publishing a specific piece of research in an international journal or equivalent venue and fostering long-term collaboration.

The Fellowships are fully online and travel to the UK is not required.

Successful candidates will have the opportunity to collaborate virtually with a research group or designated individuals at the University of Liverpool.

The Fellowship will offer:

  • one to one research mentoring, including support in analytical and interpretive methods in heritage research: this will be delivered at a distance through zoom or similar platforms
  • relief from teaching and other duties to pursue the completion and write-up of a piece of research for publication
  • access to online research resources and training including GIS training; Photogrammetry; AutoCAD and visualisation (3D Max); 3D scanning; Fieldwork/ documentation methods support and guidance with academic writing in English
  • opportunities for research collaboration through “virtual” participation in relevant research group activities in Liverpool.

Full details on how to apply here: https://www.liverpool.ac.uk/humanities-and-social-sciences/research/training-and-support/virtual-fellowships/