A World of Architectural History is the 4th annual conference of the Architectural Research in Europe Network Association (ARENA).
The conference aims to critique and celebrate the latest global advances within architectural history over the last few decades, by focusing upon the word ‘global’ in two senses:
Geographically – referring to the increasing inclusion of all parts of the world in more complex and multiple discourses of architectural history
Intellectually – the ongoing expansion of architectural history into other academic subjects, plus the reception of ideas/themes from those subjects
Recognition will be given to a more inclusive approach to architectural history that seeks to incorporate the histories of all countries/regions, and to the significant contributions now being made through interdisciplinary links with other subjects. As such, the conference will represent the forefront of the field internationally and discuss where architectural history ought to head in the future.
Conference presenters will include those from a wide range of subject areas within The Bartlett Faculty of the Built Environment and leading figures in architectural history across the world. Both invited speakers and those selected via an open call will contribute their papers.
Eight thematic areas will be presented over the two days of the conference, with these themes also framing the call for papers:
Jawaharlal Nehru, Otto Koenigsberger, Amrit Kaur and unknown others visit the Housing Factory, 1950. | Courtesy: Koenigsberger family
The refugee crisis that followed the division of India and Pakistan in August 1947 intensified the already dire housing situation in Indian cities. In Delhi, where the population had almost doubled over the previous decade, causing a severe housing shortage, some 500,000 refugees sought shelter. As well as camps outside the city, Delhi’s verandahs, gardens and pavements were filled with displaced people while communal violence raged in the streets.
The “noble mansion of free India where all her children may dwell” that Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru envisioned building in his Independence Day speech must have seemed a pipedream to Delhi’s homeless. Nonetheless, the central government committed to developing housing solutions that would provide dignified, sustainable, low-cost shelter to help counter the refugee crisis.
Responsible for leading this project was Otto Koenigsberger, Director of Housing in the Ministry of Health. Koenigsberger, who was born in 1908 in Berlin, Germany, had been working in exile in India since 1939. Unable to continue his work as an architect in Berlin due to Nazi persecution, Koenigsberger – who was of Jewish background – had migrated to Bangalore, where he held the position of Government Architect and Town Planner in the erstwhile princely state of Mysore for nine years.
In addition to his extensive government work in Mysore, he built up a private practice, working on large-scale urban planning projects such as the Jamshedpur Development Plan for Tata & Sons, or the master plan for Bhubaneswar, the new capital of Orissa. Koenigsberger was also a founding editor of MARG magazine. Before being called to Delhi to work with the central government, Koenigsberger had become a prominent figure in India’s evolving architectural landscape and had established a reputation as a town planner.
Throughout his time in India, he had also displayed enthusiasm and ambition for developing low-cost, prefabricated housing. Arguing that mass production was particularly suited to India because of the “simpler” housing needs of the Indian worker’s family, Koenigsberger designed the Tata House for Jamshedpur.
Built on a light steel framework, with walls of precast aerated concrete blocks and a barrel-vault roof of the same material, the component parts could be transported by lorry and assembled on site. In Mysore, too, Koenigsberger was involved in the development of a mass-manufacture housing scheme initiated by Bangalore industrialists and a British engineering firm to meet the severe housing lack in urban areas. Like many other prefab schemes that were initiated in the 1940s, however, these projects remained on the drawing board.
Good idea on paper
It is not surprising that when Koenigsberger was invited to advise the government of India on the chronic housing shortage, he recommended prefabricated housing as a viable solution. From October 1948, as Director of Housing, he began setting up the Hindustan Housing Factory in Delhi, which was to serve the capital city, supplementing rather than replacing the traditional construction of houses and targeting refugee housing needs.
It was a pilot project, initiated with the aim of replication across India’s urban centres. The simple single-storey housing units produced by the factory offered two rooms, rear and front verandahs, a kitchen and a separate bathroom and lavatory accessed via a small rear courtyard. While they could be added to incrementally or combined to make larger units, the real innovation of the houses was the use of large load-bearing aerated-concrete wall panels that were quickly cured by the relatively new process of autoclaving.
The aerated-concrete panels offered excellent thermal properties and could be produced using local materials. Doors and windows were to be fitted to the panels in the factory so that site work could be reduced to building simple masonry foundations and assembling the ready-made panels.
Series of crises
What could possibly go wrong? Well, pretty much everything, as it turned out.
To begin with, the delivery of prototypes of the houses, which were needed for testing in local conditions and finalising design details, was delayed. Meanwhile, the Ministry of Health took over six months to establish the factory’s management and administration structure, define its constitution, select its committee and hire skilled staff, which postponed the commencement of actual building work.
Apart from that, a dock fire in Liverpool, the sinking of a ship loaded with vital supplies in the Red Sea, the overcrowding of Bombay’s harbour in the summer of 1949 and shortages of special wagons for the transport of heavy machinery from Bombay and Calcutta to Delhi, all hampered progress. It was not until the summer of 1950 that the factory started producing houses, after a backlash in the press and Parliament had already begun.
Departure amidst scandals
To make matters worse, a worrying number of the aerated-concrete panels started breaking during autoclaving, while others developed cracks after erection. The houses were falling apart. Unable to solve the problem, production stopped in December 1950. The scandal that ensued ended Koenigsberger’s career in India. Politicians who had been against the scheme launched an aggressive attack in Parliament, which was intensified in the media and supported by groups that had hoped the project would fail, including the PWD and elements of the construction industry.
Headlines such as “The Full Dope on GOI’s Pre-Fab Racket,” and “Prefab Housing Project A Criminal Waste” coursed through the press. Health Minister Rajkumari Amrit Kaur dismissed Koenigsberger as manager of the housing factory in April 1951 and he subsequently retired from his government duties, returning to Europe bitterly disappointed.
Koenigsberger, a naturalised Indian citizen, settled in London, where most of his family was living. He continued his work on low-cost housing and urban development in rapidly growing cities but as director of the Department of Tropical Studies at the Architectural Association, Professor of Development Planning at University College London and in his advisory roles for the United Nations, World Bank and various nation states. His book Manual of Tropical Housing and Building, co-authored with TG Ingersoll, Alan Mayhew and SV Szokolay and published in 1974, became ubiquitous in architecture school libraries in South Asia and other “tropical” geographies. He died in London at the age of 90.
Ironically, production of the panels resumed shortly before Koenigsberger’s departure from India. The autoclaving had brought out peculiarities in the local cement that were “nursed” by adding more lime. The Hindustan Housing Factory still exists, albeit under another name: Hindustan Prefab. According to their website, their premises include a Technology Park, where parts of the failed refugee housing are displayed.
British Academy – ASAUK Funded Ghana Architecture Writing Workshop 6–8 July
Apologies for the short notice – but if you’re in Accra this weekend and want an opportunity to improve your writing skills, there are some free places to join an excellent Architectural Writing Workshop.
Architecture in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction: Glasgow School of Art and its Future
Like many people, I was again saddened, shocked, and frankly annoyed to see Charles Rennie Mackintosh’s masterpiece, the Glasgow School of Art, engulfed in smoke and flame for the second time in just four years. It was a radical piece of architecture that helped to shape the development of early 20thC Modernist architecture, and unlike a lot of contemporary and experimental work it was much loved and held a popular appeal.
The charred remains have yet to cool, but a fierce debate has erupted on the future of the building. On the one hand there is an impassioned plea to demolish and rebuild a new structure that would be something of ‘our time’; with any attempts to refabricate the ‘original’ resulting in a ‘replica’, that is, a fake.
Glasgow School of Art, by Charles Rennie Mackintosh
This faction argues that a rebuilt school would be rendered a ‘museum piece’, and that a new school would somehow respond better to the needs of today’s students. For sure, it is a compelling argument and after the shock of the tragic event it shows a fighting spirit and an optimism that all architects possess to create a better future. If an architect were to design a new building today that mimicked, or somehow parodied the ‘Mackintosh style’, then for sure, that would not be the way forward for architecture. But this is not a newly commissioned project, rather it should be a restoration of a dilapidated shell.
“The handle has been replaced several times, and the blade was changed once, but this knife has been in our family for centuries”
Unlike other works of art, such as painting or sculpture, there is a utilitarian, designerly approach in building, and buildings are made of many components, materials and finishes. They can all be replaced or remade. Certain parts of a building inevitably wear-out and have to be replaced; lead flashing is carefully reinserted, roofs are precisely re-laid, window frames rot, and sometimes windows are smashed and replaced. We accept this continual, sensitive remaking and in the case of buildings like the GSA undertake this process with extreme diligence. This is all part of a building’s ability to endure time and survive, and whilst a fire rapidly accelerates this process, it need not be the end. Buildings are never complete, they are always unfinished and being continually remade through the acts of everyday use. They develop patina, tarnishes, stains, and are weathered, changing all buildings for better or for worse. This aging cannot be replicated of course, but it demonstrates that a building is not a pristine artefact, there is a spectrum of aging and renewal.
The surviving GSA structure could be retained and kept in its ruinous state as a kind of memorial to what we once had. Some of the ‘original’ fabric would be retained and fixed to commemorate Mackintosh’s genius. It could become a shrine with a steady pilgrimage of architects’ eager to touch the stone relics with their direct link back to the hand of the Mackintosh. This would surely be the worst type of preservation – for whilst we would have the vestiges of the School there would be no joy, no use, just a sad lament. The surviving stones might enable a façade to be retained, or possibly form a similar condition to that deployed by Basil Spence at Coventry Cathedral, in the aftermath of World War Two. Whilst this might preserve the outer shell, or image, it wouldn’t suffice because the interiors at GSA were so rich and possibly even more important than the building’s skin.
We should not be afraid to remake architecture, because architecture as a concept is detached from its manifestation as a building. There is the idea and its representation often in the form of drawings and physical models, and then there is the physical construct. The physical entity is of course very important, but it is an outworking of an idea. Unlike painting, where the hand of the artist is important (but not essential) architecture is always remote from the act of construction. Architects make drawings that are then interpreted and fabricated by teams of artisans, technicians and craftspeople into the built object. Inevitably there are gaps between the artist’s intentions and the drawings they produce, and then of course there are numerous clefts between the drawings and the constructed piece. Decisions are made ‘on site’ and changes made on the hoof – this is all part of the construction process. In many buildings there is even a devolution of some parts of the design to the craftspeople on site, especially in decorative pieces, or commissioned artworks and sculptures. The core idea remains and is entirely the responsibility (and gift) of the designer, but it is important not to overly fetishize the object as a fixed, pristine artefact.
A burned out Jaguar E-Type can be fully restored, and even enhanced to suit modern environmental standards as the ‘Concept Zero’ illustrates. In no way does this detract from the ‘original’ duplicated model, nor the enjoyment of driving the vehicle. Indeed, there is pleasure and pride to be had from such a restoration. There is certainly room to manoeuvre here in construction and many buildings are sensitively restored and enhanced for modern living and reduced energy use. The drawings produced by Mackintosh (and his wife Margaret) survive and the recent scans and computer models of the building produced in response to Fire no.1 will enable a faithful rebuilding of the GSA. There is no technical reason why this school could not be rebuilt. Other art forms revel in this ability to be remade and enjoyed; music is recorded, plays are performed, artists issue facsimile casts and photographers offer limited edition prints. Walter Benjamin foresaw this in his seminal writing, ‘Art in the age of mechanical reproduction’. I’m not suggesting that multiple GSAs are licensed, but rather the single edition we had is carefully remade in honour of Mackintosh and the city which this building has helped to define and create.
India Buildings by Herbert Rowse
There are claims that a rebuilt School would not be ‘of our time’. Some, like eminent architect Alan Dunlop have claimed that Mackintosh’s would indeed want ‘to see a new school of art fit for the 21stcentury’ – but we can never truly know the wishes of the deceased. Surely the GSA is an excellent didactic tool for today’s students, and in any case it is not very old – it’s a mere blink of an eye in the broader scheme of things. To remake it now would not be a disservice to ‘our time’ but would be a measure of how we value and cherish such works of art. So many buildings have been regrettably erased following fire – to the detriment of our built environment. Gavin Stamp’s publication, Britain’sLost Citiesis a roll call of this approach, whereas when the decision to rebuild has been made the results are rarely questioned. We do not hear claims of, ‘we should have pulled this down and replaced it with something else’. Herbert Rowse’s India Buildings in Liverpool was carefully rebuilt after the effects of incendiary bombs – its authenticity is not questioned because of this; it simply becomes part of the building’s story. Mies van der Rohe’s Barcelona Pavilion was also famously remade and it continues to bring pleasure and delight to all who see it. It is far better to experience this wonderful design than to imagine it’s ‘spirit’ or look at the old photographs. Plus, we live in an age when this is possible – it is ‘of our time’ to replicate and reproduce components and objects that are better than the ‘originals’.
I’ve been spending some time working in and around Accra, and in particular at the Public Records and Archives Department. This archive has undergone major changes in the last five years and is a great place to undertake research with helpful staff and quick responses to queries. Located in a distinctive building with bold concrete brise soleil and a brave concertinaed roof over the entrance space, its interiors rely exclusively on passive ventilation. I was looking mainly at the late colonial records including those of the Public Works Department, sanitation, land, and town planning.
Experimental Swishcrete blocks at Kibi from 1945
Experimental Swishcrete housing at Kibi from 1945. Note the arches above the windows and doors
There were many discoveries and lots to celebrate (and eventually publish), but one particularly interesting find related to a folder called ‘Experimental housing at Kibi’. This gave lots of details on an attempt to build a couple of dwellings in swishcrete (i.e. laterite and concrete mix) blocks in the gold mining town of Kibi, with a view to saving on cement costs and also creating an aesthetic that was more in keeping with the vernacular. It was a particularly exciting find, as we had stumbled across these houses earlier this year, and were taken by their unique construction. The archives revealed that Jane Drew was involved in their design and that she visited the site in early April 1945. It must have formed part of her work on village housing. Although modified and extended the houses still stand and clearly demonstrate the strength of this construction method having survived over 70 years.
Outside of the archives, I managed to finally track down Denys Lasdun’s Paterson Simon’s Office in Accra, 1962 (thanks to the help of their current Managing Director John Traynor). It was formerly a supermarket and toyshop called Farisco.
Paterson Simon Offices designed by Denys Lasdun in 1962, photographed in 2018
Paterson Simon: Farisco Supermarket and toy shop, c. 1962. Many thanks to John Traynor for sharing the postcard.
Paterson Simon Offices designed by Denys Lasdun in 1962, photographed in 2018
Paterson Simon: Farisco Supermarket and toy shop, c. 1962. Many thanks to John Traynor for sharing the postcard.
I was hoping to see the Optimist Club in Sekondi, but as suspected, I was too late and the influential African club has been demolished and now replaced with a large youth centre. Fortunately, Nate Plageman did manage to visit the club before it was demolished and you can see his photos here. Despite this loss, it was good to use copies of the early plans of Sekondi from 1900-1920, housed in the UK National Archives, to further explore the town. I was particularly taken by the Venice Cinema located at the edge of the settlement by the lagoon (was this how the cinema got its name?) and the wonderful merchant villas and stores that can still be found in dilapidated abundance throughout the town.
Venice Cinema, Sekondi
Accra continues to seduce with its array of late colonial structures and modernist set pieces. At Korle Bu just west over the lagoon from Jamestown the hospital dominates the landscape. The hospital forms part of the trilogy of projects developed by Gordon Guggisberg in the 1920s (along with Achimota Schooland Takoradi town and docks). The old hospital structures remain, looking almost like they did when built (and similar to the harbour board buildings in Takoradi) – as captured on Africa Through a Lens. The later brutalist addition to the hospital was by Kenneth Scott, looking more restrained and orderly than the edgier and abrupt Effia Nkwanta hospital in Takoradi by Gerlach and Gillies-Reyburn. If you visit Korle Bu hospital continue to walk through the grounds and head out to the staff housing, tennis courts and garden sanctums that lie secretly beyond – it is a hidden, gentile world of privilege that still manages to exist just a couple of miles from the excitement and paucity of Jamestown.
Korle Bu Hospital, Accra photographed shortly after completion, 1928
Call for Papers: COLONIAL AND POSTCOLONIAL LANDSCAPES: Architecture, Cities, Infrastructures
16th – 18th January 2019 | Lisbon | Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation
The infrastructure of the colonial territories obeyed the logic of economic exploitation, territorial domain and commercial dynamics among others that left deep marks in the constructed landscape. The rationales applied to the decisions behind the construction of infrastructures varied according to the historical period, the political model of colonial administration and the international conjuncture.
This congress seeks to bring to the knowledge of the scientific community the dynamics of occupation of colonial territory, especially those involving agents related to architecture and urbanism and its repercussions in the same territories as independent countries.
It is hoped to address issues such as how colonial infrastructure has conditioned the current development models of the new countries or what options taken by colonial administrations have been abandoned or otherwise strengthened after independence.
The congress is part of the ongoing research project entitled “Coast to Coast – Late Portuguese Infrastructural Development in Continental Africa (Angola and Mozambique): Critical and Historical Analysis and Postcolonial Assessment” funded by ‘Fundação para a Ciência e Tecnologia’ (FCT – Foundation for Science and Technology), which has as partner the Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation (FCG).
The aim of this congress is to extend the debate on the repercussions of the decisions taken by the colonial states in the area of territorial infrastructures – in particular through the disciplines of architecture and urbanism – in post-independence development models and the formation of new countries with colonial past
The cartographic and the geopolitical: advocating a new agenda in architectural thinking and research.
Jianfei Zhu; in Architectural Review Quarterly.
Today, there is an increasing use of terms such as ‘transnational architecture’, ‘architecture beyond Europe’, ‘architecture of China, Japan and Korea’, ‘China in Africa’ and ‘Socialist architecture in Africa’. This signals a change in the basic outlook in thinking and research around architecture towards a problematic concerning geography and geopolitical relations. Michel Foucault, as early as 1967, had already said that ‘history’ was being replaced by ‘geography’, and a historical outlook on an endless timeline was being replaced by a new awareness of a finite world, of a world geography, of things happening ‘here and there’, of space and place, and of a ‘network’ we were all located within (in a speech published later as ‘Of Other Spaces: Principles of Heterotopia’). My contention is that, due to many factors, today more than any other time, a world-historical paradigm in architectural research is being replaced, or at least radically reformed, by a new one that methodologically privileges local and material happenings as horizontally connected to other sites and happenings, in a networked geographic spread: it involves a cartographic perspective that challenges endogenous, national and formalist categories.
Rural networks and planned communities: Doxiadis Associates’ plans for rural settlements in post-independence Zambia
Petros Phokaides; in Journal of Architecture
The paper focusses on the planning of rural settlements by the Athens-based firm Doxiadis Associates (DA), a key, even if unrealised, project for Zambia’s nation-building and development efforts in the mid-1960s. In line with post-war discourses of modernisation, DA employed Christaller’s 1933-Central Place Theory and its abstract hexagonal geometrical model to organise different-sized settlements within a single spatial system. By introducing a hierarchical rural network over Zambia, the firm aimed to standardise rural settlement patterns and to formulate a strategy to alleviate rural-urban migration. DA’s top-down, large-scale approach even exceeded the State’s aspirations and the firm’s visions eventually faced two challenges: First, DA’s modernist planning was questioned by the social/ecological considerations as formulated by George Kay’s counterproposal on resettlement policy. Secondly, DA’s ‘urbanising’ visions for rural areas were forestalled by some of the country’s realities, which remained out of the planners’ field of control, and eventually called for more cautious responses to the realities on the ground. By exposing the challenges DA’s rural proposal faced, the paper ultimately contemplates the multiple, and even conflicting reactions towards Zambia’s rural settlement projects, and also adds nuances to the wider histories of rural development in Africa.