Fry and Drew: Conference

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‘The Influence of Fry and Drew’ Conference, Abstract 3

Łukasz Stanek, ‘Tropical Architecture as Cold War Discourse in Post-Independence Ghana (1960–1966)’.

While scholars have convincingly linked the genealogy of tropical architecture to the colonial networks of the British Empire within the processes of decolonization, the role of Cold War dynamics in this genealogy has been much less recognized. This paper fills in this gap by discussing the cosmopolitan architectural practices in Ghana during the presidency of Kwame Nkrumah (1960–1966), with the specific focus on the Accra International Trade Fair. This ensemble was designed by architects and engineers from socialist Poland according to the principles of “tropical architecture” as advocated by Maxwell Fry and Jane Drew: the translation of modernist architecture according to local climate, technology, and society. The construction of the Fair was a part of broader debates on “building in the tropics” in the Soviet Union and Poland, in response to the engagements of professionals from socialist countries in Europe in Africa and Asia since the late 1950s. Yet in spite of being one of the most prominent ensembles in Nkrumah’s Accra, the Trade Fair was never included to publications about “tropical architecture” nor was it presented in the journal “Western African Architect and Builder” which promoted “tropical architecture” well into the 1970s. This absence needs to be seen as expressing the “intellectual division of labor” specific for the Cold War that allowed acknowledging the work of architects from socialist countries as technological objects, but not as architectural ones.

Based on archival research and fieldwork in Poland, Hungary, Croatia, and Ghana, this talk will show how the discourse on “tropical architecture” offered a way for expressing ideological and economic antagonisms among architectural practices in mid-1960s Accra. At the same time, this paper will signal points of connection among practitioners from both sides of the Iron Curtain in early post-independence Ghana, including the School of Architecture in Kumasi, where Fry and Drew would discuss the principles of tropical architecture with colleagues from Hungary and Yugoslavia.

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Łukasz Stanek is the 2011–2013 Mellon Post-Doctoral Fellow at the Center for Advanced Studies in Visual Arts (CASVA), National Gallery in Washington and Lecturer at the Manchester Architecture Research Centre, University of Manchester. Stanek authored Henri Lefebvre on Space: Architecture, Urban Research, and the Production of Theory (University of Minnesota Press, 2011) and he is currently editing Lefebvre’s unpublished book about architecture, Vers une architecture de la jouissance (1973). Stanek’s second field of research is the transfer of architecture from socialist countries to Africa and the Middle East during the Cold War. On this topic, he published ‘Miastoprojekt Goes Abroad. Transfer of Architectural Labour from Socialist Poland to Iraq (1958–1989)’ in The Journal of Architecture (17:3, 2012) and the book Postmodernism Is Almost All Right. Polish Architecture After Socialist Globalization (Fundacja Bęc-Zmiana Warsaw, 2012). He has taught at the ETH Zurich and Harvard Graduate School of Design.

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