Fry and Drew: Conference

‘The Influence of Fry and Drew’ Conference, Abstract 7

Viviana d’Auria, ‘“The most difficult architecture to create”:  Fry, Drew & Partners’ contested legacies and the vicissitudes of low-cost housing design in (post)colonial Ghana’.

As has been well documented, Maxwell Fry and Jane Drew were intensely involved in British West Africa. From their Accra-based office, they designed the cornerstones of late colonial welfare development, ranging from hospitals to universities. Explorations of their West African work however, have neglected housing design, including the ways in which it confronted colonial antecedents and how expatriate practitioners and local professionals confronted its legacy. This disregard is all the more challenging seen the weight it had for Fry and Drew themselves, as well as its overall significance for general post-war technical assistance.

Indeed, in the case of housing conception too, the partnership’s work was envisaged at a time of confidence in the reconciliation of modernism and development within the walls of a low-income dwelling. Freshly-arrived in Chandigarh after several years spent in West Africa, Fry and Drew were important contributors at the United Nations Housing Seminar in New Delhi in 1953. At the event, their efforts not only earned them recognition with the prize-winning conception of House 23, but was also the topic of Fry and Drew’s paper, who underscored how low-cost dwellings were “of all architecture the most difficult to create”.

On such premises, this contribution focuses on pre-Chandigarh housing design in Ghana. By looking at cases from the Accra-Tema Metropolitan Area, it wishes to comment more particularly on how the partnership was concerned with indigenous dwelling cultures. It then reflects on how this centre of attention was (or not) picked up by international technical assistance and local government planning in the following decades. The notion of ‘growing’ and ‘extendable’ housing, in addition to gender-based typologies will be inquired into by means of selected cases such as the Jamestown slum clearance scheme, the work of the Tema Development Corporation and of the International Co-operative Housing Development Association.

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Viviana d’Auria is Lecturer in Human Settlements in Development at the Department of Architecture, Urbanism and Planning (University of Leuven) and NWO Rubicon fellow at the Department of Geography, Planning and International Development Studies (University of Amsterdam). Her dissertation Developing Urbanism in Development: Five Episodes in the Making of the Volta River Project in (Post-)colonial Ghana 1945-76 (KU Leuven, 2012) explored the contribution of transnational technical assistance projects to the epistemology of (post-)colonial urbanism through the particular case of the Volta River Project. Critical spatial analyses of modern dwelling environments and their lived-in ‘hereafter’ are an integral part of her research within a more general interest in modern urbanism in non-Western contexts. On this note, Viviana’s post-doctoral inquiry is comparatively exploring home space in Greater Accra and Lima by focusing on the socio-spatial history of modern ‘incremental’ neighbourhoods such as Tema Manhean and Villa El Salvador.

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