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Architectural Review: May 2017 on Africa

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‘Africa’ has become a lazy substitute for any number of ideas from the political to the social, cultural, historical and economic. In this issue, we reject the stereotypes and, from refugee camps to Art Deco housing; starchitects to wooden skyscrapers, counter the notion of Africa as a place to be influenced.

Lesley Lokko challenges the development-aid-charity paradigm that confines Africa, treating it as separate from the forces shaping architectural culture globally, while Tomá Berlanda looks at the challenge of reversing the social engineering engrained in the architecture and urban design of Apartheid towns.

In a new Notopia Edition, Manuel Herz challenges established ideas of permanent and temporary in his study of the refugee camps in the Western Sahara, presenting them as newly found cities with the ability to question the notion of the nation state and the citizen.

We look at projects from Djibouti to Joburg, including designworkshop:sa’s renovation of an Art Deco apartment block, an extension to a piecemeal 1950’s hospital in Vredenburg by Wolff Architects and Urko Sanchez’s SOS Children’s Village.

Typology asks whether the skyscraper is a logical extrusion of land values or an anti-urban monster, while Outrage bemoans the lack of coordinated policy required for housing reform in many burgeoning African cities, the diversity of which is explored by David Adjaye in a presentation of his personal research.

Finally, in the wake of Francis Kéré’s winning design for the 2017 Serpentine pavilion, Andres Lepik looks back on the German-trained African architect’s works and the dialogue they have generated between the global North and South.

See more at: https://www.architectural-review.com/magazine-shop/latest-issue-may-2017-on-africa/10019285.article and David Adjaye’s article at: https://www.architectural-review.com/rethink/david-adjaye-urban-africa/10019650.article?blocktitle=Adjaye-Urban-Africa&contentID=18684

The 6th Conference on Infrastructure Development in Africa, has just concluded with a particular focus this year on ‘Building Resilience through African Urban Culture’. Held at KNUST in Kumasi, Ghana the conference welcomed speakers from Nigeria, South Africa and UK, as well as a host of research papers presented from scholars based in Ghana.

Key note speakers (including Prof. Chike Oduoza, Dr Obuks Ejohwomu and Prof. Mugendi M’Rithaa) lucidly presented the varied and many challenges facing African cities today – with particular focus on energy use, digital infrastructure and the internet of every/things.

Prof. M’Rithaa’s presentation included some very striking map visuals, including the image below that shows the true size of Africa relative to other countries – something that Mercator projection of the world fails to reveal. You can just make out on the poor quality photo below the outlines of USA and India. He also spoke very eloquently on how our solutions must be people centred, rather than imposed solutions. Dr Ejohwomu also challenged us with many provocative questions and themes – including a cartoon showing an emaciated cow and a worker abandoning it in pursuit of an obese cattle. His challenge was that we can’t simply walk away from the problem and that Africa needs us to focus on its problems rather than attempting to flee them in the ‘global north’. This message also reinforced by Prof. David Edwards and Dr. Erica Parn in their presentation.

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I gave a presentation on the rich modern architectural history of Ghana, and the infrastructure of culture that exists here. I focused on a series of building types including education, community centres, and libraries, as well as the town planning and historical development of Kumasi.

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Nearly 50 papers followed on a vast array of topics as well as a striking art installation on the plight of the African Giant Snail’s ecosystem. A new journal was launched ‘Journal of Built Environment (ISSN: 2026-5409) and next year the conference will migrate to Lagos – we look forward to hearing more from this important gathering.

DADAAB IS A PLACE ON EARTH

Architecture in the Twilight of the World’s Largest Refugee Camp

April 18, 2017, 6:00-8:00 P.M., 20 Cooper Square, 2nd Floor, New York University

http://gallatin.nyu.edu/utilities/events/2017/04/DadaabIsAPlaceOnEarth.html

African Cities Week

This moderated discussion concerns architecture and emergency urbanism in history, focusing on the constructed environment of the UNHCR-administered refugee camp complex at Dadaab, Kenya, near the border with Somalia. Paradoxical for its scale and ephemerality together, the Dadaab complex at once approaches and resists being “urban,” on the one hand, and a “camp,” on the other. Established in 1991 to shelter thirty thousand refugees, the Dadaab complex expanded over the course of a quarter century to five settlements with a compound headquartering a centralized structure of humanitarian agencies. According to unofficial counts, it currently houses one half million refugees and asylum seekers, along with humanitarian aid workers in residence. In early 2016, citing security threats, the government of Kenya announced that it would close the complex prior to the next general election, and dismantled the Department of Refugee Affairs as a decisive measure. Through a detailed discussion on design, use, aesthetics, and affect at the Dadaab site, we hope to study the social and political lived realities of an environment constructed to be liminal.

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Introduction by Anooradha Iyer Siddiqi

Discussion with Samar Al-Bulushi, Alishine Osman, Ben Rawlence, Anooradha Iyer Siddiqi

Moderated by Rosalind Fredericks

Remarks by AbdouMaliq Simone

Organized by Anooradha Iyer Siddiqi, with Rachel Stern. For more information and teaching materials related to this event, please see: http://gallatin.nyu.edu/utilities/events/2017/04/DadaabIsAPlaceOnEarth.html

“Founded in 1922, Deo Gratias is the oldest photography studio still in operation in Accra. As the city celebrates 60 years of independence this week, the studio has revealed new photos of life in the 1920s and 1930s”.

Does Achimota School still have such a formidable boxing club?

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Empire Day, Accra, 1930

More photos here: https://www.theguardian.com/cities/gallery/2017/mar/07/accra-a-century-ago-ghana-before-independence-in-pictures

Urban Heritage Activism
Thursday 16 March – Friday 17 March, 09:00-18:00
TU Berlin, Hardenbergstr. 16-18, 10623 Berlin
Register: contact@urbannarratives.org
www.urbannarratives.org

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The two-day Urban Heritage Activism conference will focus on heritage ‘from below’–urban history as it is lived, represented and transformed by local communities in diverse geographies and cultural contexts. Speakers from grassroots movements, academic and cultural institutions will address political ramifications and power struggles related to heritage and introduce the failures and solutions of various activism projects, especially in postcolonial contexts. Contributors will debate contemporary tensions and future strategies for interventions through a roundtable discussion at the end of each day.

In addition to the stimulating conference programme, the Simulizi Mijini / Urban Narratives exhibition Juxtaposing Narratives: Dar es Salaam and Berlin will open at 8pm on Friday 17 March with a cooking performance, live music and a DJ. Walking tours and film screenings will round off the programme of events.

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Speakers and moderators: Erica Abreu, Jully Acuna, Yaşar Adanali, Awami Art Collective, Comfort Badaru, Diane Barbé, Shraddha Bhatawadekar, Vittoria Capresi, Jerome Chou , Rebecca Corey, Gabi Dolff-Bonekämper, Matthias Einhoff, Anne-Katrin Fenk, Zinovia Foka, Susanne Förster, Benjamin Häger, Maj Horn, Anooradha Iyer Siddiqi, Sehr Jalil, Leila Javanmardi, Claudia Jürgens, Georg Krajewsky, Rachel Lee, Farah Makki, Sarita Mamseri, Srdjan Mandić, Mansion, Avehi Menon, Philipp Misselwitz, Monika Motylinska, Rishika Mukhopadhyay, Laura Murray, Marcelo Murta, Naira Mushtaq, Cord Pagenstecher, Luise Rellensmann, Ana Luisa Ribeiro, Juliane Richter, Gözde Şarlak, Jona Schwerer, Annika Seifert, Gülsah Stapel, Samaila Suleiman and Mike Terry

Artists: Rehema Chachage, Cloud Chatanda, Tellervo Kalleinen and Oliver Kochta-Kalleinen, KUNSTrePUBLIK and Jan van Esch, Umesh Maddanahalli, Michelle Monareng, Patrick Mudekereza, Paul Ndunguru, Nadin Reschke, and Alex Römer

Lou Moon:   Viewing tropical materials, renewable technologies and local community engagement at a coastal resort.  

Ola Uduku Writes:

Climate responsive, tropical architecture using locally sourced materials remains a rarity in West Africa, therefore setting foot at the remote coastal Lou Moon resort was a revelation. At first glance this seemed like yet another ‘safari-architecture’ beach resort on the Ghanaian coastline [20 minutes drive from Axim]. The first view of a dining area with non-local thatch roofing initially suggesting a copy of an aesthetically pleasing safari ‘hang out’ for expatriates and daring local tourists willing to get to this off-the-beaten-track location.

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“Are we nearly there yet?” The track to Lou Moon

On closer inspection and conversation with Lou Moon’s designer and owner Paul Ramlot, it was explained to us that the roofing is not indigenous to Ghana’s coastal communities but was indeed an import from the middle to northern part of Ghana. He had worked with northern Ghanaian thatchers and local craftsmen to ensure the construction of a watertight roof covering. He explained that this had been achieved successfully, and the only problems that had been encountered since it had been completed were with with local bats and grass cutters, that from time to time nest and forage in the thatch. Catching them was tricky  – but sonic deterrents were now being successfully used.

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Architect and owner of Lou Moon, Paul Ramlot with Ola Uduku

After a good lunch from an impressive menu boasting  European – Ghanaian ‘gastro’ cuisine and the option of good French wine (which we declined) we were shown more of the resort. The owner had worked hard to tame the land jutting out to the sea and create a number of secluded chalets, using locally sourced building materials and oriented to allow local ventilation and lighting. Whilst specialist bath fittings were imported, 90 % of the materials were sourced locally and the owner worked  with local craftsmen to develop the accommodation at the resort. This was a textbook demonstration on what is possible but has rarely been achieved in contemporary West Africa.

By working with local craftsmen, and employing local staff at the resort he had also both given employment opportunities in a part of Ghana where there are few such opportunities available. He also had a working arrangement with the ‘chief’ and ultimate owner of the land on which the Lou Moon Resort has been built. A share of the profits is paid to the chief and his community.

Resort chalets had solar photovoltaics incorporated into their design, and wireless communication, and electricity were freely available along with a large satellite dish in clear view. Interestingly on arrival we noted a number of vehicles with diplomatic number plates, possibly the remoteness of the location had in the past made it the perfect retreat, one wonders whether this remains so appealing, now that it is hooked up to the world via its telecommunications systems. Judging by the resident clientele at the resort in the January off peak season this didn’t seem to be the case.

We left musing that it took a Belgian expatriate to rediscover local materials and encourage local design talent in this remote part of Ghana. His design model had been so successful that he was in conversation with local elites to develop a similar resort on private land to reap these benefits. What was his most serious problem we asked him? He responded that it was the noise from the local community at funerals and other festivals…

We hope that a cordial arrangement can be agreed to secure the serenity of this snapshot of tropical architectural paradise. We made ‘design attribution’ peace with the non-local indigenous thatch roofing, we saw no vermin, enjoyed the shade and couldn’t fault its aesthetic contribution to what had been a truly revealing ‘Lou Moon’ experience.

Adjena Revisited

Ola Uduku writes;

It was a long and dusty journey, we soon understood why the taxi wouldn’t haggle down from the amount he quoted. The road definitely existed, it was just in very poor condition and work was being done near the end of the journey to Adjena to re-grade the laterite. We finally pulled into a gathering of housing on each side and slowed down, I said this looks likes ‘tropical designed housing’.

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A hand-operated water pump caught our eyes and we watched a small gathering of  women and children pump up their water into buckets and containers and then take them away for use.  We walked to two elderly men dozing under a tree and asked the throng if we could wake one up.

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‘Is the Adjena resettlement area?’, we asked.

‘yes’ came the reply.

Our first informant was in his eighties and  had arrived when the first set of resettled villagers were moved to the site in 1957. He explained that there was a school further along and more housing.

We went further into the clearing and hit gold – a small school designed around a courtyard to specific tropical standards. Windows were deep and allowed light to penetrate through the classrooms, and the verandas were ample to enable their use in teaching.  The school was foregrounded by a number of trees which seem to have been planted to a specific format, unfortunately they seemed to be dying, but they still helped frame the school and looked as if they were very much part of the school grounds.

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Moving on from the school we came to a clearing with a designed kitchen–cooking area central to a number of small dwellings. We stopped and talked to Agnes, whom we asked about what she remembered about moving to Adjena. She immediately recounted that she had been 27 when the move had taken place and she was 87 now. A quick date check confirmed that these dates tallied with the move of the settlement in the Volta valley to Adjena. As we chatted with her on the step to the kitchen she explained that she preferred the new settlement to the old as the new buildings were  ‘Cortex’, the name given to the company who built the settlement made up a concrete frame with infill breeze block walls.

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We passed a number of small dwellings designed as part of the scheme. All dwellings now had electricity with television sets to prove it, however water was only available via the standpipes that we had seen when we walked into the settlement. The communal WCs did not seem to well used, one supposes that in this very remote rural area this option was unlikely to be popular.

For a resettlement scheme approaching its 6th decade Adjena was in good condition, it now had a junior secondary school and the road carried both the electricity lines and also the mobile phone masts. The road also ran through to the community council offices and there were other settlements which were now part of the greater extended Adjena community.

Developments were coming to Adjena, and we had been made welcome guests to this sleepy, yet thriving community. What would Leo De Syllas and the other designers of the then New Adjena think of their creation more than half a century on? An understated success we’d say as we made our dusty way back to the town.