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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.

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Water tower at Korle Bu, Accra.

Please do get in touch with Prof. Ola Uduku on o.uduku@mmu.ac.uk for more details and see: British Academy – ASAUK Funded Ghana Architecture Writing Workshop  6–8 July

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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

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

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’.

 

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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
Experimental Swishcrete blocks at Kibi from 1945
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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.

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
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
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
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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

 

1. Projecting Power in Colonial and Post-Colonial Angola and Mozambique: Architecture, Urban Design, Public Art and Monuments (Jeremy Ball, Gerbert Verheij)

2. China in African, Latin American and Caribbean territories: Examining spatial transformations around diplomacy and economic aid (Valeria Guzmán Verri, Natalia Solano Meza)

3. Spaces in the Americas: current efforts towards a non-Eurocentric theory (Fernando Luiz Lara, Marcio Cotrim Cunha)

4. Planned Violence: Post/Colonial Urban Infrastructures, Literature and Culture (Dominic Davies, Elleke Boehmer)

5. Infrastructural development in the European Portuguese territory in the late colonial period (Paulo Tormenta Pinto, João Paulo Delgado)

6. Peripheral infrastructures in late colonial cities (Tiago Castela)

7. Single and collective housing as a modern laboratory in colonial territories: from public order to private initiative (Ana Magalhães)

8. Beyond Colonialism: Afro-Modernist Agents and Tectonics as Expression of Cultural Independence  (Milia Lorraine Khoury, Diogo Pereira Henriques)

9. (De)constructing the Right to the City: Infrastructural policies and practices in Portuguese-speaking African countries (Sílvia Viegas, Sílvia Jorge)

10. The interrupted utopia. Landscapes of modern collective housing in Former European Colonies  (Roberto Goycoolea, Inês Lima Rodrigues)

11. Globalized Regionalism: the inheritance of colonial infrastructure (Eliana Sousa Santos, Susanne Bauer)

12. Materiality & Mobility in the construction of Colonial Landscapes (Alice Santiago Faria)

13. The transnational live project: critical reflections on the ethics, politics and pedagogies of collaborations between the global north and global south (Jhono Bennett, James Benedict Brown, Peter Russell)

14. Colonial Spatiality in African Sahara Regions (Samia Henni)

15. Urban Legacies: linking enclaving and social identities (Anna Mazzolini, Morten Nielsen)

16. The spatialization of population control in late colonialism: contexts, modalities, dynamics (Miguel Bandeira Jerónimo)

Notes from James Town, Accra.

Hansen Road, James Town

Hansen Road looking towards the Methodist cathedral

James Town is an old district in Accra running along the coast and associated with the British during the early colonial period – when the Dutch and Danish were also grappling for control of the town. Set behind the Usher Fort are many warehouses, trading posts and residences. A fine array of historical buildings can still be found here, but much of its rich tangible and intangible heritage is at risk through insensitive development, lack of maintenance and the departure of large businesses from the area. Despite this, it remains a vibrant and charming district full of markets, traders and the cultural epicentre that is the James Town Café, recently frequented by Emmanuel Macron during his visit to Accra.

James Town Cafe

James Town Café

Led by the charismatic Allotey Bruce-Konuah we weaved our way through the markets and informal structures that now occupy the gaps and leftover sites, punctuated by a vast collection of colonial-era buildings. Our first stop is a stone obelisk encased within an old market hall. The obelisk was built shortly after 1900 to commemorate the last of the Anglo-Ashanti wars. One of the plaques is in Arabic script, perhaps in recognition of Nigerian-Islamic troops who fought the Ashanti with the British. From here we went to the adjacent market hall. It was used until quite recently – and with some minor repairs could make for a very fine market venue today, perfectly sited on a strong axis and at the centre of the district.

We visited Azumo house, built in 1914 – the original owner’s escapades of shipwrecks and ‘salvaging’ are apparently recorded in the Red Book of West Africa. The quality and number of historical buildings is surprising – a case of preservation by leaving-be. The warehouses of the Compagnie Francaise de L’Afrique Occidentale (based in the Royal Liver Building in Liverpool) occupy a prominent site, and Ellen House built in 1918 boasts a rich history – we will attempt to uncover more.

Our trip concluded with a visit to the studio of Deo Gratias. You may remember some of the photos from this studio featuring in The Guardian (and here) not so long ago. It was extraordinary to see these images printed and in large format. Kate Aku Tamakloe, the granddaughter of the studio’s founder, JK Bruce Vanderpuije, and curator of the collection kindly gave us a tour. Kate told us there are many, many more images to scan, some from glass plates. We look forward to seeing more of this important work.

Deo Gratias Studio

Deo Gratias Studio James Town

Notes from Accra 2018

Escaping the freezing temperatures of the UK we returned to Ghana for our final trip of the British Academy sponsored project. There were a number of buildings on our list still to be visited in Accra and we were eager to explore…

George Padmore Library, Accra

George Padmore Library, Accra

The first stop was the George Padmore Library designed in 1961, and containing a vast collection of Kwame Nkrumah’s personal books and pamphlets. The building is hidden in the Efua Sutherland Children’s Park and forms an excellent example of tropical modernist architecture with carefully detailed finishes, craftsmanship and landscaping. The cooling reflection pool sits beneath the open-tread staircase that weaves its way up into the reading room. There is no air-conditioning here, just the pleasant breeze enticed through the building by the louvres on each side. Who is the architect of this oft-overlooked gem? The Librarian is eager for the facilities to be expanded and developed – we hope they pursue a sensitive solution, and avoid what has happened the library at Sekondi.

UTC Building

UTC Building

From here we visited the UTC building, a former department store and office block now stripped of its external solar-shades and in the process of demolition. We were lucky to photograph this building, as a few weeks from now it will no longer exist. The building is located in the frantic and exciting market area of town where everything from a tomato to a stadium PA system can be purchased. The market grew up around the train station that brought produce from the north and relayed the imported goods back. Complete with a dainty clocktower and waiting rooms the station structure is made from an imported cast iron kit from either Liverpool or Glasgow. Although there are no trains running any longer the station is as busy ever with squatters and traders making full use of the facilities.

Cedi House

Cedi House

Cedi house, the first podium-base-cum-high-rise to be built in the city in the early 1960s by John Owusu Addo is now, sadly,  looking a little tired, and needs some major investment. Each façade is different to respond to the specific climatic/solar demands. Inside a couple of murals survive and the marble cladding and exposed staircase give a glimpse of the building’s former style.

 

Biennial Conference, Centre for European Architecture, Kent School of Architecture (UK)

From Building to Continent: How Architecture makes Territories

Cultural landscape refers to landscapes shaped by humans through habitation, cultivation, exploitation and stewardship, and has influenced thinking in other fields, such as architecture. Generally, architecture has been subsumed within cultural landscape itself as a comprehensive spatial continuum. Yet standard architectural histories often analyse buildings as isolated objects, sometimes within the immediate context, but typically with minimal acknowledgement of wider spatial ramifications. However, buildings may become spatial generators, not only in the immediate vicinity, but also at larger geographic scales. ‘Buildings’ in this case include architectural works in the traditional sense, as well as roads, bridges, dams, industrial works, military installations, etc. Such structures have been grouped collectively to represent territories at varying scales.

In the context of this conference, the term ‘territories’ is appealed to rather than ‘landscape’, for the latter is associated with a given area of the earth’s surface, often aestheticized as a type of giant artefact. Territories by contrast are more abstract, and may even overlap. Discussions in this conference may consider varying territorial scale relationships, beginning with the building, moving to the regional, and even to the global. For example, at the level of architectural detailing, buildings may represent large-scale territories, or obscure others, themselves acting as media conveying messages. How tectonic-geographic relationships are represented may also be considered. Various media, primarily maps but also film and digital technologies have created mental images of territories established by buildings, and are all relevant to these discussions. Geopolitical analysis may provide another means towards understanding how architecture makes territories. Governments are often the primary agents, but not always, for religious and special interest groups have played central roles. Mass tourism and heritage management at national and international levels have reinforced, or contradicted, official government messages. Organisations dedicated to international building heritage, such as UNESCO (United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization) also are implicated in such processes.

Paper proposals may cover anytime period, continuing into the present. Relevant proposals from all disciplines are welcomed.

Logistics

Conference organisers: Dr. David H. Haney, and Dr. Luciano Cardellichio.

Conference webpage address: Research.kent.ac.uk/frombuildingtocontinent

 

Paper abstracts: 150-200 words in length.

Paper abstract submission due date: 5th February, 2018.

Paper selection announcement date: 31st of March, 2018.

Please send paper abstracts as a Word doc (without images): frombuildingtocontinent@kent.ac.uk

 

Conference dates: 28th and 29th of June, 2018

Location: Canterbury, Kent, UK

Venue: The Cathedral Lodge: https://www.canterburycathedrallodge.org/meeting-and-conference-facilities-in-canterbury/

Daily Schedule: to be published

Conference Fee: £140 per person. Includes coffee/tea and refreshments, and buffet lunches on both days.

To pay the registration fee online, please click here: http://store.kent.ac.uk/product-catalogue/faculty-of-humanities/school-of-architecture/events/conference-from-building-to-continent-how-architecture-makes-territories

A conference publication containing selected essays is planned.

Keynote Speaker Lectures:

Professor Lucia Allais, Princeton University (US): ‘Maps of monuments and scales of design: Strategic bombing and the postwar international order’.

Professor Mark Bassin, Södertörn University (Stockholm): ‘Nature as State: Geopolitics and Landscape Monuments’.

Professor Kenny Cupers, University of Basel: ‘The Earth that Modernism Built’.

Professor Tullia Iori, The University of Rome Tor Vergata: ‘Engineering the Italian Landscape: the Autostrada del Sole as Territorial Construct for a New Post-War National Identity’.