Archive

Heritage

Ola Uduku and colleagues at Edinburgh University hosted an excellent workshop this week on West African Modernism, combining some of the sessions with Docomomo Africa. The result was a very rich series of encounters, exchanges and discussions.

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Ilze Wolff presenting Rex Truform’s factory in Cape Town

Ilze Wolff gave a very poignant paper on Rex Truform, the clothing factory in Cape Town designed by Max Policansky in 1937. Ilze’s investigation goes beyond the built fabric and stylistic qualities of the structure – it considers the workers’ stories and what it was like to be a part of the everyday life of this significant building in the city. Ilze is also publishing her findings and interventions through a series of booklets: see Open House Architecture for more details.

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Shantanu Subramaniam’s presentation on Community Centres and Libraries in Ghana

Shantanu Subramaniam presented his recent fieldwork on the community centres and libraries of Ghana. In addition to architectural surveying and cataloguing Shantanu is also considering the environment performance of these structures and testing their ability to modify climate and interior temperatures.

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Joe Addo’s skype presentation on modern architecture in Accra

Joe Osae-Addo joined us via Skype and shared his film on modern architecture in Accra. The film presented an autobiographical account of Accra and its modern architecture, as seen and experienced by Joe from his childhood onwards. It is a compelling piece that will deliver far more impact in changing ‘hearts and minds’ than reports and conservation legislation.

You can watch the film here: https://stream.liv.ac.uk/s/hav96uun

We also discussed the DOCOMOMO presence in Africa and whether there should be regional groups [such as West Africa, Southern Africa and so on], to generate a more critical mass and greater influence. The reliance on the fiche methodology was also questioned – or at least its limits acknowledged – and we considered the use of ‘narrative’ and social history as a means of generating meaning, significance and connection to these structures beyond the fetishisation of the physical attributes, and tangible qualities.

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Cumbernauld townscape

On the final day we were treated to a site visit to the new town of Cumbernauld, and Stirling University.

New Film: Citizen Jane: Battle for the City

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In 1960 Jane Jacobs’ book The Death and Life of Great American Cities sent shockwaves through the architecture and planning worlds, with its exploration of the consequences of modern planners’ and architects’ reconfiguration of cities. Jacobs was also an activist, who was involved in fights in mid-century New York to stop ‘master builder’ Robert Moses from running roughshod over the city. This film retraces the battles for the city as personified by Jacobs and Moses, as urbanization moves to the very front of the global agenda. Many of the clues for formulating solutions to the dizzying array of urban issues can be found in Jacobs’ prescient text, and a close second look at her thinking and writing about cities is very much in order. This film sets out to examine the city of today though the lens of one of its greatest champions.

DIRECTOR’S STATEMENT

In the face of developers and the overzealous parks commissioner Robert Moses, who, in
the 1950s, wanted to run a four-lane highway through the middle of the park, Jacobs and
other Greenwich Village residents and activists organized a formal opposition to the city’s plans.
Through community-driven support, a large neighborhood coalition, a series of public protests, and a years-long letter-writing campaign to officials at every level of city government, Jacobs and her compatriots eventually triumphed and Moses’s park-destroying plan was shelved.
It was a battle much like the one Sanders’s campaign has framed today: a grassroots coalition of regular people fed up with the top-down impositions of the powers that be running roughshod over regular citizens.

Jacobs, whose centenary will be celebrated on May 4, is something of a spiritual soul mate to Sanders. The parallels between their underlying ideologies are striking. And as
Sanders’s popularity and fame continues to skyrocket, it’s time to give his fellow New
Yorker, Jacobs, her due. Jacobs’s fight for Washington Square Park—and for the people’s right to the city—is a story I tell in Citizen Jane (which is produced by one of New
York’s newer grassroots activists, High Line co-founder Robert Hammond).

Like the modern-day opposition to the role of big banks and the political influence of the wealthiest one percent, Jane Jacobs and the Greenwich Village community members were fighting against a power structure that valued its own perseverance over the public it was ostensibly serving. She, more than anyone else of her era, deserves credit for unmasking this unseemly cabal.

A BATTLE FOUGHT IN THE STREETS 

Citizen Jane: Battle for the City is a story about our global urban future, in which nearly three-fourths of the world’s population will live in cities by the end of this century. It’s also a story about America’s recent urban past, in which bureaucratic, “top down” approaches to building cities have dramatically clashed with grassroots, “bottom up” approaches. The film brings us back mid-century, on the eve of the battles for the heart and soul of American cities, about to be routed by cataclysmically destructive Urban Renewal and highway projects.

The film details the revolutionary thinking of Jane Jacobs, and the origins of her magisterial 1961 treatise The Death and Life of Great American Cities, in which she single-handedly undercuts her era’s orthodox model of city planning, exemplified by the massive Urban Renewal projects of New York’s “Master Builder,” Robert Moses. Jacobs and Moses figure centrally in our story as archetypes of the “bottom up” and the “top down” vision for cities. They also figure as two larger-than-life personalities: Jacobs—a journalist with provincial origins, no formal training in city planning, and scarce institutional authority—seems at first glance to share little in common with Robert Moses, the upper class, high prince of government and urban theory fully ensconced in New York’s halls of power and privilege.

Yet both reveal themselves to be master tacticians who, in the middle of the 20th century, became locked in an epic struggle over the fate of the city. In three suspenseful acts,

Citizen Jane: Battle for the City gives audiences a front row seat to this battle, and shows how two opposing visions of urban greatness continue to ripple across the world stage, with unexpectedly high stakes, made even higher and more unexpectedly urgent in the suddenly shifting national political landscape of 2017, in which the newly inaugurated U.S. President is a real estate developer, who is calling for a new era Urban Renewal, echoing the traumatic period in which this film takes place. In perilous times for the city and for civil rights, Citizen Jane offers a playbook, courtesy of Jane Jacobs, for organizing communities and speaking the truth to entrenched and seemingly insurmountable powers.

https://dogwoof.com/citizenjane#screenings

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.

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