Forms of freedom – Mid 20th century architectures of anticipation in Africa

National Museum for Architecture, Oslo, Norway

26-27 March 2015

Event website

organised jointly with the Department of Social Anthropology, University of Oslo and the National Museums of Norway

Mette Tronvoll_Zambia World Bank Education Project_3

Photo: Mette Tronvoll: Zambia #10, 2014. Zambia World Bank Education Project, Arkitekt Gunnar Hyll

Bold lines of modernist architecture and urban planning endure in contemporary African landscapes. From 1940s to 1970s, material and aesthetic forms of colonial and national development were laid down in a proliferation of boxy but well-aired schools, universities, laboratories, hospitals, public housing and government buildings; and in new urban designs, along the roads, pipes, drains and ditches of expanded transport and sanitary infrastructures.

Traces of the modernist dream have in many places been erased or worn down by decay, in others restored or renewed. They stand as ambivalent temporal signals, pointing forward but also to promises of progress that appear blocked, utopian or obsolete, or which must instead be preserved and reactivated. In the past decade, this older strata of the landscape has, across Africa, been modulated by a renewed wave of construction and design and its aesthetic of promise that is seductive but also illusory even obscene.

Our workshop will discuss this heterogeneous legacy – of monumental public buildings and minor functional constructions, of iconic academic architecture and invisible infrastructures and plans – intertwining past, present and future – promise, decay and resurrection. Looking both at the origins and visions of past building and planning, and the contemporary use and effect of edifices, ruins and remains, and combining perspectives from anthropology, architectural history and history of science, we pursue the double aim of shedding light on Africa’s global architectural past, and enhancing our understanding of contemporary Africa’s architectural and temporal palimpsest.

Participants include:

  • Kunlé Adeyemi, Lagos
  • Tom Anyamba, Nairobi
  • Nina Berre, Oslo
  • Wenzel Geissler, Oslo
  • Ann Kelly, Exeter
  • Guillaume Lachenal, Paris
  • Johan Lagae, Ghent
  • Andres Lepik, Munich
  • John Manton, Cambridge
  • Ruth Prince, Oslo
  • Lukacz Stanek, Manchester
  • Noemi Tousignant , Montreal/Cambridge
  • Haim Yacobi, Tel Aviv