What would a history of architecture look like with Africa at its centre?
This question is at the heart of a research seminar being held right now by the Canadian Centre for Architecture (CCA) in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, as part of Centring Africa: Postcolonial Perspectives on Architecture, launched by the CCA in 2018 with funding from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation as a collaborative and multidisciplinary research project on architecture’s complex developments in sub-Saharan African countries after independence.
During the seminar—which takes place at Addis Ababa University’s Ethiopian Institute of Architecture, Building Construction and City Development and is open to the public—18 shortlisted applicants will present their research projects and debate the conceptual terms and methodological structures for conceptualizing African architecture’s agency through history writing. Following the seminar, eight applicants will be selected through a peer-review evaluation process to participate in a larger CCA research project. The eight selected Mellon Researchers will reconvene in the fall of 2019 to begin their eighteen-month engagement, meeting regularly in Montreal through to the winter of 2021.
About Centring Africa
The architecture practice and discipline, along with academic institutions, archives, libraries, and museums, have been integral to what Valentin-Yves Mudimbe calls “the invention of Africa” by the West. This project therefore asks, first, how to understand architecture’s historical role in decolonization, neocolonialism, globalization, and their manifestations across the continent, at local and regional scales; and, second, how this understanding can challenge established methods and disciplinary conventions of architectural and urban studies.
Centring Africa seeks to contextualize such seemingly paradoxical relations as those among building and unbuilding, formal and informal, appropriated and expropriated, and modern and traditional. The project aims to question, and eventually shift, perspectives shaped by North/South knowledge divides. The goal of the project is to analyze and historicize the ways in which architecture manifests transformations in post-independence African countries. Through Centring Africa, original, case-based research on concrete projects, actors, architectural typologies, key geographies, and urban developments will explore the history of architecture’s agency in sub-Saharan Africa.
This research initiative is catalyzed in part by the recent arrival at the CCA of three important archival collections related to architecture, urbanism, and territoriality in Africa: those of Dutch planner Coen Beeker, German architect Georg Lippsmeier, and Kiran Mukerji, an employee of Lippsmeier. Together, these archives form a unique research library of nearly three thousand titles, which will serve as an investigative starting point for the studies developed, individually or collectively, in the framework of a new Mellon project as part of the CCA Multidisciplinary Research Program.
The CCA considers archival research as essential to building new forms of evidence, and understands the ‘archive’ in a broad sense that includes those that still need to be constructed. Specifically, this project reconsiders the archive in order to challenge the reliance on Western sources by looking beyond institutional archives to others anchored around single buildings, international organizations, urban spaces, new policies, statistics, laws, photography, financial programs, and philosophical, intellectual, or cultural propositions.
About the CCA/Mellon Multidisciplinary Research Program
Centring Africa is the fourth project in the CCA/Mellon Multidisciplinary Research Program. Organized with generous support from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, and launched under the auspices of its Architecture, Urbanism, and Humanities initiative, the program invites researchers and cultural producers to meet at the CCA and collaborate on a thematic 18-month research project. Past CCA/Mellon Multidisciplinary Research projects have addressed the relationship between architecture and social transformation in Post War Great Britain, the role of photography in shaping architecture and its discourse from 19th-century cyanotypes to contemporary digital photography, and how the history of the environment could claim a different history of architecture.