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Modernism, Modernization and Europeanization in West African Architecture, 1944–94

  • William Whyte
Part of the The Palgrave Macmillan Transnational History Series book series (PMSTH)

Abstract

In 1944 the architect and author Edwin Maxwell Fry sailed to West Africa where he had been appointed town-planning adviser to the British Governor. A few months later his wife and partner, Jane Drew, joined him. Over the next decade they were to design a series of high-profile and highly important projects. They planned new towns and villages, built the University of Ibadan and the National Museum of Ghana, reshaped the nature of Nigerian and Ghanaian architecture, and wrote a series of influential essays and books on tropical building.1 Arriving in West Africa, Fry claimed to have found no building industry; ‘Nor was there any architecture worthy of the name, nor any background of architecture’.2 The situation, Fry and Drew concluded, resembled ‘that of architecture in the dark ages in Europe’.3 ‘Traditional African building’, they argued, was ‘unsuitable for the development of a modern civilization’.4 What was needed was a ‘European importation’ - and, more specifically, the adoption of European modernist architecture, albeit moderated by the demands of the local climate and customs. This was far from unique; in fact, it was just one part of a wider movement of modernism which found its expression in many other projects.5 Nonetheless, it is a particularly striking example of an attempt at the self-conscious Europeanization of architecture: the deliberate imposition of ‘European’ ideas and aesthetics on an African colony.6

Keywords

Modernist Building Modern Architecture Modern Movement European Importation Contemporary Architecture 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.

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Notes

  1. Rhodri Windsor Liscombe, ‘Modernism in Late-Imperial British West Africa: The work of Maxwell Fry and Jane Drew, 1946–1956’, Journal of the Society of Architectural Historians LXV (2006), 188–215.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. See, for example, Elizabeth Darling, Re-Forming Britain: Narratives of Modernity before Reconstruction (London, 2007) and Alan Powers, Britain: Modern Architectures in History (London, 2007). See also Alona Nitzan-Shiftan, ‘Contested Zionism- Alternative Modernism: Erich Mendelsohn and the Tel Aviv Chug in Mandate Palestine’, Architectural History XXXIX (1996), 147–80.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Krystyne von Henneberg, ‘Imperial Uncertainties: Architectural syncretism and improvisation in Fascist Colonial Libya’, Journal of Contemporary History XXXI (1996), 373–95, 373.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Alison and Peter Smithson, ‘The Function of Architecture in Cultures-in- Change’, Architectural Design XXX (1960), 149–50.Google Scholar
  5. William Whyte, ‘How do Buildings Mean? Some issues of interpretation in the history of architecture’, History and Theory XLV (2006), 153–77.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Percy Mark, ‘Thoughts on Building in Tropical Africa’, West African Builder and Architect IV (May-June 1964), 52–3, 52.Google Scholar
  7. These changes in Nigerian modernism are analysed - and attacked - in Ola Uduku, ‘Modernist Architecture and “The Tropical” in West Africa: The tropical architecture movement in West Africa, 1948–1970’, Habitat International XXX (2006), 396–411.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Ted Stevens, ‘Abuja: Nigeria’s new capital gets under way’, RIBA Journal LXXXIX (July 1982), 464–8.Google Scholar
  9. A.A.U. Kana, ‘A Critque of Architectural Practice in Nigeria’, NIA Journal 2.2 (April–June 1986), pp. 41–44, p. 41.Google Scholar
  10. Olufemi Majekodunmi, ‘The Architectural Profession in Nigeria Today’, NIA Journal 2.1 (July–September 1985), pp. 39–40, p. 39.Google Scholar
  11. Fortune Ebie, ‘Non-Optimal Utilization of Indigenous Manpower in Architecture’, NIA Journal I (March 1982), 7–9, 8.Google Scholar
  12. V.O. Bolarin, ‘Indigenous Architecture: The Nigerian experience’, NIA Journal II (April–June 1986), 29–30, 29.Google Scholar
  13. J.G.O. Adgebite, ‘The Need for the Development of Indigenous Architecture in Nigeria’, NIA Journal VI (April–June 1991), 27–32, 28.Google Scholar
  14. Isidore C. Ezema, ‘The Classical Revival in Architecture: Invigorating or debilitating in Nigeria?’, NIA Journal VIII (January–June 1993), 4–12, 9.Google Scholar
  15. On this in general, see Brian Brace Taylor, ‘Demythologizing Colonial Architecture’, Mimar XIII (1984), 16–25.Google Scholar
  16. Kultermann, New Directions, p. 12. See also, William J.R. Curtis, ‘Towards an Authentic Regionalism’, Mimar XIX (1986), 24–31.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© W. Whyte 2010

Authors and Affiliations

  • William Whyte

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