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

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


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


Modernist Building Modern Architecture Modern Movement European Importation Contemporary Architecture 
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© W. Whyte 2010

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  • William Whyte

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