Posts tagged with "Africa":

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Austin’s Blanton Museum surveys the state of African design

Making Africa: A Continent of Contemporary Design, an upcoming exhibition at the Blanton Museum of Art in Austin, Texas, takes a broad look at the state of design across Africa. Rather than trying to catalog every aesthetic movement across a land mass of over one billion people and dozens of countries, the show instead focuses on designers and artists who are challenging negative narratives about the continent. The show's curators have taken the position that the region is a contemporary hotbed of architecture and design, one that mixes cultures and influences to create optimistic ideas about the future. The show mixes photography, furniture, and a range of other media to explore a rich and expansive cultural mood. The show is divided into four sections. The first, Prologue, attempts to "provide counter-narratives that challenge preconceived notions of the continent," according to a statement from the museum. Through imaginary maps and reworked Renaissance paintings, artists imagine alternative histories for the continent and rework traditional imagery. The next category, I and We, looks at personal style and the fashioning of subcultures. Space and Object tackles the continent's architecture and urbanism, bringing up the work of familiar names like David Adjaye and Diébédo Francis Kéré. Finally, the show collects work that reflect on Africa's colonial past and its lasting impact in Origin and Future. For those interested who cannot make it to Austin, the show's website collects much of the work on view and supplements it with interviews and added information. The show was created by the Vitra Design Musem and the Guggenheim Bilbao and was previously on view in the U.S. at Atlanta's High Museum of Art and the Albuquerque Museum. Making Africa: A Continent of Contemporary Design Blanton Museum of Art Austin, Texas October 14, 2018, to January 6, 2019
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Zaha Hadid’s Nile Tower, the tallest building in Africa, will rise in Cairo

Zaha Hadid Architects’ design for Africa's tallest tower is reportedly breaking ground after nearly a decade of delays by the Egyptian government, according to Forbes. The 70-story Nile Tower will rise along the Nile River in central Cairo as part of an upscale new downtown district. The project is expected to spur growth and investment in a previously neglected area that currently houses middle-class and low-income residents. The 1.3 million-square-foot Nile Tower was first envisioned by the late Hadid in 2007 and so far, design details haven’t changed. The rectangular structure will house residential and hotel components inside a thin, twisting volume. Apartments will be built out on the top 36 floors with views of the nearby pyramids, while the middle 18 floors will include a hotel with 230 rooms. Other floors will feature a casino, nightclub, spa, health club, and shops.  The luxury property is set to be marketed toward higher-income tenants, who in recent years have moved to the outskirts of Cairo into newer developments. Nile Tower will be a focal point of the aforementioned upcoming neighborhood that its developers hope will spark an influx of wealthy residents back into downtown Cairo. Zaha Hadid Architects isn’t the only starchitect firm set to build in the planned district. Foster + Partners designed a mixed-use project for the site as well, which will go atop a recently-demolished lower-income housing complex in the neighboring Maspero Triangle. Critics of both projects say the displacement of Cairo’s poorest and most vulnerable people is already a huge issue. Apart from its controversial setting, one major reason for the Nile Tower’s postponement was the national shake-up Egypt experienced in 2011 when its long-time president Hosni Mubarak was removed from office and tried for corruption and abuse. Mubarak was an avid supporter of the Nile Tower and the plans for creating an upscale new residential and business district. The country couldn’t get it back on track amidst all the political and economic unrest. Under Egypt's current president, Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, the project is once again a top priority for the country as well as for Cairo’s development. Ashraf El Tanani, president of the site's developer Living In Interiors, told Forbes that President Sisi’s government is actively involved in getting the height clearance for the project as well as making it a financially viable project. As of now, the tower will cost $600 million, though it’s likely to rise by $150 million due to the weak Egyptian pound which is making building materials much more expensive than planned. Despite the hefty price tag, the project is expected to make a significant return for the domestic economy with increased construction jobs, as well as its potential for enhancing the housing and tourism sectors once complete. The groundbreaking has been set for the near future, but no date has been officially named.
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The visionary paper cities of artist Bodys Isek Kingelez come to life at the MoMA

Upon arriving at the Congolese artist Bodys Isek Kingelez’s City Dreams retrospective at the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA)—the first full retrospective for him or any other African artist at the museum—there is a feeling of ascension. Having climbed many floors to get here, one reaches a room where humans hover over the cities and look down, not up, into the buildings, windows and boulevards. The viewers look like gods around a creation, but Kingelez’s work decidedly belongs in the kingdom of this earth. His “extreme maquettes,” as he referred to the ornate buildings and cities he constructed, are all units of a larger project that demonstrates the desire for a harmonious future among all peoples; beauty and grace as a reflection of this harmony; and a rejection of the violence commonplace in the immediate post-colonial era, a legacy of the country’s rule under the brutal Kingdom of Belgium. “I’m dreaming cities of peace,” he explained. “I’d like to help the earth above all.” In his Project Pour le Kinshasa du Troisième Millénaire, a re-envisioning of Kinshasa, “police and prisons do not exist.” It was, in essence, the cosmopolitan post-independence vision of the era. Kingelez’s, however, extended beyond dreams of self-rule, asserting a seat at the table for the African imagination of what was possible in the new, truly free world. Bodys Isek Kingelez was born Jean Baptiste on August 27, 1948 in the town of Kimbembele Ihunga in what was then the Belgian Congo. At the age of 22, after receiving his high school diploma, he left for Kinshasa, the capital city. There, he studied economics and an assortment of other subjects like industrial design at the University of Lovanium (now Kinshasa). “I came from a traditional village where everyday I used to watch the men making masks or working at the forge,” Kingelez explained of the mysterious origins of his craftsmanship. “There was no need to learn, then, what I used to see all the time.” Remarkably, he didn't travel outside Zaire (now the Democratic Republic of Congo) until 1989, and so had never interacted up close with architectural design in other countries. Undoubtedly, however, the colonial Belgian Art Deco buildings that lined the streets of Kinshasa and the eccentric palaces (including a pagoda) constructed around the country by ruler Mobutu Sese Seko indubitably seeped into his sense of aesthetics. His first maquette, he recalls, came to him in a dream one night. Feeling “compelled” by the revelation, he made the work under its direction. Throughout his life, his process was similar. First the title came to him. Then the vision to make it, which “gives me all I need, even the shape and colors.” On one such instance, in 1978, he showed the result of his work, Musee National, made from simple tools like paper, glue, scissors, and razors, to the Institut des Musées Nationaux du Zaire. The museum staffers doubted Kingelez could build a work of such sophistication and challenged him to make another work on site, leading to his Commissariat Atomique. The impressed museum hired him to become a “technicien restaurateur” of historical artifacts. The experience of working with invaluable abstract art traditional sculptures left a mark on Kingelez, who confessed “the ruined statues led me to the pinnacle of my skills” Like these African masks of old, the maquettes aim not to depict reality but act as a record of a time and the ideas and the imagination that marked that time. In Kinshasa, Kingelez absorbed elements of the national movement for African authenticity. It is under the aegis of this movement that we see Leopoldville become Kinshasa, the Congo river and the nation, Zaire. As a former Commissioner of National Orientation put it, it was a movement based on reaching into the past to find traditional elements “which adapt themselves well to modern life, those which encourage progress, and those which create a way of life and thought which are essentially ours.” A self-described “favored poet of his traditional sources,” one can imagine very clearly the figure of Kingelez hidden away in his studio in Kinshasa, hovering over a project with tweezers in hand, moving the hitherto possible around and making way for the impossible. But, like his previous work in the museums on African masks of old, Kingelez’s project was a restorative one. Having himself traveled from the village to the city and later the metropole, his work rejected hierarchies and the geographic isolation of the human experience. Instead, it collapsed the time between an African past and a future where no societies were more advanced than others. His 1994 work Kimbembele Ihunga, a reimagining of his home village, represented a “concrete imaginative leap” and “a real bridge between world civilizations of the past, present and future.” Filled with skyscrapers and tree-lined streets, the boulevards provide “pleasant, easy access to all parts of the town.” A stadium named after himself, “Stade Kingelez,” sits in one corner of the town, and in front of the town center stands a monument of a man holding a book who “simply represents the intellectual heritage of common sense and good manners which belongs to multicultural people.” “People flock here,” he said, “because the wind blows in off the sea and the mountains, refreshing its complex beauty in which all the heightened colors join forces consistently to create an environment where everyone can feel at home.” The town and dream of it was not one he would ever live in, but one which lived in him. Multiculturalism is paramount in Kingelez’s work, and we see it not only in the foreign design present in some of his Congolese maquettes, but also in the maquettes dedicated to places, like the outstanding purple and yellow Mongolique Sovietique (1989), in Palais d’Hirochima (1991) whose tiered, raised buildings are inspired by a real imperial palace with paper lanterns suspended between buildings, and Céntrale Palestinienne (1993). His New Manhattan, built a year after the attack on the World Trade Center, is a take on the Manhattan skyline with a third tower filled with water whose “cooling effect will prevent any bombs from exploding.” In insisting on a world crafted for peace, Kingelez, who died three years ago, challenged our imagination to consider what this would require. His work, he insisted, was as much a “gauntlet thrown down to professional artists” as a prodding of our “ability to create a new world.” With salvaged materials like colored paper, scissors, and glue, the self-anointed “prophet of African art” constructed dream cities and a universe of peace, equality, and equity for all. Surely today, with better instruments, we can reflect on his vision and fulfill it down here on earth. Bodys Isek Kingelez: City Dreams The Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) On view through January 1, 2019
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Urban planners are irresponsibly designing risky mega-developments across Africa

The Architect’s Newspaper (AN) has partnered with urbanNext—a multidisciplinary platform for design promoted by Actar Publishers—to share articles on common topics every two weeks. This week, we’re pairing the urbanNext article below with AN’s “Shigeru Ban will design 20,000 shelters for a Kenyan refugee settlement.” The article below was authored by Christopher Marcinkoski, an assistant professor of landscape architecture and urban design at the University of Pennsylvania.
Today, according to recent United Nations data, there are just under 1.2 billion people living on the African continent. By 2050, this number is projected to double to approximately 2.4 billion people. By 2100, there is presumed to be somewhere in the realm of 4.4 billion people living in Africa, accounting for roughly 40% of the total population of earth. [1]
While Africa is currently home to a hugely diverse range of urban formats vis-à-vis their degree of maturity, the politics that guide them, and the economies that support them, the overall urban condition is substandard—both in terms of the infrastructures upon which it relies, and the building stock of which it is composed. In this context, there should be little question regarding the need for substantial upgrades to Africa’s urban settlement and infrastructure. Not coincidentally, in the ten or so years since the peak of the global real estate bubble in 2004 these population projections, in combination with the extreme deficiency of urban services and settlement seen across the continent, have led to a growing wave of proposals for new large-scale urban development throughout Africa. Acknowledging the urgent need for upgrades mentioned above, what is of particular interest regarding these proposals is the radical incongruity of their scale, scope, format, and program relative to the actual demographic and market demands of the contexts they are being proposed within. For example, many of these proposals are reliant on models of urbanization-driven economic growth that unapologetically borrow from exogenous pursuits recently employed in places like China and the Middle East. This appropriation seemingly ignores the fundamentally different set of material and demographic resources characterizing the contexts from which they are drawn, as well as the radically different governance and land tenure systems on which they are based. In turn, beyond their clear misalignment with the near-term realities of the African milieu, what many of these proposals for new settlement and infrastructure imply is the threat of further exacerbating deficient urban conditions by shifting severely limited capital resources away from more basic urban services. [2] In this way, these “African New Towns” represent an increasingly critical topic of concern for those disciplines actively engaged in their planning, design, and construction.
What complicates this process—or, in fact, what motivates it—is the emergence over the last 30 years of a phenomenon I refer to as speculative urbanization.[3] These are pursuits that employ the construction of new infrastructure and settlement for primarily political and economic purposes, rather than to meet real (as opposed to artificially projected) demographic or market demand. If this definition is expanded slightly, it can also include activities related to the legislative re-designation and re-parcelization of land for the specific purposes of increasing its monetary value. The phenomenon refers primarily to activities occurring at the periphery of established urban areas, or in entirely exurban contexts where physical urbanization is operating autonomously at the scale of a district or territory, rather than at the scale of a single parcel or building. While examples of the speculative expansion of settlement and infrastructure can be found as far back as ancient Rome, the last 15 years in particular have seen the most dramatic and consequential instances of the phenomenon, as well as a clear intensification of its incidence. [4] Given the severe economic and social disruption caused by the failures of recent speculative pursuits—see for example Spain, Ireland, China, and Dubai during the first decade of the 21stcentury—it is worth taking a moment to consider design and planning’s role in these activities. Historically, physical urbanization has tended to follow on economic growth. On the occasions when building activities do outpace their corresponding economy, a surplus is created and some sort of market correction is required: price, volume, etc. However, this correlation between urbanization activities and economic growth is more and more frequently being inverted. Here, as was the case in many of the examples mentioned above, physical urbanization activities are expressly being undertaken in the hopes of generating economic growth regardless of real demographic or market demand. This often means the pursuit of projects that are wildly over-scaled, economically inaccessible or simply inappropriate to the current circumstance of a given context. In turn, these projects are increasingly characterized by a high incidence of failure—either through low occupancy, partial completion, or complete abandonment. The costs of these failures extend well beyond the built environment into substantial social, fiscal, and environmental repercussions. Given the expansive nature of these consequences, what is increasingly coming into question as new proposals for gleaming urban development rapidly emerge across the African continent is how necessary upgrades to settlement and infrastructure should be undertaken; what types of physical formats and urban strategies these upgrades should rely upon; and—most critically—for whom these new settlements and infrastructures are actually being produced. When it comes to rapid urbanization in developing economies, these are not new questions. In fact, similar queries were raised in the 1980s and 90s in Southeast Asia, and again in the late 1990s and early 2000s in the Middle East as urbanization activities were employed with the explicit intent of projecting the image of modernity and competitiveness for both economic and political purposes, often independent of the realities of demographic or social need. While proposals for massive new urban districts are increasingly becoming the norm and, in turn, less shocking, a fundamental question does remain: Will the particular urban growth models employed in these pursuits serve to produce long-term urbanistic benefits as in the past, or will these initiatives ultimately succumb to unanticipated near-term disruptions (social, environmental, economic and political) that preclude the realization of longer-term successes? [5] While it is impossible to foretell the answer to this question, the role real estate speculation played in the global financial crisis of 2008, as well as reflections on other prior speculative urbanization events does suggest that without some sort of fundamental change, these contemporary pursuits are likely to produce commensurately severe repercussions—both locally and globally. Ongoing research being conducted at the University of Pennsylvania has found no fewer than 60 cases of territorial-scale speculative urbanization undertaken over the last decade within the 20 largest state economies in Africa. That said, examples can be found in many of the continent’s smaller economies as well. Each of these cases is a minimum of 80 hectares (approx. 200 acres) in size; is positioned as peripheral expansions of settlement adjacent to existing cities or on exurban greenfield sites; and is intended to function as an autonomous urban district, ostensibly independent of existing urban centers. Ultimately, what distinguishes these speculative urbanization activities from more credible or more conventional urbanization pursuits is their scale, their location, and their degree of accessibility relative to an available population (market). While this is not the appropriate venue to discuss each of these various developments in a great deal of depth, we can begin to sort them based upon type, which proves useful in exploring the motivations behind these pursuits. For example, perhaps the most common speculative urbanization format being seen on the African continent today is what I refer to as the middle class new town. These are developments undertaken with the explicit intent of accommodating a particular country’s so-called “growing middle class” that is projected to appear as a result of rural to urban migration in combination with the economic expansion associated with modernization. Examples of this type include Morocco’s ongoing new towns program initiated in late 2004; Tatu City northeast of Nairobi, Kenya (1,200ha); the Centenary City (1,260ha) and Lekki New Township (1,560ha) projects in Nigeria; La Cite du Fleuve (375ha) at the eastern periphery of Kinshasa, D.R.C.; Appolonia–City of Light (941ha), north of Accra, Ghana; and, what has become the media poster-child for this type of development, the Chinese-built new town of Kilamba (5,400ha), southeast of Luanda, Angola to name just a few. What is at issue with this particular format is that much of the housing being produced is simply inaccessible to the general population from a financial point of view without substantial government subsidies that many of these countries simply cannot afford to provide. The result is that this particular type of development often remains empty and physically deteriorating years, even decades, after its construction. Another common speculative urbanization format is the increasingly ubiquitous tourist/luxury enclave. Following on the urban growth models established in places like Spain and the Emirates, these urbanization projects are predicated on the opening up of an exotic landscape to foreign investment and populations, in combination with the creation of secured areas of exception within the extents of existing metropolitan contexts. Examples include the 2,400-hectare Longonote Gate located 70 km northwest of Nairobi; the various developments undertaken as part of the New Cairo project including Barwa (830 ha), Madinaty (4,500 ha) and Mivida (1,490 ha); resort projects along the Atlantic Coast of Morocco south of Tangier such as Tinja (330 ha) or Al Houara (234 ha); and the ten-square-kilometer Eko Atlantic development being reclaimed from the sea south of Lagos, Nigeria. These developments, like the middle class new towns mentioned above, are inaccessible to the vast majority of the African population. However, unlike the prior set of examples that claim to be undertaken explicitly in service of the continent’s growing urban populations, these developments make no pretenses about their desired clientele—the global elite and their associated investment dollars. The third category of speculative urbanization most often being pursued on the African continent is also primarily oriented towards the desire to attract foreign investment. However, rather than investment from individuals, these technology- or industry-sector new towns are geared primarily toward attracting capital and/or partnerships from established foreign corporations and institutions. For example, the proposed 2,000-hectare Konza Techno City, to be located 70 km southeast of Nairobi, Kenya, aims to capture the momentum behind the massive telecom market (SMS) already present throughout Africa. The Green City of Mohammed IV, roughly mid-way between Marrakech and Casablanca, looks to build upon the resources of Morocco’s Office Chérifien des Phosphate (OCP)—the state agency tapped with managing the country’s vast phosphate reserves—in order to establish an international research and industry hub centered around a newly created “world class” university. A few hundred kilometers to the north is the proposed Zenata Eco City (1,830 ha), which is intended to elevate Casablanca, already Morocco’s financial center, “to the rank of world metropolis.” [6] Elsewhere, forty or so kilometers north of Johannesburg, South Africa lies the privately owned Lanseria Airport, envisioned to be transformed over the next 25 years into a so-called Airport City, with an “aerotropolis zone” radiating out as much as 20 km from the airport facility at its center. In the context of these various pursuits, it is worth considering why the potential economic engine implied by each of these proposals is so often seen as incompatible with existing urban centers and structures. Certainly urbanization activities tied to potential job centers other than construction has proven to be a valid strategy. The question becomes why these pursuits seem to rely so heavily on exogenous urban growth models, rather than leveraging the particular assets of specific territory or context in the service of establishing new paradigms. The final category associated with the intensifying pursuit of speculative urbanization on the African continent is perhaps the most telling. The appearance of a number of new national capitals makes clear the perceived correlation between global political and economic status and the production of novel or iconic urban form. This correlation is obviously not new as places like Rome, Paris, and Moscow can easily attest. What is unique, however, as was mentioned before, is the inversion of this relationship to the point where the physical construction of the constituent components of the “global city” is now understood as a means to an end, rather than a product of growing economic and political status. Examples of these new capitals include the 6,000 ha “low-carbon city” of Boughezoul 120 km south of Algiers, planned as the new capital of Algeria and funded primarily by the carbon-dependent oil wealth of the country. In Equatorial Guinea, an 8,150 ha administrative capital called Oyala (or Djibloho) is rising on the mainland, roughly 350 km across land and sea from the existing capital at Malabo. While not a true new town, the Kigali 2020 master plan imagines transforming the territory of one of history’s worst genocides into a decentralized conurbation comprising high-tech, finance, and retail districts alongside ecological preserves in what can only be characterized as a city conceived in the image of Singapore, home to the planners behind the project. [7] And, as recently as March 2015, a massive new capital district for Egypt was proposed for the outskirts of Cairo in order to “spark a renaissance in the [country’s] economy”. [8] This new city, planned for five million residents and to be built in five to seven years, is just the latest example of an increasingly prevalent belief in urbanization as the ultimate instrument of 21st-century economic production and global status, particularly for developing economies. In reflecting on these various cases, what is striking is that unlike the post-war period in Europe where urgent housing demands and the need for modernization motivated the pursuit of innovations in both architectural form and urban formats, similarly urgent population projections for the African continent are inducing an urbanization response that seems to do little more than recycle familiar recipes for what constitutes the contemporary “competitive global city”. [9] Here, the limited pursuit of urban design “innovation” has been reduced to the occasional quest for hyperbolic architectural form or stamping out vast new urban districts wrapped in over-scaled, ill-defined wreaths of green. Such a body of work suggests an inexcusable abdication of responsibility by the urban design disciplines. In this regard, the urgent challenge facing urbanization on the African continent relates less to the models being emulated than to the particularities and appropriateness of the urban formats being employed; the processes by which this urbanization is undertaken; and the capacity of planning and design to conceptualize models of urbanization that actively adjust the disposition of these pursuits in response to changing demographic, economic, political and environmental demands faced over the extended timescale of a project’s deployment. Contemporary popular media’s engagement with these speculative urbanization activities could be described as uneven at best. European and American news outlets in particular have tapped into the paranoia surrounding China’s growing global influence by focusing their narrative on urbanization projects on the African continent being promoted or constructed by Chinese state or state-related entities like CITIC or CGCOC. [10] While significant in both number and scale, these are by no means the only actors involved in speculative urbanization activities on the African continent. For example, a group of familiar international funding sources and government-linked companies, alongside recognizable engineering and planning multinationals from Europe and Southeast Asia, appear again and again in many of these projects. Institutions like the E.U., I.M.F., and World Bank underwrite many of these projects through the support of planning studies or infrastructure funding. [11] Elsewhere, corporate partnerships and investment funds with interests in resource extraction or agriculture are utilizing urbanization activities as an instrument for gaining political favor, and in turn, access to these assets. [12] While many proposals emerge from the hubristic ambitions of the leadership of a particular state, other proposals are being promoted by foreign parties looking to take advantage of what they see as latent markets or fiscally desperate governments. State-linked planning and development companies from places like China, Singapore, and the Middle East trade upon the demonstrated “successes” of their particular urban growth models in order to convince the leaders of cities and states to retain their services or allow them to undertake development on their behalf. [13] In this way, the similarity between proposals in terms of central actors and proposed outcomes, in even the most divergent of contexts should be unsurprising. Simply put, there is a universal recipe for urbanization-driven economic growth that is being peddled indiscriminately across the African continent as the essential solution to the most intractable of economic and, in turn, social challenges. As I have argued elsewhere, this pursuit of speculative building is an inevitable consequence of a capitalist economic system. [14] However, acknowledgment of this inevitability should not be interpreted as acquiescence—quite the opposite. While these speculative activities emerge from a variety of political and economic motivations, we cannot excuse the design and planning disciplines from complicity in the consequences of these pursuits. For example, we must acknowledge the sheer absurdity of trying to design and plan large-scale new urban settlement—speculative or otherwise—by focusing solely on the realization of a single, preferred outcome. The illogic of such an approach is manifold. Focus on a single outcome presumes an impossibly stable state in terms of economic activity, population, and market demand. It demonstrates a disturbing naiveté or willful negligence on the part of the planner and designer to not take into account the increasing likelihood of disruption to the urbanization process that characterizes speculative building activities. It relies on discredited ideas of phasing and predetermined stages of implementation. And ultimately, this focus on a singular outcome demonstrates a hubristic belief in being able to accurately prognosticate just how an economy will function years, if not decades, in the future. This critique is not offered to argue for some form of indeterminacy—we know the dead end such an approach offers. [15] Rather, what I am suggesting is the need for a retooling of urban design theory and practice in pursuit of modulatable formats of land use, infrastructure, and settlement that can be actively adjusted in real time. In this context, the Dutch urbanist Michele Provoost has argued that there is a fundamental disconnect between Western design education and the realities of contemporary urban design practice. [16] She notes: “While big architecture firms are designing entire cities and constructing architectural icons ex nihilo, ‘their’ schools theorize mostly about the inability to plan urbanization, and offer up instead tactics of architectural acupuncture and bottom-up urban politics.” In essence, since the “failures” of midcentury modernist planning, the act of designing a city from scratch has been excised as a core competency of urban design education. In turn, design and planning’s capacity to adequately (or appropriately) conceive of and implement new urban form has eroded. As a result, what is most often being peddled as “urban design” today is simply scaled-up reproductions of “proven” urban formats, or dystopic renderings of new settlement as implausible architectural icons. Obviously, there is a certain operational efficiency to relying on familiar formats and fixed outcomes when it comes to the design and planning of new settlement. In fact, one might argue that to operate otherwise would risk disciplinary credibility. It is admittedly difficult (perhaps akin to professional suicide) to tell a client, “I don’t know exactly what is going to happen in 10 years,” or “there is a possibility this might not work as we desire.” On the other hand, the capacity to devise systems of urbanization that can be adjusted or adapted to changing circumstances; that can be recalibrated or modulated during an ongoing process of urbanization; that can create net positive outcomes even in “failure” offers the urban design disciplines an opportunity to expand and extend their agency in the inevitable speculative urbanization process. Under such an approach, urban design engages in the ongoing management of urbanization activities, rather than continuing to simply be employed in the blind production of physical urban products that stand in as proxies for the processes of urbanization. Given the pressing demand for urbanistic and infrastructural upgrades implied by population and economic growth projections across the African continent, such a disciplinary shift is essential if we are to avoid once again reproducing the severe environmental, economic, and social consequences that have emerged from comparable prior speculative pursuits.
This article originally appeared as Africa’s Speculative Urban Future on urbanNext. [1] United Nations, Department of Economic and Social Affairs, Population Division (2015), World Population Prospects: The 2015 Revision, Key Findings and Advance Tables, Working Paper No. ESA/P/WP.241. [2] Vanessa Watson. “African Urban Fantasies: Dreams or Nightmares?,” Environment and Urbanization 26, no. 215 (2014): 229. [3] Christopher Marcinkoski, The City That Never Was (New York: Princeton Architectural Press, 2015). [4] For a more complete discussion of these and other historical examples of speculative urbanization, see “A Brief History of Speculative Urbanization” in Marcinkoski, The City That Never Was, 16–48. [5] “Booms and Busts: The Beauty of Bubbles,” Economist, December 18, 2008. [6] Zenata Eco City project website, (accessed October 25, 2015). [7] While the Denver-based firm Oz Architects did much of the initial planning for Kigali 2020, the current scheme is clearly driven by Surbana given its characteristic disconnect with reality as seen in other projects such as their work in Mumbai. [8] “Egypt unveils plans to build new capital east of Cairo,” BBC (March 13, 2015). [9] For a discussion of these post-war pursuits see Eric Mumford, The CIAM Discourse on Urbanism, 1928-1960 (Cambridge: The MIT Press, 2000). [10] “China in Africa: One Among Many,” Economist, January 17, 2015. [11] See for example, The EU-Africa Infrastructure Trust Fund. For a discussion of the motivations behind these investments see, The World Bank, “Harnessing Urbanization to End Poverty and Boost Prosperity in Africa,” October 23, 2013. [12] See Jessica Chu, “Investigation Into German Involvement In Land Grabbing In Zambia,” Zambia Land Alliance and Caritas Zambia (March 23, 2012), and Hawkwood Capital statement on corporate social responsibility. [13] Examples include the aforementioned Surbana and CITIC, as well as U.A.E.’s Emaar. [14] See “Urbanization Beyond Speculation” in Marcinkoski, The City That Never Was,220–235. [15] For example, a common critique of the utility of the contemporary Landscape Urbanism discourse is its perceived embrace of open-endedness and indeterminacy at the expense of well-defined physical or policy interventions. [16] Michelle Provoost, “Why Build a New Town?” in Volume no. 34—City in a Box. The French version of the article was published in issue 4/2016 of Swiss magazine TRACÉS.
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Aranda/Lasch wins competition to design furniture for 14+ Foundation’s Chipakata Children’s Academy in Zambia, Africa

New York–based architecture and design firm Aranda/Lasch by Benjamin Aranda and Chris Lasch won 14+ Foundation’s international design competition to design furniture for the Chipakata Children’s Academy in Zambia, Africa. The design, titled “Nesting Furniture,” is lightweight, movable, and weather resistant in response to the project's surroundings (both of Zambia and the school) and the materials and resources available in Sub-Saharan Africa. “Our design is a furniture system that uses the local craft of wattling, or twig weaving, to make many different configurations of furniture. Every element will be sourced and made locally by artisans in Zambia,” said Aranda in a press release. Aranda/Lasch is known for its modular, geometric approach to design and has created everything from houses and art venues to furniture and installations. Each piece of the “Nesting Furniture” series is flexible, with the smaller pieces neatly fitting into the larger pieces (hence the term nesting) and various arrangements of the seats and tables can be used for playing, eating, learning, and crafting. “Aranda\Lasch’s submission stood out to the jury as imaginative and beautiful, yet in other ways simple and practical,” Joseph Mizzi, co-founder of 14+ Foundation, said in a press release. “In addition, the ability for their design to move into a production phase relatively quickly, along with the capability for this furniture to be fabricated using locally sourced labor and materials, is perfectly aligned with the philosophies of our architecture and the core beliefs of our foundation.” Susan Rodriguez of Ennead Architects designed the Chipakata Children’s Academy with Frank Lupo and Randy Antonia Lott for 200 children in grades one through six. The facility also provides care for orphans and children in need in the local community. The 14+ Foundation, which sponsored the project, is a New York City–based nonprofit that focuses on providing education and art programs to children in need in Africa. It is currently developing its second project, Mwabwindo School in Mwabwindo Village, Zambia, with Selldorf Architects, slated to open January 2018.
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EDI chairman and principal Victor Mirontschuk briefly recounts his work in Africa

In 1991 EDI chairman and principal Victor Mirontschuk took an exotic gig in Angola, to improve the country’s infrastructure prior to a visit from Pope John Paul II. The country’s three bridges and numerous roads had been blown away, so the firm was tasked with rebuilding them. Since then, EDI has created numerous buildings in West Africa, but the experience was a little more than Mirontschuk bargained for. In addition to working during a volatile civil war, AN heard that the architect was shot at, nearly arrested for taking photos, had several of his buildings bombed, ended up on the receiving end of an AK-47, and dodged a mine field. “I didn’t even get hazard insurance,” he quipped, according to our sources.

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Venice welcomes its first “nation in exile” whose pavilion highlights a little-known refugee crisis

This is the first time in the Venice Architecture Biennale's 15 seasons that a "nation in exile" has been invited to set up a pavilion alongside established nation-states. The Western Sahara Pavilion, organized by Manuel Herz with the National Union of Sahrawi Women, engages the culture of the Sahrawi, an ethnic group from the disputed territory that was forced to flee into neighboring Algeria during a war with Morocco and Mauritania in the 1970s. Today, between 48,000 and 194,000 Sahrawis live in Algerian refugee camps, unable to return to a territory whose sovereignty is recognized by only 40 nations worldwide. As temporary spaces of exception turned into permanent places of residence, the Sahrawis adopted and invented novel sets of urban and architectural practices. Rabouni, the first camp established in 1976, became a capital of the semi-sovereign, displaced nation: The city contains a parliament, national archive, museum, and other institutions that confer permanence. For the tent-shaped pavilion, over 30 women wove tapestries that depict buildings, maps, and conditions in the camps. The organizers of the pavilion argue that by shaping space in this way, refugees are using institutions as tools for social liberation. Organizing via government is not a new or radical method of self-determination, but pavilion organizers hope that their presence in Venice with internationally recognized countries will invigorate debate around sovereignty, deterritorialization, and shaping space in an increasingly post-national world.
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On View> Architecture of Independence: African Modernism at the Graham Foundation

Architecture of Independence: African Modernism Graham Foundation Madlener House, 4 West Burton Place, Chicago Through April 9, 2016 Based on a book of the same name, Architecture of Independence: African Modernism explores the boom of modernist buildings in sub-Saharan Africa in the 1960s and 1970s. With research by architect and writer Manuel Herz and photographs by Iwan Baan and Alexia Webster, Architecture of Independence looks at 80 buildings in five countries. From new parliament buildings to schools and central banks, the show presents architecture as a means of declaring and expressing independence after centuries of colonization. Along with local architects and planners, architects from Poland, Yugoslavia, Scandinavia, Israel, and, surprisingly, former colonial powers, transformed urban and government centers across the continent. This exhibition is being shown for the first time in the United States at the Graham Foundation for Advanced Studies in the Fine Arts in cooperation with the Vitra Design Museum in Weil am Rhein, Germany. Numerous talks and film screenings will accompany the exhibition throughout its run.
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MASS Design Group releases plans for a “Bauhaus of Africa”

The Boston-based nonprofit design firm MASS Design Group hopes to see the number of professional designers in Africa grow. To that end, the firm has unveiled a plan for an architecture and design school in Rwanda called the African Design Center. https://vimeo.com/139968413 Founded in 2010, MASS already has experience in developing areas around the world, including building a number of schools, medical clinics, and houses in sub-Saharan Africa and Haiti. Its latest project, the African Design Center, will also lie in the sub-Saharan area of Kigali, Rwanda, where the firm already has an office. Currently, the firm is raising money for the project with the aim of opening next year. The school will also teach outside of the design discipline with classes available for networking and business development. If a success, MASS will emulate the project in other areas, implementing more schools in the region and hopefully the continent. According to its website, MASS views sub-Saharan Africa as an area that is set for "unprecedented urban growth," and such investment will help develop the economy of the area. More importantly, the project provides "critical new infrastructure such as housing, schools, and clinics." MASS' Africa office also realized that the continent's growth requires creative services to design future hospitals, schools, and housing. Africa contributes less than one percent to the global creative economy, and it's hoped that the school will nurture the young designers who will form the new sub-Saharan Africa. MASS described the project as the "Bauhaus of Africa." MASS isn't the only firm delving into the fertile land of Rwanda. Recently Norman Foster announced a proposal for a drone station to supply emergency medical equipment and act as a form of trade route in the area.
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Norman Foster proposes African Droneport to save lives and build economies

Who needs roads when you can fly? Norman Foster's latest project aims to support cargo drone routes that could deliver "urgent and precious supplies to remote areas on a massive scale." The scheme has significant potential in some of the barren heartland areas of Africa which are severely lacking in infrastructure, something that has proven a hindrance to the health and socio-economic well being of the region. Utilizing drones in such a way could change all that by connecting stranded communities and bringing valuable resources which are desperately needed. Unlike cars or trains, drones can easily (and cheaply) bypass the need to traverse across mountains, rivers, and lakes. Medical supplies are the main priority for Foster. He has teamed up with Afrotech, École polytechnique fédérale de Lausanne (EPFL); and the Norman Foster Foundation. Drones here have the potential to disperse a variety of life-saving packages within a range of over 60 miles. This would work by using two drone networks called the Redline and the Blueline. The Redline would carry smaller packages and would primarily be for emergency medical supplies. The Blueline would be more commercial and would be able to carry "larger payloads such as spare parts, electronics, and e-commerce." A drone port would be a new typology for Foster + Partners, adding to its growing list of aviation-based buildings that includes various airports and "lunar building studies conducted in association with the European Space Agency." The firm aims for the project's design to be very simplistic and able to be assembled by locals. The port could also be a manufacturing site for drones which would potentially give locals greater employment opportunities. To give some scale of the issue Foster wishes to address, currently "just a third of Africans live within two kilometers of an all-season road." With this in mind, Africa's population is set to double by 2050 and so a solution such as this will be necessary to cater for the growing demand of Africa's people. Africa is a continent where the gap between the population and infrastructural growth is increasing exponentially," Foster said in a statement. "The dearth of terrestrial infrastructure has a direct impact on the ability to deliver life-giving supplies, indeed where something as basic as blood is not always available for timely treatment." With a pilot project set to be built by 2020 in Rwanda, "a country whose physical and social geography poses multiple challenges," the drone service hopes to send supplies to "44% of Rwanda." "Rwanda’s challenging geographical and social landscape makes it an ideal test-bed for the Droneport project," Foster said in a statement. "This project can have massive impact through the century and save lives immediately.”
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Jaklitsch / Gardner’s beekeeping & honey extraction center in Tanzania is designed with the local community in mind

New York City–based Jaklitsch/Gardner Architects has unveiled renderings for the Mizengo Pinda Asali & Nyuki Sanctuary, a beekeeping and honey extraction center near Dodoma, Tanzania. The firm partnered with Follow the Honey, National Beekeeping Supplies, and Nyuki Safari Company to build a complex that supports the local beekeeping economy and serves as a cultural and educational anchor for the community. To foster collaboration and allow for future expansion at the site, the sanctuary complex is organized in a cellular pattern with a series of pavilions around garden courtyards. The pavilion structures are made of mud-fired bricks that are set into interwoven patterns meant to evoke local weaving traditions. The patterns change at each building based on their specific programmatic and ventilation needs. The bricks will be created on-site and with local labor. Metal roofs are lifted above the buildings to allow for natural ventilation throughout the sanctuary. “Our shared vision is that the design of this building will bring a sense of dignity to the enterprise—a place where modern equipment and techniques blend with traditional methods," said Mark Gardner, principal at Jaklitsch/Gardner Architects, in a statement. "An increase in beekeeping education programs offers local farmers and tribal groups the knowledge and skills to become more independent and self-reliant, providing an opportunity to improve their quality of life." The sanctuary is slated to break ground later this year.
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Such Great Heights: CTBUH names world’s best tall buildings

The Council on Tall Buildings and Urban Habitat, the nonprofit arbiter on tall building design, has named its 2014 picks for best tall buildings. Among the winners are a twisting tower in Dubai, Portland's greenest retrofit, and a veritable jungle of a high-rise. The four regional winners are: The Edith Green-Wendell Wyatt Federal Building, Portland, USA (Americas); One Central Park, Sydney, Australia (Asia & Australia); De Rotterdam, Rotterdam, Netherlands (Europe); and Cayan Tower, Dubai, UAE (Middle East & Africa). Portland’s Edith Green-Wendell Wyatt Federal Building is not a new building. Designed by SOM in 1974, the office tower used a pre-cast concrete façade that had begun to fail by the turn of the 21st century. Bainbridge Island, Washington-based Cutler Anderson Architects and local firm SERA modernized the 18-story, 512,474 square-foot structure that is now targeting LEED Platinum. One Central Park in Sydney uses hydroponics and heliostats to cultivate gardens and green walls throughout the tower, cooling the building and creating the world's tallest vertical garden. OMA’s De Rotterdam is the largest building in the Netherlands, and its form playfully morphs the glassy midcentury office high-rise in a way that’s part homage and part experimental deconstruction. In the Middle East, Dubai’s twisting Cayan Tower (formerly The Infinity Tower) is a 75-story luxury apartment building that turns 90 degrees over its 997-foot ascent. Remarked the CTBUH panel: “happening upon its dancing form in the skyline is like encountering a hula-hooper on a train full of gray flannel suits.” CTBUH will pick an overall “Best Tall Building Worldwide” winner at their 13th Annual Awards on November 6, at the Illinois Institute of Technology in Chicago. Their panel of judges includes Jeanne Gang, OMA’s David Gianotten, Laing O’Rourke’s David Scott, and Sir Terry Farrell, among others. OMA’s CCTV Tower in Beijing won last year’s competition. Most of the 88 contest entries were from Asia, CTBUH said, continuing that continent’s dominance of global supertall building construction. CTBUH's international conference will take place in Shanghai in September. You can find more about the 2014 CTBUH awards, including a full list of finalists, at their website.