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Drew/Fry+WAfrModArch Dk Osseo-Asare, 11/3/2005

Was it not yesterday that the first truck rumbled into the bush village? —E. Maxwell Fry, 1964

This paper considers the case of “modern architecture” in “modern Africa.” These two projects, although both began as separate discourses in the late 19th century, reached new intellectual crises in the post-war era. Concurrent with the Euro-American debate over the meaning of the city, in the face of Reconstruction and limited funds for building (hence the emergence of a largely theoretical avant-garde), the former colonial powers were reinventing forms of dominance as their colonies achieved independence. As the CIAM conferences demonstrate, together with the pages of publications such as the Architectural Record, much of the enthusiasm remaining at that time for a transcendent and resilient modern architecture is directly linked to the visible progress of a so-called International Style, globally. That is to say, while Archigram and the Situationists were debating a never-to-be-realized future, new futures—“modern civilization,” conceived according to Modernist principles—were being created in newly independent countries throughout the world.

This topic, necessarily, demands a clarified ground for the terms “modern,” “architecture” and “Africa.” Because all three exist from within the Western lexicon as pseudo-universal, the concern here is less with some individual work of architecture than with the underlying mechanism, the processes whereby the modernist experiment could be superimposed on new social territories. My

specific focus within this general scope is the project advanced by Maxwell Fry and Jane Drew, carried out first under the colonial administration of British West Africa, and later through the mandate of the Architecture Association’s School of Tropical Modernism. Through textual analysis, and drawing on the interrelated political philosophies of Sartre, Fanon and Nkrumah, the argument will seek to deconstruct this architecture “for the tropics” as implicated in the Western apparatus of imperialist exploitation—i.e., neocolonialism.

Sartre, as the Western Marxist and leftist critic perhaps most politically vocal on colonial issues, was extremely influential on the original generation of postcolonial theorists. Most of the key Francophone writers studied with him in Paris as different times—Fanon, Memmi, Césaire, Senghor—and his introductions to their texts tended to heighten the French response. Having already proposed in The Anti-Semite and the Jew that the anti-Semite “makes” the Jew, his preface (Black Orpheus) to Senghor’s 1948 manifesto on negritude, Anthologie de la nouvelle poésie nègre et malgache de langue française, extends the dialectic of self and other to the idea of racialized black/white—not only does the white gaze create blackness, but the black gaze establishes whiteness. In his Critique of Dialectical Reason (1960), Sartre includes a chapter on the colonial condition, in which he suggests that the colonizer and the colonized are associated vis-à-vis the dialectical relationship of violence that gave birth to and sustains their pairing; and it is for this reason that only violence can negate this equilibrium. This work prefigures the watershed of Barthes’

Mythologies (the native soldier saluting the French flag) and Said’s Orientalism. It also served as inspiration for texts such as Fanon’s The Wretched of the Earth, for which Sartre wrote the introduction. Sartre opens his introduction to Fanon’s The Wretched of the Earth, with: Not so long ago, the earth numbered two thousand million inhabitants: five hundred million men, and one thousand five hundred million natives. The former had the Word; the others had the use of it. Between the two there were hired kinglets, overlords and a bourgeoisie, sham from beginning to end, which served as go-betweens. In the colonies the truth stood naked, but the citizens of the mother country preferred it with clothes on: the native had to love them, something in the way mothers are loved. The European elite undertook to manufacture a native elite. They picked out promising adolescents; they branded them, as with a red-hot iron, with the principles of Western culture; they stuffed their mouths full with high-sounding phrases, grand glutinous words that stuck to their teeth. After a short stay in the mother country they were sent home, whitewashed. These walking lies had nothing left to say to their brothers; they only echoed. From Paris, from London, from Amsterdam we would utter the words ‘Parthenon! Brotherhood!’ and somewhere in Africa or Asia, lips would open ‘…thenon! …therhood!’ It was the golden age.1

Critiquing Marx’s determinism, Sartre privileges human liberty—“I am my freedom”2—and this idea of individualized human agency despite historical circumstances is centrally relevant in understanding postcolonies of the Third World. Sartre resolves that individual praxis is fundamental; history operates on man simultaneously with man’s conscious and deliberate making of history. However, while Sartre’s interpretation of totalizing history corresponds to an expanded humanism, his domain of “human history” remains limited to that of Western Europe. To the frustration of many in the postcolonies, Sartre’s Marxist eschatology insists on collapsing anti-colonial liberation movements with class struggle. The native exists, on Sartrian terms, solely as part of the worldwide proletariat, and his independence is thusly bound to essential Marxist revolution.

1 2

Fanon, Frantz, The Wretched of the Earth (New York: Grove Press, 1968), 7. Sartre, Jean Paul, Being and Nothingness, 1943.

In a presentation at Wagram in January 1956, later published under the title, “Colonialism is a System” Sartre elaborates on the thesis first appearing in his chapter on colonialism in Critique of Dialectical Reason. His documentation of France’s colonial enterprise in Algeria reiterates the dialectic between colonizer and colonized (both inspiration to and indebted to Memmi’s The Colonizer and the Colonized) and he traces the explicit connection between colonialism and capitalism—which Marx also recognized—back to Jules Ferry (who precedes Lenin’s own theorization of imperialism): For countries like ours which, by the very nature of their industry, are destined to be great exporters, this question is precisely one of outlets…Where there is political prominence, there is also predominance in products, economic predominance.3

The imperative becomes that of ensuring “economic predominance” by means of enforced “political prominence.” The effort to guarantee such a system of relations on foreign territory is characterized in its first phase as colonialism and later, in the more subtle dependency of ex-colonies on ex-colonizers, as neocolonialism. Sartre views this structure as inherently racist: “Racism is already there, carried out by the praxis of colonialism, engendered at every instant by the colonial apparatus…”4. This is a violent subjugation—parallel to its converse, regarding which Fanon argues, “decolonization is always a violent phenomenon”5—which is viable solely because it reduces the native to the subhumanity Marx places outside the economic structure.


Sartre, Jean-Paul, Colonialism and Neocolonialism (London and New York: Routledge, 2001), 33. Sartre, 50. 5 Fanon, 35. 4

Whereas Sartre offers the neocolonialist as “a fool who still believes the colonial system can be overhauled”6 Kwame Nkrumah opens that definition to “arrangements whereby the local populations are given a token freedom while cords attaching them to the ‘mother country’ remain as firm as ever.”7 Nkrumah begins with the observation that it is difficult to maintain that financial assistance and material aid derived from former colonial powers are purely altruistic in nature; such action is without rational basis. Rather, the motives are more likely to follow the trajectory of diplomacy and foreign affairs in general: no country initiates actions that do not directly benefit its primary constituency. Economically speaking, the agenda of the European intervention in postindependence Africa served to solidify the trade imbalance which provided Europe with cheap raw materials, while opening African markets to European manufactured goods.

Given this conceptual background, it becomes possible to interrogate the project of Tropical Modernism put forward by Maxwell Fry and Jane Drew. The AA School of Tropical Modernism (later renamed the Development Planning Unit and relocated to the University College London) coupled with the private work of Fry, Drew and Partners, was critical in establishing the dominant modern tradition of institutional architectures in both Africa and Asia. The husband-wife team began work as planning consultants for British West Africa in 1944. By the end of the 1940s they had built a series of schools and universities, mostly in the 6

Sartre, 47. Nkrumah, Kwame, “Neocolonialism in Africa,” in Cartey, Wilfred and Martin Kilson, eds., The Africa Reader: Independent Africa (New York: Random House, 1970), 217. 7

colony of the Gold Coast (now Ghana) and published the book, Village Housing in the Tropics (1947). Between 1951 and 1956 they worked as senior architects, with Pierre Jeanneret, on Le Corbusier’s Chandigarh. While Le Corbusier designed only the master plan and the capitol complex, Fry and Drew were responsible for the city itself—nearly all the residential, educational and healthcare buildings. They later completed in Ghana, Togo and Nigeria additional universities, banks and other civic institutions, and authored Tropical Architecture in the Humid Zone (1956) and Tropical Architecture in the Dry and Humid Zones (1964). As such they directly impacted several generations of architects practicing in the Third World, and of several types: Europeans who studied at the AA School and worked as expatriates in the former colonies; Third World architects, planners and engineers, educated in Europe and America, who participated in Fry/Drew projects in West Africa and North India; and the initial classes at new schools of architecture and planning launched in West Africa and North India according to the AA model.

Analysis of the scarce writings by Fry and Drew, relative to other prominent architects of their time, is especially revealing. They made every attempt to be enlightened agents, sympathetic to the local cultures where they as modern missionaries of architecture were planting the good word of Western modernity; and yet, they were unable to escape the larger machinery of Western imperialism which subsumed their mission within the apparatus of economic exploitation, and which Sartre, Fanon and Nkrumah sought to contest. Interestingly, Fry’s initial

lines of Tropical Modernism in the Dry and Humid Zones places architecture in a position of individualized agency similar to Sartre’s praxis:

Architecture is a personal art responding directly to what its creator brings to it of feeling, knowledge and experience. Each time a new building is created the process takes place within an individual. What that individual does is modified by what others have done before him, and by all kinds of influences in the life about him—of many of which he is unconscious—that make up the civilization of which he is a part.8

Fry equates the building process with the individual, and also recognizes that this same individual-architect’s actions are impacted by “what others have done before him.” Consistent with Sartre’s totalizing model, in which man and history coexist in a dialectical relationship, the extents of this body of previous knowledge and experience (history) is ill-defined. Fry writes trapped in a confused stance regarding who, precisely, is charged with the shaping of tropical existence. He is careful to caution that, we, the authors, are not inhabitants of the tropic zone but have come to it from the temperate zone…we write not only for those who, like ourselves live outside the tropics and for whom, therefore, designing is something of an intellectual process; but also for the growing number of those who, by their over-familiarity with the conditions, may be stimulated to re-examine them. On these architects and planners falls the major burden of creating an environment in which the tropical peoples may flourish.9

Already, there are two architects at work in the tropics: those from the temperate zone, and those from the tropics. Are their individual actions modified identically, are they “part” of the same “civilization”? Fry posits that just as the English architect is best equipped to build for the Englishman, because he knows already his “subconscious desires,” the “future architects who build for their own tropical


Fry, Maxwell and Jane Drew, Tropical Architecture in the Dry and Humid Zones, 2nd ed. (Malabar, FL: Robert E. Krieger Publishing Co., 1982), 1. 9 Fry, 1.

people bring to their task emotions, sympathies and knowledge denied to us who come from outside.” In a murky metaphor he then concludes that: The situation today is different, and more resembles that of the dark ages in Europe, when the overrunning of the Roman Empire by barbarians had removed one sort of order without substituting another. One need have neither fears nor regrets for the rapid development of modern architecture today, because it corresponds with the rapidly changing state of the world due to the onrush of science and its manifold applications to human use—and human destruction. It proposes a new and more logical and applicable form of order.10

What loss of order necessitates this “new and more logical and more applicable form of order”? We can extract Fry’s view utilizing Fanon: “The settler [colonizer] makes history…He is the absolute beginning: ‘This land was created by us’; he is the unceasing cause: ‘If we leave, all is lost, and the country will go back to the Middle Ages.’”11 Fanon suggests that the “perverted logic” of colonialism “turns to the past of the oppressed people, and distorts, disfigures, and destroys it.”12 Although the withdrawal of formal colonial rule threatens a terrifying loss of order, we can rest assured that scientific progress will stabilize the situation, “rapidly” implementing through greater order a better modern architecture.

Fanon situates the settler’s legitimizing view of (i.e. the colonizer brings order and progress) in tandem with the “innovating dynamism of colonial mercantilism.”13 Building as a process naturally involves a constellation of labor, materials and design initiative. It is interesting to note that Fry advocates a view of construction that engages entirely this mercantilism, and threatens to support Nkrumah’s claims of misleading European intent: 10

Fry, 3. Fanon, 51. 12 Fanon, 210. 13 Fanon, 52. 11

Where a country is deficient in materials that are suitable for the work it must pay for their importation and if it finds them really necessary, set about manufacturing them or substitutes for them, and thus raise it’s standard of living and power of survival. This India has done at the instigation of British interests in the first case, and largely with outside capital, and to it the whole of the tropical world is now addressing itself…14

The above conclusion typifies the severity of the modernist program: it overlaps completely with the modernism of the industrialized Atlantic, and endorses even without realizing it a conception of architecture biased to the larger global capitalist structure. Writing directly to Nkrumah’s warning, Fry cites “British interests” as the basis for British intervention in India’s post-independence building infrastructure, and notes that it was financed by foreign powers, no doubt as part of a strategy larger than merely helping the poor Indians build nicer, cleaner or more comfortable houses.

In the compilation, New Buildings in the Commonwealth, (ed. Richards, 1962), Fry further reveals the colonial mindset in his preface to the chapter on architecture in West Africa: What we call West Africa is a long strip of land lying between the South Sahara and the South Atlantic Ocean, comprising the one-time colonies and dependencies of Britain, France and Portugal…It’s emergence into the full current of world affairs, and of its component countries into independence, is an effect of accelerated communication, due largely to war. Even before the end of the war, Parliament had voted £200 millions under the Colonial Development and Welfare Act, enabling the earliest start to be made on the education, in the widest sense of the word, of peoples who had hitherto been entirely subservient to the primary producing needs of dependent colonies. This defines the political attitude of Great Britain towards these countries. It also indicates their emotional response to the situation and explains the rapid technological advances made…15


Fry, 9. Fry, Maxwell in J.M. Richards, ed., New Buildings in the Commonwealth (New York: Frederick A. Praeger, 1962), 103. 15

Even the geography of place is defined through the colonial process; because these territories (occupied by “enslaved peoples” which, Sartre says, “have achieved a simulacrum of phony independence”) have been European colonies, therefore they exist. Increasing pressure for colonial independence following World War II led Britain to enlarge the Commonwealth, but not before implementing structural moves that would protest British investments and interests. The “political attitude” is clearly in keeping with the neocolonial logic explained by Ferry: leverage “political prominence” as guarantee of “economic predominance.” Here Fanon would protest the disempowerment of the native— Britain’s disbursement automatically and simultaneously delivers a positive “emotional response” from the African as well as the “rapid technological advances”—what role then does the native play other than recipient?

At the same time, it is particularly important that the Colonial Development and Welfare Act focused on education, “in the widest sense of the word.” By forcing the native into the European and British tradition, he can not only be further deconstructed, emasculated, and disoriented, but also “branded” with a blind allegiance to his “superiors” and to “history” (History): and as Sartre notes, “somewhere in Africa or Asia” lips mumble, “…thenon! ...therhood!” This tactic of education introduces precisely the sort of cords “attached to the ‘mother country’” that Nkrumah decries. Such an educational system, legislated under colonialism and retained, more-or-less intact, post-independence establishes a dependency on the cultural production of Britain: curricula must align with the

standards set in London, or lose certification as a valid “A”- or “O”-level education. At the same time, Nkrumah was well aware that sequence of school facilities built in the wake of the Colonial Development and Welfare Act came from the drafting boards of British architects: Fry, Drew and Partners, Hobbis, Nickson and Borys, Halstead, Clarke, Drake and Lasdun, Kenneth Scott Associates, James Cubitt and Partners, etc., etc.

This generation of British expatriates that were installed by the colonial administration, and extended their privileged position as trained professionals into post-independence are concisely implicated by Fry, in the same text as above, within the neocolonial project of a modern African architecture: It [the West African building industry] needed, and without question accepted, the regulating machinery current in more developed countries…The main interest for architects…concerns the application of CIAM principles and methods to comprehensive problems of tropical architecture and planning. It is on that score that the achievement in West Africa will be measured…In doing so we are creating a regional character answerable to local needs, a dialect of internationalism.16

Here the strategic agenda of the AA School is made abundantly clear: conquer the dark, uncivilized places of the earth through the pure technology of modernism. When Fry observes that “the next stage [of West Africa’s architectural history] is being rehearsed in schools of architecture all over Britain, and in those now established at the Kumasi and the Zaria Colleges of Technology [in Ghana and Nigeria, respectively]”17 he underscores the considerable power of the Royal Institute of British Architects, whose network of chapters throughout the former colonies additionally serves as an armature for 16 17

Richards, 103-104. Richards, 105.

the dissemination and control of architectural production. The point here is not to condemn the project of modern architecture within the context of West Africa because it acted as a specific control mechanism for Britain’s larger neocolonialism. Rather, the argument seeks to establish this reality because it is blatantly ignored in the discussion of modernism in general. While it is fair to discuss the attempts by Western architects to challenge the hegemony of an International Style—criticized as both rhetorically empty and culturally loaded— through an ongoing search for regionalism, the circumstances of architectures on postcolonial ground is a decidedly different experience.

The implications of a Le Corbusier in Chandigarh, a Louis Kahn in Dacca, or Maxwell Fry and Jane Drew in Ibadan are more profound, or at least more problematic, in light of their conflicted histories. Maxwell Fry’s claim that the AA School’s infusion of tropical modernism, conceived in the West, engenders a regional “dialect of internationalism” may be translated as a Western vision projected onto African soil. Words such as “authenticity” or “truth” are superceded immediately by “convenience,” “opportunity” and “dominance.” There can be no validity to pretensions of architectural autonomy when the forms and techniques themselves are so obviously and drastically imported as part of a closed socio-economic program of cultural dominance.


Final paper for GSD 4205: Building, Texts and Contexts: Contemporary Architecture: 1945 to the present. Prof. Michael Hays. Fall 2005.


Final paper for GSD 4205: Building, Texts and Contexts: Contemporary Architecture: 1945 to the present. Prof. Michael Hays. Fall 2005.