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NEW GEOGRAPHIES 3 URBANISMS OF COLOR GARETH DOHERTY EDITORIAL YASMINE ABBAS AND DK OSSEO-ASARE COLOR COATING/CODING IN GHANA’S MOBILITY MARKETPLACE JOHNNY QUINN ALSTON INDIGO, TO BE PRECISE GJERGJ BAKALLBASHI, ENIDA MITRO, EGEST GJINALI TIRANA, BEYOND COLOR DAVID BATCHELOR A BIT OF NOTHING JOHN BERGER THE RED TENDA OF BOLOGNA PETRA BLAISSE AN INTERVIEW WITH NICOLE BEATTIE WILLIAM W. BRAHAM COLOR, POWER, VELOCITY RICKY BURDETT AND ADAM KAASA COLOR AS AN URBAN DISCOURSE ALEX BYRNE AND DAVID HILBERT URBAN LIGHT AND COLOR MARCO CENZATTI THE (CHANGING) COLORS OF THE AMERICAN CITY CARLOS CRUZ-DIEZ THE STREET AS VENUE FOR CHROMATIC EVENTS JULIA CZERNIAK ACCUMULATIONS PETER DEL TREDICI GREEN BLACKTOP GARETH DOHERTY THE PINK AND RED DIAMOND OLAFUR ELIASSON WORKS ALAN HESS COLORFUL LANDMARKS: HOW COLOR SHAPED PUBLIC SPACE IN 1950S SUBURBIA MOHJA KAHF PURPLE IHRAM AND THE FEMININE BEATITUDES OF HAJJ ALEX KRIEGER A BIT OF COLOR DOESN’T HURT SYLVIA LAVIN URBAN IMPRESSIONS MOISES LINO E SILVA RED BRICK IN RIO CHARLES A. RILEY II PALETTES OF INDIFFERENCE JESSE SHAPINS URBAN IMAGINARIES, STADTBLIND, AND THE COLORS OF BERLIN JIANMING SONG, YIN DI, YIFAN LI READING THE COLORS OF MACAO, SUSAN NIGRA SNYDER AND GEORGE E. THOMAS FROM RUSKIN TO PLEASANTVILLE: COLOR AS AN INSTRUMENT OF SOCIAL (DIS)AGREEMENT, JOHN R. STILGOE ON NOT PERCEIVING URBAN COLOR, JAMES L. WESCOAT JR. THE COLORS OF WATER: HYDROLOGY AND HUMAN EXPERIENCE AT THE TAJ MAHAL
GARETH DOHERTY EDITORIAL YASMINE ABBAS AND DK OSSEO-ASARE COLOR COATING/CODING IN GHANA’S MOBILITY MARKETPLACE JOHNNY QUINN ALSTON INDIGO, TO BE PRECISE GJERGJ BAKALLBASHI, ENIDA MITRO, EGEST GJINALI TIRANA, BEYOND COLOR DAVID BATCHELOR A BIT OF NOTHING JOHN BERGER THE RED TENDA OF BOLOGNA PETRA BLAISSE AN INTERVIEW WITH NICOLE BEATTIE WILLIAM W. BRAHAM COLOR, POWER, VELOCITY RICKY BURDETT AND ADAM KAASA COLOR AS AN URBAN DISCOURSE ALEX BYRNE AND DAVID HILBERT URBAN LIGHT AND COLOR MARCO CENZATTI THE (CHANGING) COLORS OF THE AMERICAN CITY CARLOS CRUZ-DIEZ THE STREET AS VENUE FOR CHROMATIC EVENTS JULIA CZERNIAK ACCUMULATIONS PETER DEL TREDICI GREEN BLACKTOP GARETH DOHERTY THE PINK AND RED DIAMOND OLAFUR ELIASSON WORKS ALAN HESS COLORFUL LANDMARKS: HOW COLOR SHAPED PUBLIC SPACE IN 1950S SUBURBIA MOHJA KAHF PURPLE IHRAM AND THE FEMININE BEATITUDES OF HAJJ ALEX KRIEGER A BIT OF COLOR DOESN’T HURT SYLVIA LAVIN URBAN IMPRESSIONS MOISES LINO E SILVA RED BRICK IN RIO CHARLES A. RILEY II PALETTES OF INDIFFERENCE JESSE SHAPINS URBAN IMAGINARIES, STADTBLIND, AND THE COLORS OF BERLIN JIANMING SONG, YIN DI, YIFAN LI READING THE COLORS OF MACAO SUSAN NIGRA SNYDER AND GEORGE E. THOMAS FROM RUSKIN TO PLEASANTVILLE: COLOR AS AN INSTRUMENT OF SOCIAL (DIS)AGREEMENT JOHN R. STILGOE ON NOT PERCEIVING URBAN COLOR JAMES L. WESCOAT JR. THE COLORS OF WATER: HYDROLOGY AND HUMAN EXPERIENCE AT THE TAJ MAHAL NEW GEOGRAPHIES 3 URBANISMS OF COLOR 978-1-934510-26-2
NEW GEOGRAPHIES 3 URBANISMS OF COLOR
COLOR COATING/CODING IN GHANA’S MOBILITY MARKETPLACE YASMINE ABBAS AND DK OSSEO-ASARE
Yasmine Abbas has a Master of Science in Architecture Studies from MIT under an Aga Khan scholarship and a Doctor of Design from Harvard Graduate School of Design. She recently joined Zayed University in Abu Dhabi as a Professorial Research Fellow. Her publications include Digital Technologies of the Self, co-edited with Fred Dervin in 2009. http://blog.neo-nomad.net/
DK Osseo-Asare received A.B. in Engineering Design and MArch degrees from Harvard University. He is a principal of Low Design Office, co-founder of nonprofit design think tank DSGN AGNC and a TEDGlobal 2010 Fellow. His research recouples form-making with the social dimensions of global environment, situating sustainability between technology and geopolitics. osseo-asare.com 1 The competition among global telecom players (both foreign and “indigenous,” such as Glo and MTN) echoes the historical “scramble for Africa,” when colonial powers consolidated economic exploitation of the continent’s material wealth through geopolitical conquest. African and Middle Eastern telecom companies such as MTN, Orascom, and Zain pioneered this latest contest for African terrain. For the first comprehensive survey of Africa’s telecommunications market, see Ernst and Young, Africa Connected: A Telecommunications Growth Story (Norway: Ernst
POLYCHROMY In Ghana the strategy of telecom companies to gain market share translates to an overwhelming effort to render brands visible by painting logos and brand colors on buildings: swathes of yellow for South African MTN, fuchsia or light green for Kuwaiti Zain (Zain Africa set to be acquired by Indian Bharti) and bright red for British Vodafone, relative to which blue Luxembourgian Tigo and dark green Nigerian Glo are near-invisible!1 This practice of painting brand colors spilled first from billboards and signage to the array of informal micro-architectures such as sales kiosks and retrofitted containers that line city streets, before spreading to full-scale buildings. Brand colors complement logos to advertise service and signal the availability of a network’s recharge cards for purchase at a given location. While critics say that this invasion of branded coloration compromises the image of the city, the color field of corporate branding ultimately blends with the already colorful fabric of the urban environment, as well as with the broader brand ecology. Some brands share similar colors: Pepsi is blue, as is the local Star beer; both Vodafone and Coca-Cola are the same shade of red. Further confusing the visual field, sometimes the artists contracted to paint on behalf of the brands intermix logos and colors. Although this model of pervasive branding is clearly effective in labeling network coverage within both urban and rural environments, in the urban context the colors of global brands are absorbed by the intensity the color fields. The color of cities such as Accra-Tema and Kumasi comprise a pixelated field of vibrant colors; the prevailing image of the African city is polychromatic.2 This relationship between individual colors and the field—which mutes the legibility of component colors—is similarly evidenced both in the colored patterns of traditional textiles such as kente, wax prints, batik, and tie-die, and in the work of Ghanaian artists such as El Anatsui and Ablade Glover, which resembles pointillism in its respective aggregation of points of metal and pigment to produce indivisible fields of material and color.3 If Ghanaian visual culture is polychromatic, African culture more generally is about being multiple—simultaneously polyrhythmic, polyglot, and polyvalent.
& Young, 2009). Downloadable here: http:// www.ey.com/US/EN/home/library 2 While African markets are (stereo)typically represented as hypercolored if not chaotic transactional zones that self-organize around sites of economic density, mobile technology has radically transformed the market landscape,
ALLEGIANCE In Invisible Governance: the Art of African Micro-Politics, David Hecht and Maliqalim Simone describe the fluidity of African identity and the creativity of using images, beliefs, and other constructions to assert individual micro-power. This hypertextual agency aligns with the politics of the hybrid and neo-nomad.4 8
Africans are accustomed to changing identities possibly because they are used to foreign domination: as the authors write, “The African continent is layered with multiple legacies from Europe and Asia.”5 In their analysis of doubly hybrid “Pan-African deity” Mami Wata, a reinvention of global mermaid (half-woman, half-fish), the authors observe: “Like technology, Mami Wata is international and multicultural, connecting diverse communities while not being restricted to one of them.”6 This aspect of Africa’s chameleonic nature, together with the fact that African culture is oral, further suggests that the continent may be particularly well positioned to adopt, adapt, and appropriate digital tools because in the digital realm, and through social networking especially, people claim multiple allegiances. The strategy of colorizing the architecture of African cities to build market share fails to understand the tactics by which Africans mobilize their micro-power as individuals in the world. Ubiquity of brand colors does not automatically produce brand loyalty. Because the barrier to joining a network is intentionally kept low (to build customer base), so too is the barrier to leave it. Changing mobile phone networks is trivial: a SIM card costs as much as two bottles of water. Thus many of Ghana’s citizens switch back and forth between networks to modulate levels of privacy, in response to variations in quality of network coverage over time and geography, or to take advantage of special promotions. Branded buildings merely contribute to a backdrop of color against which the everyday performance of human activity plays out, without transferring any particular benefit to the telecom networks themselves. From 9
enabling everywhere to be a market. For an overview of Africa’s mobile revolution, see N. Scott, S. Batchelor, J. Ridley, and B. Jorgensen, The Impact of Mobile Phones in Africa (Gamos, 2004). Downloadable here: http://www.gamos. org/icts/the-impact-of-mobile-phones-in-africa. html and Vodafone Group, Africa: The Impact of Mobile Phones (Vodafone Policy Papers Series No. 2, 2005). Downloadable here: http:// www.vodafone.com/start/about_vodafone/eu/ policy_papers.html 3 El Anatsui. Represented by October Gallery (London): http://www.octobergallery.co.uk/artists/ anatsui/index.shtml. Last accessed May 10, 2010. Ablade Glover. Represented by October Gallery (London): http://www.octobergallery.co.uk/artists/ glover/index.shtml. Last accessed May 10, 2010. 4 Yasmine Abbas, “Mobilization: an investigation of Barack Obama’s Presidential Campaign and Peer-to-Peer Identity,” in Yasmine Abbas and Fred Dervin, eds., Digital Technologies of the Self (Cambridge: Cambridge Scholars Publishing, 2009), 85–106.
5 David Hecht and Maliqalim Simone, Invisible Governance: The Art of African Micro-Politics (New York: Autonomedia, 1994), 11.
this perspective, citizens win: corporations saturate the urban fabric, but architecture gains a coating against the elements and individual and collective agency is amplified.
6 Ibid., 62.
7 DK Osseo-Asare, “Africentricity: From Kiosk Culture to Active Architecture,” in NOMA Magazine Issue 06 (Spring 2010) p.12–17
COLOR-COATING/CODING Color-coating architecture is, in the context of Africa, superficial. Alternatively, color-coding represents an enormous opportunity to restructure the relationship between telecom companies and citizens of the city. This demands new forms of design intervention that correspond to people’s needs on the ground: despite ongoing improvements across the continent, many buildings and many people are still held hostage by unreliable or expensive delivery networks (water, electricity, telecommunications, etc.). As a countermeasure, the concept of active architecture seeks to augment delivery by embedding production within architecture—a shift from a project of creating buildings to creating buildings that do things.7 Instead of providing color to paint buildings without securing brand loyalty, brand-color could highlight deeper forms of engagement between interested parties. For example, color-coding solar recharging stations or the mobile web supports both the growth of local information and lends it brand-association. Given that color is already used for coding land-use maps in urban planning, let color-coding convert telecommunications networks into social networks as part of the semantic of space. Delaminating brand from building opens up the related possibility of encoding brand within the operating system of the city itself, an alternate strategy that integrates aspirations across Africa’s mobility marketplace by converting customers to users and actively leveraging networks on their behalf.
Published on Oct 1, 2011
Co-authored with Yasmine Abbas in New Geographies 03 'Color' issue (Harvard GSD) on telecom-sponsored polychromy in Ghana's cities.