174 By Antoni Scholtens Folkers Africa is making its way forward and is reconstructing and extending its cities at a great speed. This building activity takes place in a cloud of dust and clamour, blurring the image of what the city will eventually look like. The construction process is so fast and of such an expanse that you cannot but take a distance an wait until the frenzy is over. Yet, in order to try to understand what we will see when the dust has eventually settled it may be worthwhile to capture what image is in the mind of the conceivers of this new African city. What is the ideology behind all this building activity, and, consequently, what ideology is being built? Is the architecture of the new city representing an African interpretation of free-for-all neo-liberalism? And, the other way around, what is the ideology of the architecture itself, what is perceived as ‘the true architecture’ that should be at the foundation of the modernization of Africa in an African way? What, for want of a better notion, will be the African architectural answer that will respond to the continent’s aspirations to modernity?1 In order to find sensible answers to above questions, it may be helpful to know where we come from. Building activity in Africa is not new, and the continent has passed through other stages of landslide development which created new cities and architectures. What ideologies were constructed during these periods and what memories did they leave behind to which we can refer in creating prophecies for the future? The process of unravelling the past of Africa’s built future reveals that the common academic memory of Africa’s architectural history is eschewed and showing serious lacunae. By filling these lacunae, a richer and multiple-layered understanding of the current architectural situation of Africa will come to the surface. ROMANTIC MODERNIST ARCHITECTURAL MEMORY The common and widespread academic African architectural memory is predominantly a Romantic Modernist construct. The ‘Romantic Modernists’, a term coined by the Dutch architectural historian Willem Denslagen,2 rewrote the architectural history to rid it from the eclecticist ballast of the late 19th century in order to create a clean slate for a new start of honest and pure modern architecture. In this operation, the architectural history had to be purged of redundancy and the architectural development of the preceding centuries was simplified into a linearly sequence of steps, from Greek and Roman rationality, via Renaissance, the encyclopaedic Enlightenment, the Industrial Revolution into a ‘freed’ modernism3 of cleanliness, democracy and rationality. Next to this history of architecture with capital A, there always was and is vernacular building. Vernacular buildings are constructed by empirical builders without the intervention of architects. 4 Vernacular or ethnic building did hardly appear in the Romantic Modernist’s writings. AFRICAN ARCHITECTURE: FORWARD TO THE PAST ANTONI SCHOLTENS FOLKERS, Ph.D., architect and urban designer. Co- founder and past chairman of ArchiAfrika (Accra), a platform for exchange on African architecture, founding director of FBW architects and engineers (Kampala- Kigali-Nairobi) and researcher at African Architecture Matters (Amsterdam).
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