Histories of Exchange and Decolonization: Postwar Architecture and the Fascination with Africa
Assistant Professor of Architecture
In the years after World War II, several architects, among them Aldo van Eyck, Amancio Guedes and Georges Candilis, began to promote the study of African architecture as a rejection against modern functionalism, looking for new ideas outside the traditional boundaries of the architectural discipline. Admiring the Dogon architecture of Mali, the Mousgoum huts of Cameroon, and the traditional Zulu villages of Southern Africa for their social cohesiveness and communal character, they questioned contemporary epistemologies of design and developed the postwar notion of “habitat”.
With a focus on the mobility of people, ideas, and publications, this talk investigates the period of geopolitical insecurity and human unsettlement that mobilized architectural design after World War II. The theoretical framework examines the role of architecture, architectural media, and university programs, considering them as alternative spaces that facilitated the contact between European, North American and African cultures. Results define a different genealogy of modern and postwar history, which illuminates the fundamental role that African architecture played in the historical and conceptual refashioning of postwar architecture.
Elisa Dainese is an architect and historian and is currently Assistant Professor of Architecture at Dalhousie University. She works on issues of globalization and global history, postcolonial theory and decolonization, modern architecture and history of urbanization with a focus on the cross-cultural mobility of architectural knowledge among Africa, Europe and America. In 2012, she obtained a PhD in Architecture from the IUAV University of Venice, Italy, with a dissertation focused on post-war architecture, Team Ten, Aldo van Eyck, and the fascination for Dogon architecture of Mali (Africa). Her research and publications have received grants, fellowships, and awards from Columbia University (2016- 17), the Bruno Zevi Foundation (2017), the Mellon Foundation funded Global History of Architecture Teaching Collaborative (2017-19), SSHRC (2018), and the Canadian Centre for Architecture (2018). In 2013-16 she was the recipient of a three-year Marie Curie International fellowship funded by the EU and developed in connection with Harvard University, the University of Pennsylvania, and IUAV. She is currently working on the development of a manuscript with the results of the research where she explores the key role that sub-Saharan traditions played in the historical and conceptual refashioning of modern European and North American architecture from the 1940s to the 1970s. She is the author of articles and essays in the Journal of Architecture (2019), May ‘68 and Architectural Education (2019), Time Frames (2017), the Journal of the Society of Architectural Historians (Dec 2015), Le Corbusier, 50 years later (2015), New Urban Configurations (2014), Landscape and Imagination (2013), and Catalogo della Mostra Internazionale Triennale d’Architettura Milano (2012).