Photo credit ©Iwan Baan

As part of the project #AfricanModernismKampala, GZK / UGCS has organized three events, with the overall objective of instigating the discourse on modern architecture and its historical, political and sociocultural implications on the city of Kampala. The idea of raising awareness concerning that matter arose from the traveling exhibition “African Modernism”, researched and curated by architect and author Manuel Herz. Being the heart of the project, the exhibition (open to the public from Dec 15th to January 18th) is a photographic documentation of more 80 buildings in Sub-Saharan-Africa which allows the recipient to see architecture at a fascinating nexus of design and politics.

During the late 1950s and the early 1960s most countries of Sub-Saharan Africa gained their independence. Architecture became one of the principal means with which the young nations expressed their national identity. Parliament buildings, central banks, stadiums, conference centres, universities and independence memorials were constructed, often featuring heroic and daring designs Modern and futuristic architecture mirrored the aspirations and forward looking spirit that was dominant at the time. A coinciding period of economic boom made elaborate construction methods possible while the tropical climate allowed for an architecture that blended the inside and outside, focused on form and the expression of materiality.

The architecture of countries such as Ghana, Senegal, Ivory Coast, Kenya or Zambia still represents some of the best examples of 1960s and 1970s architecture worldwide. Nevertheless it has received little attention and still remains to be rediscovered. At the same time, this architecture also shows the difficulties, contradictions and dilemmas that the countries experienced in their independence process: in most cases, the architects were not local, but came from countries such as Poland, Yugoslavia, the Scandinavian nations, Israel, or even from the former colonial powers. Could the formation of a new national identity through architecture therefore be described as projection from outside? Or does the international dimension rather represent the aspirations of the countries aiming for a cosmopolitan culture? To what extend are projects such as Kenyatta International Conference Centre in Nairobi, or the construction of Yamoussoukro as a new capital of the Ivory Coast modernistic grand projects that propel a country forward, or instead vanity projects initiated by authoritarian Big Man  policies? -Manuel Herz with Ingrid Schröder, Hans Focketyn and Julia Jamrozik

The exhibition reflects the sociocultural ambivalence of African Modernism as an architectural ‚style‘ and its historical and political implications in Sub-Saharan Africa. It has been shown in Germany and, with the support of Goethe-Institut South Africa, has been touring several countries of Sub-Saharan-Africa. It consists of a large body of works including from Ghana, Senegal, Ivory Coast, Kenya and Zambia with commissioned photographs by Iwan Baan and Alexia Webster and is accompanied by the 700-page publication “African Modernism – Architecture of Independence”. As the city of Kampala has not been included in the five countries representing modernist architecture from the independence era on the African continent, GZK/ UGCS invited Ugandan architect Doreen Adengo to work on an additional chapter for the exhibition. In this framework, independent photographer and designer Timothy Latim documented eleven buildings in Kampala capturing the modernist influence on architecture in the city. This new chapter of the exhibition was co-curated by Doreen Adengo and Manuel Herz.

The opening of the exhibition at Makerere Art Gallery at 15th November 2018 was accompanied by a diverse group of guests who showed great interest in the subject of the photo collection. The event was initiated by very delightful opening speeches held by Barbara Sommer (director of GZK/ UGCS), Doreen Adengo, (co-curator of the exhibition), Dr. George Kyeyune (director of the Makerere Art Gallery) and Lara Buchmann (cultural director of GZK/ UGCS). As the evening progressed even more guests joined the opening and the hosts were delighted to welcome over 250 people throughout the event. Besides the artistic work, visitors were provided with a culinary welcome cocktail sponsored by the German Embassy.

All in all the evening gave an excellent platform to reflect on questions of preservation and cultural identity and it promoted a multi perspective discourse about Modernism on the African continent. Especially the Kampala part of the collection which consisted of works created during the ‚African Modernism Workshop‘  and photographs taken by renown  designer and photographer Timothy Latim, was well received and prompted critical reflection about modern architecture in the city of Kampala. About the Workshop

The Kampala addition to the exhibition African Modernism looks at Modernist architecture from the time of independence in Uganda. The process started with a 5-day workshop facilitated by Doreen Adengo, alongside German architect Manuel Herz and Kenyan photographer James Muriuki, in which the relationship between architecture and photography was explored. This was soon followed by the production of new photographs of select Modernist buildings in the city of Kampala by Ugandan photographer Timothy Latim. The buildings studied during the workshop ranged in typology; the National Theatre, the Main Post Office, halls of residence on the Makerere University campus, the University Library, banks and conference centres. These buildings are representative of the formation of a new state, and similar typologies can be seen across the African continent.Uganda gained independence on October 9th, 1962. This was a period of optimism in which experimentation with new building technologies from Europe where explored on large projects. In the Book Uhuru; Minor Accidents we see photographs taken by Ugandan engineer M.W. Wambwa in the early 1960s, showing a world in which roads were being built, cities were being constructed and independence was being celebrated. This was soon followed by a period of political turbulence, the most destructive being the Idi Amin regime from 1971 to 1979. During this time, most of the archives were destroyed and many actors within the building industry left the country. As a result, there is a knowledge gap and the most basic questions need answers. Who was commissioning the projects? Who were the architects? What governed their design choices?

During the preparation for the workshop we discovered that most of the information on the buildings was in the British Archives in the U.K. We also found that a large number of these projects where designed by the same firm, Peatfield and Bodgener, who are still based in Kampala today. Their drawings are part of the archive of architect Phillip Curtinn, who has been with the firm since the 1960s. Curtinn became an invaluable resource, because he had the archival material and knew the story behind the buildingsat the time they were constructed.

While Curtinn was able to provide the story about the buildings past, the workshop participants, through a rigorous interrogation of their assigned building, were able to explore how the buildings had been adapted over time by their current users. They were tasked with finding the story of the building and documenting this through a series of photographs. Doreen Adengo

To build on this very enriching exchange during the workshop and the exhibition opening,  GZK/ UGCS and CCFU invited to the panel discussion „Rethinking Preservation: Modernist and Other Historic Buildings in Kampala“. After two guided exhibition walks lead by architect and co-curator Doreen Adengo and the workshop participants Monica Ahairwebyona (architecture student) and Jim Joel (photography student), the panel discussion gave space to continue the critical reflection on the conceptional origin of African Modernism and the development of architecture as a social and cultural product.

After two guided exhibition walks lead by architect and co-curator Doreen Adengo and the workshop participants Monica Ahairwebyona (architecture student) and Jim Joel (photography student), the Panel Discussion „Rethinking Preservation: Modernist and Other Historic Buildings in Kampala“ gave space to continue the critical reflection on the conceptional origin of African Modernism and the development of architecture as a social and cultural product.

After an introductory speech by facilitator Dr. Mark Olweny (Architect & Senior Lecturer at Uganda Martyrs University), the panelists started the conversation with a few words about their professional background within the fields of architecture and photography and shared their view point regarding modern architecture in Kampala and the African continent. As the exhibition reflected the sociocultural ambivalence of African Modernism as an architectural ‚style‘ in Sub-Saharan Africa, they went further into a discussion about the role of preservation in the context of cultural identity and decolonization processes. Not only did they talk about the theoretical background of the modernist anchoring in the city of Kampala but also discussed postcolonial heritage preservation as an applicable form of decolonization within the African continent.

At the end of a very lively discussion, the audience was included in a Q&A Session which led to an even wider spectrum of critical perspective on the subject matter.

Interestingly, within the framework of this exchange, there has been a clear tendency towards a more reflective approach to modern architecture and a desire to not only preserve but think ahead of modern architecture as part of a critical examination of cultural identity.

The project ‚African Modernism’ was organized by Goethe-Zentrum Kampala/ Ugandan German Cultural Society and supported by Adengo ArchitectureCCFU NGOGerman Embassy Kampala, UPPA and Makerere Art Kampala.