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Modern Architecture in Post-Colonial Ghana and Nigeria

  • Hannah Le Roux


… an architecture and form of urbanism will emerge closely connected with the set of ideas that have international validity but reflecting the conditions of climate, the habits of the people and the aspirations of the countries lying under the cloudy belt of the equatorial world.

Max Fry and Jane Drew, architects, 1956

The concept of architecture, even in its widest traditional sense, is foreign to Africa.

John Lloyd, architect, 1966

Maxwell Fry and Jane Drew, who had been in and out of West Africa since the 1940s as planners and architects, were optimistic about the role of architecture in the tropics on the eve of independence. In the text of Tropical Architecture in the Humid Zones they championed the development in Africa of the tropical modernism they had pioneered in their own work. In sharp contrast, John Lloyd, writing from Ghana just ten years later, conveyed a sense of the discipline’s estrangement from the context.



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1 Fry, Maxwell and Drew, Jane, Tropical Architecture in the Humid Zones (London, 1956), p. 29 .

2 Lloyd, John, ‘Ghana’ in World Architecture 3, ed. Donat, John (London, 1966), p. 49 .

3 World Architecture: A Critical Mosaic, iv, Central and Southern Africa, ed. Kultermann, Udo (Vienna, 2000).

4 Tafuri, Manfredo, The Sphere and the Labyrinth (London, 1987).

5 For example, the practice of Godwin and Hopwood, which had executed public commissions including schools prior to independence, largely worked on private commissions during this period.

6 Lock, Max, Kaduna 1917 1967 2017: A survey and plan of the Capital Territory for the Government of Northern Nigeria (London, 1967).

7 David Aradeon, ‘Olumuyiwa, Oluwole’, Grove Art Files (

8 Akinsemoyin, Kunle and Vaughan-Richards, Alan, Building Lagos (Lagos, 1977).

9 Kultermann, Udo, Neues Bauen in Afrika Verlag (Munich, 1963), and Nem Directions in African Architecture (London, 1969).

10 This first appeared as articles in The Architectural Review (October 1959) and was then compiled as a book: Richards, J. M. (ed.), Commonwealth Architecture (London, 1961).

11 Fry, and Drew, , Tropical Architecture in the Humid Zones, and Tropical Architecture in the Dry and Humid Zones (London, 1964).

12 Architectural Design (October 1953); Architectural Design (January 1954); Architectural Design (May 1955); The Architects’ Journal (9 August 1956).

13 Fry and Drew, Tropical Architecture in the Humid Zones, p. 23.

14 Gambari, Ibrahim A., ‘British Colonial Administration’, in Nigerian History and Culture, ed. Olaniyan, Richard (London, 1985), pp. 159-75.

15 Metcalf, G. F., Great Britain ana Ghana: Documents of Ghana History 1807-1957 (London, 1964), p. 685 .

16 The Architects’ Journal (9 August 1956), pp. 192-95; The Architectural Review (May 1956), pp. 260-41.

17 Jones, Trevor, Ghana’s First Republic 1960-1966 (London, 1976).

18 Nkrumah’s, Kwame publications include I Speak of Freedom: A statement of African Ideology (London, 1961); Africa Must Unite (London, 1963); Neo-Colonialism, The Last Stage of Imperialism (New York, 1965); and Dark Days in Ghana (London, 1968).

19 Kwame Nkrumah, ‘African Socialism Revisited’, African Forum (Winter 1966), in The Africa Reader: Independent Africa, Cartey, Wilfred and Kilson, Martin (New York, 1970), pp. 200-08.

20 The housing at Christianbourg Castle was designed in the Ministry of Works by D. A. Barrett. It is documented in Kultermann, New Directions.

21 Nkrumah, I Speak, p. 5.

22 Personal communication with John Godwin and Gillian Hopwood, 2001-03.

23 Ibid.

24 Senghor, Leopald Sedar, ‘Negritude: A humanism of the twentieth century’, in The Africa Reader: Independent Africa, Cartey, Wilfred and Kilson, Martin (New York, 1970), pp. 179-83.

25 Nkrumah, ‘African Socialism’, pp. 200-08.

26 See Memmi, Albert, The colonizer and the colonized (London, 1990); B. J. Moore-Gilbert, , Postcolonial Theory: Contexts, Practices, Politics (London, 1997); and in architectural theory, Nalbantoglu, Gulsum Baydar and Chang, Wong, Post-Colonial Spacels] (New York, 1997) and numerous contributions to Building Dwelling Drifting: Migrancy and the Limits of Architecture, ed. Cairns, Stephen and Goad, Philip (Melbourne, 1997).

27 Biographical material on Nigerian architects is generally poorly published. Here the paper uses Boluslawa Prucnal-Ogunsote (1993), ‘A Study of Modern Trends in Some Aspects of Architecture in Nigeria’ (doctoral thesis, Ahmadu Bello University, 1992), pp. 463-65; Arayela, Olarunde, ‘An Introspection into Forty Years of Architectural Practice in Nigeria (1960-2000) — The Way Forward’, in Architects and Architecture in Nigeria, ed. Nkwogu, Uche Obisike (2001, Nigeria), pp. 91107 ; and David Aradeon, ‘Olumuyiwa, Oluwole’, Grove Art Files ( as sources.

28 Adeolu, Omotayo, ‘Architectural Education in Nigeria’, The West African Builder and Architect, 9:1 (1969), pp. 2829 .

29 Prucnal-Ogunsote, ‘A study’, and Arayela, ‘An Introspection’.

30 The photographs were found in the present offices of Olumuyiwa and Associates, Sumiere, Lagos, in 2002.

31 Interview with Olumuyiwa in Prucnal-Ogunsote, ‘A study’, pp. 463-65.

32 Ibid.

33 The concept of the triple heritage of cultures — African tradition, Western colonialism and Islam — is drawn from Mazrui, Ali, The Africans: a Triple Heritage (London, 1986).

34 These commissions included work with Kenzo Tange on the masterplan for Abuja and the design of the Eko Hotel, a landmark building in Lagos.

35 Contemporary Architects, 3rd edn, ed. Emanuel, Muriel (Chicago, 1994), pp. 4142 .

36 Alan Vaughan-Richards gave a talk entitled ‘Architectural Reflections’ at the University of Lagos in 1982, and it is from the typed version and a tape made with foresight by David Aradeon that the architect’s biography is drawn.

37 Interview with the architect’s daughter, Remi Vaughan-Richards, London, 14 September 2002.

38 Vaughan-Richards, ‘Architectural Reflections’.

39 Vaughan-Richards, Alan, ‘The New Generation’, The West African Builder and Architect, 6:2 (1966), pp. 3639 .

40 Vaughan-Richards, Alan, ‘Olaoluwakitan Cottage’, The West African Builder and Architect, 6:2 (1966), pp. 4049 .

41 Brazilian architecture in Lagos refers to the work of the freed slaves from Brazil who returned in the nineteenth century and brought knowledge of Portuguese colonial architecture, including plasterwork.

42 Vaughan-Richards, Alan, ‘Student Dormitories for the University of Lagos’, The West African Architect and Builder, 8:4 (1968), pp. 97112 .

43 Vaughan-Richards, Alan, The West African Builder and Architect, 6:1 (1966), p. 6 .

44 Akinsemoyin and Vaughan-Richards, Building Lagos.

45 Correspondence with Ulli Beier, 26 November 2003.

46 Beier, Ulli, Art in Nigeria 1960 (Cambridge and Ibadan, 1960).

47 Interview with Ulli Beier, 21 November 2003.

48 Beier, Ulli, Contemporary Art in Africa (London, 1968), p. 62 .

49 Interview with Ulli Beier, 21 November 2003.

50 I am grateful to Babar Mumtaz who alerted me to the importance, in this period, of the Kumasi school. This section draws on e-mail correspondence with Michael (John) Lloyd, December 2002; an interview with Max Bond, July 2003; a visit to the school in Kumasi in January 2001; and two published articles: Lloyd, John (ed.), ‘Ghana’, in World Architecture, in, ed. Donat, John (London, 1966), pp. 4857 , and Arena: the Architectural Association Journal (July-August 1966), pp. 39-62.

51 Nkrumah, I Speak, p. 103.

52 E-mail correspondence with Michael (John) Lloyd, December 2002.

53 Ibid.

54 Published as Dmochowski, Z. R., An Introduction to Nigerian Traditional Architecture, v, 1-3 (London, 1990).

55 Oliver, Paul, Dwellings, The House Across the World (Oxford, 1987).

56 Telephone interview with Max Bond, 17 July 2003.

57 Ibid.

58 ‘A library at Bolgatanga’, Architectural Forum, cxxviii, 2 (March 1968) pp. 66-69.

59 Lutz Christians, ‘Banda Nkwanta’, Arena: the Architectural Association Journal (September-October 1966).

60 Bond relates how, following the success of the Bolgatanga library, a rubber stamp was made of its plan for inclusion in town plans. Telephone interview with Max Bond, 17 July 2003.

61 Telephone interview with Max Bond, 17 July 2003.

62 In addressing the archival absences of the period, this paper builds upon the exhibition co-curated with Ola Uduku in January 2003. The exhibition, The AA in Africa, held at the Architectural Association, London, 16 January to 14 February 2003, brought together material from the personal archives of John Godwin and Gillian Hopwood; Fry, Drew and Creamer; John Baker; Zbyzeck Plocki; Renate Koenigsberger; Patrick Wakely; John Owusu-Addo; and Remi Vaughan-Richards. In sourcing material it became evident how little documented the post-colonial period has been, in contrast to the 1950s when the modern architecture in the British colonies of West Africa was relatively well covered by the Western media. The existing history and theory on modern architecture in Africa, such as the recent books by Fuller, Wright and Cohen, also tends to focus on the late-colonial period. The existing material in print that does cover the post-colonial period, such as the catalogue for the Short Century exhibition (ed. Elleh, Hughes and Kultermann) is generally a survey rather than in-depth discussion of particular work. An outstanding reference has been The West African Builder and Architect which, as the only journal covering the area during the 1960s, offers a thorough documentation of several important projects.

63 Freedom.

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Modern Architecture in Post-Colonial Ghana and Nigeria

  • Hannah Le Roux


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