The Casablanca Report
The AfricaPerspectives 5th Biennial conference took place as planned in Casablanca, Morocco, from the 3rd – 5th November 2011. This was its first staging in a Francophone and North African country, and it was a great success. The reporter arrived on the evening of day one and so missed the Casablanca Tour and inaugural opening event + keynote lecture.
The tour took delegates across Casablanca, from the new marina developments on the foreshore to the old town Medina area of the city. A keynote talk had been given by Saskia Sassen. Day one of the conference, which included the lecture and opening discussion, had taken place in the Habbous conservation area of the city Saskia Sassen used her keynote speech to challenge the audience to think about hackable cultures. There were also presentations and lectures about the history and development of Casablanca. The Casamemoires group were also present to describe their involvement in preserving and promoting Casablanca’s architectural heritage
The venue for the conference was at the Casablanca Architecture school which located on the outskirts of the city meant a considerable amount of travel by delegates to the venue.. Conference day two began at 0800hrs at the Architecture school, with session one which involved paper presentations examining and discussing development and analysis of the African city. There was a combination of post PhD research work examining cities including Casablanca and Makelle (Ethiopia) as case studies for researchwork. There were also presentations on actual work done in cities including Johannesburg, and Cape Town, and also Dar Es Salaam. References were also made to urban development work being done in Latin America and further afield. The Q&A session after the presentations was lively.
The key issues identified were:
How could or should architects engage with today’s urban planning/redevelopment efforts
Is there a space /place for analytical/theoretical modes of planning ideas or theory in today’s rapidly growing African city and
How can we become part of local methods of change or agency through our actions in the urban planning process or brief.
The main session was followed by a debate at the Casablanca Cathedral, staged by the Netherlands Architectural Institute (Nai) which currently has a debates on tour series. Chaired by Joord van der Hollande, it provided a good platform for discussion on the city of Casablanca, as all participants in the debate were asked to take a view on what they found most difficult or didn’t like about Casablanca. Included in the debate were Kassou XXXX, Chairman of the Casa Memoire Movement, Hannah le Roux, University of the Witwatersrand, Antoni Folkers, TU Delft/Co-founder ArchiAfrika, Ola Uduku , University of Edinburgh , and Tom Avermate, (TUDelft)
The ArchiAfriKa committee then had a board meeting at Rick’s Café , in the Medina in Casablanca, where the move of ArchiAfrika from Holland to Ghana was formalized. Joe Osae Addo, became the new president of ArchiAfrika, and the offices of the organization will move to Ghana over the next year. It was also decided that the next biennial conferemce would take place in Lagos, Nigeria, in 2013.
The third and final day of the conference was on Saturday 5th November, at the School of Architecture. There was a poster session followed by two panel sessions. Each presenter of the posters presented at the conference was given 5 minutes to discuss his/her poster within the main panel area. The range of posters was considerable (a link has been added to them on the blog).
Panel session two dealt with issues related to future city development and practices in Africa. Two papers in this session considered issues of information access and the use of digital technologies as a development tool for African cities. One paper gave a critique on new forms urban development in Lagos. Another looked at ways in which interaction and action could take place through different activities and forms of agency in African cities. Also one paper considered the African city, in this case Johannesburg, in Film; charting the history of Johannesburg through film from the early 20thC to date. It suggested that film had been a potent way in which to frame and see the city in certain cases such as the example given of Johannesburg.
The final part of the day was taken up with Part 2 of the NAi debate which took part in the main conference venue. There was an expanded debater profile which now included Ian Low, (University of Cape Town) and Mrs Folkers, who had worked with Antoni and supported ArchiAfrika from its inception. The other members of the debate were the same as the previous evening, Tom Avermate, Antoni Folkers and Kassou? – Joert van den Hollande, also again chaired the debate. As it was part of the programme it was well attended and got considerable audience responses.
The roundtable/discussion on “African Architectural Education in and outside Africa was the final event of the conference. Ola Uduku introduced the discussion with a brief presentation of a critical review of texts that had been produced on African architecture from the early 20th century to date, she highlighted the paucity of recent texts and contributions to now ‘historical/historicised’ canons on Architecture. She suggested that this was a forum for this discussion to be publicly aired and invited the three guest speakers present to give their views in the form of the paper presentations that they had prepared for the forum.
Due to time limitations there was not the discussion that was intended to follow the presentations. However the three invited speakers gave presentations on the following. David Fortin discussed the work that he had been doing with students in Montana State University as part of a joint /collaborative project with Kenya architecture students and architects to look at appropriate technologies for design development of shelter areas for foodstuff like potatoes etc. He also worked with a design studio to explore the development of Nairobi to accommodate increased population growh, from a ‘densification’, as opposed to suburban sprawl perspective.
David Rifkind, Associate Prof at Florida International University then gave his view of teaching African Architectural history to American students. He gave a critical view of what it involved and how he and his students engaged in the process. He also raised the view that more texts on Architectural History from an African perspective or the expansion/exploration of the existing canon was a worthy pursuit.
Finally Hannah Le Roux presenteda view of how Architecture was taught at Wits which involved student interaction with real projects and also positive theory in Architecture. She illustrated this through a range of student involved projects at community level and was able to capture the reactions of local community (members) to their engagement with students as simply ‘awsum’.
The final wrap up session involved a review of the conference by different reporters, all generally agreed that the conference had been a success. The next conference venue was announced as Lagos, and the conference ended with a party and feast in the historic Habbous palace with traditional and modern music culminating in the AP end of conference party.