Professor of Architectural, Urban and Territorial Design, University of Basel
Manuel Herz is an architect whose research focuses on the relationship between the discipline of planning and (state) power. He has worked extensively on the architecture and urbanism of refugee camps, with a regional focus on Saharan and Sub-Saharan Africa. His book, From Camp to City—Refugee Camps of the Western Sahara (Lars Müller Publishers, 2013) documents how camps can be spaces of social emancipation and are used to prefigure the institutions of a nation by a refugee population living in exile.
His award-winning book, African Modernism—Architecture of Independence (Park Books, 2015) presents the architecture of countries such as Ghana, Senegal, Côte d’Ivoire, Kenya and Zambia at the time of their independence in the 1960s and 1970s. The book’s main thesis is that this architecture is witness to, and can give evidence to, the complexities and contradictions of the decolonizing process that was specific to each country. The accompanying exhibition, shown at the Vitra Design Museum, is currently travelling to cities across Europe, the United States and sub-Saharan Africa.
Herz’s architectural office is based in Basel. Among other recently completed projects, the office has constructed the Jewish Community Center of Mainz and the mixed-use building “Legal / Illegal” in Cologne. Current projects include housing projects in Switzerland, Germany and France. The projects have received several prizes, such as the Cologne Architecture Prize, the German Architecture Prize for Concrete and a nomination for the Mies van der Rohe Prize for European Architecture, 2011.
Constructing an Archive of Modernist Architecture in Africa.
1960, the “Year of Africa”, saw the independence of seventeen countries of Sub-Saharan Africa. It was an iconic year, symbolically standing for the liberation of a whole continent from its colonial powers. This wave of decolonization and emancipation also was met and supported through architectural projects such as the Hôtel Ivoire in Abidjan or the design of Independence Square in Accra. In fact, architecture became one of the principal means with which these young nations attempted to express their national identity. Parliament buildings, central banks, stadiums, conference centres, universities and independence memorials were constructed featuring daring design. Modernist and futuristic architecture mirrored the aspirations and forward-looking spirit that was dominant at that time.
These buildings of the 1960s and 70s stand as monuments to an era that offered a new relationship of African countries to global politics and culture. At the same time, this architecture also shows the difficulties, paradoxes 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 and the former colonial powers. This talk will present the research and documentation work I conducted to build an archive of these architectures, to present not only the largely unknown buildings in their current urban context, but also to analyse how these individual architectural objects can be understood as an architectural movement that impacted beyond the borders of these new independent states while also connecting it with other political powers along the cold war divide. The project to construct an archive both challenges the historiography of twentieth and twenty-first-century architecture, but also raises questions about the form, location and preservation of such a transnational archive.