Sunday 21 November 2010

Maison Tropicale - Ownership


Just over three weeks ago, I attending an event organised by Prince Claus Funds and African Architecture matters that featured the work of Professor Manthia Diawara which included the launching of a book on African film and Maison Tropicale; a film he directed on modernist architecture as a documentary feature by Ângela Ferreira [1].

I have wanted to explore a few themes after watching the film but on now had the time to compile the views into a series of topical blogs.

After the screening of the film Maison Tropicale [2], the director, Manthia Diawara [3] was joined on stage by the architect, Joe Osae Addo [4] to discuss the issues raised in the film.

After a few exchanges between the panellists and number of architects, I got the opportunity to ask the first question from the audience.

The matter of ownership

The matter of ownership in relation to the Maison Tropicale prototypes and the neglect they suffered over the years along with the ease with which they were dismantled and returned to Europe had me concerned about the fact that none of the materials that constituted the prototypes were of African progeny and that might speak to the inability for Africans to associate with these colonial fixtures.

The panellists disagreed offering a few views to buttress their opinions, the first being that the prototypes had been in Africa for 50 years and essentially had become African in context, intent and relevance.

Adapting for usage

We need to own the European parts of our history and heritage just as must as we would what is naturally African. For example, cement is not essentially African; its derivation is associated with stone derived from quarries on the Isle of Portland in Dorset, England.

Portland cement has been adapted and integrated fully into the building framework of African architecture such that its historical provenance has been lost to full ownership in the African setting.

Strong as these arguments might be, it is clear that the Maison Tropicale prototypes were neither adapted nor assimilated into contemporary African architecture, else imitations and copies of the prototypes would have been built to fulfil the 10,000 units planned for the colonial times or have been seen to be useful to building programmes that greeted post-colonial independence schemes for housing.


[1] Ângela Ferreira – MAISON TROPICALE / e-flux

[2] YouTube - La Maison Tropicale

[3] Manthia Diawara - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

[4] Joe Osae-Addo - Holcim Foundation for Sustainable Construction

La Maison Tropicale Series

Maison Tropicale film in Amsterdam

Deconstructing Maison Tropicale - Introduction

Maison Tropicale - Ownership

Maison Tropicale - Heritage

Maison Tropicale - Corrupt enterprise

Maison Tropicale - Grand Projects

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