The Tropical Modernism: Architecture and Independence The exhibition at London’s Victoria and Albert Museum showcases the legacy of tropical modernism in Ghana and India.

The architectural style was developed specifically for tropical climates, so its main design focus was on optimal ventilation and minimal solar heat gain. Elaborate designs and abstract ornamentation later became characteristic of the style.

Although the movement began with colonial architects after World War II, it was redefined by the newly independent nations of the 20th century, who sought to create an identity separate from their colonial past. The V&A exhibition highlights the national reconstruction projects of India and Ghana following their independence from Britain in 1947 and 1957 respectively.

It begins with the early work of British architects Maxwell Fry and Jane Drew in Ghana. Until a few decades ago, they were designs by European and colonial architects dominated the historical narrative of tropical modernism. This narrow view is currently contested Extensive research is carried out on post-independence architecture and non-European architects.

The V&A exhibition seeks to make amends for this Eurocentric history. The focus is on the lesser-known architects whose contributions have been historically overlooked or deleted. It recognizes their contributions to tropical modernism and the impact of independence projects on local architectural education.

The Architecture of a New Nation

Chandigarh, a planning project for Punjab’s new capital after the partition of India, is one of the architectural works featured in the exhibition. The city is famous Example modern architecture and urban planning of the 20th century. It was led by European architects Le Corbusier, Pierre Jeanneret, Maxwell Fry and Jane Drew.

While the story of Chandigarh is more like this dominated by these architects (especially Le Corbusier) Its founding included an emerging team of Indian architects and artists, many of whom returned to India from overseas.

Works by these Indian architects can be seen in the V&A show. There are Eulie ChowdhuryChandigarh chair co-designed with Pierre Jenneret, Jeet Malhotra‘s photos of the city under construction and Giani Rattan SinghThe wooden model of the Legislative Assembly.

These architects were part of the design team for the Capitol Complex, which included large administrative buildings and monuments. The buildings were exposed concrete structures with sculpture-like shapes and deep concrete louvers (louvers that control sunlight entering the building).

Once dominated by British colonial architects, Ghana’s construction industry expanded after independence Inclusion of architects from Africa, the African diaspora and Eastern Europe. Victor Adegbite, a Ghanaian architect, oversaw several public works as head of the country’s housing and construction companies. He led the team for the building, popularly called Job 600, which was constructed in 1965 to host the Organization of African Unity conference.

The Job 600 Building, Accra (currently the Ghanaian Parliament Building). Fkoku/Wikimedia Commons.

The importance of local expertise was also recognized in nation-building programs. This subsequently supported the development of local architectural practice and education. The Chandigarh College of Architecture Opened in 1961 and others followed suit.

Ghana’s Africanization policy (which aimed to increase the number of Africans in corporate and government positions) influenced the establishment of the architecture department at the Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology (KNUST).

The department began recruiting educators from the UK and around the world. On display is a student-made geodesic dome (light shell structure with load-bearing properties) that was built as part of a teaching program with American designer Buckminster Fuller.

The staff included Ghanaian architects such as John Owusu Addo – the first African department head. He designed new buildings for the university, notably the Senior Staff Club and the Unity student residence, which can be seen in the exhibition. The hall’s nine-story blocks combine outdoor and indoor corridors to improve ventilation of the interior spaces.

The Many Dimensions of Tropical Modernism

Exhibitions such as these are important because they inform the public about the progress that academic institutions and cultural organizations have made in rewriting the history of tropical modernism.

V&A’s collaboration with Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology and Chandigarh College of Architecture was an integral part of the exhibition. However, the show only briefly addresses the current issues conservationSustainability and the alternative histories of style.

Institutions and organizations are now pushing for the preservation of tropical modernity Asia And Africa. Although monuments like Chandigarh Capitol Complex have been reached Heritage statusmany are in disrepair, are being used for purposes other than their intended purpose or are threatened with demolition.

In India, for example, there was the Hall of Nations, a group of pyramid-shaped exhibition halls Demolished in 2017. Like social media platforms Mailbox Ghana and international collaborations such as Docomomo International And Shared Heritage Africa Project center the African experience in documenting and revitalizing public interest in tropical modernism.

Unlike the architects and experts celebrated in this exhibition, construction workers are not as visible in historical sources because they are often unrecorded. The ability of the oral tradition to fill this gap diminishes over time, but we have a duty to avoid repeating the same deletions and omissions of the past. The legacy of tropical modernity is incomplete without considering the contributions of both professionals and workers.


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