Book: Colonial Modern
’Colonial Modern: Aesthetics of the Past, Rebellions of the Future’ is a very timely look at the impact of Western Modernist architecture on the colonial and post-colonial countries of North Africa, and one of the first attempts to untangle this complex mesh of ideology and aesthetics.
The genuine economic advantages of building in steel and reinforced concrete enabled large swathes of new housing to be built across the region. But with the whitewashed walls came some rather unsavoury presumptions, particularly the idea that the colonies were a sandbox for architectural experimentation, free from the ’heritage’ concerns of the Western city. ’Colonial Africa was transformed into a laboratory for Western modernity,’ writes Bernd M Scherer in his introduction, adding that these large-scale ventures in system building were subsequently re-imported back into Europe in the post-war years.
For the proponents of ’heroic’ modernism, the deserts of Algeria and Morocco represented unbounded opportunity. There are plenty of striking buildings illustrated within, but their iconic time in the sun was short-lived. Now, over half a century later, the most fascinating parts of Colonial Modern are the way modernist sterility has been reappropriated and altered, a messy hierarchy of spaces that reflects the complex - and now crumbling - power structures that emerged in the post-colonial era.
Densely illustrated and impeccably researched, Colonial Modern pulls in aspects of architectural, cultural and political history to provide a fascinating look at the dangers of aesthetic imperialism.