Mozambican colleague who contributed last
week's piece made some interesting comments on
the state of our economy and our architecture. All
the same, I think that those long years under Afro-Marxism made his brain a little soft: our problems
are of our own making; they are not manufactured in American
boardrooms - if we are part of the international
global community, corporate or otherwise, it is
simply because the vast majority of the population
chooses to be that way.
And no, Mr Souza,
there is no conspiracy - just greedy people in
powerful places. The rest of the world goes on...
You cannot disengage
the world because of the actions of a few
unscrupulous individuals or because corporate
globalisation has wiped out a huge part of the
traditional private enterprise in particular parts
of the world or because the US backed Israeli army
murders children on a daily basis.
Those are tragic
consequences of a power conflict which does not
concern our national interests as African countries.
We must remain open minded and flexible in our
approach to the international community or risk
becoming the North Korea of Sub-Saharan
I wonder if our
colleague Mr. Souza has been to Libya recently? They
did not disengage the world - the world disengaged
them. The effect is the same - not good.
hinted at the boycotting of building materials and
systems manufactured by foreign companies which
employ thousands of African workers, provide stable
and secure working environments and contribute
towards the growth of the economy and of
Not all foreign
companies are bad, or good or otherwise; companies
should be judged on their performance, their
products and their policies. They should be judged
individually, be they local or foreign.
Lumping all foreign
owned companies into one basket of bad apples does
not make any sense and is far from being proactive
- it is outright irresponsible and dangerous.
I know few who would support a call to turn off the
Closer to home we
have Zimbabwe which has been actively disengaging
the world for a while. The effects are only to
obvious. Its close association with Libya has
brought nothing but problems.
But, yes, I do agree
with Mr Souza that we should be more sensitive to
the promotion and use of home grown skills and
building products. Above all we should be rational,
sensible, and reasonable.
Architecture is not
about human emotion nor about the battle between
good and evil. Architecture is first and foremost a
living record of our history - our socio-cultural
history and our politico-economic history.
Architecture is a reflection of our human existence.
The problems which
we face in Africa as architects and builders are not
new. Our prevailing urban architecture and
planning heritage was brought to Africa by
European Settlers over a period of some five hundred
years although only the last one hundred years saw
significant building works executed.
If we are to find
solutions to problems which plague us today we must
surely look to our history first. There are many
lessons to be learned from our Architecture which
can help us establish a more homegrown approach to
our construction systems without engaging in
I choose an example
close to Mr. Souza's heart - his own hometown - and
mine. The capital city of Mozambique; Maputo -
formerly known as Lourenco Marques. (Cecil Rhodes
insisted on calling it Delagoa Bay and claimed it as
Recently I met a
famous South African sangoma who - on being told
that I was originally from Mozambique - remarked
that my hometown had been built by the Portuguese;
"the strongest of the white races", he
Hmmm.... They would
have had to be, to built the cities which they did.
But it wasn't just the Portuguese who were so
strong; some of the city's finest buildings were
built by Italians, Shangaans, Swazis, Maxopes and
many other family groups.
is testament to that strength and to the little
known fact that its fundamental form was the direct
result of Portugal's oblivious detachment from the
Industrial Revolution - which produced the
technology that replaced menial labour and brute
strength with increased efficiency and higher levels
of productivity. (And the alienation
of labour from the means of production, as Mr. Souza
would have it.)
Maputo was never of
much interest to the Portuguese Crown other than as
a watering hole for the ships doing the Route to
India and the East. For the first four hundred years
of occupation Portugal displayed no
interest in the Mozambican interior or even the
coastal towns for that matter.
They showed so
little interest in it that the English became
exasperated at the wasted opportunities and
attempted to have Maputo declared a British
Territory. The case
was heard by the International Court around the
start of the 20th century and the judge, a Judge
Mac-Mahon, found in favour of Portugal.
By sending the
British packing Judge Mac-Mahon changed the course
of Maputo's architectural history - a city
which grew to become the most perfect
showpiece of "The Modern Movement" by the
early 70's. The city became so modernised and
its industry so advanced that it superceded every
aspect of its colonial master's Lisbon until it was
handed over to the Soviet sphere of interests in
1974 - changing the fate and the shape of the city for ever.
How is it that this
astoundingly beautiful city was built in less than
70 years by a nation on the periphery of the
Industrial Revolution in deepest darkest Africa? And
why is it so different from its sister East African
city of Durban - which developed at the same time
under the rule of the British and under the
influence of the Industrial Revolution?
And why did the city
grind to a halt in 1975, remaining in frozen decay
for 25 years? What of the future?
There are lessons
There was a time
when we built great cities in Africa without
engaging in global semantics. Local politics have
always been there: great buildings are no more than
great manifestations of great politics. Be that
economic, political, social or power politics - one
can group that into one single politesse; profit.
Let's look at how
Maputo was built and see how it proves beyond all
doubt that Africa is fully able and capable of
constructing its own buildings without using
"foreign-owned" concepts or materials - if
it is appropriate, desirable and economically
feasible, it is possible. We have done it before.
My opinion is based on
first hand experience as a Maputian architect and on the experience of my
that of his father, the settler. Three generations
of architects and builders who contributed over 100
years of design and construction to this city:
the net result of one hundred years of engaging African building
politics through two global wars, a war of
independence and a subsequent civil war.
I lay claim to privileged
information on this subject and I offer buildings as
evidence, least you be tempted to call me a windbag or
worse - a
fantasist. The two tallest modern buildings on the
picture on the right (Maputo - Old City Centre) are
just a small sample of what my bloodline built over
that period - hundreds of buildings
over a 100 year span; homes, offices, factories,
hospitals, schools, civil works, water plants,
refineries, port installations, dams, bridges.
As an Italian
bloodline we also spent a lot of time fighting the
nationalistic - often racist - policies of various
Portuguese, South African and Mozambican governments
and administrations. Policies which had - and
continue to have - a direct impact on how we shape
our thinking, our lives and our architecture.
This bloodline has
been building for over two hundred years - the last
century on African soil. It is a tradition and a
commitment that extends beyond the formal British
mould which separates architect and contractor. In
my tradition you cannot separate the two; they are
one and the same. Masters of the art and science of
building must be masters the building trades; you
cannot impart one without the other in today's
countries of Africa. You can in Britain. Not in
In my tradition one
may act as architect and builder on a project. One
may act only as architect or one may choose to
build another architects' buildings. It is a good,
practical and collaborative tradition; we are Master
Builders in every sense of the word. I believe it may just
contain the answer to Mr. Souza's socialist ailments
- and, as an added bonus, does not call for the destruction of the
"New World Order" as a prerequisite to
extends well beyond the formalised functions of an
architect and the duties of a builder. It reaches
out beyond the building site to the source of
building materials and addresses issues closely
related to manufacture, labour and human relations. (In
this tradition one does not "lay off" workers
when a project is completed and re-hire others when
the next project comes along - one
builds a permanent workforce, one encourages the
transfer of skills and builds a strong bond and
relationship with employees and the labour force -
for life. )
One man brought this
tradition to Mozambique.
The first qualified
architect to set up practice in Maputo was a
Sicilian Settler, a
graduate of the Rome School of Fine Arts. Forced by
Mafia politics to leave his home country, he arrived
in Mozambique in 1898 from Egypt, where he had been
building for some years. He was joined in 1902 by
his younger brother, who he trained as architect and
builder. This is my lineage.
Amongst many other
works of significance the brothers designed and built the
city's first theatre, the Varieta in Rua Araujo,
which served the city for over fifty years. They
a significant contribution to the construction of
the port of Maputo and the city's railway station -
designed by Eiffel.
Most important - and more to the point -
and published several monographs on the politics of
the building construction industry at the turn of
the last century, particularly relating to the
issue of deploying foreign materials and skills in
favour of utilising local materials, building
techniques and local indigenous labour.
The politics were
simple and disturbingly familiar. In the case of a
major municipal contract, the Portuguese Government
favoured a Portuguese Contractor, using Portuguese
tradesmen, materials and labour imported from Europe
in favour of a much cheaper but more appropriate
solution proposed by the Sicilians - which utilised local
materials, techniques and labour.
pertaining to this case are as relevant today as
they were 100 years ago. In this series of articles
which I have called "The African
Rationalists", I will attempt to address Mr. Souza's
concerns relating to foreign domination of Africa's
building industry using the outcome of the above
Portuguese/Sicilian conflict as the basis of my
The modern movement
was the driving force which built the city of Maputo.
intend to argue, in this series of articles, that a
return to the fundamentals of the Modern Movement is
the solution to some of Africa's economic problems
and that these fundamentals - still prevalent in
Mozambique today - are threatened with extinction at
a time when they should be vigourously propagated to many other
African countries - South Africa in particular.