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When many countries in sub-Saharan Africa gained their independence in the 1960s, experimental architecture became one of the key ways in which many young nations expressed their new identities and signaled a departure from their colonial pasts. The ambitious and distinctive designs of new parliament buildings, stadiums, universities, central banks, and other major public buildings and housing projects mirrored the forward-looking spirit driving their construction and declared the new nation-states’ presence on the global stage. At the same time, while numerous local designers, planners, and builders participated in this period of building, the majority of architects commissioned for these projects came from countries such as Poland, Yugoslavia, Scandinavia, Israel, and even the former colonial powers.

This exhibition explores the complex history and legacy of modernist architecture in sub-Saharan Africa during the 1960s and 1970s. Featuring nearly 80 buildings in commissioned photographs by Iwan Baan and Alexia Webster, as well as archival material, Architecture of Independence imparts a new perspective on the intersection of architecture and nation-building in Ghana, Senegal, Côte d’Ivoire, Kenya, and Zambia  and investigates some of the most compelling yet under-studied examples of 1960s and 1970s architecture worldwide.

This exhibition is based on the book project African Modernism: Architecture of Independence by architect Manuel Herz in cooperation with the Vitra Design Museum in Weil am Rhein, Germany.

Manuel Herz is an architect based in Basel, Switzerland. His recent projects include the Synagogue and Jewish Community Center in Mainz, Germany and housing projects in Cologne and France. He has taught at the ETH Zürich and Harvard University’s Graduate School of Design and is currently professor of urban and landscape studies at the University of Basel. Manuel’s research focuses on the relationship between migration, architecture, and nation-building and the spaces of refugee camps. His books include Nairobi: Migration Shaping the City (with Shadi Rahbaran and supported by a Graham Foundation grant; Lars Müller Publishers, 2014) and From Camp to City: Refugee Camps of the Western Sahara (Lars Müller Publishers, 2013).

Iwan Baan is a Dutch photographer known for portraying the human life and interactions that take place within buildings. He has collaborated with many of the world’s leading architectural firms, including OMA, Herzog & De Meuron, and Toyo Ito, and is currently one of the most published photographers in the field of architecture. In 2010, he won the Julius Shulman Photography Award. Among his published books is Brasilia-Chandigarh: Living with Modernity (Lars Müller Publishers, 2010).

Alexia Webster is a South African freelance photographer who has traveled widely throughout the African continent as a documentary photographer. Her work has been published in The New York Times, The Guardian, The Washington Post, and Le Monde, among others. She is the recipient of the Artraker Prize for Art in Conflict (2013), grants from the Prince Claus Fund (2013) and the Ithuba Arts Fund (2013), and the Frank Arisman Scholarship (2007) at the International Center of Photography in New York City where she completed the program in Documentary Photography and Photojournalism.

African Modernism: The Architecture of Independence
Park Books, Zürich, 2015 / U.S. $79.00
Paperback, 9 1/2 x 13 in.

This 700-page, fully-illustrated book features over 100 buildings with descriptive texts, photographs, site plans, selected floor plans and sections as well as a timeline illustrating the political, demographic, and economic developments of each country. African Modernism also includes essays by Manuel Herz, Hannah Le Roux, Léo Noyer-Duplaix, Zvi Efrat, Till Förster, and Ingrid Schröder. Copies of the book are available for purchase at the Graham Foundation Bookshop.


Rinaldo Olivieri, La Pyramide, 1973, Abidjan (Côte d’Ivoire); Heinz Fenchel and Thomas Leiterdorf, Hotel Ivoire, 1962–70, Abidjan (Côte d’Ivoire). Photos © Iwan Baan.