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Shifting conditions, frameworks and approaches: The work of KPDV in postcolonial Africa

Kim De Raedt

Résumés

Cet article évoque la trajectoire et la production du bureau d’architectes français Kalt-Pouradier-Duteil-Vignal. L’auteur émet l’hypothèse selon laquelle la prospérité en Afrique, depuis la fin de l’ère coloniale jusque dans les années 1980, de ce bureau est principalement due à sa capacité d’adaptation aux contextes politique, économique et socio-culturel en constante évolution. Le bureau KPVD a tout d’abord œuvré dans le contexte colonial de mise-en-valeur du territoire puis, après l’indépendance, il a su faire évoluer son image pour devenir l’un des plus importants conseillers de l’Agence pour l’aide au développement de l’Union européenne avant de réaliser une série de projets dans toute l’Afrique de l’Ouest pour des commanditaires très variés, africains ou non. Pendant toute cette période les commandes passées à des architectes étaient généralement liées à une entreprise particulière, à une organisation (d’aide) internationale ou à une institution d’état (colonial), ce qui signifiait que les opportunités de travail tarissaient dès que le cadre institutionnel disparaissait. Cependant KPDV a su se maintenir sur la scène africaine pendant presque 30 ans. Passant en revue une série de projets élaborés par KPDV, l’auteur démontrera comment le bureau d’architectes a réussi son pari en reformulant constamment son mode de conception, de recherche, de construction et de gestion de projet en réponse au contexte mouvant dans lequel il opérait.

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Texte intégral

I am very grateful to Michel Kalt and Pierre Vignal for their eagerness to engage in interesting discussions and for granting me access to the archives of KPDV.

KPDV—an office “off radar”

  • 1 For a critical discussion of the late colonial development efforts by the British imperial powers, (...)
  • 2 Łukasz Stanek, “Export architecture and urbanism from socialist Poland,” Piktogram, vol. 15, 2010– (...)

1In 1957, Ghana’s declaration of independence heralded the onset of the decolonisation process in Africa, which in a few years led to the disintegration of nearly all European overseas empires. This monumental shift created a political and economic vacuum which offered opportunities not only for the newly independent states but also for various old and new foreign powers, companies and organisations to enter the African scene. In the context of Cold War competition and the economic globalisation triggered by the World Bank, African countries soon became important players and desired allies, ideologically as well as strategically and economically. These new nations’ inability to continue financing the ambitious development programmes initiated by the colonial powers after the Second World War led to large-scale foreign investment and assistance programmes targeting such fields as agriculture, mineral resources, industry, infrastructure and building projects, especially in social sectors such as health, housing and education.1 As scholars have recently demonstrated, the transnational networks of expertise and practices which thus emerged generated major opportunities for foreign architects and planners to operate overseas.2 Although most networks disintegrated when the aid or investment scheme was terminated and the experts involved subsequently left Africa, this paper will illustrate that some architects used those networks as a platform to realise their architectural ambitions and provided them a stepping-stone from which to launch a singular professional trajectory, frequently also cutting loose from foreign initiatives.

  • 3 For this research, I was able to consult what is left of the firm’s archive which is held privatel (...)
  • 4 The office is only briefly mentioned in Maurice Culot and Jean-Marie Thiveaud (eds.), Architecture (...)

2Specifically, in this paper the French architecture office of Michel Kalt, Daniel Pouradier-Duteil and Pierre Vignal (hereafter referred to as KPDV) is introduced.3 Operating on the continent for almost three decades, this firm had a prolific career in Africa but has escaped the attention of scholars to date.4 Not only did the office’s projects cover a wide geographic territory, from North and West Africa to South America and the Middle East, the architects also had connections to important architectural and political milieus in France and as a result received commissions from a remarkably broad range of organisations, authorities and financing bodies. These factors, combined with KPDV’s work designing buildings in sectors as diverse as education, health, administration, workers’ housing and (town) planning, makes the office a rather unusual case in the history of transnational networks of architectural expertise in the post-war period.

  • 5 See, for example, Tom Avermaete, “Framing the Afropolis: Michel Ecochard and the African city for (...)
  • 6 See, for example, Vandana Baweja, A pre-history of green architecture: Otto Koenigsberger and trop (...)
  • 7 For a general discussion of the transnational diffusions of architecture and planning expertise to (...)

3Through an in-depth examination of a select number of projects, this paper aims to present a detailed account of how KPDV over time revised its attitude towards designing and building in Africa in response to the changing political, economic and cultural contexts in both Europe andAfrica. Thus it seeks to complement the recently written histories of cosmopolitan designers such as Constantinos Doxiadis, Michel Écochard and Otto Koenigsberger, which have focused on the philosophies, instruments and approaches applied abroad by these globally operating experts5 and have situated the knowledge developed by these architects and planners within broader debates about tropical architecture and environmentalism.6 These so-called global consultants seem to have exploited the opportunities offered by development aid in the 1960s to test, adapt and disseminate particular visions and ideas about planning and building in a non-western context.7 In this paper, then, we look at a longer timespan through the work of KPDV, with the intention of showing how such a lesser-known architecture firm continuously re-invented itself to stay on the architectural scene in Africa. More specifically, as we shall see, during the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s, KPDV continually reformulated its modes of design, research, building practices and project management in response to quickly changing socio-political, economic and cultural conditions, both in Africa and in Europe. Thus, even though the architects never actually took up residence in Africa, KPDV was able to continue working in the continent in the late 1970s and early 1980s when the big boom of development aid construction was over.

Between tropical modernism and traditional living patterns

  • 8 Kalt began his architectural training in 1945 at the École Nationale Supérieure des Beaux-Arts. He (...)
  • 9 Kalt and his fellow students were especially fascinated by the contemporary publications that appe (...)
  • 10 The book entitled L’habitat au Cameroun was published in 1952 with the support of the Office de la (...)

4The story of KPDV begins in 1949, when Michel Kalt (b.1925), one of the office’s founding architects and then a student at the Beaux-Arts Academy in Paris,8 took part in a six-month expedition to Cameroon with six fellow students to study the traditional habitat (fig. 1).9 The expedition led to the making of an atlas10 and a film, Cases, documenting traditional ways of building and living in Cameroon. More importantly, it created crucial connections and relations which would define the beginnings of Kalt’s career overseas. In search of funds to finance the expedition, Kalt and his fellow students looked to the social milieus of rich French protecteurs, mainly company managers who sought to extend their business in or to independent Africa.

Figure 1: Michel Kalt (middle upper row) and six fellow students participating in the Cameroon expedition.

Figure 1: Michel Kalt (middle upper row) and six fellow students participating in the Cameroon expedition.

Source: Courtesy of Michel Kalt.

5In 1955, Kalt established the office of KPDV with two young fellow architects, Daniel Pouradier-Duteil and Pierre Vignal. Two years later, through the acquaintances Kalt had made during the Cameroon expedition, KPDV was commissioned by the thriving French aluminium company Péchiney to design a workers’ village from scratch in Fria, Guinea. The ambitious project included the construction of a bauxite extraction factory and a new town for 20,000 future employees. While the master planning of the town was entrusted to Michel Écochard and the high-rise living blocks foreseen in his plans to the then-well-known French office of Lagneau, Weill and Dimitrijevic, the design of the individual housing units was assigned to KPDV (fig. 2). Following the modernist principle of functional zoning which Écochard advocated at the time, the new town was planned at a distance from the factory, the commercial and cultural functions were grouped and placed centrally between the different housing pockets, and car and pedestrian circulation were clearly divided. Finally, a system of radiating green zones connected the units with each other and linked them to the commercial centre.

Figure 2: Master plan for Fria, Michel Écochard, 1957–1958.

Figure 2: Master plan for Fria, Michel Écochard, 1957–1958.

Source: Private archive of Michel Kalt.

  • 11 This citation is drawn from a text found in the personal archive of Kalt in which the architects w (...)

6In those late colonial years, the planning of this new industrial town was presented by KPDV as a kind of social return on the French company’s economic interests in colonial Guinea: “Le développement et la mise en valeur de l’Afrique sont à l’ordre du jour. L’exploitation de ses richesses naturelles pourra entraîner dans les années qui viendront l’industrialisation du pays et le développement accéléré des grandes villes. Or, si nous désirons apporter quelque chose à l’Afrique en contrepartie de ce que nous venons y chercher, nous devons nous imposer sur le plan social et humain des exigences d’autant plus fortes que les intérêts qui nous attirent sont matériels et économiques.”11 This idea of mobilising economic industrialisation to facilitate social modernisation—in this case, through the shaping of both the work and the private home environment—reflected the notion of mise en valeur du territoire, clearly still prevalent in the late colonial period, which linked investment with a direct (financial) output.

  • 12 The houses, for example, consist of two or three bedrooms, reflecting the typical western nuclear (...)
  • 13 Prouvé’s work in Africa, in particular the maisons tropicales of Brazzaville and Niamey, has recen (...)
  • 14 Prouvé had been invited to visit Fria by Vladimir Bodiansky, who was interested in the work of the (...)

7Such reasoning was emphasised on the level of each individual household, which was organised according to western living standards12 under a large, projecting roof manufactured with aluminium produced from the bauxite extracted on site by Péchiney (fig. 3). This aluminium roof was fabricated entirely in one piece to avoid water intrusion on the level of the roof ridge. This design was an innovation in tropical construction proposed to KPDV by the well-known French architect/builder Jean Prouvé,13 with whom they were quite familiar since they had moved in the same circle of avant-garde Parisian architects since the 1950s.14 Prouvé had experimented with industrialised metal building parts and prefabrication methods, first in France in the 1930s and later as a French variety of tropical modernism in Africa in the 1940s, eventually attracting the interest of the young Michel Kalt and his partners. Indeed, Prouvé’s conviction that economic and social modernisation could profit from linking industrialisation and design would influence the firm’s designs for years, as discussed further in this paper.

Figure 3: Cross-section of a model house with a roof structure of bent aluminium plate.

Figure 3: Cross-section of a model house with a roof structure of bent aluminium plate.

Source: Private archive of Michel Kalt.

8While profoundly inspired by modernist planning and design principles, the KPDV architects also seem to have made an effort to mitigate the process of social modernisation, presumably inspired by Kalt’s experiences in Cameroon. For instance, on the scale of the street neighbourhood, small public spaces, drawing on local models, concentrated social life. By providing a double orientation to the individual housing unit, a clear distinction was made between a so-called social space and a domestic space, thereby explicitly demarcating male and female living areas (fig. 4 and 5). Furthermore, the several different types of dwellings developed in Fria were clearly modelled on western living habits but, in their layout, also referenced the traditional dwellings studied in Cameroon. As Michel Kalt recalls, the arrangement of rooms around a central living space was a typical feature observed on the 1949 expedition in Cameroon.

Figure 4: Type plan of a house indicating the espace domestique and espace social.

Figure 4: Type plan of a house indicating the espace domestique and espace social.

Source: Private archive of Michel Kalt.

Figure 5: The domestic (female) space.

Figure 5: The domestic (female) space.

Source: Private archive of Michel Kalt.

  • 15 It is noteworthy that one can discern a similar attitude towards mass housing, for instance, in th (...)

9In many ways, the Fria project became an early milestone for KPDV. It was highly influential in infiltrating the milieus of both powerful, wealthy financers, such as the company Péchiney, and well-known French planners and architects such as Jean Prouvé and his entourage. This environment undoubtedly conditioned the office’s early approach to design, both in its modernist ideas about planning and in its design and construction methods adapted for the tropics. Simultaneously, the intention to somehow engage with the local and to design with particular attention to the human aspect and scale—attitudes which would become characteristic of the firm’s work—seem to have been present already in the Fria project in 1957.15

New commissioners, new typologies

  • 16 In France, the Fonds d’Aide et de Coopération (FAC) was turned in to the Fonds d’Investissements p (...)

10As power was transferred from European centres to African leaders, so did the clients of large building projects shift from the early 1960s onward. However, the newly established African governments did not possess the resources to execute the broad range of projects required to kick-start the social and economic development of their countries. As a result, both new development agencies and existing ones that had refashioned themselves after decolonization, started to provide financing for many African building programmes in the 1960s and 1970s.16 One of the major organisations active in Africa was the European Development Fund (EDF), for which KPDV carried out several projects, particularly in the sectors of education and health.

  • 17 The sharing of the “development burden” of the soon-to-be ex-colonies was a condition imposed by F (...)

11In 1957, Italy, France, West Germany and the Benelux countries signed a treaty in Rome which united them in what is now known as the European Economic Community (EEC). The EDF was established as the official channel for this Europe of Six to finance projects in the so-called associated territories, mainly in Africa.17 Through this agency, the EEC made large-scale investments, during its first years mainly in construction projects ranging from road and port infrastructure to social facilities. This tremendous increase in public projects in Africa created major opportunities for architects from the EEC to operate overseas. While many German and Italian experts and companies entered and benefitted from the international network of expertise and practice emerging through the EDF, many of the actors navigating in those networks were French. As they could rely on decades of experience with designing and building in the tropics, the EDF profited from the efficiency with which they could operate in Africa. Thus, the EDF provided an opportunity for the partners of the EEC to remain involved in the development of their former overseas territories, tapping into the expertise of former colonial experts while bypassing the associations of aid with particular ex-colonial powers. For the experts and consultants hired by the EDF, then, the agency functioned as a vehicle to operate in a broad range of overseas territories, including countries to which they had had little or no access before independence.

  • 18 Industries et Travaux d’Outre-Mer, no. 100, 1962, p. 133.
  • 19 However, none of the “founding fathers” of KPDV were permanently present at the branch office. It (...)

12By establishing a satellite office in Niger in the early 1960s, KPDV created a platform to claim as many new projects in the country as possible, many financed through development aid. In 1962, the specialised French magazine Industries et travaux d’Outre-Mer indeed explicitly advised that: “Un immense champ d’activités s’ouvre ainsi aux urbanistes et aux architectes ; les uns et les autres devront s’installer sur place ou du moins y avoir des agences et suivre le développement des réalisations.18 Niger especially became an important beneficiary of French and European development aid because uranium was discovered in the country in 1957. In 1961, KPDV entered into an agreement with the Nigerien government which established the firm as the architect and planner consultant-in-chief to the State of Niger.19 The EDF financed many of the large number of projects realised there by KPDV.

  • 20 This type of project indeed stands in stark contrast to the attitudes of other development aid age (...)
  • 21 Indeed, many established architecture offices which had operated in Africa before decolonisation c (...)

13The first EDF-financed project entrusted to KPDV was a primary school building programme in Niger which included the construction of no less than 166 primary schools at rural sites across the country. Undertaking a project of such scope, covering an entire country and fulfilling its important post-independence demand of education for all, was crucial for the EEC. Indeed, the close diplomatic relations of European (ex-colonial) powers with Africa were increasingly challenged by the new superpowers emerging in the context of the Cold War. Therefore, the quality of the design and the appeal of the school buildings were important,20 which made the agency seek an architecture office that had experience with building in Africa and was willing to work in Niger.21

  • 22 In 1958, Jean Prouvé, Charlotte Perriand, Guy Lagneau, Michel Weill and Jean Dimitrijevic collabor (...)

14Inspired by a similar project initiated by the government of Morocco in 1954 (fig. 6), as well as by their experience in Guinea, KPDV designed the Niger schools as a prefabricated, metallic, load-bearing structure imported from Italy and filled in with non-load-bearing exterior walls, erected where possible with locally available materials and labour (fig. 7). This system combined efficiency and speed in production and construction with more labour-intensive completion of the buildings. Clearly, the idea of linking industrialisation with social modernisation and the improvement of living conditions which the architects had observed in the work of Prouvé (who himself was working on the Maison du Sahara22 at the very moment KPDV received the commission to design the schools in Niger) proved to be useful, especially in response to some particular problems in post-independence Africa.

Figure 6: School building programme in Morocco, 1954.

Figure 6: School building programme in Morocco, 1954.

Executed by the French construction companies Strafor Maroc and Schwarz Hautmont.

Source: From a publication by the Moroccan National Ministry of Education, Youth and Sports held in the private archive of Michel Kalt.

Figure 7: Executed primary school, Senegal, exact location unknown.

Figure 7: Executed primary school, Senegal, exact location unknown.

Source: Private archive of Michel Kalt.

  • 23 However, the component of prefabrication was driven to its maximum in the proposal by Lagneau, Wei (...)

15In the early 1960s, the concept of producing buildings in very large numbers by relying on standardisation and prefabrication became a model for many large-scale social building projects financed by the EDF. First, in the three years after the completion of the schools in Niger, KPDV was commissioned to design a prototype for the construction of 225 agricultural training schools and 13 hospitals in Burkina Faso (fig. 8) and 441 primary schools in Senegal based on the same architectural concept. Next, in 1964, the EDF agreed to finance a programme with similar objectives in Cameroon. This time, the EDF jointly organised a competition with the Union Internationale des Architectes (UIA) to select the best proposed design for primary schools which would be built throughout the country. The competition was won by the aforementioned office of Lagneau, Weill and Dimitrijevic, which proposed an architectural concept that was similar to the schools and hospitals in Niger, Burkina Faso and Senegal but pushed the component of prefabrication even further. In collaboration with Prouvé, the office designed a prefabricated, load-bearing structure, roof elements and even breathing wall panels, all made with aluminium extracted in Cameroon and manipulated in Europe, to construct the 638 classrooms and 560 teacher houses (fig. 9).23

Figure 8: Model of the prototype hospital for Burkina Faso, 1960–1961.

Figure 8: Model of the prototype hospital for Burkina Faso, 1960–1961.

Source: Private archive of Michel Kalt.

Figure 9: Prefabricated primary schools in Cameroon designed by Lagneau, Weill and Dimitrijevic, executed between 1965 and 1967.

Figure 9: Prefabricated primary schools in Cameroon designed by Lagneau, Weill and Dimitrijevic, executed between 1965 and 1967.

Detail of the aluminum roof and wall solution as it appeared.

Source: special Africa issue of the Italian journal Edilizia Moderna in 1966 (nos. 89-90; eds. Julian Beinart, Ronald Lewcock & Graham Wilton).

16Evidently, by relying heavily on the importation of expertise, building materials and techniques, such projects provided a considerable return on investment for the EEC.24 Moreover, they were a useful tool for the EEC to demonstrate that it desired positive relations with Africa in the future. The presence of three well-known European architects in the jury of the Cameroon competition25 was indeed a powerful sign to African heads of state, as well as the international community, that the EEC was willing and capable of financing the development enterprise embarked upon by the colonial powers in the 1940s and that, to do so, it would mobilise the best it had to offer. Thus, like many other nations and organisations which turned to Africa after independence for diverse political, economic and cultural motives, the EEC ensured its economic and political future overseas by transferring specialized expertise and building materials to Africa. The pace at which buildings could be erected using the technique of importing building parts was presumably welcomed by many African leaders as an efficient response to the urgency to expand education and health provision both quantitatively and geographically. Indeed, as President F. Houphouët-Boigny of the Ivory Coast (1960–1993) stated at the 1964 opening session of the Conference of Ministers of Education in African States, held in Abidjan: “For man in general, and for African man in particular, education stands for his liberation from the constraints that still weigh heavily on him.”26

17Attracting foreign assistance to build modern primary schools was indeed important for African heads of state to justify their policies and power. Many new African leaders educated in the West, such as Leopold Senghor, president of Senegal from 1960 to 1980, and the populations they represented wished to continue educational development based on European standards as a way to end the continent’s decades-long deprivation of intellectual opportunities.This suggests that linear progress and modernisation, established in the minds of Africans as the standard for development through the late colonial building projects, was strengthened in many 1960s development projects. However, those same African authorities quickly contested the architectural and organisational means by which these projects were achieved. This can be observed by examining a number of other projects designed by KPDV.

Towards “a subtle balance between modern means and local possibilities”

18After more than 800 schools KPDV designed for West Africa had been brought to realisation successfully, the office used the credibility it had built up both amongst local authorities and in the EDF’s headquarters in Brussels to take on new projects. Thus, while Lagneau, Weill and Dimitrijevic were working on the schools in Cameroon, the KPDV architects engaged in a new project with completely different ambitions, this time financed by the Senegalese government.

19In Senegal, Kalt met with the former German legionnaire Mr. Kirbs, who was then working at the Service de l'habitat rural and had familiarised himself with building one-off projects in close collaboration with local communities. Kirbs proposed to design and build five rural training centres across the country and took Kalt and his team on board. The team agreed that only local materials and labour would be used so as to fit the project with the small budget made available by the government. Aside from budgetary reasons, the architects recall that, during the 1960s, opposition slowly rose amongst African government officials against the logic of importing materials and techniques. While the schools and hospitals of the early 1960s still made imported materials and expertise important components, the new approach deliberately focused on adapting design, materials and division of labour to local realities.

20Thus, depending on the region where schools were to be built, the construction principles differed fundamentally. For training centres in the warm and humid regions of South Senegal, load-bearing structures were constructed entirely with locally produced wooden beams and columns (fig. 10). The formal design of these schools was clearly inspired by the earlier prefabricated schools but adapted to the features of the local environment. An entirely different design was conceived for the hot and dry regions of North Senegal. To increase the heat capacity of the school buildings in these regions, the classrooms had vaulted roofs constructed, like the walls, with locally produced earthen bricks (fig. 11). Jacques Dreyfus, a French civil engineer, who had worked in the Laboratoire des Bâtiments et des Travaux Publics in 1950s colonial Senegal, had experimented with this construction material, which had its roots in traditional building techniques, between 1952 and 1954 before it was picked up by KPDV.

Figure 10: Rural training centre in Guerina, constructed with wooden beams and columns, South Senegal, 1964–1966.

Figure 10: Rural training centre in Guerina, constructed with wooden beams and columns, South Senegal, 1964–1966.

The building allows for thorough ventilation between the walls and roof structure.

Source: Private archive of Michel Kalt.

Figure 11: Rural training centre in Ogo, constructed with earthen bricks to increase the building’s heat capacity, North-east Senegal, 1964–1966.

Figure 11: Rural training centre in Ogo, constructed with earthen bricks to increase the building’s heat capacity, North-east Senegal, 1964–1966.

Source: Private archive of Michel Kalt.

  • 27 Article by KPDV in Tribune, a pamphlet distributed by the French Secrétariat des Missions d’Urbani (...)

21Clearly, the office’s approach was evolving from that of remote references to local living habits projected onto an inherently modernist design, as in the Fria project of 1957, to one which not only was more responsive to climatic conditions but also consciously and thoroughly explored all the possibilities of the environment. As the architects explained: “If a public building is magnificent or built of economically un-adapted material, it will be difficult to insist on the use of local materials by the local population. … The problems of rural construction must, therefore, be approached through a subtle balance between modern means and techniques, on the one hand, and the necessary exploitation of local possibilities and men, on the other.”27 In other words, while the large-scale primary school projects of the late 1950s and early 1960s had to a large extent reflected the interests of the donor agency and mirrored contemporary architectural experiments in France, these rural training centres demonstrated the firm’s flexible attitude towards new partnerships and commissioners, and dramatically lower budgets.

Formal appropriations of the “vernacular”

  • 28 The use of brick vault structures was especially appropriate in Niamey because the city had a few (...)

22From the mid-1960s onwards, as Michel Kalt recalls, he was increasingly deemed too invasive by commissioners and financing agencies. Consequently, Daniel Pouradier-Duteil and Pierre Vignal came to coordinate most KPDV projects in Africa. This shift marked another watershed in the firm’s work. From then on, the imagery and building methods used for the brick vaults in Senegal became a new architectural theme. Both the extension to the Bobo-Dioulasso hospital in Burkina Faso and the housing project for indigènes in Niamey, Niger, (fig. 12) testify to this.28

Figure 12: Housing project for indigènes, Niamey, Niger, 1964.

Figure 12: Housing project for indigènes, Niamey, Niger, 1964.

Source: Private archive of Michel Kalt.

  • 29 Interview with Pierre Vignal, 4.5.2013.

23As the 1970s approached, however, references to the “vernacular” became increasingly formal, as opposed to reflecting traditional building methods and materials. Although this to some extent echoed the rise of postmodern tendencies in architecture in different parts in the world, it primarily reflected a change in KPDV’s clientele. They were no longer various external development aid agencies but, as the examples below illustrate, large institutional bodies in Africa, both national and transnational. The rather abstract references to formal qualities of vernacular architecture in KPDV’s later work (e.g., artwork, finishing materials, colours, shapes and symbols) reveal a search for a formal language to express an African (or at least Sahel) identity. This search can be traced, for example, in prestigious, large-scale public projects such as the University of Niamey in Niger (1971–1979) (fig. 13) and the School for the Textile Industry in Segou, Mali (then known as ESITEX, 1982–1989) (fig. 14), which was financed by the Communauté économique de l’Afrique de l’Ouest (CEAO). As Pierre Vignal recalled, in the competition to select an architect, the CEAO referred explicitly to pictures of buildings “Style Tombouctou” as a source of inspiration for competitors.29 KPDV also frequently references to local art and artists in its designs. Cases in point are the aforementioned ESITEX school and the School for Medical Assistants in Segou, Mali (1974–1978), but also for instance the new airport building of Dakar-Yoff in Senegal (first phase in 1965, second phase in 1972) to which the architects invited the Senegalese artist Iba N’Diaye to contribute.

Figure 13: University of Niamey, Niger, 1971–1979.

Figure 13: University of Niamey, Niger, 1971–1979.

Source: Private archive of Michel Kalt.

Figure 14: ESITEX School in Segou, Mali, 1982–1989.

Figure 14: ESITEX School in Segou, Mali, 1982–1989.

Entrance with artwork (right) inspired by the boubou, a typical Malian male costume (artwork by Pierre Vignal and his daughter Anne Vignal). The statue on the left is an enlarged version of a wooden piece used in a traditional weaving machine.

Source: Private archive of Michel Kalt.

  • 30 See “Building toward community: ADAUA’s work in West Africa,” MIMAR: Architecture in Development, (...)
  • 31 See URL: craterre.org. Accessed 16 June 2014.
  • 32 See URL: www.akdn.org. Accessed 16 June 2014. The Aga Khan’s discourse and philosophy were analyse (...)

24When viewed against the background of the early 1960s experiments with prefabrication and the later environment-focused approach, the adoption of the vernacular as a visual frame of reference represented another shift in KPDV’s attitude towards building in Sub-Saharan Africa. While to an extent this change can be attributed to the shifts in responsibilities within the firm (with Pouradier-Duteil and Vignal gradually taking over responsibility for the African projects), it also reflects consciousness of then contemporary architectural tendencies in Africa. In 1973, Hassan Fathy’s Architecture for the Poor (1973) was published, while in 1975 and 1979 respectively, the Association pour le développement naturel d’une architecture et d’un urbanisme africains (ADAUA), which aimed to revive indigenous African architecture and workmanship,30 and CRAterre, which promoted earthen architecture,31 were established. These developments testify to rising interest in and dissemination of knowledge about architecture consciously inspired by traditional building methods and imagery and to the mobilisation of local labour and promotion of craftsmanship, particularly in the Sahel region. Various buildings realised in Mali and Senegal bear witness to these trends. This includes the Medical Centre in Mopti, Mali (1969–1976), financed by the EDF and designed by the French architect André Ravéreau, and the Agricultural Training Centre in Nianing, Senegal (1976–1977), a project financed by Caritas and realised under the guidance of the Swiss UNESCO architect Pierre Bussat. Not coincidentally, these buildings were selected in 1980 by the Aga Khan for the first Award for Architecture (AKAA).32 However, while the first AKAA deliberately celebrated these projects for reflecting traditional architectural aesthetics, creation processes and building techniques, KPDV’s late projects instead borrow from the formal qualities of traditional architecture as a visual strategy to express local identity.

  • 33 Nomination Form, AKAA, 1989. URL: http://archnet.org/. Accessed 16 June 2014.
  • 34 Preliminary studies and works supervision were, however, financed by the French Fonds d’Aide et de (...)

25In 1988, one of KPDV’s last projects in Niger, the new Grand marché de Niamey (fig. 15), was in fact nominated for an AKAA (1989 cycle) for being climatically well adapted and respecting the atmosphere and functioning of a typical African market.33 Although the market ultimately did not receive an award, it is an interesting project to end this discussion because it was once more realized on an EDF budget34—twenty years after the primary schools in West-Africa—and clearly demonstrates both the continuities in terms of how projects came into being and the shifted alliances and frameworks in which foreign architects worked two decades after independences in Africa.

Figure 15: The new Grand marché in Niamey, Niger, 1983-1986.

Figure 15: The new Grand marché in Niamey, Niger, 1983-1986.

Central food hall with concrete pillars and vaulted roofs, and vertical wooden sun-breakers.

Source: Private archive of Michel Kalt.

  • 35 Technical Review Summary by Serge Santelli, AKAA, 1989. Can be consulted online at http://archnet. (...)

26The old central market of Niamey had been built in the 1950s but burnt down in 1982. On the initiative of the Ministry of Trade, Industry and Transport of Niamey, the EDF was addressed to obtain funds for a new market which was finally built on the site of the old one, close to the border between the former “European” and “indigenous” city, right in the middle of the city centre. The ground plan is laid out on a grid, tapping onto the surrounding urban tissue and street pattern. With its covered food halls at the centre of the market, consisting of seven meter high concrete pillars alternately supporting vaulted roofs and light aluminium roof panels, the ensemble “creates an urban landscape very similar to that of town built up around a castle or a cathedral.”35 Interestingly, the market is thus symbolically conceptualized as the African equivalent of the typical core components of the medieval European cities and towns. While the design responds to the climatic conditions in Niamey by using large vertical wooden sun-breaker screens, it seeks to echo typical features of Sahel architecture and urban tissue through the use of a particular colour palette, the width of the passages between the shops surrounding the central hall (only 3 meters, thus reproducing the typical atmosphere of traditional African markets) and the design of the protective wall, allegedly referring to the village walls found in the Tahoua region of the Sahel.

  • 36 From an article by Christian Rey and Giordano Martelli in The Courrier, the journal published bimo (...)

27While clearly being inspired by some particular features of the local built environment (and successfully so, since the market has been used extremely intensively until in 2009 it suffered from another heavy fire), it is nonetheless remarkable that more than two decades after independence in Niger, it was still a French office that was commissioned to design a key building in the centre of an African capital. Presumably, this had much to do with the economic logics of return on investment (still) underlying the functioning of the EDF. The EDF was nonetheless proud to announce that the project had encouraged “local industry and labour by making maximum use of materials produced in Niger and the sub-region.”36 Although six out of eight contractors were indeed Nigerien, and 800 Nigeriens were employed to realize the new buildings, the four general managers of the construction site had the French nationality, as did the other two contractors who actually executed the lion’s share of the works (the Société d’études et de travaux pour l’Afrique de l’Ouest or SETAO, the Société anonyme des travaux d’outre-mer or Satom). While the positive and successful cooperation with the local Ministry of Public Works and Housing was underscored by the architects, “local capacity building” remained on the rather vague level of “technology transfer” between the French and Nigerien firms. In other words, while the design of this key symbolic building (both in terms of its central location in the city and in terms of the fundamental African typology of the market) explicitly adopts an architectural language referring to the urban environment of Niamey on several levels, the mechanisms through which the building actually came into being and was realized had apparently changed very little since Niger became independent in 1960.

Épilogue

  • 37 More specifically, their approach to development shifted from the construction of buildings to oth (...)
  • 38 Recent research in the archives of the EDF and the World Bank, as well as the papers in the aforem (...)
  • 39 For the emergence of the notion in the 1990s and its later developed in the exhibition and book pr (...)
  • 40 Johan Lagae, “Discipline autonome ou pratique instrumentale ? L’architecture d’après-guerre en Afr (...)

28By proposing an architectural language to new commissioners, KPDV ensured that it could continue operating in Africa after the financial clout of development aid organisations decreased in the mid-1970s as a result of the economic crisis37 and after the space of manoeuvre for individual governments became limited as a result of structural adjustment programmes imposed by the World Bank. By constantly repositioning itself vis-à-vis the political, economic and cultural conditions in which it worked, KPDV successfully maintained its position as a proficient player on the architectural scene in Africa. It is precisely this flexible attitude which distinguished the firm from the many foreign architects who appeared and disappeared in Africa on the waves of international aid and investment in the 1960s and 1970s.38 This case study thus quite well demonstrates how, as Lagae has argued, the notion of Africa as a laboratory where architects and urban planners could experiment freely and in an unhindered manner with new planning concepts and spatial strategies,39 applies mainly to the North African colonial context.40 Looking at the trajectory of KPDV, the validity of this concept for Africa as a whole, and in particular for the postcolonial period, seems at the very least questionable.

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Notes

1 For a critical discussion of the late colonial development efforts by the British imperial powers, see Hannah Le Roux, “Networks of tropical architecture,” The Journal of Architecture, vol. 8, no. 3, 2003, p. 337–354. URL: http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/1360236032000134835. Accessed 29 June 2017; Ola Uduku, “Educational design and modernism in West Africa,” DOCOMOMO Journal, vol. 28, 2003, p. 76–82; Rhodri W. Liscombe, “Modernism in late imperial British West Africa: The work of Maxwell Fry and Jane Drew, 1946-56,” Journal of the Society of Architectural Historians, vol. 65, no. 2, 2006, p. 188–215. URL: https://www.jstor.org/stable/25068264. Accessed 29 June 2017.

2 Łukasz Stanek, “Export architecture and urbanism from socialist Poland,” Piktogram, vol. 15, 2010–2011; Łukasz Stanek and Tom Avermaete (eds.), “Cold War transfer: Architecture and planning from socialist countries in the ‘Third World’,” The Journal of Architecture, vol. 17, no. 3, 2012. URL: http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/13602365.2012.692597. Accessed 29 June 2017; Haim Yacobi, “The architecture of foreign policy. Israeli architects in Africa,” OASE Journal for Architecture, no. 82, 2010, theme issue L’Afrique c’est chic: Architecture and Planning in Africa 1950–1970, p. 35–54. URL: http://www.oasejournal.nl/en/Issues/82. Accessed 18 June 2014.

3 For this research, I was able to consult what is left of the firm’s archive which is held privately by Michel Kalt, Pierre Vignal and Daniel Pouradier-Duteil’s widow. The discussion is also based on interviews conducted with Michel Kalt and Pierre Vignal in 2012.

4 The office is only briefly mentioned in Maurice Culot and Jean-Marie Thiveaud (eds.), Architectures françaises outre-mer, Liège: Mardaga, 1992 (Villes).

5 See, for example, Tom Avermaete, “Framing the Afropolis: Michel Ecochard and the African city for the greatest number,” OASE Journal for Architecture, no. 82, 2010, theme issue L’Afrique c’est chic: Architecture and Planning in Africa 1950–1970, p. 77–101. URL: http://www.oasejournal.nl/en/Issues/82. Accessed 18 June 2014; Viviana D’Auria, “From tropical transitions to Ekistic experimentation: Doxiadis Associates in Tema, Ghana,” Positions. Journal on Modern Architecture and Urbanism, no. 1, 2010, p. 40–63.

6 See, for example, Vandana Baweja, A pre-history of green architecture: Otto Koenigsberger and tropical architecture, from princely Mysore to post-colonial London, Ph.D. dissertation, University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, MI, 2008; Panayiota I. Pyla, Ekistics, architecture and environmental politics, 19451976: A prehistory of sustainable development, Ph. D. dissertation, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Cambridge, MA, 2002.

7 For a general discussion of the transnational diffusions of architecture and planning expertise to and within the Third World, see Eric Verdeil, “Expertises nomades au Sud. Eclairages sur la circulation des modèles urbains,” Géocarrefour, vol. 80, no. 3, 2005, p. 165–169. URL: http://geocarrefour.revues.org/1143. Accessed 18 June 2014.

8 Kalt began his architectural training in 1945 at the École Nationale Supérieure des Beaux-Arts. He studied in the atelier of Roger-Henri Expert, mostly known as the designer of the Jardins du Trocadéro in Paris. In his final year, Kalt undertook the expedition to Cameroon as a graduation project.

9 Kalt and his fellow students were especially fascinated by the contemporary publications that appeared in France after the war documenting the French overseas territories (interview 1.5.2012).

10 The book entitled L’habitat au Cameroun was published in 1952 with the support of the Office de la recherche scientifique outre-mer by Éditions de l’Union de Française (Paris).

11 This citation is drawn from a text found in the personal archive of Kalt in which the architects write about the Fria project, presumably for the purpose of publication. (However, I have not been able to trace any such publication.)

12 The houses, for example, consist of two or three bedrooms, reflecting the typical western nuclear family occupying the house, and have an indoor kitchen, while Africans traditionally cook outdoors.

13 Prouvé’s work in Africa, in particular the maisons tropicales of Brazzaville and Niamey, has recently gained attention due in part to the recent entry of Prouvé’s archival fund to the collections of Centre Pompidou in France and the subsequent exhibition at the Parisian Galerie 54. See the exhibition catalogue: Eric Touchaleaume, Jean Prouvé: Les maisons tropicales, Exhibition Catalogue (Paris, Galerie 54, October 27–December 31, 2006), Paris: Eric Touchaleaume Galerie 54, 2006, and, for example Peter Sulzer, Jean Prouvé: Œuvre complète = Complete works. 3. 1944–1954, Basel; Boston: Birkhäuser, 2005.

14 Prouvé had been invited to visit Fria by Vladimir Bodiansky, who was interested in the work of the young KPDV office in Africa and had collaborated with Prouvé on several occasions.

15 It is noteworthy that one can discern a similar attitude towards mass housing, for instance, in the office’s 1960 social housing project in Carcassonne, France (348 units). Pedestrian circulation is strictly separated from car traffic, and the site is broken up into multiple smaller units of human scale. Each unit contains a limited number of dwellings, every one of which is provided with an outdoor space. In the same spirit, the office designed more than 1000 dwellings in the early 1970s in the context of the projet maisons et jardins organised by the French government in response to the problematic social consequences of the grands ensembles of the 1950s and 1960s.

16 In France, the Fonds d’Aide et de Coopération (FAC) was turned in to the Fonds d’Investissements pour le Développement Économique et Social (FIDES) and in Britain the Colonial Welfare and Development Acts created by the Colonial Office were replaced by a Ministry of Overseas Development. Furthermore, the USA created the United States Agency for International Development (US AID), the World Bank established an agency focused on development in the Third World: the International Development Association (IDA), and so on.

17 The sharing of the “development burden” of the soon-to-be ex-colonies was a condition imposed by France to go through with the establishment of the EEC. In return, France agreed to extend its privileged access to the African market to the other EEC partners.

18 Industries et Travaux d’Outre-Mer, no. 100, 1962, p. 133.

19 However, none of the “founding fathers” of KPDV were permanently present at the branch office. It was staffed with a changing team of French architects who frequently communicated and discussed with the head office in Paris and were regularly visited by Kalt, Pouradier-Duteil or Vignal in Niamey. When we refer to KPDV from here onwards, we inexplicitly mean to include the entire team responsible for a project. From 1978 until 1989, Christian Rey was the head of the Niamey office.

20 This type of project indeed stands in stark contrast to the attitudes of other development aid agencies towards school building, such as the World Bank and UNESCO; see Kim De Raedt, “Between ‘true believers’ and operational experts: UNESCO architects and school building in post-colonial Africa,” The Journal of Architecture, vol. 19, no. 1, 2014, p. 19–42. URL: http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/13602365.2014.881905. Accessed 29 June 2017.

21 Indeed, many established architecture offices which had operated in Africa before decolonisation continued to do so mostly in the more affluent ex-colonies which had been favoured by imperial policy because of their coastal location, such as the Ivory Coast (e.g., Ducharme, Larras & Minost) and Senegal (e.g., Chesneau & Verola).

22 In 1958, Jean Prouvé, Charlotte Perriand, Guy Lagneau, Michel Weill and Jean Dimitrijevic collaborated in the design of the maison du Sahara as a prototype house for a desert climate. On their collaborative works, see Joseph Abram, “Le rêve du réel. Guy Lagneau, Michel Weill, Jean Dimitrijevic, Jean Prouvé et Charlotte Perriand: de la Maison du Sahara aux écoles du Cameroun,” Faces, no. 37, 1995, p. 48–54.

23 However, the component of prefabrication was driven to its maximum in the proposal by Lagneau, Weill and Dimitrijevic, using aluminium panels as wall elements. The schools quickly turned out to be quite fragile and, immediately after opening, were damaged by simple everyday activities, recalls Alain Papineau, architect and former World Bank staff member (interview 5.12.13).

24 This has also been argued for the French context. See Sophie Dulucq, La France et les villes d’Afrique noire francophone. Quarante ans d’intervention (1945–1985). Approche générale et études de cas: Niamey, Ouagadougou et Bamako, Paris: L’Harmattan, 1997 (Villes et entreprises).

25 Namely, the French Michel Écochard, Italian Ludovico Quaroni and Dutch Jan P. Bakema

26 URL: http://www.unesco.org/education/educprog/50y/brochure/unintwo/80.htm. Accessed 16 June 2014.

27 Article by KPDV in Tribune, a pamphlet distributed by the French Secrétariat des Missions d’Urbanisme et d’Habitat.

28 The use of brick vault structures was especially appropriate in Niamey because the city had a few small brick factories established during the post-war period to avoid the high costs of imported materials.

29 Interview with Pierre Vignal, 4.5.2013.

30 See “Building toward community: ADAUA’s work in West Africa,” MIMAR: Architecture in Development, no. 7, 1983, p. 35–51.

31 See URL: craterre.org. Accessed 16 June 2014.

32 See URL: www.akdn.org. Accessed 16 June 2014. The Aga Khan’s discourse and philosophy were analysed by Sibel Bozdogan in a 1992 review of the three volumes which document and discuss the AKAAs in the 1980s. See Sibel Bozdogan, “The Aga Khan Award for architecture: A philosophy of Reconciliation,” Journal of Architectural Education, vol. 45, no. 3, 1992, p. 182–88.

33 Nomination Form, AKAA, 1989. URL: http://archnet.org/. Accessed 16 June 2014.

34 Preliminary studies and works supervision were, however, financed by the French Fonds d’Aide et de Coopération (FAC) whereas site utilities were executed on the budget of the French Caisse Centrale de Coopération Économique (CCCE).

35 Technical Review Summary by Serge Santelli, AKAA, 1989. Can be consulted online at http://archnet.org/. Accessed 16 June 2014.

36 From an article by Christian Rey and Giordano Martelli in The Courrier, the journal published bimonthly by the European Economic Commission (no. 106, Nov.–Dec. 1987, p. 83–86).

37 More specifically, their approach to development shifted from the construction of buildings to other, less palpable forms of aid.

38 Recent research in the archives of the EDF and the World Bank, as well as the papers in the aforementioned theme issue of The Journal of Modern Architecture by Stanek and Avermaete (2012), have revealed the presence of countless foreign architects in Africa through development aid networks, many of whom disappeared from the scene in the mid-1970s.

39 For the emergence of the notion in the 1990s and its later developed in the exhibition and book project, see Tom Avermaete, Serhat Karakayali and Marion von Osten (eds.), Colonial modern: Aesthetics of the past rebellions for the future, London: Black Dog, 2010.

40 Johan Lagae, “Discipline autonome ou pratique instrumentale ? L’architecture d’après-guerre en Afrique,” Perspective. La revue de l’INHA, vol. 3, no. 1, 2010–2011, p. 580–586. URL: http://perspective.revues.org/1057?lang=en. Accessed 16 June 2014.

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Table des illustrations

Titre Figure 1: Michel Kalt (middle upper row) and six fellow students participating in the Cameroon expedition.
Crédits Source: Courtesy of Michel Kalt.
URL http://abe.revues.org/docannexe/image/3387/img-1.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 660k
Titre Figure 2: Master plan for Fria, Michel Écochard, 1957–1958.
Crédits Source: Private archive of Michel Kalt.
URL http://abe.revues.org/docannexe/image/3387/img-2.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 493k
Titre Figure 3: Cross-section of a model house with a roof structure of bent aluminium plate.
Crédits Source: Private archive of Michel Kalt.
URL http://abe.revues.org/docannexe/image/3387/img-3.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 243k
Titre Figure 4: Type plan of a house indicating the espace domestique and espace social.
Crédits Source: Private archive of Michel Kalt.
URL http://abe.revues.org/docannexe/image/3387/img-4.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 537k
Titre Figure 5: The domestic (female) space.
Crédits Source: Private archive of Michel Kalt.
URL http://abe.revues.org/docannexe/image/3387/img-5.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 314k
Titre Figure 6: School building programme in Morocco, 1954.
Légende Executed by the French construction companies Strafor Maroc and Schwarz Hautmont.
Crédits Source: From a publication by the Moroccan National Ministry of Education, Youth and Sports held in the private archive of Michel Kalt.
URL http://abe.revues.org/docannexe/image/3387/img-6.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 395k
Titre Figure 7: Executed primary school, Senegal, exact location unknown.
Crédits Source: Private archive of Michel Kalt.
URL http://abe.revues.org/docannexe/image/3387/img-7.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 704k
Titre Figure 8: Model of the prototype hospital for Burkina Faso, 1960–1961.
Crédits Source: Private archive of Michel Kalt.
URL http://abe.revues.org/docannexe/image/3387/img-8.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 413k
Titre Figure 9: Prefabricated primary schools in Cameroon designed by Lagneau, Weill and Dimitrijevic, executed between 1965 and 1967.
Légende Detail of the aluminum roof and wall solution as it appeared.
Crédits Source: special Africa issue of the Italian journal Edilizia Moderna in 1966 (nos. 89-90; eds. Julian Beinart, Ronald Lewcock & Graham Wilton).
URL http://abe.revues.org/docannexe/image/3387/img-9.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 303k
Titre Figure 10: Rural training centre in Guerina, constructed with wooden beams and columns, South Senegal, 1964–1966.
Légende The building allows for thorough ventilation between the walls and roof structure.
Crédits Source: Private archive of Michel Kalt.
URL http://abe.revues.org/docannexe/image/3387/img-10.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 765k
Titre Figure 11: Rural training centre in Ogo, constructed with earthen bricks to increase the building’s heat capacity, North-east Senegal, 1964–1966.
Crédits Source: Private archive of Michel Kalt.
URL http://abe.revues.org/docannexe/image/3387/img-11.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 624k
Titre Figure 12: Housing project for indigènes, Niamey, Niger, 1964.
Crédits Source: Private archive of Michel Kalt.
URL http://abe.revues.org/docannexe/image/3387/img-12.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 930k
Titre Figure 13: University of Niamey, Niger, 1971–1979.
Crédits Source: Private archive of Michel Kalt.
URL http://abe.revues.org/docannexe/image/3387/img-13.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 663k
Titre Figure 14: ESITEX School in Segou, Mali, 1982–1989.
Légende Entrance with artwork (right) inspired by the boubou, a typical Malian male costume (artwork by Pierre Vignal and his daughter Anne Vignal). The statue on the left is an enlarged version of a wooden piece used in a traditional weaving machine.
Crédits Source: Private archive of Michel Kalt.
URL http://abe.revues.org/docannexe/image/3387/img-14.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 316k
Titre Figure 15: The new Grand marché in Niamey, Niger, 1983-1986.
Légende Central food hall with concrete pillars and vaulted roofs, and vertical wooden sun-breakers.
Crédits Source: Private archive of Michel Kalt.
URL http://abe.revues.org/docannexe/image/3387/img-15.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 687k
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Pour citer cet article

Référence électronique

Kim De Raedt, « Shifting conditions, frameworks and approaches: The work of KPDV in postcolonial Africa », ABE Journal [En ligne], 4 | 2013, mis en ligne le 01 juillet 2014, consulté le 25 septembre 2017. URL : http://abe.revues.org/3387 ; DOI : 10.4000/abe.3387

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Auteur

Kim De Raedt

PhD Candidate, Department of Architecture and Urban Planning, Ghent University, Ghent, Belgium

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La revue ABE Journal est mise à disposition selon les termes de la Licence Creative Commons Attribution - Pas d'Utilisation Commerciale - Pas de Modification 4.0 International.

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