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Knowledge networks and postcolonial careering: David Oakley (1927–2003)

Robert Home

Résumés

David Oakley (1927-2003), aujourd’hui largement oublié, fut à son époque un acteur de premier plan dans le milieu des architectes et urbanistes britanniques intervenant comme « experts mondiaux » durant l’après-guerre. La carrière d’Oakley témoigne de l’évolution d’expertise professionnelle et de l’affiliation institutionnelle au sein de réseaux mondiaux de savoirs, tel que celui des Nations Unies, ainsi que du rôle d’institutions d’enseignement dans la diffusion du savoir, l’Architectural Association (association des architectes AA) et la Development Planning Unit (Unité de planification du développement DPU) à Londres ou la University Architectural School à Liverpool. Au long de ses cinquante années de carrière, Oakley a tout d’abord été conseiller spécialisé en Grande-Bretagne et dans les colonies, puis universitaire sur trois continents pour devenir enfin conseiller en matière de logement et d’urbanisme dans les pays en voie de développement. Son expertise a évolué du domaine de la construction et du logement à bas coût vers l’éducation et la formation, l’aménagement et finalement la prévention des catastrophes. Prenant appui sur les archives privées de l’architecte, cet article présente la carrière d’Oakley, des années 1950 aux années 1990, contemporaine de changements dans la conception de l’architecture et du développement. L’étude met en relief la contribution d’Oakley dans le débat de sa discipline concernant les responsabilités sociales de l’architecture, le développement d’une architecture spécifiquement « tropique » et la mise en place d'un programme universitaire pour des générations nouvelles d’architectes dans des pays ayant récemment acquis leur indépendance.

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The author acknowledges the help of Elizabeth Oakley, Tom Carter, Pat Wakely, and Ian Davis.

Knowledge networks and postcolonial roles

1During the “after-life” of empire, several significant British architect-planners were active in shaping the buildings and urban forms of the newly-independent countries of the newly-badged “Third World”. Maxwell Fry, William Holford and Otto Koenigsberger are perhaps best known, while there were also lesser figures like Robert Gardner-Medwin and Clifford Holliday. The role of architects and planners in development is creating its own historiography. In the 1940s, architects of the modern movement sought to contribute towards planning for post-war colonial development. Many of these architects were refugees from Nazi Germany, such as Koenigsberger in India and Ernst May in East Africa, the latter after having spent some time planning in the Soviet Union. Architecture saw itself emerging from the shadow of the civil engineers who had dominated colonial building and planning for a century. As the prospectus of the New Delhi School of Planning and Architecture in 1964–1965 proclaimed:

  • 1 Oakley private papers, New Delhi School of Planning and Architecture, Prospectus 1964–1965. See al (...)

“The Profession of architecture was not understood till recently. For the past two centuries, building activity in this country has been controlled by engineers. Architects have entered into the field very recently and that too in a subordinate capacity.”1

  • 2 David Lambert and Alan Lester (eds.), Colonial Lives Across the British Empire: Imperial Careering (...)
  • 3 E. Maxwell Fry (1899–1987) was Town Planning Adviser in West Africa 1943–1945, and worked with Le (...)
  • 4 Pat Wakely, “The Development of a school: An account of the Department of development and tropical (...)

2All these “experts” operated within colonial and postcolonial networks of knowledge and sponsors, increasingly the international agencies associated with the United Nations. The Architectural Association (AA) and Development Planning Unit (DPU) in London and the Liverpool University Architectural School were important sources of developing professional expertise and locations for networking. The experts’ activities were also facilitated by the globalisation of communication, allowing them to travel widely (especially due to easier air travel) and maintain a degree of metropolitan dominance over the forms and circulation of knowledge.2 As Britain’s empire was dismantled, this was an optimistic time both for postcolonial “nation-building,” and for architect-planners of the Modern Movement. In 1953, a conference held at University College London on architecture and planning in developing countries had called for the establishment of a training programme. The AA then launched an annual six-month postgraduate course in tropical architecture, which for two years was led by Maxwell Fry before being taken over and developed by the charismatic Otto Koenigsberger as the AA Department of Tropical Architecture.3 The initial emphasis on building physics and climatic design for tropical conditions gave way to a need for new approaches to planning for rapid urbanisation, and technical training was replaced by the education of policy-makers, which in turn was superseded by concerns for new participatory approaches. In 1971, the department moved from the AA to University College London (UCL), changing its name to the Development Planning Unit (DPU), and Koenigsberger became the first University of London Professor of Urban Development.4

3Though largely forgotten now, David Oakley (1927–2003) was a prominent player in his time among these specialists. Oakley's career illustrates the evolution of professional expertise and institutional affiliations within these global networks of knowledge. Over a fifty-year career, he started as a specialist adviser in Britain and the colonies, became an academic on three continents, and finally became a consultant on issues of housing and planning in developing countries. His expertise evolved from the areas of construction and low-cost housing into education and training, urban planning, and ultimately disaster preparedness. His career spanned changes in architectural and development thinking from the 1950s to the 1990s, and he participated in the disciplinary debate on architecture’s social responsibilities, in the development of a specifically “tropical” architecture, and in the design of the academic syllabus for new generations of architects in newly independent nations.

  • 5 Paul Ashmore, Ruth Craggs and Hannah Neate, “Working-with: Talking and sorting in personal archive (...)
  • 6 Robert Home, “From colonial housing to planning for disasters: The career of David Oakley,” Papers (...)

4To explore Oakley’s career, we will draw on the biographical interpretative method, which offers a research tool that allows one to relate an individual’s life events to the wider social context, often using personal interviews and personal archives.5 After Oakley’s death, the author was given free access (through his daughter Elizabeth) to Oakley’s private records, which were kept in a purpose-built annex to his Norfolk home. These private records—which occupied about a hundred meters of shelving and included hundreds of books, consultancy reports and papers—provided the information upon which this article is based. Embedded within Oakley’s records were not only his own books and writings over a fifty-year period, but also valuable contextualizing materials such as consultancy reports, newspaper cuttings, correspondences, and even expense claims.6

  • 7 Founded in 1965 and based in Washington, DC, PADCO specialised in Third World shelter and urban pl (...)

5Oakley had a long and wide-ranging career in many countries. His career spanned changes in development thinking from the 1950s to the 1990s: from the decolonization emphasis upon mass housing, to the architect-planner approach to urban development planning, and ultimately including responses to natural disasters. He belonged to a breed of international development consultants who operated in the worlds of both academia and private consultancy. Approaches to institutional affiliation that maintained consultant independence were developed in the 1970s by the Planning and Development Collaborative International, or Padco, and the DPU; Oakley was associated with both.7

David Oakley: early years

6David Oakley’s family roots were in the county of Essex, and he was born in 1927 at Hadleigh, near Southend. His father was a builder and quantity surveyor, and the young David accompanied him on travels about the country to assess the damage and destruction caused by wartime bombing (especially the destruction of Coventry). His school career was undistinguished, and after studying at Southend College (1943–1946) and completing his national service, he trained at the AA in London (1948–1953), qualifying with an Honours Diploma. David’s Third World interests began during a visit to Morocco on a scholarship, and he wrote his diploma thesis on low-cost housing. His first job after qualifying for his diploma was working on the Kuwait Technical College (1953–1954) for a firm of London architects.

  • 8 On Georges Atkinson, see Jiat-Hwee Chang, “Building a (post)colonial Technoscientific Network: Tro (...)
  • 9 David Oakley, Concrete Building Blocks, Overseas Building Note 34, Building Research Station, 1956 (...)

7Opportunities to travel and work in the colonial service soon followed. In 1948, the Colonial Development and Welfare Act funded the appointment of George Atkinson as a “colonial liaison officer” at the Building Research Station (BRS) in Garston, Hertfordshire, and Oakley joined Atkinson’s small team in 1954.8 The following year, Oakley travelled to West Africa with another BRS architect (PHM Stevens), advising on building houses in Gambia and Sierra Leone, and on the planning of a town extension for Bathurst (now Banjul), the capital of Gambia. At the BRS, Atkinson had initiated a series of Colonial Building Notes (subsequently renamed Overseas Building Notes), and Oakley contributed one on concrete building blocks.9 This gave him specialized knowledge on building codes and the analysis of building failures, and on the improvement of building survival under extreme weather conditions, which contributed to his later work on disaster management. He drew upon his practical experience in Kuwait and West Africa with such common-sense suggestions as:

  • 10 David Oakley, Tropical houses: A guide to their design, London: Batsford, 1961, p. 139. His earlie (...)

“A trip (which one feels sure many of them could never have made) by exporters of building materials to the ports, beaches and jetties of the tropical areas where their materials will be landed (or tipped overboard), would repay the air-fare a hundredfold. For instance, cement delivered in paper bags suffers considerably from the wetting it gets as it is landed, heaped on open lighters, at Accra in Ghana, through the surf onto the beach. With such handling conditions at the receiving end the cement should be exported in sealed drums. When the user takes into account the high wastage on paper-bagged cement, drum delivery in these conditions would prove more economical. Reinforcing steel that may have to lie off Kuwait for months in open lighters, because of customs and handling difficulties may be so thoroughly soaked in salt spray by the time it is delivered to the site that corrosion troubles will be inevitable.” 10

  • 11 Robert Home, “Transferring British planning law to the colonies: The Case of the 1938 Trinidad Tow (...)
  • 12 John Turner, Housing by people: Towards autonomy in building environments, London: Marion Boyars, (...)

8After his work with the BRS, Oakley worked for two years (1956–1958) as an architect in the Housing Department in Jamaica. The Caribbean was seen as a test-bed for colonial development initiatives, and Gardner-Medwin had been town planning adviser there from 1943–1945.11 When Oakley arrived, a new Housing Law (67/1955) had just merged the Central Housing Authority with the Hurricane Housing Organisation, empowering them to build low-income and middle-income estates. He became involved in the design of experimental low-cost housing using local building materials such as bamboo and shingles. Oakley created an exhibition site at August Town, showing how to get the most usable living space for the least money (£675 for 750 sq. ft. was the guide price at the time), and he also designed low-cost roofs that were made from cement reinforced with chicken-wire, which was laid over building paper and battens. Other pilot schemes in Jamaica were built at Trench Town (renamed Federal Gardens) and Norman Range. Another project at Duckenfield (St. Thomas) used the Facilities for Title Act (37/1955) to help those who had no formal title for their land. Such projects anticipated the self-build housing popularised by John Turner, the sites-and-services schemes of the 1970s, and the tenure upgrading advocated by Hernando de Soto in The Mystery of Capital.12

  • 13 Year-masters before and after him included Peter Smithson and Peter Cook, and his students include (...)

9After his work in Jamaica, Oakley returned to London and the AA, teaching design theory and urban design as year-master between 1958 and 1963.13 He then held three professorial posts on different continents, all in newly-created schools that combined architecture and planning training. The first, at the age of 37, for which he was encouraged to apply by Otto Koenigsberger, was a two-year contract (1963–1965) at the New Delhi School of Planning and Architecture. This school had been newly founded in 1959 and was the premier architecture school on the sub-continent, describing itself as “deemed to be a University”. His post was head of the Department of Housing, and he was also Housing Policy Adviser for the Government of India’s Five-Year Plan. With his usual energy, Oakley set about training India’s young planners. He took a particular interest in rural housing, visiting housing authorities in Madras, Calcutta, Ahmedabad and Bangalore. Oakley promoted Koenigsberger’s concept of action planning and compared the planner to a cyclist:

  • 14 David Oakley, The Rural Habitat: Dimensions of Change in Village Homes and House Groupings, publis (...)

“A village planner – any planner – can be likened to the rider of a cycle who has to maintain a balance on the rear wheel of practical issues and the front wheel of theoretical understanding. The cyclist soon falls off his machine unless he maintains a balance of theory and practice and steers along a route carefully mapped out.”14

10He later developed the analogy in his book Phenomenon of Architecture, published in 1970:

  • 15 David Oakley, The Phenomenon of Architecture in Cultures in Change, Oxford: Pergamon, 1970 (Common (...)

“To Follow the Design Path the designer must be clear as to his intentions; have selected the gear most appropriate to the economy; have appropriate maps (theories and strategies); have experience (or be well guided); have skill; a capacity for experience and be well seated in the saddle on the frame of architectural ideas”.15

  • 16 Robert Joseph Gardner-Medwin, RIBA, FRTPI (1907–1995) combined practice with teaching at the AA, a (...)

11Following Oakley’s time in India, he moved to Nairobi, Kenya (1966–1967) as founder-director of the Housing Research and Development Unit and Director of Studies in Architecture, Design and Development at University College Nairobi (later the University of Nairobi). Oakley was recommended for this post by Gardner-Medwin.16 In Nairobi, he set about designing degree programs that sought to integrate architecture with design and land development. In a reference letter, the principal expressed himself “extremely gratified with the way Professor Oakley has handled this very difficult assignment and for the new enthusiasm which has been generated within the Faculty”. The unit Oakley created became an important focus for development activity, attracting funding from the Danish development agency (DANIDA). In spite of this success, he terminated his Kenyan contract early, mainly because of the schooling needs of his two daughters.

12On returning to the United Kingdom, his third professorial position (1968–1970) was as Foundation Dean of the newly-established Construction Faculty at the Polytechnic of Central London (formerly the Regent Street Polytechnic, and subsequently to become the University of Westminster). Oakley’s duties included deputising for the director and negotiating the annual block grant with the Inner London Education Authority, while he continued his professional travels with a visiting professorship in design theory at Trondheim University, Norway.

13Oakley also spent this time writing enthusiastically about architecture. He published a short book on his work in Jamaica, and, after returning to the UK in 1958, expanded this into a textbook titled Tropical Houses, calling himself now a “seasoned architect”. (Maxwell Fry and Jane Drew had published Tropical Architecture in the Humid Zone in 1956, and he reproduced several of their house designs.) The fly-leaf of the book described it as “a practical treatise going thoroughly into the building and design problems involved,” and “a venture into the ‘no-man’s land’ lying between that of the building scientist and that of the tropical building practitioner.” Classifying different tropical climates and their effect upon house design, it presaged his later work on disaster relief with a lengthy section on risk reduction design strategies, including ways to minimise building damage from hurricanes and earthquakes. The book was illustrated with over a hundred photographs and line drawings, including some of his own house designs for the postcolonial elites (the so-called “new men”). It went, however, little noticed in professional or academic circles, although House and Garden magazine reviewed it favourably:

  • 17 Oakley private papers, unreferenced book review, clipping from House and Garden.

“A remarkably interesting, topical and practical book, which should find a receptive public both here and in sunnier realms… Many native design students will bless the name of Oakley for putting so much expertise into so readable and graphic a form.”17

  • 18 Oakley private papers, David Oakley, “Education for life: education in life: Design for a Faculty, (...)

14His sympathy with the educational philosophy of the new polytechnics being created in Britain was expressed in his articles from that period. In 1969, Building published his “Education for life: education in life: Design for a Faculty,” in which he argued for a new kind of building professional, “a man professionally concerned with the organisation and production of buildings rather than with the architectural design, structural design or cost control”. In various lectures, he made high claims for the new breed of architect-planner imbued with Modern Movement ideas. In one lecture, entitled “Man’s role in changing the face of the earth,” Oakley proposed a “draft charter for human environment,” “a really thorough-going Charter-to-Change-the-Face-of-the-Earth can in the nature of things only be sweeping and comprehensive”.18

  • 19 David Oakley, The Phenomenon of Architecture in Cultures in Change, op. cit. (note 15), p. 6.

15His second major book, The Phenomenon of Architecture in Cultures in Change, concerned architectural design in the context of social and economic development. Running to some 370 pages of text and many illustrations, it claimed to have “the needs in mind of those who design for the newly developing world and who need a conceptual structure to guide their thought,”19 and developed earlier themes in his work and writing. In one typically idiosyncratic and even quixotic passage, Oakley differentiated between old and new forms of community. In “Universe One,” man and land were integrated into one localised ecological system, inward-looking, with only occasional visits outside to the “big city hundreds of miles away and to the big shrines,” while in “Universe Two,” “man weaves a system round the Earth to link all places into one place, with all places both points of arrival and departure of the global system”. He sought to classify climates, design problems and solutions, and propose building codes for different situations (traditional, newly urbanising, modern buildings and temporary structures). Moving toward a more participative view of architecture, while still subscribing to a high social mission for the architect, he closed the book with the words:

  • 20 Ibid., p. 369.

“We pay and expect the medical practitioner to do what is necessary. We accept that what he does we may not like and may not even understand. Later, and once treatment has been successful, we appreciate the service offered. If the architectural profession saw itself as offering a similar service to the public then much that now appears cloudy in education and professionalism would be clarified and the way would be clear for the next stage in the continuous story of the evolution of architectural practice.”20

16With the idea of the omnipotent, evangelical architect-planner increasingly under challenge, Oakley was honest enough to quote in the preface a critique by one of his former Kenyan architecture students:

  • 21 Ibid., preface.

“Why should the modernists take the trouble to invent new shapes and forms just to leave the people bewildered? Why should university lecturers waste their time talking of modern design for more confusion of our people? Had it been for progress that they crave, why don’t they first make researches that will help their students to produce things related to the social and cultural ways of the people, things that really affect their lives – social welfare, health, education and religious sectors as well?”21

17While advocating wider public participation and community consultation, Oakley also encountered the arrogance of government when a Minister in Pakistan reduced him to silence with the words:

  • 22 Recollection of Ian Davis to the author (2007).

“Tell me, Mr Oakley, why we should consult village leaders about flood protection of their settlements, when the government policy is not to waste time and energy in consulting them about any other issue?”22

  • 23 Oakley private papers, Letter to Oakley from B.R. Steele, 28 March, 1974.

18By this point, Oakley seemed to have doubts about the modern architectural movement. He prefaced the book The Phenomenon of Architecture in Cultures in Change with a quotation from L.P. Hartley’s The Go-Between, “The past is a foreign country: they do things differently there”. Dedicating it to his teenage daughters, he admitted that they had suggested as an alternative title “The Pandemonium of Architecture”. Oakley began to spend less and less time at the Polytechnic of Central London. In early 1974, with Britain struggling under the effects of the oil crisis and economic recession, and public opposition growing against concrete buildings and modernist architecture, he approached the Building Research Establishment (successor to the BRS) with a 46-page document, “Draft notes towards a proposal to establish a housing research and development unit within the Overseas Division, Building Research Establishment”. However, this bid to carve out a new job for himself was badly timed, and his proposed ten-year research and development plan, complete with a list of potential projects, led to nothing. The BRE’s response to his initiative hinted at future austerity preventing action: “On the debit side there may be more constraints on the scope of our activities than we have experienced in the past”.23

International consultant

19In yet another career shift, Oakley now joined the international development consulting firm of Planning and Development Collaborative International (or Padco). Founded in 1965 and based in Washington, DC, Padco specialised in Third World shelter and urban planning. Encouraged by Otto Koenigsberger, Oakley introduced himself in a letter dated 1 June 1974 to Alfred Van Huyck, Padco’s founder, admitting to being “unsettled at the moment and seeking a change”. When the United Nations (UN) raised a concern about whether his experience was not more academic than practical, Koenigsberger supplied a strong reference in support:

  • 24 Oakley private papers, Letter 21 September 1974.

“As head of a housing authority in Kingston he established himself as a technically competent practical man who got houses built, as housing advisor in Delhi he proved his tact and political flair by gaining the confidence of the most touchy of political authorities, and in Nairobi and London, he showed his administrative skill in building up large well-functioning departments.”24

20At the time, Padco was in trouble with the Karachi master plan (1971), which was its first major contract; its innovative approach was encountering opposition from the Government of Pakistan, and its under-budgeting nearly broke the company financially. Oakley was recruited to help recover the project, and was the project team leader in residence from 1974–1976. He also undertook a number of missions to Pakistan in subsequent years. Oakley worked on the Metroville Programme (a term chosen to parallel the rural “Agroville” programme), which was an integrated site-and-service development; produced regulations for development as part of the Karachi Master Plan; wrote a housing policy for the Planning Commission (1983 and 1988–1989); prepared handbooks on planning (1988), community consultation (1992), and shelter for low-income communities (1991); and led a UN mission on flood control policy development after the 1992 Punjab floods.

  • 25 During Oakley’s time with Padco, its fortunes revived: it passed $1 million turnover in 1976–1977, (...)
  • 26 These included Trinidad (1971), Egypt (1973), Syria (1976), Zimbabwe (1980), and Jamaica (1980–198 (...)

21During his time with Padco between 1974 and 1983, Oakley contributed much to the firm’s revival, latterly holding the title of Vice President (Europe).25 He proved himself to be dedicated and practical, with a distinctive and forceful writing style. Long-distance air travel opened up new possibilities, and he was frequently invited back to countries where he had worked before, including Jamaica, Pakistan, and Bangladesh. He resigned and sold his Padco stock in 1982–1983, while staying on good terms with the firm. At the same time, Oakley had been undertaking training consultancies for the engineering firm of TP O’Sullivan and Partners (1979–1988), becoming responsible for their transport and urban planning projects. This work involved him in numerous short assignments, preparing training manuals for Jamaica, Swaziland, Sudan, Indonesia and Papua New Guinea, and advising the committee responsible for the Indonesian National Disaster Management Plan.26

22Oakley’s capacity for self-transformation led him into an area where he built an international reputation late in his career, over some twenty years. He had always emphasised respect for local building traditions and a more participative role for civil society, which coincided with the changing development agenda. As a growing awareness of environmental threats translated into funded development projects, he was able to attract work as an independent consultant. When the 1990s were declared the “International Decade for Natural Disaster Reduction,” Oakley’s business card started to list his expertise as “disaster preparedness and mitigation,” for which his early work on post-hurricane housing in Jamaica had partly prepared him.

  • 27 Usaid, Transition Housing After Disaster, Washington DC, 1981. This publication went out of print (...)

23Much of this work was undertaken in Sri Lanka, where he was team-leader for Padco and the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) from 1979 to 1983, working on post-cyclone reconstruction housing and urban development. Revisiting his previous experience with building codes, Oakley’s reports focussed on practical matters like roof fixings and causes of building failures. He advocated building codes for cyclone-resistant building design, systematic inspection of damaged buildings to determine cost-effective interventions (demolition, repair or reconstruction), better site supervision, checklists for building inspectors, and detailed advice notes on strengthening damaged buildings. His technical report on cyclone-resistant masonry construction included drawing details as well as his “ABC” of cyclone-resistant design—anchorage, bracing and continuity. He also recommended that road signs should conform to high strength and safety standards, so that they would remain in place against powerful forces of wind and water and thus assist during post-disaster early recovery. The Sri Lankan project led to a series of Padco contracts writing manuals for the United States Agency for International Development (USAID). In 1981, he was the lead author of a manual for USAID’s Offices of Housing and Foreign Disaster Assistance, a 160-page volume (+annexes) full of practical advice, thoroughly referenced and wide-ranging, and subsequently revised for fast-track implementation. 27

24Oakley was also on an international panel for risk reduction against natural hazards, and an expert with the United Nation Disaster Relief Office (UNDRO). After the Bangladesh floods of 1987, he prepared a report on infrastructure damage and rehabilitation, and another titled Rural Housing: Shelter After Disaster, which included working drawings for low-cost housing of tin-and-earth construction. He later turned these reports into a manual on disaster preparedness and rural settlement for UNDRO. In this manual, he distinguished the role of the professional (mobilizing “intellectual and organizational effort to engage in problem solving”) and the program officer (“organizing project proposals administratively within conventional formats and patterns of objectives”). He also developed one of his recurrent themes, that the way a problem is framed also structures the solution, and advocated that government should be an enabler to the efforts of others. He defined style as fundamental to the design of a shelter project, and advocated that it should acknowledge the importance of local social structures for land tenure, reflecting his previous field experience with Indian village planning. Oakley returned to Bangladesh (1993–1995) as the design consultant for a program to build 180 cyclone shelters on vulnerable off-shore islands, and the resulting manual for maintenance management included the use of primary schools as cyclone shelters, built strong to resist extremes of wind and weather.

  • 28 Unchs, Guidelines for Settlement Planning in Areas Prone to Flood Disasters, Geneva, 1995.

25On behalf of UNDRO, he visited the low-lying island states of the Indian Ocean, which were especially vulnerable to cyclones and other natural disasters. While in the Maldives (1988), Oakley reported on the failure of the southern seawall in the capital, Male, under the impact of a tsunami; in Mauritius (1989), he reported on the need for an overview of disaster management policy; and in Rodrigues Island (1991), he reported on cyclone preparedness measures. These various UNDRO consultancies resulted in another substantial publication, An Overview of Disaster Management (1992), which was later expanded and republished.28 In Vietnam (1992–1994) he worked on flood emergency preparedness for the Mekong River Delta, the national flood mitigation policy, and training workshops on water-related disasters.

  • 29 Tony Lloyd-Jones, Mind the Gap! Post-disaster reconstruction and the transition from humanitarian (...)

26His last major overseas project drew upon much of his accumulated specialist knowledge and involved him in several visits to Thailand (1997–2000) under contract to the British Department for International Development (DFID). He was attached to the Asian Disaster Preparedness Centre that had been created in 1985, initially as part of the Asian Institute of Technology, Bangkok (AIT), and later as a separate entity. He prepared materials for their courses in disaster management, and at the age of 73 made a major contribution to the first regional training course on urban flood mitigation, a two-week intensive program for thirty participants which was held at AIT in September, 2000. He was by now well-known within the small circle of British academics who were working on Third World development issues, which included the Oxford Centre for Disaster Studies and the flood hazard research centres at Middlesex University and Cranfield. He also advised on the MA program in Post-War Recovery Studies at the Institute of Advanced Architectural Studies, University of York.29

27When the consultancy contracts finally stopped, his retirement was short. David Oakley died in Norfolk of cancer after a short illness, on 2 December, 2003, at the age of 76. It was a year after he and his wife Eileen had celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary, and she died soon after, on 19 January, 2004. After a fragmented career involving many countries and different roles, his death in his native land went unmarked by obituaries; the retired consultant is easily forgotten.

Conclusion: “The global is local, the local is global”

28David Oakley expressed his philosophy of life and work in an application for a senior position (unsuccessful, as it happened) at his former institution, the Polytechnic of Central London, in 1980:

  • 30 Oakley private papers, David Oakley, “Application for a senior position, Polytechnic of Central Lo (...)

“Excellence for us lies in the ability to comprehend the inter-action of value judgement, reality judgement and action judgement and yet still have the confidence to make a judgement. The ability to make such a judgement is for us the mark of the educated man. We are conscious of the difficulties encountered when men of intellect and knowledge try to apply their knowledge in the world of action, i.e. to turn knowledge into expertise set in a wide and comprehensive context… The acceptance of the challenge of marrying in the abstracted knowledge of the intellect to specific problems in society, economy and technology; through the development of expertise, set in minds trained to think comprehensively, is the essential role of a polytechnic during the present decade.”30

29His earnest approach to life was expressed in his lecture notes on “Organisation of the self and others: The division of labour”. Committed to self-improvement, he wrote of the personal discipline that his work required:

  • 31 Oakley private papers, David Oakley, “Organisation of the self and others: The division of labour, (...)

“You need to ensure good health through exercise and relaxation from the affairs of the day. Press yourself beyond your limits and nervous tension will result which may lead to mental and physical breakdown. Avoid taking work home. Go slow for a while after a period of domestic or work stress.”31

30His life of constant travel, especially in the latter years, resembled that of a foreign war correspondent, sent to places of poverty, disaster and suffering, usually at short notice in response to some disruptive challenge. The possible negative psychological impact of such assignments was balanced by a secure and supportive family life in the green tranquillity of rural East Anglia. He had set up his first family home at Harpenden (to be near the BRS), which was let out when the family moved to India and then to Kenya. His final home was a cottage near Fakenham, Norfolk, bought in 1976 as a second home; he and his wife gradually transferred there in the mid-1980s, and a separate annexe was built as his office/library. His family sometimes accompanied him abroad, but on the shorter assignments he was usually alone.

31Oakley’s career predated the personal computer, and he did most of his own typing. He was an obsessive organiser, with all kinds of office systems and gadgets, even a solar-powered combined calculator/letter-opener. His large book collection revealed a wide range of interests that encompassed architecture, natural disasters, climate change, sea-level rise, river-basin/coastal zone management, and ecology. Sport and leisure interested him little. His strong sense of Christian duty is perhaps reflected in the unsmiling face he shows in photographs, but his colleagues recalled him as a happy soul:

  • 32 Recollection of Tom Carter (2007).

“Although he was without doubt very thoughtful and avoided flippancy, that does not convey his usual open-hearted and joyful manner, and the ready laugh that accompanied so many conversations… I got the clear impression that his religious beliefs were important in underpinning his general philosophy – his approach to international development (the drive to help the less fortunate in the world) and to his relationship with fellow professionals (characterised by extreme goodwill, even where there were serious professional differences).”32

32Oakley needed intellectual stimulus, often moving on from a job when he became bored. He loved communicating with others, both listening and imparting his rich store of knowledge. A particular strength was his ability to make lateral connections between the themes of his work. He was also intensely intellectually curious, combining theory with practice, yet impatient of academic discourse or theory which lacked practical connections with the real world. His philosophy of ensuring robust buildings through regulatory codes and maintenance regimes, and of planning post-disaster housing that respected local cultural traditions, has been vindicated with time. In the words of his daughter Elizabeth:

“You could not take him away from his perceived responsibilities. He saw himself as the family provider. He more than did this job about a hundred times over. I would say that he was a true walking example of the current idea that, ‘the local is global, the global is local’.”

Figure 1: David and Doreen Oakley.

Figure 1: David and Doreen Oakley.

Source: Oakley private papers, courtesy of Elizabeth Oakley.

Figure 2: Graduation ceremony at University College Nairobi, undated.

Figure 2: Graduation ceremony at University College Nairobi, undated.

Oakley is apparently asleep at the right.

Source: Oakley private papers, courtesy of Elizabeth Oakley.

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Notes

1 Oakley private papers, New Delhi School of Planning and Architecture, Prospectus 1964–1965. See also Mark Crinson, Modern Architecture and the End of Empire, Aldershot: Ashgate Publishing, 2003 (Bristish art and visual culture since 1750, new readings). Mark Crinson and Jules Lubbock, Architecture art or profession? Three hundred years of architectural education in Britain? Three hundred years of architectural education in Britain, Manchester; New York, NY: University Press, 1994.

2 David Lambert and Alan Lester (eds.), Colonial Lives Across the British Empire: Imperial Careering in the Long Nineteenth century, Cambridge; New York, NY: Cambridge University Press, 2006. Stephen Ward, “Re-examining the international diffusion of planning,” in Robert Freestone (ed), Urban Planning in a Changing World: The twentieth century Experience, London; New York, NY: Spon, 2000 (Studies in history, planning, and the environment), p. 40–60.

3 E. Maxwell Fry (1899–1987) was Town Planning Adviser in West Africa 1943–1945, and worked with Le Corbusier on Chandigarh 1951–1954. An in depth study on Maxwell Fry (and Jane Drew) by Iain Jackson and Jessica Holland is forthcoming. Otto Koenigsberger (1908–1999) was one of the founders of modern urban development planning in the rapidly growing cities of Africa, Asia and Latin America. See Rachel Lee, “Constructing a shared vision: Otto Koenigsberger and Tata & Sons,” ABE Journal, no. 2, 2012, A. G. Bremner and Diego Caltana (eds.), theme issue Corporate Patronage. URL: http://lodel.revues.org/10/abe/352. Accessed 18 June 2014.

4 Pat Wakely, “The Development of a school: An account of the Department of development and tropical studies of the Architectural association 1953–72,” Habitat International, vol. 7, no. 5–6, 1983. The DPU remains a leading research and capacity building institution in development planning.

5 Paul Ashmore, Ruth Craggs and Hannah Neate, “Working-with: Talking and sorting in personal archives,” Journal of Historical Geography, vol. 38, no. 1, 2012, p. 81–88; Robert Miller, Researching Life Stories and Family Histories, London: Sage, 2000 (Introducing qualitative methods); Thomas Wengraf, Qualitative Research Interviewing: Biographic Narrative and Semi-Structured Methods, London; Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage, 2001. For an application in town planning history, see Christine Garnaut, “Revealing reminiscences: Charles Reade from his children's perspective,” Planning History, vol. 19, 1996, p. 23–31.

6 Robert Home, “From colonial housing to planning for disasters: The career of David Oakley,” Papers in Land Management, no. 8, 2007, on which much of this article draws. URL: http://tinyurl.com/q97nuqd. Accessed 18 June 2014.

7 Founded in 1965 and based in Washington, DC, PADCO specialised in Third World shelter and urban planning. For a brief history of the firm, see Padco, twentieth Anniversary Commemorative Report 1965–1985, Washington DC, 1985, as well as the corporate description of the firm from 1988, available on: URL: http://pdf.usaid.gov/pdf_docs/PNABS678.pdf. Accessed 18 June 2014. In 2004 Padco joined AECOM, the parent company of a consortium of major architecture/engineering firms, founded in 1990 and having as its goal “to make the world a better place”. See URL: http://www.aecom.com/About/History. Accessed 18 June 2014.

8 On Georges Atkinson, see Jiat-Hwee Chang, “Building a (post)colonial Technoscientific Network: Tropical Architecture, Building Science and the Politics of Decolonization,” in Duanfang Lu, Third World Modernism: Architecture, development and identity, London: Routledge, 2011, p. 211–235.

9 David Oakley, Concrete Building Blocks, Overseas Building Note 34, Building Research Station, 1956. Atkinson’s publications included “Design and construction in the tropics,” Housing and Town and Country Planning, Bulletin 6, 1952, p. 7–22, and “Mass housing in rapidly developing tropical areas,” Town Planning Review, vol. 31, no. 2, July 1960, p. 85–102.

10 David Oakley, Tropical houses: A guide to their design, London: Batsford, 1961, p. 139. His earlier book was Experimental Housing, Kingston, Jamaica: Government Printer, 1957.

11 Robert Home, “Transferring British planning law to the colonies: The Case of the 1938 Trinidad Town and Regional Planning Ordinance,” Third World Planning Review, vol. 15, no. 4, 1993, p. 397–410.

12 John Turner, Housing by people: Towards autonomy in building environments, London: Marion Boyars, 1976. Hernando de Soto, The mystery of capital, London: Basic Books, 2000. See also Richard Harris, “The Silence of the Experts: Aided Self-help Housing, 1939–1954,” Habitat International, 1998, vol. 22, no. 2, p. 165–189.

13 Year-masters before and after him included Peter Smithson and Peter Cook, and his students included Patrick Wakeley (later head of the DPU), Michael Hopkins and Jeremy Dixon.

14 David Oakley, The Rural Habitat: Dimensions of Change in Village Homes and House Groupings, published as “no. 1” in a short-lived “Rivers of Thought” Series in New Delhi in 1965.

15 David Oakley, The Phenomenon of Architecture in Cultures in Change, Oxford: Pergamon, 1970 (Commonwealth and international library), p. 102.

16 Robert Joseph Gardner-Medwin, RIBA, FRTPI (1907–1995) combined practice with teaching at the AA, and was Town Planning Adviser in the West Indies from 1944 to 1947. After 1952, he became Professor of Architecture at Liverpool. See Iain Jackson, “Tropical Architecture and the West Indies: from military advances and tropical medicine, to Robert Gardner-Medwin and the networks of tropical modernism,” The Journal of Architecture, vol. 18, no. 2, 2013, p. 167–195. URL : http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/13602365.2013.781202. Accessed 29 June 2017.

17 Oakley private papers, unreferenced book review, clipping from House and Garden.

18 Oakley private papers, David Oakley, “Education for life: education in life: Design for a Faculty,” 1969.

19 David Oakley, The Phenomenon of Architecture in Cultures in Change, op. cit. (note 15), p. 6.

20 Ibid., p. 369.

21 Ibid., preface.

22 Recollection of Ian Davis to the author (2007).

23 Oakley private papers, Letter to Oakley from B.R. Steele, 28 March, 1974.

24 Oakley private papers, Letter 21 September 1974.

25 During Oakley’s time with Padco, its fortunes revived: it passed $1 million turnover in 1976–1977, rising to $3 million in 1984–1985. Padco, twentieth Anniversary Commemorative Report 1965–1985, Washington DC, 1985.

26 These included Trinidad (1971), Egypt (1973), Syria (1976), Zimbabwe (1980), and Jamaica (1980–1981). For the reminiscences of another UN planner of the time, see Kenneth Watts, Outwards from Home: A Planner’s Odyssey, Lewes: Book Guild, 1997.

27 Usaid, Transition Housing After Disaster, Washington DC, 1981. This publication went out of print but was reissued in 2003 by Cambridge University on a website to serve a new generation of practitioners.

28 Unchs, Guidelines for Settlement Planning in Areas Prone to Flood Disasters, Geneva, 1995.

29 Tony Lloyd-Jones, Mind the Gap! Post-disaster reconstruction and the transition from humanitarian relief, London: RICS, 2006.

30 Oakley private papers, David Oakley, “Application for a senior position, Polytechnic of Central London,” 1980.

31 Oakley private papers, David Oakley, “Organisation of the self and others: The division of labour,” lecture notes, undated.

32 Recollection of Tom Carter (2007).

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Table des illustrations

Titre Figure 1: David and Doreen Oakley.
Crédits Source: Oakley private papers, courtesy of Elizabeth Oakley.
URL http://abe.revues.org/docannexe/image/3388/img-1.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 319k
Titre Figure 2: Graduation ceremony at University College Nairobi, undated.
Légende Oakley is apparently asleep at the right.
Crédits Source: Oakley private papers, courtesy of Elizabeth Oakley.
URL http://abe.revues.org/docannexe/image/3388/img-2.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 177k
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Pour citer cet article

Référence électronique

Robert Home, « Knowledge networks and postcolonial careering: David Oakley (1927–2003) », ABE Journal [En ligne], 4 | 2013, mis en ligne le 01 juillet 2014, consulté le 25 septembre 2017. URL : http://abe.revues.org/3388 ; DOI : 10.4000/abe.3388

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Auteur

Robert Home

Professor of Land Management, Anglia Law School, Anglia Ruskin University, United Kingdom

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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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