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Networking and strategic deal-making in the Caribbean: Using archives to examine Max Lock’s 1950s planning adventures in the West Indies

Ola Uduku

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I am indebted to the University of Westminster Archives for allowing me access to the Max Lock Archive in summer 2012, when this research was undertaken.

Max Lock, a networking “global” professional

  • 1 See for instance Naoki Motouch and Nick Tiratsoo, “Max Lock, Middlesbrough, and a Forgotten Tradit (...)

1Max Lock’s obituary notice in 1988 suggested the death of a traditional British establishment figure who happened to have had a varied architectural and planning past. This did not tell the full story. In his just under 80 years, Lock had lived and worked through a near century of change, from his non-conformist background as a Quaker, to attending the Architectural Association (AA), his conscientious objection to army conscription in World War II and finally on to a career in national and then international planning consultancy. As we are beginning to map and understand the practice of the “global expert,” a new professional profile that emerged in the post-war period, then surely Max Lock (1909‒1988) provides us with an interesting case to consider. Lock is rather well known in UK circles of architectural and planning historians for his crucial role in forging the practice of regional surveys for several British towns in the 1930s, and for an approach he coined “Civic Diagnosis,” developed whilst working with Ruth Glass, a sociologist who worked with him on early post-war English town upgrading projects, such as the Middlesbrough Plan (1946).1

  • 2 Robert Home briefly mentions Max Lock and his Kaduna plan in Nigeria in his seminal survey Of Plan (...)
  • 3 For an informative biographical account, see “People and Planning. The Life and Work of Max Lock,” (...)

2But what is often overlooked is that Lock also developed a career as an international planner and consultant from the early 1950s onwards, when work opportunities in the UK were becoming scarce.2 His professional trajectory included a tour of the East (India, Pakistan and Ceylon) in 1951 and trips to the Middle East as a UN advisor. For countries including Jordan and Iraq, he produced some urban master plans, such as those for the cities of Amman, in the former, and Basrah in the latter. Late in 1964, he became active in Nigeria, setting up an office in Kaduna, the capital city of the Northern region, where he had been commissioned to design a master plan. He soon became recognised for developing an inclusive planning methodology for Kaduna, and subsequent planning commissions in Africa that were “ahead of their time”. Lock would become active again in the UK, but remained more involved in planning commissions in Nigeria, particularly between 1973 and 1988. He continued to be active internationally, and lectured extensively in diverse locations across the world. Through his projects, writing and teaching, Max Lock played a crucial role in the dissemination of innovative planning ideas and practices on a global scale.3

  • 4 For a description of the archive of Max Lock, see the Preliminary Catalogue of the Max Lock Archiv (...)

3In this text, we will focus on a very specific moment in Max Lock’s professional life, namely the years 1957–1958, when he was invited, and went, to the USA as a guest lecturer to the Harvard Graduate School of Design, and from there on to the West Indies, on what supposedly was a vacation. Drawing on correspondence from the private papers of Max Lock, held at the University of Westminster, London,4 we seek to shed light on how Lock, a well-regarded member of the UK planning profession, set about obtaining new international commissions by using his professional networks and knowledge of the colonial establishment. Reading through a variety of items in the Lock archive, and in particular some of the personal letters of the architect-planner, we can gain insights into the methods and means by which Lock, as a “global expert,” was able to navigate and use his range of interconnected professional and personal networks to secure a commission. By charting the non-formally recorded associations and meetings of such “actors” involved in the globalising practice of building and planning during the first decades of the post-war period, we might begin to tell a very different story to those of the canonical surveys, which only provide an “official version” of this period. In particular, they can give us a different view of both the actors and their use of networking, of locational knowledge and of other strategies to, if not decide, then certainly influence decisions on commissioning major international planning projects and consultancies.

4Beyond the Lock episode described here, we suggest that information from archives and other private collections are of crucial importance for research on the practice of “global experts”. The sources they contain provide a glimpse of the professional’s everyday life and practice, information often lacking in the official archives, especially since the latter also pose other issues for the researcher. Often, the accessible information in official archives has been mediated or even edited before public release, or otherwise material is inaccessible for periods of up to 25 years (as is the case in the UK) due to the classification of the material as sensitive. This is particularly true of colonial and early post-colonial material, which is the historic timespan covered by much of Max Lock’s private archival material.

Anticipating future West Indian planning work

  • 5 See Ruth Glass (ed.), The Social Background of a Plan: A Study of Middlesbrough (Preface by Max Lo (...)
  • 6 Glass had also done pioneering work identifying and using the term gentrification to describe the u (...)

5By the early 1950s, Lock had developed an international reputation as a planner in the post-war period, built on his innovative collaboration with sociologists, including with Ruth Glass on his Middlesbrough regeneration plan,5 and subsequent post-war British master plans. He had worked as both a planner-consultant and an AA teacher in the 1950s. As a consequence, Lock was invited in 1957 by the then Director of the Harvard Graduate School of Design (GSD), Josep Lluis Sert, to spend the term, from September 1957 to the end of January 1958, as a visiting tutor at the Department of Town Planning and Civic Design, an invitation Lock was happy to accept. Lock’s connection to the CIAM milieu, having been close to Maxwell Fry and Jane Drew as a member of the MARS group, may also have helped “smooth” his invitation, and Lock had already cultivated connections with several members of the faculty and staff at Harvard. But the correspondence in his private papers suggest that Lock’s earlier connection with Glass, via the Middlesbrough plan, was probably most instrumental in facilitating his coming to Harvard.6

  • 7 It is telling in this respect that his name does not appear in Eric Mumford’s Defining Urban Desig (...)
  • 8 Elisabeth Wallace, “The West Indies Federation: Decline and Fall,” International Journal, vol. 17, (...)

6Lock seems to have spent his term at Harvard rather in the background,7 seemingly being involved in teaching, but drawing on his previous acquaintances apparently also secured future connections with colleagues with whom he would later work on UN Habitat missions abroad. He left the USA as planned, just before Christmas, for ostensibly a vacation in the West Indies before his return to the UK in the New Year. However, information contained in his private papers reveals that his real motive for visiting the West Indies lay elsewhere. By the late 1950s, the (British) West Indies, along with most of Britain’s colonial possessions, were in the throes of the independence era, with all the small island states in the archipelago demanding some form of independence. The small size of many of the islands, and their past colonial association with the UK, meant the founding of a cross-island confederation of the West Indies was actively mooted and explored by the British government.8 Max Lock’s real motive for his West Indies vacation thus was to be on the spot to gain first-hand information on the situation on the ground. With this he was able to use his networking and lobbying skills to put his office in the best position to gain the planning consultancy likely to result from the formation of the future confederation as a political entity.

7As the British colonial government had a known record in investment in infrastructure and development projects in its former colonies prior to their gaining independence, as had been the case in Africa and Asia, Lock and his architecture and planning colleagues anticipated the potential for significant project commissions in a future West Indies confederation. In particular, it was expected that the confederation would need a new administrative headquarters, and that there would be a need to appoint planners for this commission in the confederation’s yet-to-be-chosen capital city. The precedent for this was the establishment of the University of the West Indies’ main campus in Mona, Jamaica.

  • 9 Candidate locations for the new capital were Bridgetown (Barbados), Mona (Jamaica) and Port of Spa (...)
  • 10 The university was founded in 1948 on the recommendations of the Asquith Commission, and in a spec (...)

8The confederation was eventually initiated, but only existed from 1958–1961. Part of the reason for its demise was the inability of the islands to agree on the siting of the capital, while apparently the smaller islands had also resented the idea.9 The University of the West Indies therefore became the only lasting infrastructural legacy of this period.10

The groundwork

9As the proposed confederation lasted less than three years, there is limited public information in official records about the failed proposal or the infrastructure planning that would have taken place had the confederation lasted. Nor is there much archival material about the characters and actors involved in these proposals, and the kind of “behind the scenes” networking that took place to gain consultancies and commissions to design the future capital’s infrastructure. The close reading of the private papers in Max Lock’s archive, and in particular of correspondence during this period between Lock, his friends and associates, gives a unique insight into the everyday practice of architects and planners seeking commissions and presenting themselves as planning consultants to local policy makers in recently independent nations. Given Max Lock’s connections to several professional networks, from the MARS group and the AA School to the Royal Town Planning Institute (RTPI), this specific episode of Lock’s efforts to secure himself a job in the West Indies is particularly revealing of the different levels on which a “global consultant” had to be active in order to promote his expertise.

  • 11 Investigation of the private papers to date has not allowed for identification of the figure of Ge (...)
  • 12 The logistical side of this episode is revealing: Max Lock’s visit to the US was paid for by the H (...)

10Max Lock’s correspondence with his office administrator in London, a certain Gerald,11 suggests he was acutely aware of the lucrative opportunities that the future confederation of the West Indies could potentially unlock. His travel to the West Indies after having taught at Harvard during the Fall semester of 1957 thus was far from a mere holiday. The archival sources at our disposal suggest it was really a strategically well-planned visit set up to enable Lock to promote himself and network on site with those who had the powers to grant planning and consultancy commissions for the design and planning of the physical infrastructure of the future West Indian confederation.12 Reading the correspondence in the archive shows clearly the advice Lock had and the networking and promotional strategies he used to clinch the West Indian commission.

11Whilst the proposed West Indies confederation was already public knowledge, the details that Lock’s office was able to uncover about who was likely to be involved in the decision-making processes with regard to the building of its future infrastructure suggest that the firm had a particularly in-depth knowledge of the workings of government. In a letter of 9th December 1957, concerning the appointment of Merlyn Williams as the Federal Architect/Planner to the government of the proposed confederation of the West Indies, Gerald informed Lock that:

  • 13 London (United Kingdom), University of Westminster Archives, Max Lock Papers, Letters from Gerald (...)

“I have lost no time in getting in touch with this gentleman [Merlyn Williams]… and on the strength of being possible Consultants have arranged an appointment to meet him on Jan 2nd [1958]. I shall produce our usual ‘evidence’ and leave him a copy of the Basrah report, which I hope will find its way to his Library in the West Indies when he leaves at the end of January… he seems a very approachable type over the phone and I will do my best this end to tie a knot, as it were, in his mind so when the time comes we are not forgotten…”13

12Gerald then goes on to say:

“…If you [Max Lock] for your part make as much impression as possible at the other end, I think we stand a reasonable chance of being nominated at TP [Town Planning] consultants in the preparation of the Master Plan although part of the terms of reference of the Federal Architect will be to promote a competition in collaboration with assessors for certain services…”

13What we can deduce from these excerpts is that while Max Lock was preparing his travel from Harvard to the West Indies, groundwork for his visit was being undertaken in London by his office colleagues and advisors. Most likely, two specific networks were targeted in this respect. First, the RTPI, of which Lock was a member, which effectively acted as a gentleman’s club, providing its members with news of upcoming planning projects in the British Commonwealth. Second, it seems plausible that Lock’s office would have made use of its contacts at the Foreign Office, which was previously involved in the production of master plans for cities like Basrah and several sites in Libya, projects closely monitored by this particular state department. Meanwhile, Lock was informed on what his office had discovered about the likely competition procedure for this possible future planning consultancy. Gerald in his letter suggested—in good gentlemanly fashion—that Lock should make “as much impression as possible at the other end,” and one can only wonder what that might have entailed. The final correspondence in relation to this pre-trip groundwork period by Lock, however, provides a clue. Lock wrote to Gerald that:

  • 14 London (United Kingdom), University of Archives, Max Lock Papers, Letter from Lock to Gerald, 19th (...)

“…the new chairman for the site commission for the FC [Federation’s Capital] is Sir Charles Arden Clarke, recent Governor General of [the] Gold Coast [now Ghana]. He will certainly have Fry and Drew on his trail. I shall try and ‘salt him down’ in Trinidad at White Hall, Port of Spain.”14

Negotiating locally

14In January 1957, just before Max Lock would travel to the West Indies, one of his collaborators, Geoffrey, informed him of the likely competitors for the master plan of the confederation’s new administrative centre:

  • 15 This refers to William Holford, another prominent member of the UK architectural and planning estab (...)

Holford,15 Williams Watkins Gray & Ptnrs, with its partner Frazer Reekie ‘in charge of Trinidad office’”.

15Geoffrey effectively had a good grasp of the current politics of the West Indies, particularly regarding the sensitivity of local politicians vis-à-vis “foreign experts” seeking official commissions, as had been the main practice during colonial times. Hence, he advised Lock on the need to acknowledge the emergent West Indian planners and ensure that project proposals included collaborative elements that involved such local actors. He emphasised this by writing:

  • 16 London (United Kingdom), University of Westminster Archives, Max Lock Papers, Letter from Geoffrey (...)

“…if you [Lock] are going to the Caribbean, I feel that you should concentrate mainly upon the West Indian members of the Federational Government and not be too anxious to approach the British Government officers […] my feelings are that we stand a very good chance of being appointed consultants, if the colonial office does not rush into engaging consultants without consulting the Federal Architects and the Federal Govt.”16

16Lock did take a boat out to the West Indies, and spent time in Jamaica, Trinidad and Barbados. From the archival documentation, it seems that he met with the new Deputy Governor and obtained some more precise information on the site and on the procedure that local authorities were planning to follow:

  • 17 Memorandum: 112/500/02, undated [probably 1958] (CO/3441/57). In the last reference “CO” stands fo (...)

“Trinidad selected seat of W.I. [West Indies] Federal Govt. Resident Architect Planner sole official adviser—gives assistance to nominated town planning consultants”17

17That this passage of the document is highlighted with the word “us” in the margin, suggests that Lock succeed in making a good impression on local officials, thus strengthening his future candidacy.

18Although the previous excerpt is only part of the marked-up document, it demonstrates how in this case Lock, via his inside knowledge and networking connections in the West Indies, seems to have successfully acquired the consultancy project for his office. Lock’s private papers indicate that, in this respect, he not only relied on acquaintances in official circles, such as the Foreign Office, nor used exclusively the doors that were opened through his membership of the RTPI, but that his links with the circles of the AA School in London, where he had studied and taught, were also an asset. Indeed, in a missive to his office dated 11th January 1958, he wrote that:

  • 18 Max Lock missive to office, 11th January 1958.

“I have been very well looked after by Harold Ashwell, an AA student of the years before me. Who has made pots of money out here in architectural and land purchases, and runs excellently this charming colonial house as a hotel [...]”18

  • 19 See in this respect Hannah Leroux, “The Networks of Tropical Architecture,” The Journal of Archite (...)

19As a centre of expertise in building for the tropics through its establishment of the School of Tropical Architecture, the AA School in London would indeed over the years create a powerful network of alumni worldwide and offer actors like Max Lock useful connections with which to access commissions and establish their professional status in international settings.19 But as the West Indies confederation was eventually to last only three years, the attempt by Lock and his team to gain what would have been a highly lucrative commission, had it come to pass, was ultimately aborted.

Traces from “behind the scenes”

20This brief paper, which forms part of a larger research project on the activities of Max Lock as a planner and consultant in so-called “overseas territories,” provides an overview of how, in one particular case, a particular “global expert” operated in attempting to obtain a commission abroad. Drawing on private papers, it sketches the activities that occurred “behind the scenes” and that help explain how intricate networking activities, both locally and at home, were a crucial component of the modus operandi of such a professional. But beyond the aim of providing a greater insight into the particular case of Max Lock in the West Indies, this paper also seeks to underline the importance of working with more intimate sources than those commonly held in official archives, such as official reports and correspondence between administrations. By following correspondence within an office, we can gain a better understanding of the different levels of engagement involved in the practice of a “global consultant/expert”.

21Also, from a socio-political and ethnographic level, access to personal archives gives a much richer view of the landscapes and personalities in which action takes place. In this case, the exotic encounters on West Indian islands are contextual to the hard bargaining and networking that must have taken place to secure the planning appointment. For research into building and planning activities in areas where documentation is often limited by development issues, such as the lack of adequate archival infrastructure or challenging climatic conditions for the physical storage of fragile material, it is particularly important that research material from indirect sources, such as diaries and the personal archives of actors involved, are also valued. Indeed, they not only complement the information that can be gleaned from more official sources, but often also allow for constructing a more nuanced story of the actions and deeds of past actors whom might otherwise be overlooked and forgotten.

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Notes

1 See for instance Naoki Motouch and Nick Tiratsoo, “Max Lock, Middlesbrough, and a Forgotten Tradition in British Post-war Planning,” Planning History, vol. 26, no. 1‒2, 2004, p. 17–20.

2 Robert Home briefly mentions Max Lock and his Kaduna plan in Nigeria in his seminal survey Of Planting and Planning: The Making of British Colonial Cities, London: E&FN Spon, 1997 (Studies in history, planning, and the environment, 20), p. 200‒201. Lock also appears briefly in a survey article by Stephen Ward, “Transnational Planners in a Postcolonial World,” in Patsey Healey and Robert Upton (eds.), Crossing Borders: International Exchange and Planning Practices, Abingdon: Routledge, 2010, p. 47‒72 (esp. p. 61 and 64).

3 For an informative biographical account, see “People and Planning. The Life and Work of Max Lock,” URL: http://home.wmin.ac.uk/MLprojects/HISTORY.HTM. Accessed 16 June 2014.

4 For a description of the archive of Max Lock, see the Preliminary Catalogue of the Max Lock Archive, London (United Kingdom), University of Westminster Archive, URL: http://www.westminster.ac.uk/__data/assets/pdf_file/0006/275766/MLC-archive-catalogue.pdf. Accessed 16 June 2014. See also “Archive Report. The Max Lock Centre and Archive,” Planning History. Bulletin of the International Planning History Society, vol. 26, no. 3, 2004, p. 17.

5 See Ruth Glass (ed.), The Social Background of a Plan: A Study of Middlesbrough (Preface by Max Lock), London: Routledge; Kegan Paul, 1948 (International library of sociology and social reconstruction).

6 Glass had also done pioneering work identifying and using the term gentrification to describe the urban residential changes taking place in Notting Hill, London, which she then compared to similar situations in urban USA. She also had strong connections to planning development in India and in the Commonwealth. See Ruth GlassLondon’s Newcomers: The West Indians in London, London: Centre for Urban Studies, University College, 1960.

7 It is telling in this respect that his name does not appear in Eric Mumford’s Defining Urban Design: CIAM Architects and the Formation of a Discipline, 1937-69, New Haven, CO: Yale University Press, 2009, and that he is only briefly mentioned in a footnote in Eric Mumford and Hashim Sarkis (eds.), Josep Lluis Sert: The Architect of Urban Design, 1953-1969, New Haven, CO: Yale University Press; Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Graduate School of Design, 2008, p. 193, where his name is even misspelled as “Max Locke”.

8 Elisabeth Wallace, “The West Indies Federation: Decline and Fall,” International Journal, vol. 17, no. 3, 1962, p. 269‒288.

9 Candidate locations for the new capital were Bridgetown (Barbados), Mona (Jamaica) and Port of Spain (Trinidad). Ultimately, Barbados was not selected, Jamaica pulled out, followed by Trinidad, and the idea of a confederation was finally shelved. Kwame Nantambu, “W.I. Federation: Failure From the Start,” URL: http://www.trinicenter.com/kwame/2010/1505.htm. Accessed 16 June 2014.

10 The university was founded in 1948 on the recommendations of the Asquith Commission, and in a special relationship with the University of London, as the University College of the West Indies (UCWI). It is seated at Mona, about five miles from Kingston, Jamaica. The campus was designed by the British architectural office Norman & Dawbarn.

11 Investigation of the private papers to date has not allowed for identification of the figure of Gerald, and we have not been able to trace the surname.

12 The logistical side of this episode is revealing: Max Lock’s visit to the US was paid for by the Harvard GSD, while his trip to the West Indies was at his own expense, suggesting that he was trying to capitalise, as much as possible, on his invitation to the American continent. The private papers also provide an insight into how Lock made use of his international connections to find lodgings during his trip.

13 London (United Kingdom), University of Westminster Archives, Max Lock Papers, Letters from Gerald to Lock, dating from December 1957 (in particular 9th December).

14 London (United Kingdom), University of Archives, Max Lock Papers, Letter from Lock to Gerald, 19th December 1957.

15 This refers to William Holford, another prominent member of the UK architectural and planning establishment, who also became a major globally operating professional.

16 London (United Kingdom), University of Westminster Archives, Max Lock Papers, Letter from Geoffrey [no surname given in papers] to Max Lock, 6th January 1958.

17 Memorandum: 112/500/02, undated [probably 1958] (CO/3441/57). In the last reference “CO” stands for Colonial Office, as the information was also published as a Colonial Office Memorandum.

18 Max Lock missive to office, 11th January 1958.

19 See in this respect Hannah Leroux, “The Networks of Tropical Architecture,” The Journal of Architecture, vol. 8, 2003, p. 337‒354; “AA in Africa - The Modern Movement in West Africa,” exhibition curated by Hannah Leroux and Ola Uduku (London, AA School, 2003).

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Ola Uduku, « Networking and strategic deal-making in the Caribbean: Using archives to examine Max Lock’s 1950s planning adventures in the West Indies », ABE Journal [En ligne], 4 | 2013, mis en ligne le 01 juillet 2014, consulté le 25 septembre 2017. URL : http://abe.revues.org/3392 ; DOI : 10.4000/abe.3392

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Auteur

Ola Uduku

Reader in Tropical Architecture and Environmental Design, Edinburgh School of Architecture and Landscape Architecture, Edinburgh University, Edinburgh, United Kingdom

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