“The insistent paradox of all Modernities is namely that they are simultaneously inward-looking and totally open to all influence and receptive to rich dialogues.”
-Okuwi Enwezor (2001:14)
Discussions on African cities bear diverse voices. Architects, artists, theorists, filmmakers, novelists, historians, planners and other professionals that have an impact on the continent’s development of cities come together and share their voices in one or divergent commonalities. Having this multi-disciplinary approach, gives an appropriate kaleidoscopic view of the situation in Africa especially when examined through a timeline, straight from its history (pre-colonial, colonial and post-colonial) to the present and using that to re-imagine the continent’s urban future. This helps one to interrogate and possibly undo the present constructions and understand the current conditions, using this information, it could help one to re-engage the question of aesthetics and space of the city. Thus drive towards imagining an alternative future and other desires which as Africans we long for.
Cities are one of the defining features of the modern age, in what ways are the African cities redefining urban fabric?
This discourse was conducted at Columbia’s Graduate School of Architecture Planning and Preservation commonly known as GSAPP where during a full day workshop, invited African architects (Mokena Makeka and Issa Diabate), novelists and filmmakers and theorists (Kenneth Frampton) discussed modern African cities in three main recorded sessions:
The Discourse “Other Desires: The African City” examined the ways in which rapid urbanization on the African continent in the twenty-first century has given rise to increasing speculation about African cities as sites of innovation and creativity amongst spatial practitioners, artists, and musicians, as well as cultural, economic and academic institutions globally. The one-day conference considers emerging spatial practices, urban narratives and identities within African cities, but also the ways in which African cities provide a conceptual framework through which to interrogate notions of desire, liberation, beauty, memory, the reinvention of traditions, and belonging that the modern city embodies.
Rapid urbanization on the African continent in the twenty-first century has given rise to increasing speculation about African cities as sites of innovation and creativity amongst spatial practitioners, artists, and musicians as well as cultural, economic, and academic institutions globally. This cataclysmic transformation of African societies and cities also harbors a number of spatial, political, and epistemological challenges to entrenched histories and theories of urbanism, spatial practices, and modes of representation that are deeply rooted in the logics of panoptic time, crisis, and exploitation. However, it also presents creative opportunities and productive activities, through which African cities increasingly become sites for a diverse range of economic, political, cultural, collective, and individual desires.
There are proposals towards a return to spatial considerations of cities that are attentive to not only emerging spatial practices, urban narratives, and identities within African cities, but also to the ways in which African cities provide a conceptual framework through which to interrogate notions of desire, liberation, beauty, memory, the reinvention of traditions, and belonging—characteristics that the modern city putatively embodies. Thus infrastructural development, environmental change and adaptation, cultural production, archival practices, and new modes of representation will be considered in relation to how they might give rise to new spatial, technological, and intellectual trajectories within a matrix of complex power relations.
Ultimately, there needs to be a troubling of the centrality of the industrial western city as the only paradigm of modernity across a range of disciplines (including but not limited to architectural history and urban studies) and also to expand the vocabularies and imaginaries that we bring to bear in our discussions on globalization and desires for various modernities.
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