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"Tout le Congo est un chantier". Re-assessing Congo's architectural history from 1918 till 1975 through a construction history approach

Contact Rika Devos
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Project team

Robby Fivez (engineer architect, doctoral researcher in co-supervision UGent-ULB), with project promoters: prof. dr. Johan Lagae (UGent, main promoter); prof. dr. Rika Devos (ULB); prof. dr. Luc Taerwe (UGent); prof. dr. Jacob Sabakinu Kivilu (Univ. de Kinshasa)

"Tout le Congo est un chantier". Re-assembling Congo's architectural history from 1918 till 1975 through a construction history approach

Ever since the first article on colonial architecture in Congo appeared in 1986, a substantial amount of research has been conducted on the topic, scrutinizing late 19th century prefabricated metal structures, the introduction of modernist ideas in design and planning since the 1920s, the emergence of 1950s tropical modernism and more recently, investigations of "nation building" - campaigns under Mobutu's reign. Over the years, the perspective of scholarship has shifted from an approach focusing on issues of style and form to studies of the "politics" of (post)colonial architecture or the shaping of urban landscapes. While some scholars have started to look at the role of players like missionary congregations or, for the period after 1960, development aid organizations, most of the current research still puts the architect at the center of the investigation. This project proposes to shift that focus by approaching the built production in the Democratic Republic of Congo from a construction history-perspective. By scrutinizing the role of three major building agents (the Public Works Department of the Ministry of Colonies, the Office du Transport du Congo and the Belgian construction firm Blaton), we will develop an alternative architectural history of Congo between 1918 and 1975, in which a number of critical themes are addressed: the introduction of new concrete technologies, the influence of transnational networks of building expertise and the organization of building labor.


FWO funded project 2015-2020