IN THE DESERT OF MODERNITY
Colonial planning and after
29 August – 2 November 2008
Haus der Kulturen der Welt Berlin
With an exhibition, a variety of accompanying events and an international conference, the project IN THE DESERT OF MODERNITY will be presenting works of architecture and urban concepts that were developed in the 1950s and 1960s in North Africa and Western Europe against a background of anti-colonial struggles and trans-national migration. It tells the stories of the inhabitants, architects, colonial administrators and scientists who were involved in the controversy surrounding modernity and modernisation. IN THE DESERT OF MODERNITY examines the contradictions of colonial modernism and forms of resistance to it – a process of negotiation and appropriation that continues to this day.
The function of North Africa and the Mediterranean region as a catalyst and channel for ideas becomes apparent when one examines exemplary construction projects. And it is equally evident that European modernity would have been inconceivable without colonialism. Even the notion of ‘learning from’ those that were formerly colonised, which remains a feature of post-war modern architecture, is rooted in colonialism. For the plans realised in North Africa by the architects involved in the ATBAT Afrique office, for example, which were built in a laboratory-like situation – especially in Casablanca and Algiers – played an important role not only in colonial modernisation projects, but also subsequently provoked a post-modernist critique of architecture in Western Europe and the USA. The ambivalent interlinkage of the emancipatory promises of the modernists and of colonialism as a system of domination is a clear demonstration of this fact.
IN THE DESERT OF MODERNITY explores hitherto barely known reciprocal relationships. On the one hand, mass construction for the masses (during the period of decolonisation) migrated to the peripheries of cities in France, Italy and England, as well as to Switzerland and Germany. It was here that the suburbs so familiar to us today were developed for hundreds of thousands of people. On the other hand, however, the practice of living in North Africa in a period of anti-colonial liberation permanently challenged the certainties of technocratic planning held by Europe’s modernist architects. Colonial resettlement policies radically changed cities, modes of living and architectural discourse in North Africa and Europe.
The exhibition vividly illustrates this historical development with architectural models, photographs, graphic designs and plans by George Candilis, Le Corbusier, Michel Écochard, Jean Hentsch, Alexis Josic, Loik Prat, Willy Ronis, André Studer, Roland Simounet and Shadrach Woods, as well as with contemporary documents, interviews, and rarely seen footage from weekly newsreels and films. And new works have been produced for the exhibition by the film-maker Mogniss Abdallah from Paris, the labor k3000 Berlin/Zurich media collective, and students at the Casablanca School of Architecture, the Academy of Fine Arts Vienna and Delft University.