Accepted Paper:

Concrete utopias: Mozambican housing schemes between cooperative colonialism and Afrosocialism  


Nikolai Brandes (Danish National Museum)

Paper short abstract:

This paper explores architectural projects in Mozambique from late colonialism to early independence. It investigates their materiality and visual representation in the media as images which made utopian, alternative futures conceivable.

Paper long abstract:

While over the last decade the history of modernist architecture in Africa has become an increasingly popular subject of academic research (Elleh, Çelik, Wright) and artistic projects (Guy Tillim, Ângela Ferreira), only little attention has been paid to the phenomenon's postcolonial modalities (Uduku, Leroux). This paper aims at advancing this field by cross-reading the experimental character of both colonial and post-indepence architectural projects. Modernist housing schemes in Maputo figured as a material expression of and intervention in social engineering agendas. Through the innovative use of cement technology they attributed a literal meaning to Bloch's 'concrete utopia'.

My paper will analyse the utopian discourses inherent to two different projects. The cooperative housing estate COOP (1950s-1970s), inspired by Brazilian high-rise architecture and built with Swedish concrete technology gives insights into the ambivalent longing for a harmonious 'lusotropical', i.e. 'multiracial' cooperativism under colonial tutelage. The 1980's Bairro dos Cooperantes, on the other hand, designed by Luso-Mozambican architects and built with local prefab technology was designed for the housing of new cooperation partners from socialist states and stands for a short post-colonial policy aiming at technological autonomy and ecological building principles.

Based on a historical discourse analysis I ask how social utopias such as liberal cooperativism and revolutionary socialism got translated, hybridised, and appropriated in these two projects. Relating their history and their material legacy to their visual representation in the newspapers 'O cooperador de Moçambique' and 'Tempo', I investigate how these images once made unlikely blueprints for Mozambique's future imaginable.

Panel P083
Revolution 3.0: iconographies of utopia in Africa and its diaspora