Friday, 1 December 2017

The African Renaissance - and its Buildings

The duomo cathedral in Florence
Walking through Florence in November 2017, the history and legacy of the European Renaissance is omnipresent. Not only that there are, of course, specific museums and exhibitions, and then there is Michelangelo's David and the Uffizi, and so on. But what is so fascinating to me is also the architectural legacy. Wikipedia says that "Italy of the 15th century, and the city of Florence in particular, was home to the Renaissance. It is in Florence that the new architectural style had its beginning, not slowly evolving in the way that Gothic Architecture grew out of Romanesque architecture but consciously brought to being by particular architects who sought to revive the order of a past Golden Age. The scholarly approach to the architecture of the ancient coincided with the general revival of learning." The renaissance there was multilayered; it also span as a period several hundred years.

New houses in a typical township

As I walked through Florence, Italy, while visiting for a conference at the Centre on Social Movement Studies (COSMOS) of the Scuola Normale Superiore (which is a number of posts worth on its own), looking at the magnificent buildings I could not help but thinking. First, most of those buildings are churches, cathedrals (such as the famous Duomo) and other religious institutions. The second most magnificent buildings, to me, were the 'government' buildings and those urban palaces built by the dominant families of Florence... like the Medici's, and their rivals, like the Strozzi family. 

Wits University in Johannesburg
What the architecture of the African Renaissance does and will look like is somewhat peripheral. What I was rather wondering is, if the 'dominant ideological apparatus' at the time was the catholic church and that is clearly reflected in its enduring buildings, what is the African Renaissance's equivalent and what buildings are we talking about? This assumes for the moment that the African Renaissance does and will have a 'built environment' dimension. I immediately thought about universities and other educational institutions, and seeing that Florence in the 14th to 17th century was pretty much Khayelitsha on steroids, I had to ask myself again. Why oh why are we not building magnificent universities and TVET colleges etc. in the erstwhile townships? Why not having in Soweto etc. also iconic university and educational buildings that become central focus points, like a cathedral in keeping with what I perceive as the 'education'-bias in popular (and political) African 'ideology' during these renaissance times.