Considered globally, the colonial period in sub-Saharan Africa begins with the Portuguese settlements in the fifteenth century and, in a sense, ended in South Africa at the end of apartheid in 1991. During the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, the vast African territory was concerned by the same colonial project, which despite the nuances of the English French, Portuguese, Italian or German ways to manage, has always been characterized by a constant concern for planning. Countless traces of that era nevertheless belong to a decidedly historical period. In the Africa of today and that of tomorrow, it is a challenge now to integrate these relics of the past in a development project looking at the future. Notwithstanding isolated and prestigious monuments like the castles of the former Golden Coast, today’s Africa is confronted with the presence of a remarkable urban heritage, illustrating from one city to another the whole richness of European influences on the continent. Public buildings projected by the architects of the home country or individual homes influenced by the colonial flavor, provide the living environment of millions of people and implicitly participate in the formation of their identity of contemporary Africans. In a cultural perspective, this shared heritage between Africa and Europe (or between Africa, Europe and South America) is mostly of high architectural quality. Thus, particularly during the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, Africa has hosted buildings which each in their own way, illustrate a marriage between European architectural styles (neoclassicism, historicism, Art Deco, modernism, functionalism, …) and local features (“Sudanese” architecture, …), or even refer to conceptions inherited from Spanish and Portuguese culture in the New World and reimported on African soil through the painful history of slavery. Contemporary Africa finds herself the custodian of a mixed, diverse and abundant European heritage that illustrates the expansion of European culture and his African “vernacularization”.
The project aimed at exploring this colonial heritage and its safeguard and promotion today, mainly in the cities of Porto-Novo (Benin) and Lubumbashi (Congo), through various fields of activity.
In terms of public outreach, various workshops and educational activities contributed in raising the awareness of the inhabitants of Porto-Novo and Lubumbashi toward the cultural , but also the touristic value of such heritage. In Europe, the project, which included a public round table held in Brussels was an opportunity to discuss a little-known chapter of European architectural history.
Regarding the restoration component, the project allowed to carry out a series of preliminary studies and analyses with a view to restore and rehabilitate the “Migan house” in Porto-Novo as a Centre of Heritage and Tourism. The fact of providing this remarkable city with a new equipment for culture and tourism represents certainly one of the main achievements of the project.
In Lubumbashi, the focus was put on the inventory of the huge architectural heritage related to the Belgian colonization. Several teams gathering European and local scholars and students could identify, describe and document nearly 160 buildings (153 inventory sheets). This mission, the first of its kind in the former Elizabethville, collected a precious documentation for a better knowledge of colonial architecture, but also a tool for tourism development with a view to the city Centennial in 2010.
Training was one of the watchwords of the project. During the project’s duration several kind of training activities were successfully achieved. In Congo, field courses on inventory practices were provided to local students (architectural vocabulary, history of architecture, documentation methodologies,). In Porto-Novo, on-the-spot training activities were organised around the rehabilitation of the Migan house. Young local professionals benefited from training in various crafts (carpentry, plaster …), as well on the structure and pathologies of ancient buildings. Furthermore, an awareness campaign, largely open to all stakeholders and officials concerned with the city’s heritage, was held following the “integrated conservation” approach, involving local population in the safeguard and promotion process.
Finally, a comprehensive publication has been issued, collecting contributions from all the partners involved and highlighting the project’s cultural and technical outcomes.
October 2006 ► September 2007
Cooparch-R.U. [BE], ISACF-La Cambre [BE], La Communauté d’agglomération du Grand Lyon [FR], Ricerca & Cooperazione [IT] Ass. Giovanni Secco-Suardo [IT]Université de Torun [PL], Ecole du Patrimoine Africain [BEN], Musée du Lubumbashi [RDC]