In July 2005, a three week workshop and a three day conference on Modern Architecture in East Africa around Independence were organised by the Dutch foundation ArchiAfrika, in cooperation with the Architects Association of Tanzania (AAT), University College of Lands and Architectural Studies (UCLAS) Dar es Salaam, University of Leuven, University of Technology Delft and University of Technology Eindhoven.
The source of this theme was the question what had been preserved from the marvellous examples of modern architecture realised in Tanzania between 1950 and 1975.
After World War II modernism appeared as a new phenomenon in architecture and urbanism in African colonies. At first as the preferred expression of the intended colonial welfare state, whereas after Independence (early 1960’s) the new state and its institutions relied upon modern architecture to convey the hope and strength of the new African nation.
Architect Anthony B. Almeida was one of the first to introduce this new architecture in Tanzania. After starting his practice in 1950, he realised a large amount of modern buildings perfectly adapted to the tropical climate of East Africa.
At the conference, European academic curiosity about architectural modernism in a non-western context was faced with a plain African pragmatism. East African participants wondered why putting such a narrow focus on determining Tanzanian modernist heritage, while completely different issues are at stake in contemporary practice. The discussions moved from the universal value of modern heritage to the role architecture plays in African identity. In the end the most important result of the event has been the deployment of culture as a catalyst in the dialogue between north and south.
As a follow-up to the workshop and conference, Dutch architect and film maker Jord den Hollander was asked to make a documentary on modern architecture in Tanzania. The medium film offers the possibility to inform a broad public in Africa and Europe about a fascinating period in their common architectural history and about the discussion on the above issues.
The film Many words for Modern celebrates the architectural heritage of Dar es Salaam and the concepts of modernisation that make this African city to what it is today.
Following Anthony Almeida and some of his colleagues, it questions what is left of the dreams and ideals of the architects who introduced modern architecture in East Africa about 60 years ago and how do they look upon their city today.
The film searches for new definitions of happiness in booming African cities like today’s Dar es Salaam. Is Tanzania’s identity still reflected in a carefully designed city centre or will it be formed by the creativity of an informal economy in fast growing spontaneous settlements? What role can architecture play in a global society in which capital determines the lay-out of a city more than urban planners and architects do?
While discussing the proper Swahili word for Modern, the film documents the everlasting human pursuit of modernity, not only in architecture but also in contemporary urban life.