Exploring Africa as the Laboratory of the Future
奥雷·伯曼 Ole Bouman
Part I The African Turn ｜ 第一部分: 转向非洲
The Venice Architecture Biennale is perhaps globally the most important platform for new ideas in architecture. In 2023, the Biennale will be curated by Lesley Lokko, architectural academic, educator and novelist. She is the founder and director of the African Futures Institute, established in Accra, Ghana, in 2020 as a postgraduate school of architecture and public events platform. She is the first ever African to curate the Biennale.
“Africa is the laboratory of the future. We are the world’s youngest continent, with an average age half that of Europe and the United States, and a decade younger than Asia. We are the world’s fastest urbanizing continent, growing at a rate of almost 4% per year. This rapid and largely unplanned growth is generally at the expense of local environment and ecosystems, which put us at the coal face of climate change at both a regional and planetary level.”
Focusing on architecture as the domain of hope, she says: “The vision of a modern, diverse, and inclusive society is seductive and persuasive, but as long as it remains an image, it is a mirage. Something more than representation is needed, and architects historically are key players in translating images into reality.
Clearly, Lokko connects architecture with real development, relevant and compelling to the many, not the few. This is not about architecture as a matter of artistic gestures, or the rare exception to the rule. This is about architecture as a driver and comprehensive motive of social change. This time the Biennale may try to bring architecture to this level of big scale transformations, to present architecture as setting the standard and principles of quality, rather than remaining an exclusive domain for the 10 or even 1%. It is an urgent vocation for the discipline in an age of climate emergency, and a deepening global divide. I read this Biennale as an attempt to bring beauty and purpose together again, and to let Africa be its stage!
But focus on Africa is not a neutral endeavor. On the contrary.
In one word, “Africa” is a projection by others onto a continent that for many forever remains, literally, “terra incognita”. Little we know about the origin of the name, but what is common to all speculations about it, is that it is not coined by Africans. It’s a label to cluster a mysterious reality, inhabited by the others. For centuries that meant a place that could be explored, extracted, and exploited. What would Africa be called beyond that history of subjugation?
一言以蔽之，"非洲 "是“他者”对一个大陆的投射，对许多人来说，这个大陆永远是 "陌生的土地"。我们对这个名字的起源知之甚少，但所有猜测的共同点是，它不是由非洲人创造的。它是外来人赋予这块永存的大陆的一种标签，用以体现其神秘的现实。几个世纪以来，这里都代表一个可以被探索、开采和利用的地方。在那段被奴役的历史之外，非洲会被称为什么？
In Chinese, Africa is called FeiZhou, or 非洲. This term is not only a projection. It is also an opinion. In the very wording, it supposes a No-Land, or perhaps No-Where land. Compare that with the term for Americas, which is 美洲, the beautiful land. If there is one way to start a mind shift about Africa, it is to think about its name and switch to positive territory.
在中文中，非洲被称为 Fei Zhou（非洲）。这个词不仅是一种客观反映，也是一种主观判断。与美洲的命名相比较（美丽的土地），在措辞中，非洲被设定为一块"无地"，或者说"无处之地"。如果有一种方法可以开始转变对非洲的看法，那就是以更加正面的态度思考它的命名。
What about the words in the picture, the land of new connections with our planet?
The next step perhaps is to shift the idea of the shape of the continent, deeply ingrained in people’s mind by the dominance of the western world map, with Africa basically topped by everything else. In most people’s mind, it is the essence of Global South, with all the connotations of centuries of subordination to the juggernaut of modernization.
Map of Africa
For long, this unconscious pejorative narrative needed to be changed. For the sake of historical transparency of existing global power relations. For the pursuit of justice and emancipation. For the honest and respectful embrace of the “family of mankind”. Given Africa’s continued predicament on the world stage, this ethical motive has apparently not been enough to make that happen.
However, a new motive has come to the fore. It’s the motive that is forged by a planetary predicament of global heating, soil depletion, extreme weather, pandemics, and other emergencies. It has become clear that Africa with its 1.4 billion people, is prone to profound consequences of climate change. At the same time, it is crystal clear that it should not repeat the kind of modernity that the west has pursued over centuries, and that has been causing this change in the first place.
That said, it neither can be denied its own modernity. Africa is entitled to its fair share of progress. So how can it achieve that, without falling into the same trap of fast lane growth, rapid urbanization, excessive transport of people and goods, the accelerated exhaustion of natural resources, and an ever deeper divide between the few rich and the many poor?
Let’s reconceive Africa from a Nowhere Land to a Land still to be invented. A land that embodies and exemplifies the system change that the whole world needs. A continent that can be regenerating itself, without the carbon emissions, plastic pollutions, unsustainable extractions and human caused species extinctions as we know it. A continent that brims with ideas to leapfrog from being victimized to the interest of others, to its own enlightened leadership.
As Lesley Lokko says:
Actually, I think architecture can do much more. Rather than starting with images, with rhetoric and noble intentions, it can be a medium of change itself, relevant for the many, not the few. Rather than translating, it’s about creating a new kind of discipline beyond the scale of small individual projects, individual signatures and reputations. Good design provides direction, can lead us on the road towards a highly necessary alternative spatial fix, which is both good for the African people and for humanity.
Let’s bring the power of architecture to the stage that counts, and let architecture show its great strengths to be part of Africa’s progress.
For a Chinese readership, now the question is: what can be the role of Chinese architecture?
Part II What’s China got to do with it?｜ 这一切与中国何关？
1. A giant work scope
Alongside exploring the existential human motive to reinvent Africa as a model to all learn from, and acknowledging the competence of architecture as a preferred vehicle of choice, there is also a very direct and specific reason to explore the role of China in this endeavor.
The reason is not difficult to grasp. Over the last 60 years, China has already developed an important role in Africa. What once began as “South-South Cooperation“，then extended to often market driven participations in major construction and engineering projects, such as infrastructure, housing, maritime facilities, and numerous others, has now grown into a comprehensive diplomatic, economic, political framework on continental level, recently being highlighted by the Forum on China African Cooperation (FOCAC, November 2021, http://www.focac.org.cn/eng/). For the next three years, as the <China-Africa Cooperation Vision 2035> pictured, it announced 9 major sectoral initiatives to intensify the Chinese support of the African continental development.
这并不难理解。在过去的60 年里，中国在非洲建设发展中发挥了重要作用。始于“南南合作”，进而扩展到市场引导参与重大建设和工程项目，如基础设施、住房、海事设施和许多其他项目，到如今已经发展成为整个非洲大陆的全面外交、经济和政治框架。中非合作论坛第八届会议中强调了这一点，《2035 年中非合作愿景》中提出了在未来三年九个主要领域的倡议，以加强中国对非洲大陆发展的支持。这些倡议是: 医疗保健、农业减贫、贸易促进、投资政策、数字创新、绿色发展、能力建设、文化交流、和平与安全。(FOCAC，2021 年11 月，http://www.focac.org.cn/eng/)。
These sectors are: healthcare, poverty reduction by agriculture, trade promotion, investment-policies, digital innovation, green development, capacity-building, cultural exchange, peace & security.
For healthcare, it could mean the design of a vaccination campaign, design of vaccination booths and facilities, design of vaccination distribution strategies, design and/or upgrade of local health centers. Beyond large hospitals and other medical institutions, there are numerous opportunities for lightweight interventions, focusing on preventive healthcare.
在医疗保健方面，这可能意味着设计疫苗接种活动、设计疫苗接种室和设施、设计疫苗分配策 略、设计和/或升级当地的卫生中心。在大型医院和其他医疗机构之外，还有许多轻量级干预的机 会，关注于预防性医疗方面。
For poverty reduction by agriculture, it could mean design of training centers and demonstration villages, design courses for these centres, especially in the fields of tropical crops, aquaculture, biomass energy, dry farming, and others. Beyond symbolical aid programs and heavy agro-industrial pilots, there are numerous opportunities for the expansion of agency of the African farmers.
在通过农业减贫方面，它可能意味着设计培训中心和示范村，为这些中心设计课程，特别是在热 带作物、水产养殖、生物质能、旱作农业等领域。除了象征性的援助计划和重型农工业试点之 外，还有许多机会可以扩大非洲农民的代理权。
For trade promotion, it could mean designing all kinds of value adding mechanisms in the value chain, as well as to design a design-intelligence sharing mechanism for China to support African enterprises to implement railway, roads, ports, airports, electricity plants, and other projects in aresponsible and non-extractive manner. Beyond large industrial parks and prestigious infrastructure projects, there are numerous opportunities for not just trade, but Fair Trade.
在贸易促进方面，这可能意味着在价值链中设计各种增值机制，以及设计一个“设计-情报”共享机 制，用于中国帮助非洲企业以负责任和非榨取的方式实施铁路、公路、港口、机场、发电厂和其 他项目的建设。除了大型工业园区和久负盛名的基础设施项目之外，还有许多设计机会，不仅仅 是为贸易，而是为公平贸易。
For digital innovation, it could mean the design of a post urban modernity, one that does not pre-require large conundrums of buildings, consuming natural resources at an enormous scale, while adding to global heating, but one that relies on self-sustained communication networks, data centers and smart villages. Beyond a simple massive roll out of technology, there are numerous opportunities to truly integrate technology with an ecological civilization
在数字创新方面，这可能意味着设计一个后都市的现代性。这是一个不预先要求大型建筑的难题， 不是大规模消耗自然资源，同时增加全球热量的设计，而是一个依靠自我维持的通信网络、数据 中心和智能村而实现的现代性。除了简单的大规模技术推广外，还有许多机会可以将技术与生态 文明真正结合起来。
For green development, it could mean the design not only of low-carbon demonstration zones and climate change adaptation demonstration zones, but also, and maybe even more so, the introduction of Chinese (ancient) experience to avert desertification, to amplify tools for irrigation, to enhance programs of re-forestation, and more. Beyond the reliance on green technology, there is green wisdom that connects strongly with timeless African traditions of respecting the land.
在绿色发展方面，这不仅意味着设计低碳示范区和气候变化适应示范区，而且可能更意味着引进 中国（古代）的经验来避免荒漠化，增强灌溉工具，加强重新造林计划等等。 除了对绿色技术的 依赖，还有绿色智慧，它与尊重土地这一非洲永恒的传统紧密相连。
For capacity-building, it could mean design of any support, by hardware, software or orgware, of African communities. Sometimes they need schools, but sometimes they may also need learning materials, and well trained tutors. Capacity building by education is the most productive methodology to improve livelihoods and foster friendship.
在能力建设方面，它可能意味着无论是通过硬件、软件或组织软件，任何对非洲社区进行支持的 设计项目。有时他们需要学校，但有时他们也可能需要学习材料，以及训练有素的辅导员。通过 教育进行能力建设是改善生计和促进友谊的最有效方法。
For cultural exchange, this could mean the design of match making programs between Chinese and African architects on specific projects, mutual learning programs for creatives, and exchange programs for students. Beyond cultural promotion campaigns and investing in tourist destinations, the long-term development is mostly served by two-sided creative inspiration.
在文化交流方面，这可能意味着中国和非洲建筑师在特定项目上设计配对方案，为创意者提供相 互学习的机会，以及学生间的交流项目。除了文化推广活动和投资旅游目的地之外，长期发展主 要是通过两边的创意灵感来实现。
Even for peace & security, design can be highly valuable. As soon as arms are silenced, the real work begins. Design an architectural policy for peace keeping operations, including re-usable barracks, best choice of locations, local sourcing, local procurement, local partnerships, training opportunities for local population. Design with a legacy in mind. In sum: design general strategies of trust. This is the ultimate opportunity, as always.
2. A new mission of architecture in Africa
Let me be clear: of course, the sectoral initiatives belong to the world of policy making, and their implementation often as a job for engineers, technical experts, and other specialists. However, if there is one common denominator, it could be called architecture and design. Almost each of these initiatives literally has an architectural and/or design implication. As much they are about building and construction, it could be built and constructed with high quality in mind. All projects with an immediate material and spatial effect, may be assessed and reconsidered from an architectural angle and quality standard. Design opens the door to the long-term impact of efforts in the here and now.
However, this seldom is the case. Currently the role of Chinese architecture in Africa is weak. Rarely, Chinese architects are involved, let alone being in leadership roles. But it could, and I believe should be much stronger. Architects, with all their skills to articulate qualities, are guardians of an inspiring civic society. But even if the construction of a civic culture is an explicit aim of the Chinese involvement in Africa’s development, these guardians are left out of the equation.
Therefore, in the wake of the forthcoming new investments and initiatives, it’s high time for a call to participate in this enormous work challenge, and rally the best architectural minds to join.
Beyond the giant potential work scope of architecture, as a direct consequence of social needs and the policy initiatives, to cope with them, we can also identify an historical chance for a decarbonized and postcolonial architecture to be at the forefront of a new era for Africa. Therefore, this is not just about the material output of Chinese investments in Africa’s future. It is about proposing architecture as exemplary medium of the China-Africa Cooperation, exploring and expanding the boundaries of architecture, and to set and fight for its own standard of quality in the African development. For this to happen, it is not enough to consider architecture as a material discipline to execute client’s intentions. For this we need to see architecture as a driver for change itself, presenting its power to set new horizons and retrieving potentials from the deep cultural, geological, and even physical realities of Africa.
There is more than just work to do. There is work to change!
作者：奥雷·伯曼 Ole Bouman