SEAARC Symposium Abstract 1: “House Slaves – The Colonial Modern and Vernacular Architecture”

by keynote speaker Prof. Mark Crinson, University of Manchester

(This is the first of the many abstracts for the forthcoming SEAARC Symposium 2015 that we will be posing)

Revised 22 Nov. ’14.

This paper is concerned with the relation between modern architecture and the vernacular in late colonial contexts. At the same time as ascriptions of the vernacular make claims on identity, the land, tradition and the indigenous, they are also part of a relationship in which the vernacular’s place is inherently minor, residual and subsidiary. (The vernacular is thus inherently problematic in contemporary architecture that seeks to allay the effects of globalization through some imagined association with it.) This relationship, structured into the concept itself, is made even more apparent in the domain of the colonial modern, where the vernacular may be taken up as part of an affiliating strategy while at the same time policies supporting dispossession and social re-structuring place the existence of the vernacular at risk. This paper suggests that our current ways of thinking about the vernacular are inadequate as properly historical tools for understanding this situation. Instead of the vernacular as horizontal relation, a desire to find commonality, or as vertical relation, a desire to find affinity, the paper proposes an expanded vernacular. This idea is exemplified here through an analysis of architecture in Kenya in the 1950s. The paper proposes the consideration of a wider range of objects and discourses that make claims on the vernacular, but also a methodological aspiration to reassert the network of linkages between these objects and discourses.

Mark Crinson is Professor of Art History at the University of Manchester. Among his books are Empire Building: Victorian Architecture and Orientalism (1996), Modern Architecture and the End of Empire (2003, winner of the Spiro Kostof Prize), and Stirling and Gowan: Architecture from Austerity to Affluence (2012, winner of the Historians of British Art Prize). He is currently working on a study of internationalism and architecture.

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