Lecture 2. Colonial Architecture and Climate in Africa and Asia

The records of non-western architecture prior to the 19th century are relatively scarce. This is because much of the continental land mass south of Europe’s Iberian region, and coastal North Africa remained unexplored territory to European explorers of the 16th and 17th century. Whilst in global history, from the 16th century, there is a marked increase in inter-continental trade, with new trading and communicating networks being established to support this, the built physical infrastructure in which trade, residence and other cultural transactions take place took much longer to establish. Early adventurers and explorers in continents, such as Marco Polo, (in Asia) and Dapper, (North and West Africa), travelled with knowledgeable traders to new kingdoms, and lived with the locals, blending in and assimilating indigenous customs. Their travel narratives and reports are rich in description of the local landscapes and lifestyles in these far away lands, in the case of Dapper a clear description of the built city of Benin (in today’s South Western Nigeria). Despite these narratives being published and available to the public, it is arguably not until the development of established missionary activity and trading networks that attention is paid to buildings and infrastructure. Whilst mission and trade exploits often took place in tandem, they produced different built legacies. The missionaries’ long term visions of proselytization and establishment of new Christian communities, looked to long term infrastructure design, whilst the officers of the European trading companies; the Dutch East India, and the United Africa Companies for example, had basic inland outposts, often manned by indigenous traders. These structures were built with the main objective of being sites for the transhipment of produce to the exterior. At the exterior outposts, usually in port cities, the trading company houses were more elaborate affairs serving both as trade warehouses and also housing for expatriate company representatives. By the emergence of colonial rule then, the colonists could draw on a pre-exisiting building design framework from which to plan and design their major administrative and later on local outposts in their acquired protectorates and colonies.

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