Setting the stage for Africa at the Venice Architecture Biennale


For most of his life, Ghanaian Scottish architect and teacher leslie lococurator of upcoming Venice Architecture Biennale, Gone between the worlds. She grew up in Accra, the capital, with both seasonal and warm stable climates, and cool coastal Dundee. “Scotland was trembling,” he recalled. “Ghana was sweating.”

His ability to inhabit and interpret multiple worlds is a talent Loko, 59, the first African-born curator of the Architecture Biennale, is bringing to the “Laboratory of the Future,” an ambitious exploration of Africa’s influence on the world – and opposite of this. More than half of the Biennale’s 89 participants are from Africa or the African diaspora – many of them “shape-shifters”, as Loco calls them, whose work transcends traditional definitions of architecture as well as geography.

Who’s Who at The Venetian Pritzker Prize Winner DiBedo Francis Carey (Burkina Faso and Berlin); Sumaiya Valley And Mod Musbahi (Johannesburg, London, Tripoli, New York); cave_bureau (Nairobi), a firm that has 3-D mapped Shimoni Das Caves on the Kenyan coast. Brooklyn based Nigerian visual artist olalecan jayfus and noted British Ghanaian architect David Adjaye (Accra, London and New York), a close friend and colleague who is best known in the United States Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture in Washington, DC

“This is an opportunity to talk about Africa to the rest of the world and to talk to Africa from here,” Loco said in a series of email and video interviews from Venice. , Sub-Saharan Africa is often regarded as the most rapidly urbanising And youth population On the planet, she points out, most people speak more than one language. “The ability to be many things at once – traditional and modern, African and global, colonized and independent – ​​is a strong thread running through the continent and the diaspora,” she said. “We are used to thinking of resources, of turning on the lights without guarantees of electricity. We are able to cope with change. The ability to cope, to negotiate, to navigate our surroundings takes center stage. is about to go

A shape-shifter, Loco has long been steeped in issues of race, place and architecture – the subject of a guide book she wrote and edited while still a graduate student Bartlett School of Architecture in London, from where he did his Ph.D. earlier this year, King Charles III named Lokko an Officer of the Order of the British Empire (OBE) for services to architecture and education. In 2015, he established an influential graduate school of architecture at the University of Johannesburg, just four months ago. biennial call came, he opened African Futures Institute In Accra, a postgraduate “pan-African think tank” with public programs and an international reach that seeks to fill much-needed gaps in current architectural education.

Those considered “minorities” in the West are actually the global majority, she observes. “When you are African, you speak to a world that has an existing view of who and what you are,” she said. “You walk with labels like that. So for me, the Biennale was an opportunity to talk about the label, to confront it in a way, but also to show how similar we are.

While the Biennale is hardly the first major exhibition to focus on Black and diasporic practitioners, the looming crisis of climate change, rapid urbanization, migration, global health emergencies and a deep imperative to deconstruct institutions and spaces – historically Starting with the Eurocentric Biennale from 2010 – logically draw Loco’s attention to hybrid forms of practice over time, whether as policy expert or planner as artist-environmentalist.

Walter Hood, a landscape designer and artist in Oakland, California, will offer an installation inspired by a vernacular landscape at the Biennale titled “Natives,” along with his design for a set of public buildings for the South Carolina Gullah community. In which the community conserves sweet grass for making baskets.

The ability to “do” and improve creatively with existing resources can also offer a blueprint for a sustainable future. “She’s been saying for a while that it’s ‘our time,'” akosua obeng mensaan architect practicing in Accra said of Loko, noting that about 80 percent of development in sub-Saharan Africa is yet to happen.

Anonymous International-style skyscrapers still dominate many African cities. Adjaye said, “A certain generation of architects have looked to the ‘other’ – Europe or America – as models, and find it very difficult to interpret their own modernism.” African Futures Institute. “In finding Leslie,” he said, “what the Biennale is finding is the continent’s willingness to re-imagine itself.”

Lokko’s father, Dr. Ferdinand Gordon Lokko, was a Ghanaian surgeon who was sent by the government to study medicine in Scotland shortly after Ghana’s independence from Britain in 1957. Like many Ghanaian men sent abroad, he returned with a white wife. (Loko’s parents divorced when she was young.) Her father’s mother had no schooling. “I often think about the distance my father traveled — not only literally but culturally and emotionally,” she said.

Mixed-race children in Ghana were known as “half-castes” and Loko recalls standing in front of the mirror: “Where’s the line? Is it in the middle? He said.

She always considered herself half Ghanaian, half Scottish, until she came to England at the age of 17 to attend boarding school. “I was suddenly Black, and I very quickly realized that being Black in the UK had its own identity,” she said. “It seems to embrace all the cultural nuances I grew up with.”

She went to Oxford, but moved to America with a boyfriend. In Los Angeles, where she spent four years, a chance visit with an employer at a tabletop store led to a eureka moment that suggested she pursue architecture.

Building has never been her specialty—”I can’t even change a light bulb,” she jokes—and she went from being a student at Bartlett to teaching there practically overnight. However, by the late 1990s, he realized that the issues he cared about were not widely shared. “I’ve always thought of ‘race’ as a powerful creative category of exploration and expression,” she said. “I was fed up with trying to find a way to talk about identity, race and Africa in architecture that wasn’t just about poverty and ‘informality’, a word I detest,” Slums a reference to

So in a plot twist worthy of British romance novelist Jackie Collins, whose books he devoured, Loco steps away from architecture for 14 years write fiction After reading The Time Out Guide to Writing a Best Seller. Her novels – 12 and counting – blend female-centered tales of passion and romance with questions of racial and cultural identity – “overwhelming messages in froth”, as one reviewer put it. The latest is “Soul Sisters,” a midnight-oil-cultural tale set largely in Edinburgh and Johannesburg.

She returned to teaching at the University of Johannesburg in 2014, where she noticed that there were no Black architecture students. Sstudent protest Demands for higher fees, unjust educational inequalities and an end to colonialism were raging on campuses across South Africa. There was a “hunger for change”, Loko recalled, and it seemed possible to attract a new generation of builders focused on issues such as local apartheid – racially segregated settlements forged under white South African state control.

Loco’s fleeting gig as dean of the City University of New York’s Bernard and Anne Spitzer School of Architecture, from which he resigned in 2020 after less than a year, Made headlines in the world of architecture. “It was a bad fit for both parties,” she said, adding that her management style – “not formal enough, not cautious enough, not political enough” – had not worked, compounded by the lockdown. “The history of race, labor, and gender in the United States is complex and far from resolved,” she said. (“I think it’s fair to say I’m quite polarizing.”) She was also dealing with a personal tragedy: Months before her arrival, her 52-year-old sister died of a stroke and seven weeks later , his 50-year-old brother had a fatal heart attack. “It was the worst year of my life,” she said.

New York’s loss was Accra’s gain: With $2.5 million in grants from the Ford and Mellon Foundations, Lokko returned home to pursue a long-held dream of creating an institute that Adjaye, a mentor, “whole Sargam – The planner says. A group of policy thinkers, inventors of materials and systems and intellectuals who truly understand the built environment and what it means for the future prospects of the continent. bean city in Benin which would allow it to spread the Francophone and Anglophone cultures of the region.)

But the Biennale remains “a very distinctly European event for Western audiences”. Livingstone MukasaA Ugandan architect and upstate New York researcher and co-editor of the seven-volume “Vastu Guide: Sub-Saharan Africa, “The question is whether this seasonal curiosity is the right platform to try to make seismic changes”

In a sense, the Biennale is the African Futures Institute on a grander scale: a month-long Venetian extravaganza, the first “involved”Biennale College Architetturain which Career practitioners and students will work on design projects alongside high-profile masters.

“She is using the Biennale as a platform to expand the work she has been doing for decades,” said New York-based planner and urban designer Tony L. Griffin Whose outdoor installation will be displayed in Venice. In graduate school, Griffin never had a professor of color and had fewer women. “Leslie has been able to set the stage for others,” she said, “and uncover the network that some of us have always had.”

Biennale Architecture 2023: Laboratory of the Future

Open to the public from May 20 to November 26 in Venice, Italy;

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