"I was an architect before I became a researcher. I graduated from architecture school on the Zambian Copperbelt in 1999, at a time when the building industry had slowed down. I got a job at an architectural firm, but there were very few projects coming in, a lot of work was pro bono. In architecture school we had been influenced by the modernist movement, architects like Alvar Aalto and ideas of inclusive architecture, mass-buildings for the people not driven by status. However, in our Zambian context, it was just not possible to deliver on the modernist idea as the country was going through economic decline. This was my social science awakening. I asked myself: Why aren’t we designing houses that draw on indigenous vernacular architecture, like earth building, which is affordable and environmentally sustainable? How appropriate is the modernist movement in our context?
In Zambia most people desire to live in cement-block houses with glass windows, architects also promote this modernist aesthetic. I mean, cement is heavy on the environment, steel takes a lot of energy to produce, and so does glass. It is all very expensive too. I think we need to reframe modernist architecture. There are great aspects such as the idea of materializing a society that is interconnected and shares similar values, it reduces conflict I suppose. But there needs to be a greater understanding of the socio- economic context within which the vision is materialized. In Africa the modernist movement has been embedded within the colonial project, seen as a kind of civilizing mission, and that goes far away from the egalitarian ideas that underpinned modernism in architecture. It is a challenge to convince people of the benefits of a kind of green architecture which for a long time was seen as backward,” Patience Mususa, Senior Researcher at NAI.