Access to formal education has long been considered essential to progress by people in Africa. The design and building of educational institutions were also an important part of the post-war modernism construction boom around the world and on the African continent, coinciding with post-independence nation-building. From the 1940s through to the early 1970s, ambitious nations from Algeria to Zimbabwe invested in universities and higher educational buildings as both literal and physical centers of intellectual advancement for their nations’ youth in that jubilant era, heralding freedom from colonization and the emergence of self-rule.
More than half a century later, these edifices borne of hope and expectation have generally stood the test of time and remain recognizable features in many African cities and landscape settings. How these structures have fared architecturally and how they have been adapted or incorporated into contemporary life varies by country, institution, and socio-political context: an important subject to be studied. As the provision of educational buildings is still important to African nations and is part of the global sustainable development goals, what better time to revisit those purpose-built institutions in a time of hope and exuberance? Especially as their relevance remains critical to the development of Africa’s best and brilliant young minds?
This special issue of the Docomomo Journal focuses on educational institutions, particularly universities and other higher educational establishments built in Africa from the late 1940s to the 1970s, as instances of shared’ social, political, cultural, economic, and architectural heritage. This architectural heritage has been shared through actions of coercion, co-option, and co-operation between various proximal African countries, former colonial powers, and contemporary socio-economic partners. Many contributions are linked to the Shared Heritage Africa (SHA) Project—funded by the German Foreign Ministry (Auswärtiges Amt)—, which focused on the documentary rediscovery of modern university campuses as examples of cultural landscapes from the period of independence from colonial rule.