Rixt Woudstra

Award Information

2018 IDRF Program

Art History/ArchitectureMassachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT)

Minimal Needs, Minimum Standards: Housing, Welfare and Building Research in British Sub-Saharan Africa, 1945-1968

This dissertation examines the intersection of British colonial politics and social welfare in architecture in the British sub-Saharan territories following the Second World War. During these politically unstable years, marked by India's independence in 1947 and the rise of protests across Britain's colonies, British colonial administrators extended social welfare to Africans in the form of large-scale government-funded housing to keep the sub-Saharan territories under British rule. Mirroring the construction of the welfare state in mainland Britain, and aiming to improve the standard of living through modern architecture, modern architects, planners and social scientists designed urban housing in segregated neighborhoods in rapidly growing cities such as Nairobi, Kampala, and Accra. How, this dissertation asks, did modern architects reconcile the provision of social welfare, rooted in ideas about the universalization of rights, with colonial policies of racial differentiation? An overlooked episode in both the history of the British Empire and the history of modern architecture, this dissertation hypothesizes that the construction of mass housing for the "Native" provoked a profound re-evaluation of architecture. Focusing on a loosely defined group of architects employed by the British Building Research Institute and its satellite institutions located in Accra, Nairobi and Pretoria, this dissertation demonstrates how architects presented architecture as "building science"; a discipline concerning building materials, construction techniques and housing standards. Building science, this dissertation argues, distanced the architect from its colonial subject, avoiding fundamental questions about race, ideology and representation. With support of the SSRC's Mellon International Doctoral Research Fellowship, I propose to pursue a year of independent archival and site-specific research across the United Kingdom, South Africa, Kenya and Tanzania.