Architectures of Colonialism Constructed Histories, Conflicting Memories

International Online Conference, 16 to 19 June 2021 BTU Cottbus-Senftenberg

17 June 2021 11:20 Colonial Building Networks

Selling Tropical Architecture? German Networks of Planning for the Tropics in the 1930s and post-1945

Monika Motylinska (IRS Erkner)

In 1934, an exhibition called “Tropenschau” was added to the programme of the annual Leipzig Spring Fair. What might have appeared like a mere attempt of Nazi propaganda to reclaim, at least on the level of discourse, the German colonies lost in the aftermath of the First World War, was in fact an overview of technical solutions for building in the tropics and architectural models proposed by companies interested in conquering new markets, for instance in French, Italian or British colonies. Involved in the event was a network of architects and engineers with expertise from Egypt and Portuguese East Africa. The exhibition attracted considerable international attention. Simultaneously, associations such as the Society of German Engineers promoted the discipline of “Tropentechnik”, which also included architecture and urban planning (cf. van Laak 2004). And yet this particular episode seems to have faded into oblivion with the end of the Nazi era.

Georg Lippsmeier and his co-authors in their widely cited publication Tropenbau = Building in the Tropics (1969, second edition 1980) never explicitly refer to authors such as Karl Krüger or Friedrich Vick. This rupture has triggered my investigation. In my paper I uncover this supposedly forgotten network of (German) planning for the tropics. However, my aim is not biographical, as in the second part I will critically analyse the proposed designs and technological solutions, situating them in the broader context of international discourses on urban planning and tropical architecture, in order to understand colonial power relations and the economic rationales of the actors. Finally, I will trace hidden links between planning from the 1930s and the post-1945 discourse on tropical architecture. Thus, I intend to complicate the history of the inherently colonial concept of “Tropenbau”, and simultaneously to broaden knowledge about German networks involved in planning for the colonies (Osayimwese 2017).

Monika Motylinska is an architectural and urban historian, with an interest in cycles of architectural production in 19th and 20th century in the “Global South”. Since January 2020 she has been a junior research group leader in the project “Conquering (with) Concrete: German Construction Companies as Global Players in Local Contexts” (funded by the Volkswagen Stiftung) at the Leibniz Institute for Research on Society and Space, Erkner. At the same time, she is investigating, together with Dr. Rachel Lee, the work of the Institute for Building in the Tropics as part of the “Centring Africa” research programme (Andrew W. Mellon Foundation/Canadian Centre for Architecture). Between 2016 and 2019, she was a postdoctoral research fellow at the IRS. In 2016, she defended her PhD thesis at the TU Berlin on the treatment of post-war heritage in Germany. Results of her research have been published in international journals and edited volumes.