Auto-colonialism and the Architecture of the Third World
The problem of alienation in most of the Third World countries was the result of both foreign colonial domination in the past and the impact of the Industrial Revolution in changing the socio-economic and cultural structures of these countries. After these countries gained their independence, they adopted alien styles in their architecture and town planning rather than reacting positively to their own environment and respecting their cultural heritage.
The problem of alienation in most of the Third World countries was the result of both foreign colonial domination in the past and the impact of the Industrial Revolution in changing the socio-economic and cultural structures of these countries. In his The Wretched of the Earth (1967), Frantz Fanon explained that colonialism planted “deep in the minds of the native population the idea that before the advent of Colonialism their history was one which was dominated by barbarism”. Consequently, after these countries gained their independence, they adopted alien styles in their architecture and town planning rather than reacting positively to their own environment and respecting their cultural heritage.
In spite of the overt form of independence of colonialism, the countries which the West preferred to call the Third World, are now experiencing another phase of “auto-colonialism”. Auto-colonialism can be defined as a process in which the people of a country impose on themselves an alien life style which helped in destroying their own culture. However, ‘auto-colonialism’ can be considered as worse than colonialism itself. While in colonialism a foreign power forces its own values and lifestyle on another country, here a free people after their independence, impose these foreign and alien values on themselves.
In confronting the phenomenon of auto-colonialism in architecture and urban planning, an architect, building for the people of his/her country, is in a very unique position to revive their faith in their own culture. In fact, if the architect paid attention, valued, as well as admired the local architectural forms of his/her specific region and sincerely tried to incorporate them in his/her design, the locals will respect their traditional architectural forms and appreciate the craftsman’s work simply because they are respected by a real and experiencing architect.
However, professional architects and town planners should avoid the prevailing attitude that the traditional community has nothing worth their attention and consideration. In doing so, they will be able to bridge the gap that separates folk and traditional architecture from their modern and professional architecture. If architects tried to provide solid and visible example of how to integrate these two architectures by incorporating traditional features in their designs, the local community would then regain respect to their architectural forms. On the one hand, the people could recognise familiar traditional features, which would increase their understanding of the new forms. On the other, architects would be able to test the truth and validity of their designs for the place and the people against the forms and values implicit in their vernacular and traditional buildings.
The phenomenon of auto-colonialism cannot be ignored, as it has a continued destructive effect, specifically in long-established traditional communities. In fact, there are numerous lessons that can be drawn from the traditional and historical buildings, which could be manipulated and interpreted in a modern way, yet safeguarding national identity. In the early 1970s there has been a remarkable tendency towards the rejection of the irrelevant models of modernisation in favour of local traditions, especially in the Third World. Chris Abel explains that after “being brainwashed for so long into thinking that what is West is best, the change in attitude is a significant one”. Likewise, Curtis believes that the answer to this major change in architecture is now being felt worldwide and that the world is nearer to the beginning of a traditional architecture than the end of one. Undoubtedly, this reveals that third world architects’ intervention to express their social and cultural idealism greatly contributed to bring the problem of indigenous building traditions out in the open and to the attention of the wider architectural community.
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- Frantz Fanon, The Wretched of the Earth. Middlesex, 1967, p. 171.
- The Statesman, 31 October 1980, p. 3.
- Chris Abel, Regional Transformations. Architectural Review, November 1986, pp. 43.
- William J. R. Curtis, Modern Architecture Since 1900. Oxford, 1996, p. 7.