Aug 29–Oct 26, 2008

In the Desert of Modernity

Colonial Planning and After

Exhibition, Film, Performance, Talks, International Conference

From the 1930s on, colonial North Africa was transformed into a laboratory for European modernisation fantasies. Casablanca was seen as a test case for the ‘city of tomorrow’, radical redevelopment plans included. The car-oriented city, the first underground car park and the largest American-style swimming pool were planned for ‘French North Africa’. The developments projected here envisaged as a blueprint for Europe’s metropolises, too, and intended to reform the way people lived.

The exhibition programme In the Desert of Modernity presents works of architecture and urban concepts that arose under the state of emergency that was colonial rule, a state influenced, in turn, by the anti-colonial liberation struggles and trans-national migration in North Africa and Western Europe. The example of the building projects dating from the 1950s and 1960s shows that European modernity would have been inconceivable without colonialism. In the Desert of Modernity presents recent research projects and little-known reciprocal relationships. The modern mode of mass construction tried out in North Africa soon migrated to the peripheries of Western European cities, where the all-too-familiar suburbs arose to accommodate hundreds of thousands of people. In many cases, the inhabitants living in the outskirts of Paris and London originated from the former colonies. Colonial history returned home to the metropolises. At the same time, the unquestioned technocratic plans the architects of European modernity were lastingly shaken by their experience of a North Africa challenged by liberation movements. The architects began to think in categories of a ‘different modernity’. An inexorable process of decolonisation began that is still nowhere near complete.

In addition to the exhibition:films, performances, talks, an international conference and more

Rarely shown films from archives in Paris, Rabat and Berlin will be presented in the film series Small Paths, Complex Stories, curated by Brigitta Kuster and Madeleine Bernstorff. With the performance The Walking Cube , Kanak Attak explores the link between architecture, power, migration and resistance. The Double Projections staged by Remember Resistance re-interpret films in the context of (post-)colonial history. The programme also includes an international conference entitled The Colonial Modern, a special edition of the journal An Architecture and the Internet project .

Artistic director
Marion von Osten

Tom Avermaete, Serhat Karakayali, Marion von Osten

Institutional partners
Akademie der bildenden Künste Wien, Architekturfakultät der Delft University of Technology, Casamémoire / Casablanca, CPKC (Center for Post-Colonial Knowledge and Culture Berlin), École Supérieure d’Architecture de Casablanca

Research team
Tom Avermaete, Serhat Karakayali and Marion von Osten in collaboration with Wafae Belarbi, Madeleine Bernstorff, Jesko Fezer, Brigitta Kuster, Andreas Müller, Daniel Weiss and students at the Akademie der bildenden Künste Wien, the faculty of architecture at the Delft University of Technology and the École Supérieure d’Architecture de Casablanca

Exhibition architecture and design
Jesko Fezer, Andreas Müller and Anna Voswinckel