Constructing geographical and architectural imaginations: The China-aided assembly buildings in Africa, 1960s – 1970s
China’s exports of architectural designs to numerous countries in Asia and Africa during the Mao era generated significant tensions regarding the necessary geographical knowledge. As many of these countries are situated in tropical regions, understanding and responding to the unique hot, humid or dry climate conditions was crucial for successful transnational architectural production. This article situates the practical knowledge generation process within a complex process of political, institutional, individual, and intellectual interactions, examining the role of Chinese architects and technocrats in constructing geographical and architectural imaginations for China-aided projects built in Africa. Specifically, in this article, two case studies of assembly buildings erected in Guinea (1967) and Sudan (1976) are presented to demonstrate Chinese efforts to address the climatic, cultural, and practical requirements of architectural aid. Through political negotiation, personal observation, onsite visits, media publication, and scholarly exchange, Chinese professionals constructed geographical and architectural imaginations in Africa, creating modernist architecture that retained a particular sense of place and time, thereby reflecting continuity and transformation of their domestic work. These subjective imaginations were shaped by the combination of economic rationality and technical expertise, manifested in the selection of appropriate site, climate responsive designs, materials, technologies, cultural articulations, and economic considerations. The aided buildings, as embodiment of the Chinese professionals’ geographical and architectural imaginations not only displayed a critical process of knowledge production situated within the physical, material world in the tropics, but also served as China’s political engagement with Guinea and Sudan that aimed to interrogate existing structure of international order.
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