Africa-China: Mapping an Emergent Axis

Africa-China: Mapping an Emergent Axis
4:00 pm - 6:00 pm

About | Schedule | Speakers

Discussion Series Poster_20170213

Africa-China: Mapping an Emergent Axis

This discussion series examines the spatial, political, economic, and cultural parameters of China’s relationship with the African continent. The ideological origins of socialist China’s engagement with African countries derive from the rhetoric of Mao Zedong himself, who first coined the term “intermediate zone” in 1946 to spatialize the vast expanse of contested territories and undecided loyalties sandwiched between the ideological poles of the Soviet Union and the United States after World War II. Today, the scale of China-Africa relations has changed dramatically, making it one of the most important geopolitical bonds of the twenty-first century.

Lectures by scholars in fields ranging from landscape design to architectural design to history to cultural studies will help give shape and texture to the nature and dynamics of China’s engagement with African countries. Through these talks, we hope students and faculty will gain a deeper understanding of the complexities at work in the physical indices—buildings, infrastructure, as well as terrain—of Chinese-African engagement and exchange.

About | Schedule | Speakers


March 2 | 12:45—13:45 | Knowles Building, Room 622/623
Cole Roskam
“China-Africa: A Brief Architectural History.”

Architectural collaborations between the People’s Republic of China and African countries date back to 1960, when China first presented itself as an ideological alternative to the colonial and Cold War-era infrastructural production models that dominated the African continent. This presentation contextualizes the state of China-Africa relations today through a closer look at the professional relationships and physical objects generated through engagement over time.

Dorothy Tang
“Gold Networks: Transnational Flows of Mining Technologies and Capital in Early Johannesburg”

The Witwatersrand Gold Rush of 1876 jump-started the rapid development of Johannesburg and massive landscape changes along an 80-km gold mining belt. Although Johannesburg’s gold reef is extensive, its thin cross-section and low-grade ore required technological innovation and significant capital investment. This presentation maps the flows of expertise, materials, and capital that shaped Johannesburg, providing a closer look at the role of early transnational exchanges in the large-scale exploitation of landscape resources in South Africa.

March 30 | 12:45—13:45 | Knowles Building, Room 622/623
Justin Hui
“Urban Africa, Made in China”

All across Africa, Chinese companies are building new housing developments, roads, and even entire cities. Bringing along new financing, construction methods, and economies of scale, China’s foray into Africa and elsewhere reflects an emerging chapter of Chinese urbanization: China is no longer simply undergoing the fastest urbanization in urban history, it is exporting it worldwide.

Urban Africa, Made in China follows a seven month journey throughout Eastern and Southern Africa to examine Chinese development throughout the continent and its impact on Africa’s urban future. Through photographs and interviews, these stories shed light on the urban landscapes transformed by these developments as well as the personal narratives of those shaped by it. These anecdotes will ask what Chinese urbanism means for this rapidly urbanizing continent and what this means for the world’s urban future.

April 27 | 12:45—13:45 | Knowles Building, Room 622/623
Roberto Castillo with Facil Tesfaye
“Chinese soft power and African cosmopolitan futures”

A great deal of the discussion about Chinese presence in Africa has been framed through the concept of ‘soft power’. In this presentation, I offer a critique of the concept and explore what soft power with ‘Chinese characteristics’ might look like in the African context. I also argue that the notion of ‘China as a method’ (and the influence of Chinese disciplinary practices) has had a longstanding impact in East African imaginations of ‘cosmopolitan’ futures. This will be illustrated with specific examples from historic and current transformations in East African architectural and urban landscapes.

May 23 | 16:00—18:00 | Knowles Building, Room 419
Philip Harrison with Yan Yang
“BRICS Cities: What are we comparing?”

The term BRIC was used initially in an analytical sense to refer to a grouping of countries beyond the West with the potential to reconfigure the geography of the global economy. After 2009 however it referred to a political alliance with geopolitical intentions (with BRIC becoming BRICS when South Africa joined in 2010). The construct is under pressure in terms of its analytical and political use as BRICS economies have become increasingly differentiated in terms of economic performance and as severe diplomatic tensions have emerged within the alliance.

In this presentation, we discuss ongoing comparative work on cities in the BRICS, a grouping of countries that account for nearly 40% of the world’s total urban population. With the enormous diversity of the BRICS in almost all categories – including scale, economic performance, levels and rates of urbanisation, income and governance – questions arise over the meaning and purpose of comparison. We discuss the challenge of comparison but nevertheless show how very different places can be drawn into a meaningful comparative conversation. There is however a significant point of commonality. All countries in the BRICS have experienced far-reaching political and/or economic transformations over the past few decades in a way that the global West has not.

We also show how these macro changes have been translated into urban change, but also show how differences in the national and local management of these processes account in part for significant differences (and similarities) across the BRICS in terms of urban outcomes. We use the different trajectories of metropolitan governance as an illustrative case.

Marie Huchzermeyer
“A decade of densification in Nairobi’s unauthorised tenement market: Is it possible to intervene in the case of Ngei, Huruma?”

Nairobi’s tenement market has received little attention in urban and housing literature and in planning initiatives for this city. And yet, it manifests what must be some of the most densely inhabited hectares on the African continent. In the absence of regulation, the unrelenting process of densification, while contributing to the production of much needed housing stock, is reaching excesses that seem to cry out for state intervention. In this presentation I hope to expose the complexity of a pocket of Nairobi’s constantly intensifying high density living. I describe the changing nature of the built form (including new and ornate styles of tenements) and its underpinnings. I draw on my empirical findings from 2005 and 2008 captured in the book ‘Tenement Cities: From 19th Century Berlin to 21st Century Nairobi’ (Huchzermeyer, 2011), with more recent insights from further fieldwork in July 2015. I explore this in relation to the integrated master planning project that is underway in the Ministry of Land, Housing and Urban Development and the Nairobi Municipal County, for which the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA) was brought on board. This allows for an initial discussion on what forms of steering or intervention might be most feasible in a market of this nature.

 About | Schedule | Speakers


Roberto Castillo
Lecturer in African Studies,
School of Modern Languages and Cultures,
University of Hong Kong

Roberto Castillo is a Lecturer at the African Studies Programme in the School of Modern Languages and Cultures at the University of Hong Kong. His work explores Africa-China relations, migration and mobility, and the cultural politics of race and ethnicity. He holds a PhD in Cultural Studies from Lingnan University in Hong Kong and a Master’s Degree in Cultural Studies from The University of Sydney.

Philip Harrison
University of Witwatersrand

Philip Harrison is the South African Research Chair in Spatial Analysis and City Planning funded by the National Research Foundation and hosted by the University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg. He served as a member of the National Planning Commission in the Office of the President from 2010 to 2015.  Previously, Prof. Harrison was Executive Director in Development Planning and Urban Management at the City of Johannesburg for 4 years from 2006 to 2010. Prior to that, he held a number of academic positions at the Universities of the Witwatersrand and Natal, including Professor and Chair of Urban and Regional Planning at Wits from 2001 to 2006. He has published widely in the fields of city planning and regional and urban development. His most recent publication is the jointly edited book Changing Space, Changing City: Johannesburg after Apartheid.

Marie Huchzermeyer
University of Witwatersrand

Marie Huchzermeyer is Professor in the School of Architecture and Planning at the University of the Witwatersrand where she has been teaching, researching and convening a masters degree in Housing for the past 16 years. In the School she currently she also directs the Centre for Urbanism and Built Environment Studies (CUBES), which brings together pedagogy, grounded research and advocacy. Her research has sought to speak to policy on informal settlements and housing more broadly and has included comparisons between South Africa and Brazil and more recently between different processes on the African continent and historical processes in Europe.

Justin Hui
 Architect and Independent Scholar

Justin Hui is an American architect and amateur photographer based in Hong Kong. His work focuses on places and people shaped by globalization, using photography to capture urban landscapes in transformation that describe the global contemporary city. His latest work, Urban Africa, Made in China, examines Chinese urbanism in Africa and its impact on Africa’s urban future.

Justin has contributed to cultural and institutional projects with Herzog & de Meuron, Office for Metropolitan Architecture, and Kennedy & Violich Architecture. He received his Bachelor of Architecture degree from Cornell University with the top thesis award and led the college publication, Association. He is a licensed architect in the State of Massachusetts.

Cole Roskam
Associate Professor,
Department of Architecture,
Faculty of Architecture, University of Hong Kong

Cole Roskam is an associate professor of architectural history in the Department of Architecture at the University of Hong Kong. His research focuses particularly on the role of architecture in mediating China’s international relations. His writing has appeared in Artforum, the Journal of the Society of Architectural Historians, and Grey Room, among other publications. He has completed one book manuscript, titled An Improvised City: Civic Shanghai, 1842-1936, and is currently at work on a second book-length project, which will address architecture in early reform-era China.

Dorothy Tang
Assistant Professor,
Division of Landscape Architecture,
Faculty of Architecture, University of Hong Kong

Dorothy Tang is an assistant professor of landscape architecture at the University of Hong Kong where she directs the undergraduate landscape program. Her practice and research focus on the intersections of regional infrastructure, urban development, and environmental change. She is particularly interested in the rehabilitation of environmentally degraded landscapes due to mining, infrastructural systems in informal settlements, and the relationship between urbanization and water resources. She is currently working on a book project visualizing the history of Johannesburg in relationship to gold mining and environmental change. She is a practicing landscape architect registered in the State of New York, USA.

Facil Tesfaye
Assistant Professor and Programme Director,
African Studies, School of Modern Languages and Cultures,
University of Hong Kong

Facil Tesfaye is Assistant Professor and Programme Director of African Studies in the School of Modern Languages and Cultures at the University of Hong Kong. His areas of expertise include colonial and post-colonial African history, German colonial medical history in Africa, and the history of disease and medicine in Africa. He received his PhD in History from McGill University and also holds a Master’s Degree in Political Science from the University of Quebec in Montreal.

Yan Yang
Honorary Research Fellow,
Wits City Institute, University of Witwatersrand

Dr. Yan Yang studied architecture at Tongji University Shanghai and urbanism at Bauhaus-University Weimar where she also worked as an urban researcher. Prior to her arrival in Johannesburg in 2011, she completed her doctoral thesis on sustainable urban transformation at ETH Zurich. She has worked in research and in projects relating to urban regeneration, urban design and sustainable development in China, Germany, Switzerland and South Africa. Her current research interests have to do with urban sustainability in the global South. Her recent work has been dealing with the comparative studies of cities in the BRICS countries, and developing partnerships in the field of urban research among the BRICS cities.