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Angola: “Every city has its history, and ours is no different”

Since January this year several blogs have been announcing a petition in defence of what remains of Luanda’s [en] historical architecture. Sponsored by the Architects Association of Angola, and mainly addressed to the President of the country, José Eduardo dos Santos [en], it aims to protect Luanda’s heritage and monuments.

In defence of the idea that “every city has its history, and ours is no different”, the petition starts as follows:

ACREDITANDO que o que torna uma cidade singular é o seu património histórico e cultural, traduzido pelos hábitos das suas gentes, mas igualmente pelas pedras, construções, espaços e edifícios que foram sendo introduzidos ao longo dos séculos da sua génese.

BELIEVING that what makes a city unique is its historical and cultural heritage, translated by its people’s traditions, but also by stones, constructions, spaces and buildings that have been introduced over the centuries of history.
Photo by Flickr user mp3ief published under a Creative Commons license

Photo by Flickr user mp3ief published under a Creative Commons license

It is well known that the number of modern buildings taking over the landscape of Luanda is increasing. In a post titled Luanda: a metamorfose [pt] (Luanda: the metamorphosis), (R)evolução em Angola [pt] ((R)evolution in Angola) author, N’manga, shares an extensive photo collection of the new and rising architecture projects. Back in September 2008, Global Voices Online posted on bloggers questioning who these buildings are addressed at. However, the online conversation is now a different one, as Kukiela comments in this Luanda: the metamorphosis post:

A questão de uma identidade arquitectónica, um património que está a ser destruído na nossa baixa para se construir esse conjunto insípido de edifícios sem qualquer perspectiva cultural de identidade. Sei que isso leva à discussão de “identidade angolana”, que é uma longa discussão mas que é também importante pensar na vertente “evolução urbanística” da cidade de Luanda.

The architectural identity issue – a heritage being destroyed in our city centre so that this set of tasteless buildings arise without any care for cultural identity. I know that this leads to the discussion of “Angola’s identity”, which is a long one, but it is also important to think about the “urban evolution” of the city of Luanda.

The most polemic and striking case discussed online concerning the protection of Angola’s architecture happened back in August 2008, when the historical Kinaxixi Market was demolished to make space for the construction of a new shopping centre.

Exclusive photo taken on the day the Kinaxixi Market was being knocked down, kindly provided by  José Manuel Lima da Silva, Flickr user Kool2bBop

Exclusive photo taken on the day the Kinaxixi Market was being knocked down, kindly provided by José Manuel Lima da Silva, Flickr user Kool2bBop

This episode was not forgotten in the petition message:

TENDO tomado conhecimento que se continua a autorizar a destruição de património público, entre prédios classificados como foi o Palácio de Dona Ana Joaquina, ou por classificar, como o Mercado do Kinaxixe, este último considerado internacionalmente uma das obras arquitectónicas mais importantes do Movimento Moderno, e proposta por Óscar Niemeyer para ser considerado Património da Humanidade pela UNESCO.

HAVING noticed that the destruction of public heritage is constantly authorized with classified buildings, such as Dona Ana Joaquina Palace, or non classified [buildings], such as Kinaxixi Market, the latter considered one of the most important architectural works of the Modern Movement, by the international community, and recommended by Oscar Niemeyer to be considered as a Humanity Heritage site by UNESCO.

However, reportedly the practice of destroying cultural heritage does not only happen in Luanda. Nuno Silva Leal, a Portuguese architect based in Lobito, Benguela, praises the petition initiative and posts about a case that has happened in that province:

Fiquei feliz em deparar há pouco na net com esta petição em defesa do património construído de Luanda. Sinal de que há ainda uma franja da população consciente do fabuloso património arquitectónico que têm em mãos e que não podem desbaratar, sob pena das gerações futuras virem a lembrar-se desta apenas pela ganância do lucro.
Aliás, este problema estende-se a todo o país. Aqui na província há bem pouco tempo atrás demoliram, tijolo a tijolo, a estação de comboios da Catumbela para, provavelmente, construírem um mamaracho chinês no seu lugar. Foi mais um pouco da história de Angola que morreu com a destruição deste edifício…

I was happy to come across this petition on the Internet, protecting the building heritage of Luanda. It proves that there still is a small part of the population who are aware of the fabulous architectural heritage they cannot ignore, or else future generations will only recall greediness for profit.
Moreover, this problem spreads all over the country. Here in the countryside, not so long ago, Catumbela train station was demolished, brick by brick, probably giving place to a Chinese construction. It is just one step forward for the death of Angola’s history with the destruction of this building.
Nova ponte, Catumbela

"New bridge, Catumbela" photo by Flickr user jlrsousa published under a Creative Commons license

Either Luanda or somewhere else, for Koluki, it is all about memories and what future generations will make of them. In a comprehensive post [pt] titled A(s) Memória(s) e o(s) Património(s) – Passado(s) e Futuro(s) (playing with the plurality of Memory and Heritage – Past and Future):

Memórias… são elas que dão sentido à palavra “histórico” ao lado da designação “património arquitectónico”. Resta-nos sempre a consolação de que, pelo menos enquanto somos vivos, elas sobrevivem à morte dos edifícios. O problema é a preservação dessas memorias, individuais e colectivas, para as gerações futuras, não perdendo de vista, contudo, que estas não só têm direito ao conhecimento da história, como também […] têm o direito a e a capacidade para criarem a sua própria história e construírem as suas próprias memórias para o seu próprio futuro – que será, afinal, o futuro da Nação, portanto de todos nós.

Memories… they are what brings meaning to the word “historic” alongside the designation “architectural heritage”. At least while we are alive, we can count on them, believing that memories survive the death of buildings. The problem is the preservation of these memories, either individually and for future generations, not forgetting, however, that they not only have the right to know history, but they also […] have the right and the capacity to create their own history and build their own memories for their own future – that is, after all, the future of the nation, therefore the future of all of us.

The whole petition, which, besides addressing the President, will also inform the Governor, the Minister of Culture, the Assembly Culture Committee and the UNESCO representative in Luanda, can be found at this web address [pt] and on many blogs (such as this one). Although it is available online, it can only be signed locally by residents and native Luandans at UNAP, Chá de Caxinde Association, Architects Association and Sérgio Piçarra's office.

1 comment

  • The destruction of Kinaxixi market is similar to other losses that undermine the architectural, economic and social dimension of the urban environment. This reality stems from a mind-set that sees the city as composed of stratified stagnant layers of malls, guarded tower blocks and streets with fewer and fewer people. These developments travel in the baggage of globalisation…

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