In the pursuit of a Rwandese regional identity, Killian Doherty sheds light on the complexities of African architecture and urbanism in his reflection on Peter Rich’s ‘Learnt in Translation’ lecture held in Kigali, Rwanda, back in 2011. Doherty critiques the prevailing architectural landscape in many developing countries, including Rwanda, which seems to replicate unsustainable and aesthetically unpleasing structures inherited from late modernism. The essay underscores the disintegration of identity and culture in Kigali’s rapid transformation under the 2020 vision, emphasizing the outlawing of traditional construction methods in favor of generic high-rises, often built by foreign contractors.

Kigali Masterplan model

Against this backdrop, Peter Rich’s visit to Rwanda becomes a timely intervention. A South African architect known for his contextual approach, Rich advocates for regionalist architecture that embraces local cultures and traditions. Doherty details Rich’s workshop and lecture in Kimisagara, a densely populated and disadvantaged area in central Kigali, where the architect engages with the community to address the challenges of identity loss and cultural erosion. Rich’s work, influenced by his interactions with various South African tribes, intertwines modern architectural practices with local traditions, presenting a model that counters the homogeneity of global development.

The essay draws parallels between Rich’s projects, such as the Mapungubwe Interpretation Centre in South Africa, and the ongoing architectural developments in Rwanda. It underscores the need for a more inclusive and sustainable approach to modernity, challenging the current trajectory of the 2020 Masterplan, which, with its imported architecture, fails to align with the daily lives and socio-economic realities of the majority of the population.

Mapungubwe Interpretation Centre Mapungubwe National Park, Limpopo, South Africa, 2002-2010. Courtesy of Peter Rich Architects

Mapungubwe Interpretation Centre Mapungubwe National Park, Limpopo, South Africa, 2002-2010. Courtesy of Peter Rich Architects

Doherty reflects on the resistance to criticism of Rwanda’s modernization strategy and calls for a shift towards more inclusive, sustainable, and culturally sensitive discourse. The essay emphasizes the importance of preserving cultural identity as a social responsibility for architects, echoing the sentiments conveyed in open lectures like Peter Rich’s at the Kigali Institute of Technology. In a country facing land scarcity and a growing population, Doherty calls for a reconsideration of development strategies that prioritize meaningful engagement and critical thinking. Ultimately, the essay serves as a poignant exploration of the intersection between architecture, culture, and identity in the evolving landscape of Rwanda.

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