The period after the Second World War saw many West African nations fighting for and gaining their independence from Western colonizers. After over a century of occupation and exploitation in the region, newly independent states commissioned public architectural works in an effort to advance the crafting of new national identities and to assert their economic and cultural prowess on the international stage. West African Modernism became a new language and an experimental ground that pushed political, cultural, and aesthetic notions of contemporaneity in the region.

Since the post-independence period, West African Modern architectures have evolved dramatically to reflect the contexts and communities that surround them. The public has found ways to appropriate each site to suit their needs when original programs and operational strategies conceived for these sites have become defunct. Aziza Chaouni Projects’ (ACP’s) architectural practice has been working to understand the particular histories of three publicly-owned Modern complexes in West Africa erected during the post-independence era in order to revitalize them through adaptive reuse, working to address public needs while maintaining their cultural heritage for future generations.

The ACP team has been involved in the development of conservation management plans of three major Modern architectural heritage complexes from the post-independence era in Francophone West Africa:1 The Sidi Harazem Thermal Bath Complex in Morocco, Centre international du commerce extérieur du Sénégal (CICES) in Senegal, and La Maison du Peuple (The House of the People) in Burkina Faso. All three embody different trajectories defined by their sociopolitical contexts, however they share several similarities;

  1. Morocco, Senegal, and Burkina Faso are all Francophone countries in West Africa who have historic, economic, cultural, and diasporic ties to France;

  2. All three sites represent a form of “Situated Modernism,” blending the International Style with local vernacular architecture;

  3. As projects from the early era of independence, they were experimental grounds for crafting new national identities;

  4. Today, each site now houses different activities to what the architects originally intended;

ACP has been developing plans for the rehabilitation of these complexes as well as tools to enable codesign with site owners, community stakeholders, young creatives, and others to address each site’s complexities. These efforts work to build recognition of the inherent significance and potential of these sites while reimagining their use.

As part of these efforts, ACP has been engaging with local stakeholders to build a library of oral testimonies around each site; to raise awareness, reveal unknown histories, and to empower communities to share their stories. Through “Modern West Africa: Recorded,” we reveal three modern masterpieces through the voices of stakeholders, shedding light on the complex and understudied aspects of Modern heritage in Africa.