(Curbed.com) A Look at Asmara, Africa’s Unknown City of Modernist Architecture

From: Biniam Tekle <biniamt_at_dehai.org_at_dehai.org>
Date: Mon, 29 Feb 2016 22:45:26 -0500


http://www.curbed.com/2016/2/26/11120632/modern-architecture-africa-eritrea-asmara


A Look at Asmara, Africa’s Unknown City of Modernist
ArchitecturePreservationists
want to make this unique city a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
by Patrick Sisson Feb 29, 2016, 11:27am
Fiat Tagliero©Edward Denison, 2016

An eccentric emblem of Modernist design, the *Fiat Tagliero* gas station is
one of a kind. With broad, streamlined, nearly 100-foot-long overhangs that
resemble the wings of an early propeller plane, this structure by Giuseppe
Pettazzi would stand out anywhere. But in its present home, Asmara,
Eritrea, the unlikely service station from the late '30s actually makes
sense in a cityscape filled with Rationalist design and sweeping curves.
It’s the most recognized symbol of this little-known Modernist metropolis
in the Horn of Africa, originally commissioned by Italian Fascists in the
‘30s. Along with blocks and blocks of other such buildings, the Futurist
Fiat Tagliero has been submitted as a UNESCO World Heritage Site
<http://whc.unesco.org/en/tentativelists/2024/>, part of a concerted effort
by the Asmara Heritage Project (AHP) and others to protect and preserve
this overlooked architectural gem.

"Asmara should be regarded as a central part of the Modernist canon," says Dr.
Edward Denison <http://edenison.zenfolio.com/p700829620>, an architecture
expert and professor at the Bartlett School of Architecture, who first
visited Asmara as a tourist in 1997 and has worked professionally to help
preserve and protect the city's architecture since 2001. "Successful or
not, this will be something this application will address."

While similar styles and structures can be found in other cities in the
region, including Rabat, Mogadishu, Tripoli and Casablanca, Asmara stands
apart. Hundreds of structures like the Selam Hotel offer beautiful
simplicity in design and form—few here, or anywhere, are as flamboyant as
the Tagliero—and make this one of the world's largest collection of such
buildings in the world. Denison works with the main group supporting the
UNESCO Nomination, AHP, alongside colleagues such as Guang Yu Ren and
Naigzy Gebremedhin, with whom he’s co-authored a book on the city's
architecture.
<http://www.amazon.com/Asmara-Africas-Secret-Modernist-City/dp/1858943825>
[image: Cinema Impero]&amp;lt;img src="
https://cdn3.vox-cdn.com/uploads/chorus_asset/file/6122689/impero_cinema.0.jpg"
alt="Cinema Impero"&amp;gt; Cinema Impero. ©Edward Denison, 2016

Asmara’s design is a result of the region’s unique history with
colonialism. Eritrea became an Italian colony in 1889, the only ground in
the region the Italians were able to hold onto after being defeated by the
Ethiopian Army in 1896 at the Battle of Adwa. After Mussolini took power,
this outpost became the African capital of what the Fascists hoped would
become a new Roman Empire, the Africa Orientale Italiana. Resources and
money for construction flooded in to what the dictator called "Little
Rome," creating a space for radical Italian architects to experiment and
expand upon a city plan originally conceived of by Odoardo Cavagnari in the
1910’s.

A new Modernist core was added to what was once a small, sleepy village,
with hundreds of buildings and designs sprouting up before the Italians
were defeated and driven out in 1941 after the first major Allied victory
of WWII. The expansion of Asmara, Eritrea's capital, continued in one form
or another until a Communist coup seized power from the Emperor in 1974.
Northern Italian and Rationalist styles predominate, along with a few
examples of vernacular architecture, such as the Orthodox Cathedral of St
Mary’s, with references the highland African vernacular, and the Central
Mosque, which utilizes Islamic forms. According to Denison, many have
incorrectly associated Asmara with Art Deco.

"The ‘Miami of Africa’ concept was coined by the media," says Denison. "Art
Deco is inherently a decorative style. Asmara is rationalist and more
Northern Italian. It’s not decorative, in fact, the whole point is to strip
that off."
[image: St Mary's Orthodox Cathedral]&amp;lt;img src="
https://cdn0.vox-cdn.com/uploads/chorus_asset/file/6122697/st_mary_s_orthodox_cathedral.0.jpg"
alt="St Mary's Orthodox Cathedral"&amp;gt; St Mary's Orthodox Cathedral
©Edward Denison, 2016

Denison feels the UNESCO nomination, which should be decided upon by next
summer, makes a statement about more than just these particular buildings.

"It’s important people see this as Eritrea’s first World Heritage
nomination," he says. "It’s much harder for a country like Eritrea to make
these submissions, so consequently, Africa has many fewer sites. It’s an
imbalance which needs serious attention. We hope this bid is successful not
just because of it’s own value, but because it sheds light on how we treat
heritage globally."
[image: Asmara 4]&amp;lt;img src="
https://cdn0.vox-cdn.com/uploads/chorus_asset/file/6121443/16109096782_9c215917e3_k.0.jpg"
alt="Asmara 4"&amp;gt; Cinema Roma. Creative Commons Image by Andrea
Moroni [image:
Bar Zilli]&amp;lt;img src="
https://cdn0.vox-cdn.com/uploads/chorus_asset/file/6122705/bar_zilli.0.jpg"
alt="Bar Zilli"&amp;gt; Bar Zilli ©Edward Denison, 2016

[image: Capri Bar]&amp;lt;img src="
https://cdn1.vox-cdn.com/uploads/chorus_asset/file/6122713/capri_bar.0.jpg"
alt="Capri Bar"&amp;gt; Capri Bar ©Edward Denison, 2016 [image: Odeon
Bar]&amp;lt;img
src="
https://cdn0.vox-cdn.com/uploads/chorus_asset/file/6122717/odeon_bar.0.jpg"
alt="Odeon Bar"&amp;gt; Odeon Bar ©Edward Denison, 2016 [image: Palazzp
Mazzetti]&amp;lt;img src="
https://cdn3.vox-cdn.com/uploads/chorus_asset/file/6122723/palazzo_mazzetti.0.jpg"
alt="Palazzp Mazzetti"&amp;gt; Palazzo Mazzetti ©Edward Denison, 2016
&amp;lt;img src="
https://cdn1.vox-cdn.com/uploads/chorus_asset/file/6122713/capri_bar.0.jpg"
alt="Capri Bar"&amp;gt; Capri Bar ©Edward Denison, 2016 &amp;lt;img src="
https://cdn0.vox-cdn.com/uploads/chorus_asset/file/6122717/odeon_bar.0.jpg"
alt="Odeon Bar"&amp;gt; Odeon Bar ©Edward Denison, 2016 &amp;lt;img src="
https://cdn3.vox-cdn.com/uploads/chorus_asset/file/6122723/palazzo_mazzetti.0.jpg"
alt="Palazzp Mazzetti"&amp;gt; Palazzo Mazzetti ©Edward Denison, 2016
Received on Mon Feb 29 2016 - 22:46:06 EST

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