What Is the Urban?

Registers of a World Interior

Ayala Levin

Ayala Levin holds a PhD in architectural history and theory from Columbia University Graduate School of Architecture, Planning and Preservation, and she is currently a post-doctoral fellow at the European Research Council project “Apartheid: The global Itinerary, South African Cultural Formations in Transnational Circulation, 1948-1990” at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. In her dissertation, which she is now turning into a book, Levin explores Israeli architectural development aid in Sierra Leone, Nigeria and Ethiopia in the 1960s-1970s. This research received the support of various grants and fellowships, including the Social Science Research Council International Dissertation Research Fellowship (SSRC-IDRF), Fulbright, and the Graduate Research Fellowship of the Institute for Religion, Culture and Public Life at Columbia University. Levin has taught at Columbia University and Pratt Institute School of Architecture, and she is a contributor to the Systems and the South project of the Aggregate Architectural History Collaborative, as well as to the Global History of Architecture Teaching Collaborative. Her interests include north-south exchanges of knowledge production and dissemination, Third World and rural modernities, and the role of architecture in the mobilization of resources.

Where is the urban? 
The Emergence of the Region in Sierra Leone’s National Urbanization Plan, 1965

In 1965, the Israeli Institute for Planning and Development produced a National Urbanization Plan for the newly independent government of Sierra Leone. Despite its title, I argue, the plan’s emphasis was not on the creation of new urban centers, but on the preservation of the countryside and maximizing its resources. Following planning experiments in 1950s Israel, the plan sought to balance and control rapid urbanization of the coastal capital Freetown by strengthening existing urban centers in the hinterland, while maintaining the traditional social structure that was based primarily on agriculture. In order to avoid ethnic conflict and to emphasize “natural” economic growth that would bolster the hinterland, the plan generated the category of “the region” as a flexible spatial-temporal scale that could mediate between the village or chiefdom and the state, and as a natural economic unit that would eventually supplant colonial demarcations of districts and chiefdoms.

Situating this plan within UN discourse on third world urbanism and concurrent projects in Latin America and Asia, my talk will focus on the emergence of the region as an open ended planning device. I will argue that this shift in planning techniques entailed a revision of the status of the physical master plan from a static future prescription to an active decision making tool. By incorporating feedback mechanisms into the planning/decision making process, this planning methodology was seen as especially useful in the context of weak states, where long-term planning was considered futile. 


Iowa State University

Department of Architecture

April 4-5, 2016