Theses Doctoral

Exporting Zionism: Architectural Modernism in Israeli-African Technical Cooperation, 1958-1973

Levin, Ayala

This dissertation explores Israeli architectural and construction aid in the 1960s – “the African decade” – when the majority of sub-Saharan African states gained independence from colonial rule. In the Cold War competition over development, Israel distinguished its aid by alleging a postcolonial status, similar geography, and a shared history of racial oppression to alleviate fears of neocolonial infiltration. I critically examine how Israel presented itself as a model for rapid development more applicable to African states than the West, and how the architects negotiated their professional practice in relation to the Israeli Foreign Ministry agendas, the African commissioners' expectations, and the international disciplinary discourse on modern architecture. I argue that while architectural modernism was promoted in the West as the International Style, Israeli architects translated it to the African context by imbuing it with nation-building qualities such as national cohesion, labor mobilization, skill acquisition and population dispersal. Based on their labor-Zionism settler-colonial experience, as well as criticisms of the mass construction undertaken in Israel in its first decade, the architects diverged from technocratic "high modernism" to accommodate the needs of African weak governments.
Focusing on prestigious governmental and educational buildings such as the Sierra Leone parliament, Ife University in Nigeria, and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Ethiopia, as well as urban and national planning schemes, this study brings to the fore the performative capacities of these projects in relation to the national and international audiences they addressed as vehicles of governance and markers of a desired modernity. In other words, this study examines the role these projects played in the mobilization of workers, funds, lands, infrastructure and policy making. Cutting across North-South and East-West dichotomies, the study of this modality of transnational exchange sheds new light on processes of modernization and globalization and exposes their diverse cultural and political underpinnings.

Geographic Areas


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More About This Work

Academic Units
Thesis Advisors
Scott, Felicity Dale
Ph.D., Columbia University
Published Here
May 7, 2015