Book Review: Modern Architecture and its Representation in Colonial Eritrea: An In – visible Colony, 1890 – 1941.

(Published in online journal of African Studies Quarterly Vol. 16, Issue 3-4)

Flaws and oversights resulting from such disregard of readily available scholarly material written by Eritreans are evident throughout the text. Although the book seeks to explore modern architecture in colonial Eritrea, the author, if one did not know any better, seems to be writing about a literally empty space. It’s difficult to see how one can write about distinct buildings and their history, without mentioning the human element. The book ignores the interactions, relationships, and acts of conscription, dislocation, and nationalization of land that played such crucial roles during the Italian colonial period. By ignoring these ignominious hallmarks of Italian colonial rule, and instead gazing at the Eritrean historic spaces through the eyes of the colonizer, the book reads more like an homage to the latter.

The book uses leading scholars in the field of architecture to substantiate its theories and conclusions. It provides a thorough look at the Italian colonists’ justifications and perspectives during the early colonial period in Eritrea, through travelogues of the early settlers and diaries from colonial missions. Employing theoretical abstractions and overusing minute details at the expense of rendering a bigger picture, the book avoids any meaningful treatment of the excessive use of lethal force and brutality exercised by the Italian colonizers. Furthermore, the author, by omitting discussion of these sensitive but relevant areas and quoting texts that appear to justify the colonial occupation, exacerbates, ignores, and/or misrepresents the rarely discussed Italian colonial “color bar” (racial hierarchy). For example, the book cites a text that glosses over the Italian color bar (later infamously adopted in Apartheid South Africa), casually observing: “Sons of Europeans mingle and play freely with native boys” (p.173) Click here to read the review (pp-179-180)