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Johan Lagae

Ghent University
City Fabrics and Time: Landscapes, Typologies, and Trajectories in Congolese Cities
01 September 2019 -
31 January 2020
Architecture and spatial planning

Johan Lagae graduated as an engineer-architect and is currently Full Professor at Ghent University, where he teaches 20th century Architectural and Urban History with a focus on regions beyond Europe. His main research field is colonial/postcolonial architectural and urban history in the Democratic Republic of Congo. He has published widely on the cities of Lubumbashi and Kinshasa, and is finalizing an historical atlas on the port city of Matadi. Between 2010 and 2014, he co-chaired the COST-action ‘European Architecture beyond Europe’ (IS0904). Currently, he sits on the editorial board of ABE-Journal and acts as an external consultant for research projects in Lisbon, Vienna and Montréal. Since 2005, he has participated in and (co-)curated several Congo/Africa-related exhibitions, both in Belgium and abroad.

Research Interests

20th century architectural and urban history in sub-Saharan Africa; colonial and postcolonial history; colonial built heritage; colonial photography; architectural history of world exhibitions; the emergence of transnational/global building and planning experts post 1945; Belgian architecture in the 20th and 21st centuries.

City Fabrics and Time: Landscapes, Typologies, and Trajectories in Congolese Cities

Congolese urban landscapes bear witness to complex forces, both formal and informal, which occurred over long periods of time, often originating already in precolonial times, but accelerating in intensity of growth during the colonial and postcolonial eras. Today these city fabrics constitute intriguing patchworks and palimpsests, including buildings dating from various time frames, that continue to function regardless of their physical state or transformation over time. While some scholars have argued that, because of the decay and failure of urban infrastructures, the urbanity of a city like Kinshasa exists “beyond its architecture” and thus require investigating the imaginary, “invisible” city, I argue that the analysis of material urban landscapes and urban form offers a powerful means to unveil “urban processes” through which these cities were being made and shaped. Tackling a variety of scales (from the city’s hinterland to the interior of the house) and paying equal attention to landmark buildings and mundane infrastructures, I aim to investigate evolutions in top-down strategies of political representation, social engineering, and (racial) segregation, as well as highlight particular episodes of everyday tactics of re-appropriation and contestation, thus producing innovative forms of historical narration, mapping and visualization.


Speech by Johan Lagae, 2019-2020 Fellow of the Paris IAS, as part of the "Cadrages coloniaux. Usages privés de la photographie dans les empires européens" study days, organized by EHNE and MEP
14 Jan 2020 15:30 -
14 Jan 2020 17:00,
Paris :
Désorienter la “colonizing camera”. Sur l’usage de photographies historiques des premières décennies de la colonisation belge de l’Afrique centrale dans un contexte muséal

Intellect Publishers, Bristol / University of Chicago Press, Chicago
Contemporary period (1789-…)
Sub-Saharan Africa