Page C1.1 . 07 September 2005                     
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    Postcard from Porto-Novo

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    The Great Mosque of Porto-Novo, Benin. Photography by Christian Horn

    Dear ArchitectureWeek,

    Porto-Novo, the capital of Benin in West Africa, is searching for its lost identity as development presents conflicts between historic preservation and a quest for modernism. The city's urban heritage includes vernacular and colonial, but the most interesting buildings, according to Gérard Tognimassou, a teacher from the Ecole du Patrimoine Africain, a school for the preservation of the African cultural heritage, are those that reveal "a great craftsmanship in the fusion between the Brazilian and the African styles."

    The style dates from the 19th century and was influenced by former slaves who returned from Brazil and blended Brazilian influences with African to create a lively, colorful style. An important example is the Great Mosque of Porto-Novo (1923 to 1925). The town recently declared it a historic monument, and the building is still used for worship, but the surrounding community has unfortunately lost interest in the building. Tognimassou acknowledges that, even if there were the will to renovate, this would be difficult because so much of the knowledge of woodwork, plastering, and decoration has been lost.

    A workshop scheduled for November 2005 has been organized by the International Workshops of Planning and Urban Design in hopes of mixing sensitive urban planning, historic monument protection, and the future development of the town with the interests of the local communities.

    On the road in Porto-Novo,
    Christian Horn

     

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