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UC Fulbright Winner to Research How Countries Commemorate Revolutions

One of Nnamdi Elleh’s areas of study is how countries commemorate revolutions via architecture. As a UC faculty member, he’s won a Fulbright to study such architecture in South Africa and hopes to one day do the same in the aftermath of recent uprisings in the Middle East.

Date: 7/23/2011
By: M.B. Reilly
Phone: (513) 556-1824
Photos By: Michael Everett

Nnamdi Elleh’s research interests come right out of today’s headlines.

As an architectural historian, Elleh, associate professor in the University of Cincinnati’s top-ranked School of Architecture and Interior Design, studies how nation’s commemorate revolutions by means of architecture – whether that be a study of Washington D.C. as a product of the American Revolution, Russian architecture in the aftermath of the Bolshevik Revolution or current construction in South African in the wake of the protests that ended apartheid in 1994.
Nnamdi Elleh
Nnamdi Elleh, at right, teaching a UC course. At left is a student in the course.

In fact, Elleh has won a Fulbright to both teach and study on post-revolution architecture in South Africa from January to September 2012. And following that trip, he figures his future research locales will be in North Africa to study how current uprising there play out by means of the region’s architecture.

He explained, “Nations use architecture as a rallying point after a crisis, whether that be a revolution, civil war (like the American Civil War), or major crisis (like 9/11). It’s really a great way to plainly see how a society thinks of itself or what its aspirations are.”

For instance, in South Africa, the country’s current Constitutional Court in Johannesburg (South Africa’s version of the U.S. Supreme Court) is built on the former site of a colonial fort that later served as a prison complex.

Bricks from the prison complex were deliberately set aside to be used in constructing the court house in order to send a metaphorical message of transformation. Meanwhile, the  architecture of the court is deliberately modern, a rejection of colonialism and apartheid’s European-inspired architecture.

While he will teach at the University of Cape Town, Elleh will also study large-scale  construction projects in South Africa, specifically 10 stadiums built for use when the country hosted the World Cup last year.

“There’s been a good deal of debate in the country about these monumental structures. Some see them as objects of reconciliation and as a means for South Africa to fully take its place as an accepted member of the global community,” said Elleh.

He added that, like all such post-crisis architecture, these stadiums will serve as a social index of the nation’s spirit, a measure of who South Africans are and who they want to be, especially in terms of race relations. And that, of course, may reflect on race relations in other parts of the world, including the United States.
According to Elleh, the best part of winning the Fulbright will be what he’s able to learn and bring back to his students at UC.

“Overall, I’m most interested in learning and then sharing on some very basic questions. I’ve always been fascinated by why do we build at all. And if architecture is social space, meant to create opportunities for human interaction, how does that play out in a post-apartheid society. I think I’ll have a lot to bring back,” he added.