New Books Network

Who built Africa’s cities? Going beyond the colonial archive and the planner’s gaze, David Morton’s Age of Concrete: Housing and the Shape of Aspiration...

Who built Africa’s cities? Going beyond the colonial archive and the planner’s gaze, David Morton’s Age of Concrete: Housing and the Shape of Aspiration in the Capital of Mozambique (Ohio University Press, 2019) describes the incremental process through which Maputo’s suburbios – popular neighborhoods outside the formally planned city – were built and occupied. Through key episode’s in Mozambique’s urban history – from colonial responses to migrant labor to independence-era responses to flooding, he interprets the routine forms of house construction as critical political acts through which ordinary residents of the city have inserted themselves into the city and concretized urban belonging. The materiality of different building materials are central this story. The risks and obstacles of constructing permanent, concrete, housing in the face of politically enforced urban impermanence an d ambiguous legal status kept the popular suburbios in suspension.

David Morton talks to host Jacob Doherty about the ways that the built environment both reflects and shapes the changing aspirations and achievements of the city’s residents. Offering a critical contribution to the process of decolonization in African cities, Morton examines the racial and spatial effects of colonial Portugal’s officially race-blind ideology as well as the ambivalent anti-urban bias of the early FRELIMO regime.

David Morton is an assistant  professor of African History at the University of British Colombia. He has written about architectural and planning histories, Portuguese colonialism, informal settlements, housing, and citizenship, and decolonization.


Jacob Doherty is a lecturer in the Anthropology of Development at the University of Edinburgh.