The Death of Luxury Hotels in Liberia and Mozambique Proves That Distinctive Architecture Can't Forget The Local Context

Aryo Sumbogo | Tuesday, 26 July 2022

It is undeniable that the local context of an area plays an important role in architecture, including for such a distinctive typology as a luxury hotel. If a luxury hotel forgets its position as the socio-economic character of the place where it stands because it is too busy building its community, it can cause social inequality.

The Grande Hotel in Beira, Mozambique in the 1960sThe Grande Hotel in Beira, Mozambique in the 1960s. (Image courtesy of The Delagoa Bay Review)

Such conditions are not uncommon in several African countries, which may still think that luxury hotels are the main city landmarks. There is nothing wrong with that assumption, it's just that the appearance of luxury hotels is often not accompanied by consideration of the local context. As a result, when faced with conditions or turmoil at a certain time, some luxury buildings could not last long until they were abandoned and neglected.

On this occasion, two hotels located in Liberia and Mozambique will be objects of learning that show how fragile high-end architectural interventions are in an uncertain social environment. The first is the Grande Hotel, a luxury Art-Deco hotel located in the port city of Beira, Mozambique. Designed by architect Francisco de Castro in mid-1953-1955, the hotel is part of the project of the office responsible for urban planning in Portugal's African and Asian colonies, Gabinete de Urbanização Colonial.

Grande Hotel condition nowGrande Hotel condition now. (Image courtesy of Michiel Van Balen via Flickr under the CC BY 2.0 license)

When the Grande Hotel first opened in 1955, Mozambique was still under Portuguese control. So that this luxurious building with 130 rooms became a gathering place for influential people from the colonial side. Apart from them, only wealthy tourists and white minorities can enjoy every corner of the building which is equipped with a large swimming pool and balcony overlooking the Indian Ocean. This luxury so clearly shows social inequality because only natives who are hotel employees are allowed to enter.

After turning into an apartment with thousands of residents, the current condition of the Grande Hotel is not as luxurious as it used to be, it even looks unkempt until there are piles of garbageAfter turning into an apartment with thousands of residents, the current condition of the Grande Hotel is not as luxurious as it used to be, it even looks unkempt until there are piles of garbage. (Image courtesy of Wikimedia User Robertcruiming licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license)

Finally, in 1963 the Grande Hotel no longer received guests because it was bankrupt, never getting the proper profit. The fate of the hotel also underwent a drastic change when Mozambique gained independence in 1975. Its owner at the time, FRELIMO, the hotel was radically converted into a residence. The recreation room inside was converted into the office of the FRELIMO Revolutionary Committee, the main hall was used for meetings and parties, while the basement was used as a place to detain political opponents of the new government. It didn't stop there, when the civil war broke out in 1977, the Grande Hotel was once used as a military base, before eventually becoming a settlement for war victims to this day. According to the latest data, at least 3500 people are living in the apartment of the former luxury hotel. By the current generation, the building has become a kind of colonial architectural heritage that reflects the greed and pain of the various conflicts in Beira.

View of the Atlantic Ocean from Hotel Ducor located at the highest point of Liberia's capital city, MonroviaView of the Atlantic Ocean from Hotel Ducor located at the highest point of Liberia's capital city, Monrovia. (Image courtesy of Ken Harper licensed under the CC BY 2.0 license)

Next, there is the Hotel Ducor which is a modernist icon of the capital city of Liberia, Monrovia. This luxury hotel was once classified as one of the few five-star hotels on the African continent at the beginning of its heyday in 1960. The main attraction of this rectangular building designed by Austrian architect Adolph Hoch and German architect Caim Heinz Fenchel is its location at the highest point of the city, which gives views of the Atlantic Ocean. In addition, this subscription hotel to Sékou Touré from Guinea and Houphouët-Boigny from Ivory Coast also has various premium facilities, such as a swimming pool, tennis court, and a French restaurant.

The appearance of the now uninhabited Ducor HotelThe appearance of the now uninhabited Ducor Hotel. (Image courtesy of Flickr user jbdodane licensed under the CC BY-NC 2.0 license)

However, due to the complex historical context of Liberia, the development of Hotel Ducor was influenced by many subjects. In the 60s, the hotel became an inseparable part of an exploitative society. This period shows how migration from rural to urban areas is only based on the desire to avoid heavy work, for example being a laborer in rubber plantations. Since then, various conflicts have accompanied the age of Hotel Ducor. Starting from the coup against the president from the minority in 1980, to the civil war for two periods, namely in 1989-1996 and 1999-2003. The Ducor Hotel changed drastically, from a haven for local and foreign elites to a military site where the siege of the city of Monrovia was in 2003. Then, many people used the building as a place to take refuge, until they finally settled down.

The swimming pool at Ducor Hotel is now not as luxurious as it used to beThe swimming pool at Ducor Hotel is now not as luxurious as it used to be. (Image courtesy of Flickr user jbdodane licensed under the CC BY-NC 2.0 license)

Shortly after, in 2007 the residents of the Ducor Hotel were evicted, which is now left vacant. Even this abandoned building now leaves only traces of wealth combined with dark memories of the conflict and its victims' families. Even so, all of that creates a new life for Hotel Ducor through a tour that can tell about its architectural orientation. In the end, despite the architectural decay, the two luxury hotels in Mozambique and Liberia are now coming back to life after their death.

The condition of the inside of the Ducor Hotel after being forgotten and abandonedThe condition of the inside of the Ducor Hotel after being forgotten and abandoned. (Image courtesy of Ken Harper licensed under the CC BY 2.0 license)

 

Reference:

Abandoned Modernism in Liberia and Mozambique: The Afterlives of Luxury Hotel

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