'We're going vertical!': Accommodating history and the future on a Mombasan building site
Paper short abstract:
This paper explores the temporalities that infuse a building project being constructed in Mombasa, Kenya. The project erases some histories while preserving others, and exposes the tensions around a Shia Muslim community's efforts to secure a place for themselves within the city's future.
Paper long abstract:
'Live in Confidence!' exclaims the marketing slogan for the Jaffery Complex, a vertiginous building project going up in the Kenyan port city of Mombasa. Designed by and for Khoja Ithna-Asheris, Shia Muslims of Gujarati origin who count generations of residence in the city, mitigating urban insecurity is but one of the project's goals. This paper starts by positioning the Jaffery Complex within a global geography of edifices. Imagined as befitting Mombasa's significance within the history of the Khoja diaspora worldwide, the project attempts to ameliorate the local community's 'edifice complex' (Grant 2014) on a transnational scale. A series of tower blocks organised around a cricket pitch long at the centre of Khoja life on the Kenyan littoral, the project ardently preserves some histories while erasing others. Architectural features reveal the entanglement of market, religious and political economics that drive its construction, and expose the tension between outreach and retreat that mark Khoja efforts to secure a place for themselves within the city's future. The Complex offers greater self-sufficiency from behind its gates, while at the same time adopting 'pan-Islamic' designs intended to reduce urban religious divisions and reproduce Mombasa's alleged history of social harmony for generations to come.