“Here is your Dream House Made Real” began the promotional brochure for the Alcoa Care-free Home, an aluminum prototype home designed by Charles Goodman and launched 60 years ago, in 1957. Ductile metals are not usually the stuff of dreams—unless you’re an aerospace engineer—but Alcoa, a Pittsburgh-based aluminum company, hoped that homes made of their flagship product might find a place in your local cul-de-sac. They largely did not.
You might, in the abstract, expect a dazzling range of difference in 50 variants on the same theme. But if states are laboratories of democracy, architects of state capitols have been copying over their lab mate’s shoulders. Consider a few traits: Thirty-nine of them have domes; a considerable majority feature symmetrical wings for senate and house chambers; porticos and rotundas seem almost obligatory; almost all are built of granite or limestone.
If stereotypes of Africa are unfortunately commonplace, the contents of Architecture of Independence: African Modernism almost certainly are not. Recent waves of coffee-table monographs depicting the forgotten Modernism of the Western and Eastern blocs reconstruct the Cold War, which seems to mirror our current political climate. But here, along with such companions as David Adjaye’s Africa, Architecture, is a sumptuous photographic moment for the Non-Aligned Movement.