The Modernist Project in Luanda

In recent decades Angola’s capital, Luanda, has experienced impressive spurts of growth and urban renewal. We have seen the return of urban developmentalism aimed at revalorising the city to achieve an international metropolis that can drive the broader development of the war-torn country, at a feverish pace.

Urban development has taken a modernist slant, reminiscent of the late modernist principles of post-industrial Europe favoured by French architect Le Corbusier. The promotion of this urban form is also in part, a consolidation of the modernist imaginations promulgated by architects such as Vasco Viera da Costa and Fernão Lopes Simões de Carvalho in colonial Angola between the 1940s and mid-1960s.

Now, it is technocrats, politicians, urban planners and a bevy of international consultants that are spearheading such visions, as they appear to be seeking some form of modernist urban progression that demonstrates Luanda’s status as an international economic engine and showcase.

Imaginations of building a world-class city have become hegemonic in the past decade and an architect interviewed at the Administrative Commission of the City of Luanda (CACL), as part of my PhD fieldwork, reaffirms that the organization is very intentional about “promoting a new city with a new face.” The process for achieving this objective is very much a top-down one. It is being driven by a team of experts according to a series of Small Area Plans (SAPs), as they wait upon the completion of the Metropolitan Master Plan of Luanda. These SAPs are reportedly influenced by insights from extensive community consultations yet the urban forms they promote appear to be guided by capitalist urges as opposed to social considerations.

In their book, Wounded Cities: Destruction and Reconstruction in a Globalized World Schneider and Susser (2003) highlight that “ to attract tourist dollars…. cities must recreate themselves as commodities, heavily investing in representation” which is apt for describing the capitalist impulses that are shaping urban policy in the Angolan context. In the post-war years, the Dos Santos government has oriented its urban policies towards the global economy and business interests, with large-scale projects in centrally located urban districts, up-market housing and commercial tower blocks taking centre-stage.

Centrally located districts such as Ingombota and Samba have enjoyed the lion’s share of new constructions in the Luanda Province, accounting for 566,539m2 and 344,899m2 respectively of a total licensed construction area of 1,063.678m2 in 2008 for example.[i] The aesthetic appearance of the city appears to be a key government priority and even new public toilets installed around the city feature in-built LED screens, which display good hygiene practices and business advertisements via video feed.

A proposed Master Plan for the further development of New Kilamba City, submitted by the state-owned Chinese firm, China International Trust and Investment Corporation (CITIC), promotes an ultra-modern urban design, characterised by low-density housing, high-rise buildings and vast green spaces. Renderings for buildings such as the Quinta da Rosalinda by Costa Lopes Architects also abide by these modernist principles.

These inclinations are well intentioned. They generally stem from a desire to achieve and demonstrate ‘development’ after a protracted period of war, and are guided by assumptions that social issues will be addressed via trickle down processes. However, modernist urban progression is concomitant with an exclusionary logic, as several examples worldwide have shown. When the objective of the state is aligned towards capital and inward investment, economic imperatives override all others and the social functions of the city are seriously undermined. With slum removal and resettlement schemes at the kernel of this vision, it is particularly difficult for the poor and marginalised, to establish their ‘right to city’ as they lose their urban foothold and survive in the periphery of the capital. Luanda’s prevailing model of urbanisation is thus shaped by a dualism whereby high-modernist urbanisation is occurring for the elite alongside the increased marginalisation of the majority of the population, 87% of who inhabit musseques (shanty towns).[ii] This quest to achieve an urban utopia hence may only serve to amplify the exclusionary effects of what is a very unequal and differentiated urbanisation process.

It however seems that the Dos Santos government is increasingly becoming sensitised to the pitfalls of this urban orthodoxy, as it seeks to trial more inclusive approaches to urban planning. In Cazenga and Sambizanga, two of the most populous areas of Luanda, the on-going in-situ slum redevelopment scheme is guided by the concept of Bola de Neve which literally translates as ‘snowball,’ a term that is apt for describing its workings. Under this scheme, dwellers of the musseques are temporarily relocated to provisional housing in order to facilitate the redevelopment of their settlements, after which they are moved back into their reconstructed homes.

Yet while there are efforts to adopt a more pro-poor and inclusive posture towards the resettlement of slum dwellers, the modernist framework still prevails, in so far as the Dos Santos government possesses a utopian vision of a transformed and modernised society, guided by the desire to achieve ‘development’ on par with the West.


Sherilyn Reindorf-Partey is a PhD Candidate at the Centre of Development Studies,  University of Cambridge. Her PhD, in progress, is titled ‘Development for whom? Discourses of Modernity in Angola’s Post-War Reconstruction.’


[i] IPGUL, 2008. Obras Licenciadas Em Luanda. Revista IPGUL.

[ii] Ahrens, L., 2012. How Angolans get by in expensive Luanda – This Is Africa Lifestyle. This is Africa. Available at:

Image: A photo of the China International Trust and Investment Corporation’s proposed model of the Africasia building, which is part of the master plan for the further development of New Kilamba City. Photo by Sherilyn Reindorf-Partey.


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One Response to “The Modernist Project in Luanda”

  1. thai

    Really good article, however s point to make about slum dwellers been pushed to the periphery. Take the castle of zango low cost housing. Dwellers complain of been moved away from the center to the outskirts. However although zango is on the outskirts of the City it is situated between the new international airport and the large viana industrial site. Making zango the perfect job pool area in the near future. With the population of Luanda projected to reach over 12 m in the next decade, zango is on position to be the prosperous suburb. It’s all about the future not about today.


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