Igor Bloch

Igor Bloch

Igor Bloch is the doctoral researcher at the Faculty of Engineering and Architecture of Ghent University and the VUB Architectural Engineering, supervised by Johan Lagae and Ine Wouters.

He graduated from the Courtauld Institute of Art in London (MA in History of Art).

His doctoral research concentrates on the urban housing question during the implementation of the 'Plan Décennal du Congo belge' (1949-1959). It discusses the creation of homes for the originating nuclear families and investigates the materiality of the construction through the lenses of class, gender, and race. In the architectural history research project, the building process is perceived as an interface between colonial and construction history.

Igor participated in 'Bauhaus Lab 2022: Camps for Liberation' at Bauhaus Dessau, which explored the history of the 1987 UN-HABITAT project in Dakawa, Tanzania, built for the comrades of the African National Congress in exile.

The PhD is funded by the EOS project 'Construction history, above and beyond. What history can do for construction history.'


PhD research

Construction History meets Colonial History. Technologies, building materials and debris

Date2022 - ...
SupervisorsIne Wouters and Johan Lagae

The dialogue between colonial history and construction history will evolve around the use of particular technologies, the ecologies of building materials and debris, and the division of labor at the construction site, in Congo as the former Belgian colony, in the 19th and 20th centuries. These topics gain particular significance in a colonial context, with metropolitan methods and guidelines most often being translated and reformulated to be applied 'overseas' because of differences in climate, of availability of skills, of knowledge and resources, and of different agendas and expectations linked to the inequal power relationships that characterize the colonial situation.

The PhD research will focus on the role of a myriad of hitherto overlooked actors that helped shape the urban landscapes of emerging cities like Kinshasa, Lubumbashi or Matadi, starting from preliminary research done on the African activities of the Belgian firm Blaton-Aubert. The research looks in particular at the role of two large enterprises (the Kinshasa-based enterprise Safricas; the Italian-based company Astaldi), and some small contractors of non-Belgian origin which emerged in Congo from the interwar period onwards. Starting from the observation that Belgian colonial policies were often informed by a process of 'selective borrowing', the PhD student traces how these actors were involved in, or informed by, transcolonial/ transimperial conversations on building in the tropics, in order to understand to what extent the practice of building was based on the explicit production of 'situated knowledge', and how it responded to more tacit forms of knowledge and implicit cognitive design principles as those at work in housing and hospital construction initiated by the colonial Service des Travaux Publics. Particular attention is given to the specificities of working with the broad range of sources present in colonial construction company archives, one particular outcome being an inventory of the Safricas archive, currently conserved by the still active company in Kinshasa.