Form of Freedom, the exhibition at the Nordic Pavilion at Venice Biennale, explores and document how the liberation of Tanzania, Kenya, and Zambia in the 1960s coincided with the founding of development aid in Norway, Sweden and Finland. The exhibition subtitled African Indipendence and Nordic Model displays a mutual attempt to absorb, export and transform modernity. Indeed Nordic social democracies and the new African states established solid bonds built on a mutual belief in progress.

Zambia World Bank Education Project. Architect: Gunnar Hyll. Schools all over Zambia 1971-1978. Photo by Mette Tronvoll

Zambia World Bank Education Project. Architect: Gunnar Hyll. Schools all over Zambia 1971-1978. Photo by Mette Tronvoll

On a side, the Nordic countries believed that their social democratic model could be exported, translated, and used for economic growth and welfare; on the other side, the leaders of the new African states wanted partners without a murky colonial past and looked to emulate the progressive results achieved by the Nordic welfare states after WWII.

Kenyatta International Conference Center, Nairobi, Kenya. 1966–1973. Architect: Karl Henrik Nøstvik. Photo by Iwan Baan.

Kenyatta International Conference Center, Nairobi, Kenya. 1966–1973. Architect: Karl Henrik Nøstvik. Photo by Iwan Baan.

The exhibition revolves around two concepts: Building Freedom denotes the architectural nation-building where master plans were used to build cities and regions, prototypes and prefabricated systems were used to build education and health centres, and so on. Finding Freedom, conversely, denotes the experimental free area that emerged from this encounter between Nordic aid and African nation-building, where progressive ideas could be developed as architectural solutions on a par with the international avant-garde.

Karl Henrik Nøstvik, one of the few architects of the era whose archives remain intact, was among the first group of experts sent to Kenya in 1965 as part of the Norwegian aid package. Employed by the Kenyan government, Nøstvik was commissioned to design the country’s first government building. The Kenyatta International Conference Centre (1966–73), which adorns the Kenyan 100 shilling note, was East Africa’s tallest building until the 1990s and remains a national icon of independent, modern Kenya.

The Nordic Pavilion at Giardini. Photo by Annar Bjørgli at Nasjonalmuseet

The Nordic Pavilion at Giardini. Photo by Annar Bjørgli at Nasjonalmuseet

The exhibition at Giardini is curated and organized by the National Museum in Norway in collaboration with the Museum of Finnish Architecture and the Swedish Centre for Architecture and Design in Stockholm.

Kibaha Education Center, Tanzania. Architects: Christoffersen & Hvalbye. Courtesy of the Karl Henrik Nøstvik family.

Kibaha Education Center, Tanzania. Architects: Christoffersen & Hvalbye. Courtesy of the Karl Henrik Nøstvik family.

Photos: courtesy of the Nordic Pavilion.

Kenyatta International Conference Center, Nairobi, Kenya. 1966–1973. Architect: Karl Henrik Nøstvik. Photo by Iwan Baan.

Kenyatta International Conference Center, Nairobi, Kenya. 1966–1973. Architect: Karl Henrik Nøstvik. Photo by Iwan Baan.