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Twentieth Century Society drafted in to Eritrea battle


The Twentieth Century Society is to get involved in a movement to save a perfectly preserved 1930s city in Africa. Until now the International Support Group for the Preservation of Asmara has been the work of one man, Mike Street, who was fired with enthusiasm when he saw the innovative architecture and engineering of the Eritrean city .

Eritrea was an Italian colony between the 1890s and 1941, and enjoyed a boom under Mussolini in the 1930s. The subsequent 30-year war with Ethiopia, which ended in 1991, isolated Asmara, preventing any changes being made. Now it is threatened by development and the Twentieth Century Society is to join Street's efforts to protect it. Yesterday (Wednesday 9 September) Street, who two years ago started the campaign to raise global awareness of the city, addressed members of the society on progress so far.

The long list of those who have pledged support include Richard Rogers. Street refers to his book Cities for a Small Planet, saying 'it is about Asmara'. Asmara is, he says, a 'lived-in' city and although the bulk of the buildings were designed in the fascist era they were for ordinary Italians and not prone to grandiose gestures. 'Despite the fascist policies, the architecture is very sensual and beautiful,' he said. 'It expresses the sensuality of the tropics.'

Street is trying, with critic Colin Amery, to get Asmara listed by the World Monument Fund as one of the 100 most endangered sites. 'There are already three new buildings in the city centre,' Street said. 'Instead of being market-driven, development needs to be controlled and thought about so that people are not pushed out of the city centre.' Otherwise, he fears it could be ruined in the same way that Nairobi has been over the past 20 years.

Street will take a small group of experts to Nairobi at the end of this year, and is hoping for advice on ways to approach the numerous international funding organisations. There is also enthusiasm within Asmara. 'People were brought up to believe they have one of the most beautiful cities in the world,' he said.

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