A Lecturer in Architecture and Urbanism at Edinburgh School of Architecture and Landscape Architecture (ESALA) and a filmmaker and Lecturer at Kingston University London have won a prestigious international award for their film, UPPLAND.

Killian Doherty and Edward Lawrenson have picked up the Society of Architectural Historians (SAH) Award for Film and Video for the short documentary film that explores the ongoing legacy of a Liberian community who were displaced when a Swedish mining operation discovers valuable ore in a sacred mountain.

The film began with research conducted by Killian in Northern Liberia in 2013, when he happened upon the town of Yekepa. "The town-plan and architecture of Yekepa was not rural, local nor Liberian, rather urban, industrial and that of a European new-town," said Killian, "Researching Yekepa I found out it was designed by and intended for a Swedish-American mining community that was now owned by the largest producers of structural steel, Arcelor Mittal. So Yekepa – its architecture and town - became a means to narrate the historical depth and geographical range of colonialism, in and beyond Africa."

Killian's research locates architectural knowledge and design practices within wider histories of and theories of knowledge, drawing from post-colonial, political history, ecology, anthropology, sociology, geography and critical theory readings of the Global South. Edward, who directed the film, is a London-based filmmaker whose work has been played at a number of internationally high-profile festivals.

"It was through a chance meeting at University College London that I met Scottish filmmaker Edward Lawrenson. Edward had an interest in Scottish mining new-towns and through this shared interest we developed a film-pitch for the Open-City Docs ‘Border Crossing’ competition. Winning this grant we travelled to Yekepa and Stockholm, filming over 15 days," said Killian, "Much of Yekepa’s colonial history, buildings, sites and contacts on the ground had been established and mapped out previously. Edward had also trained me on how to take sound recordings on site. Arriving into Yekepa I took Edward through the town and landscape, and with the help of community facilitators we unearthed Yekepa’s ‘Other’ history of the displaced indigenous Mano community."

UPPLAND trailer
Edward Lawrenson

"It was true collaborative process between an architect and film-maker but also with the current and former residents of Yekepa."

Killian Doherty, Lecturer in Architecture and Urbanism, ESALA

The award is global in scope with no geographic or political boundaries limiting subject matter or production team. The review committee praised the filmmakers for their "acute observations of the conflicts between our scholarly interpretations of architecture and the self-developed narratives of communities occupying the same space. Despite the romanticist approach to the discharged beauty of the mining ruins, the filmmakers pursued the unnerving realities of a village exiled from their ancestral land through the neutral tone of their narration and the observant lens of their camera."

The film will now become part of the SAH's permanent archive, housed in the library at the Society’s headquarters in Chicago. Founded at Harvard University in 1940, the SAH is a nonprofit membership organisation that serves a network of local, national, and international institutions and individuals who, by profession or interest, focus on the history of the built environment and its role in shaping contemporary life.

"The award is a huge honour for me and significant as an architectural practitioner, with recognition coming from architectural historians. It’s great for the architectural-film practice that Edward and I are developing through a new film in Sierra Leone," said Killian, "However the recognition we are looking for is the endorsement from the Liberian and Mano communities who live in Yekepa. The film is currently being re-translated back into the Liberian native language of Mano with the hope of being restored to the community next year – the same year that marks Liberia’s bicentennial of black American settlement under white American direction."

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