Huambo [Nova Lisboa]

Lat: -12.775300015318000, Long: 15.734306001013000

Huambo [Nova Lisboa]

Huambo, Angola

Historical Background and Urbanism

The city of Huambo was originated in the convergence of the plans for European occupation of the plateau (from the time of monarchy, extending into Republic) with the plans for the line of the Benguela Railway that Robert Williams, the dealer interested in the copper from Catanga (to connect the Porto do Lobito to Congo, enabling the flow of ore from that region of the former Belgian colony), was authorized to detour from the initial itinerary, towards the south. But Huambo would have been merely another railway town at the heart of Angola if it wasn’t for the urbanization options of the military engineer Carlos Roma Machado and the vision of governor general Norton de Matos who created the city by decree in a place where there was not even a settlement. The new railway route crossed the lands of the Huambo (Ambo, Wambu), once famous for assaults on caravans and colonial entrepots. Its conquest was a priority for the governor of Benguela, Teixeira Moutinho, who led one of the three units organized against the “revolt” of Bailundo in 1902. The campaign in Huambo lasted from August to October and included violent struggles in September on the rocky abutments of Nganda and Caué (Kawe) and Candumbo (Kandumbu). On the 26th October, the small rammed earth fort surrounded by a ditch was inaugurated at Quissala (Cisala), a few kilometres from the Samisasa capital which had been abandoned after the death, in August, of the Soma Livongue. The military post became dependent on the captaincy of Bailundo until 1909 when governor general Paiva Couceiro united Huambo, Sambo and Cuíma under the military command of Huambo, itself subordinated to Benguela. The Huambo was elevated to municipality status in 1911, with ephemeral existence but, in fact, this was not the origin of the city. The railway construction started in 1903. The military occupation and the proximity of the railway resulted in projects for intensive European colonization of the highlands of Angola and in 1907 Paiva Couceiro appointed a technical committee managed by Pereira do Nascimento whose report, published in 1910, was used by Norton de Matos. Still before the implementation of the Portuguese Republic, governor general Alves Roçadas appointed another committee with representatives from the Benguela Railway and from the business sector of Benguela to establish the location of future settlements. The inclusion of engineer Roma Machado was decisive in the choice of the place and elaboration of the plan for the future city once the problems of the change of Portuguese regime were overcome. In 1912, Norton de Matos, determined to counterbalance the influence of the Benguela Railway in the region with a strong presence of the Portuguese administration, approved the project and created, by a provincial directive of the 8th August, the city of Huambo on the site of the former Catholic Mission, about one kilometre from the station. On the 21st September 1912, the city received a formal charter of foundation, signed by the governor general and numerous witnesses in a pre-fabricated, wooden house, with the first adminstrator being Artur de Castro Soromenho. Norton de Matos comments, in his memoirs: “The Angolan press found this simple, easy way of creating cities in the African backlands original and they commented, criticized and scorned it.”
The open and relatively level plateau (1,700 metres high) where the city was expected to expand was surrounded by rivers that assured the water supply and could provide electricity (water courses such as those at Cahululo, Cavonge, Candjangombe, Sacahala – as well as the waterfalls of Kunyongambwa River); around 20 km away, the Cuando River enabled the construction of the dam through which the Benguela Railway provided energy to the city.
South of the railway, crossed by roadways initially created for the passage of the oxcarts of the Boers, the place was named ombila yo ngombe, the grave of the oxen, as it was here that so many of them died. A Catholic mission was established there in 1910 before moving in 1911 to the banks of the Cuando River, 20 km away leaving behind a few walls, a Christian village and cultivated lands on the banks of the Konjevi River, the future Granja do Estado. To the north of the line, during the works for the railway, an important storage for railway material and the usual settlement for workers and traders had been established around the facilities of the construction company Pauling & Co, which was the basis of the “Pólingue Quarter”.
The layout of the city of Huambo reflected the imperial vision and the modernity of the new century. Clearly inspired by cities in the Americas and in the British colonies, it mirrored the notion of a garden city (a city with a green belt and planned areas for residence, services, industry and agriculture), in addition to the “indigenous quarters”, in a time when all colonial powers promoted racial segregation in residential and social areas.
Under the vital impulse of Norton de Matos, Huambo was conceived as a large administrative, commercial and industrial centre and even as a leisure area for Belgians from the Congo. The plan envisaged hotels, playing fields, markets, schools, parks, workers quarter, headquarters, prison, etc. The ambitious civic centre around the palace square and the roundabout (larger than the existing one), would have had administrative buildings, courthouses, banks, a theatre, a library, and a casino.
It was the starting point for several wide avenues, two of which run parallel as far as the station area in the eastern section of the city. The public washing places, the waste treatment plant and the slaughterhouse would be located in the Kusava valley to the north, outside the city. Republican anticlericalism explains the unusual fact of the lack of a church, just a chapel “for all kinds of worship” in the cemetery. Adobe, wattle-and-daub, zinc and thatch were officially excluded from the urban area. The original project by Roma Machado, despite having being changed, is still recognizable in the main area of the uptown.
But the real city, basically of a trading and bureaucratic nature, took many years to be formed since it not only sprawled to the north of the line but also had two hubs from the start: the political/administrative one uptown, and the economic one, downtown, in the vicinity of the single station (as the Benguela Railway kept the passenger and goods stations next to each other). The crowning glory of the route to the city downtown would be the construction in the 1940s of the imposing headquarters of the Commercial Association and of the Bank of Angola, overlooking the gardens opposite the station.
Huambo was elevated to municipal seat in 1921 and in 1928 the high commissioner, Vicente Ferreira, approved a new preliminary plan for the city, changed its name to Nova Lisboa (which was used until 1975) and the Organic Charter of Angola made it the “theoretical” new capital of the colony (until the review of the Colonial Act in 1950) although with no practical consequence. In 1933 the Urban Committee Building became the Town Hall. The electricity network was inaugurated in 1936 and tap water in the 1940s. Until that time the city’s supply had come from shallow hand-dug wells, two fountains and water sold by the Benguela Railway. On the 4th September 1940 Huambo was also elevated to the status of diocesan see. In fact, the city grew enormously from the 1930s and 1940s onwards. Henrique Galvão also alludes to those who “designed on paper a vast town, the largest city of Angola [...] a theoretical city, with half a dozen scattered houses from which a car took endless minutes to go from one to another, passing through thatched quarters and vacant streets”. But Ondina Braga, decades later, considered “Nova Lisboa, clear, flat, and lively [...] Vast avenues were what I saw there, well-structured arteries with pleasant, sober, single-storey houses and flowered gardens.”
A new plan was ellaborated in 1946-1947 after the intervention of the Gabinete de Urbanização do Ultramar (Overseas Urbanization Office) whose experts were scandalized by the width of the streets and squares in a city with fewer than 3,500 whites and “civilized” mixed people. Areas designed for hotels and parks were eliminated, residential areas for Europeans were extended and new “indigenous quarters” were planned. Racial segregation was an expressed purpose, although it was never fully achieved, especially in outlying outskirts where construction norms were less strict than those in the Portuguese quarters of Benfica and Cacilhas. In 1948, the city was finally granted a charter. Despite the clear population increase (16,288 inhabitants in 1940; 28,296 in 1950), the central part of the city evolved slowly while urban sprawl was notorious. The following decade saw the development of the city downtown (hotels, libraries, cinema, shops) while uptown public buildings were renewed and the residential area was extended. With 40,000 inhabitants in 1960, Huambo was the third city in Angola. Over the following years the city grew at a rapid pace in terms of extension and in height, with many buildings of more than six floors. The avenue defined by the Central Hospital and the Church of Our Lady of Fátima signalled the start of the Fátima Quarter which was still incomplete in 1975 (and remains so nowadays): spacious bungalows, with walled gardens and vegetable gardens, two-storey semi-detached houses, an area of luxury mansions of two or three floors and swimming pools, and a street with “economic houses”. Alongside the workshops of the Benguela Railway and light industry, heavy industry was developed, defying the traditional control of the tertiary sector in the economy of Huambo. As the second city of Angola in population (62,000 inhabitants in 1970), Huambo was also, at the time of independence, the second major industrial hub and one of the main academic cores, which made the effects of its later decay even more dramatic, being geographically located at the epicentre of the long-lasting civil war. Now reconstruction and new urban undertakings are changing once again the city’s face.
In the urban design of Huambo, which is truly unique, it should be emphasized its three urbanization plans and their perspective results, its broad and large-scale layout, unusual in the colonial context and influenced by the European urbanistic concepts – which, from Ebenezer Howard’s proposal for “garden cities” in 1898, had included the theme of the polygonal and radiating plan (with a centred, hexa or octagonal matrix), replacing the former 19th century grid model. The initial plan for Huambo is in fact one of the most erudite models of the “city beautiful” concept of the 1910s-1920s (experimenting with a more formal design, of a visual and compositional, “artistic” and monumental effect for the city) used within the colonial context, along with two major British undertakings: New Delhi, in India, with a plan by Lutyens from 1911 and Canberra, in Australia, by Griffin, from 1913. These cities with multiple hubs encompassed several interconnected, polygonal squares, defining an initial functional separation for each (government, municipal, residential, etc.). In the city of Huambo according to the plan by Carlos Roma Machado, the model was restricted to a founding element of a single square/roundabout from which eight rectilinear avenues radiated.
The city of Huambo was one of the most interesting and complete experiments in Portuguese formal urbanism. Despite having been founded as late as the second decade of the 20th century, it soon became one of the major urban cores in the province of Angola, alongside Lobito, and the great urban centre of the interior. It showed potential for a prominent strategic role, which translated into an unstoppable growth after its establishment based, in urbanistic terms, on general plans that defined its organization and shape. The rapid formation of Huambo, the importance that was attributed to it and the role it eventually played resulted in the constitution of an urban ensemble which clearly reflects the varied projects and plans that guided its development. The organization of the city was marked by three decisive moments linked to the process of creating a new city in the 20th century and which derive from the planning system itself. A year after its creation the plan of colonel engineering Carlos Roma Machado envisaged a city for European population. This first urbanistic proposal was designed for a core (although with a limited extension towards the railway station) envisioned with perhaps excessive ambition and visionary direction. His urbanistic conception materialized in a radial scheme centred on a hill from which radiated the road axis that structured the construction plots. In spite of a bolder proposal (considering those made for the other settlements on the Benguela line), the simplicity of the design was clear in the profile of the streets and on the definition and size of the land plots. It was aimed at enhancing the morphological features of the place and combining the radial system of the model centred on an elevated site with the constraints of the railway line. Reality, nonetheless, without rejecting the concept proposed by Roma Machado in 1912 (1910 – start of the study; 1912 – presentation; 1913 – publication), gradually adapted that solution, making some changes but maintaining it for around 30 years.
It should be mentioned the existence of another plan, from an intermediary stage (from 1928, during the elevation of Huambo to capital of Angola status, with the official name of Nova Lisboa): this corresponded to a preliminary plan based on the surveyors Pereira da Silva and Dias Antunes without any significant alteration to the original plan – and it was then approved by the commissioner Vicente Ferreira.
Huambo in the early 1940s was composed of two distinct areas. A more developed core near the station, the downtown, consisting of a series of orthogonal streets that usually formed rectangular blocks and which, because of their small size, were mostly occupied by fronts built on a single side of the street. A second core, the uptown, a result of the 1912 plan, was only sketched out although the main administration building, the central point of the whole composition, was actually built. The city was thus a somewhat clumsy conjunction between the denser downtown area, resulting from a pragmatic occupation, and the uptown area, which was less compact and based on the Roma Machado plan. The effective growth and the role expected for the renamed city of Nova Lisboa explained why the architect João de Aguiar was entrusted with the elaboration of a Plano Geral de Urbanização (General Urbanization Plan), promoted within the framework of the Colonial Urbanization Office of the Ministry of Overseas Affairs. This plan was concluded in 1946-1947, being approved on the 3rd December 1947 (Ministério..., no. 99, 1947). This was for over two decades the instrument of urbanistic management of the city. João de Aguiar determined, as its main purpose, the city development orientation, aimed at reaching 20,000 “civilized” inhabitants, that is, a huge increase for the time. To do so he proposed the incorporation of the two existing cores and the creation of a new structure of hierarchized streets with complex profiles and key spaces which could be provided with new facilities including residential quarters for Europeans and indigenous people in an advanced stage of acculturation, commercial and sports areas and a marked increase in administrative zones. Based on these aims, Aguiar designed a solution that was highly formal in character, integrating both the features of the site and the former plan, giving it an urbanistic quality that stood out even from this architect’s other work. He reinforced the design for the centre of the uptown and defined it as an administrative centre where he placed the main public buildings. From here sprang the axis that would be provided with secondary facilities and would define the different areas of the new city in a judicious topographical arrangement. The process was based on the establishment of a network of tree-lined streets and main public areas, as well as the classification of the land, (assigned on plots in a zoning plan that loosely distinguished the location of public buildings and the facilities of the extensive residential areas). However, in the period of slightly over 20 years from the elaboration of Aguiar’s plan, Huambo/Nova Lisboa underwent a profound evolution and indeed became an important city: a great part of its urban fabric was consolidated, namely the administrative centre and all the residential quarters apart from the already existing Bairro da Estação (Station Quarter). The explosive population growth is definitely one of the most significant statistics for gaining a better grasp of the reality of major African cities in the second half of the 20th century. By the early 1970s, the situation of Huambo was very different from that which had influenced the former plan, now having a total population of 65,000 inhabitants. Following an attempt at a review (commissioned by the governor general of Angola to Profabril company, but rejected by the architect Castro Rodrigues), the town hall facing a situation that had surpassed all forecasts, in 1969 decided to adopt a new urban plan for the city and its vicinity according to a metropolitan logic. The Plano Director de Urbanização de Nova Lisboa (Urban Guiding Plan for Nova Lisboa) supervised by Mário de Azevedo, which was then approved, attempted to serve more as a factor for the promotion of development than a statutory or restrictive instrument. Nonetheless, it outlined the major infrastructures and defined the different areas. The proposal that informally oriented the city’s management was thus opposed to the ideas of a radical modern urbanism, enabling its implementation in a gradual manner in an effort to incorporate indigenous populations and their customs while adjusting to the spontaneous evolution of its development. The short timeframe of the development and consolidation of the city of Huambo, basically built in 50 years, has left a lasting mark on its urban fabric and, consequently, on its appearance. Without possessing any noteworthy architectural elements, the city is composed of a very coherent built environment of squares and avenues, with façades and buildings that are representative of Portuguese colonial architecture of this period.

Religious Architecture

Military Architecture

Equipment and Infrastructures