It is an unbiased world! Why else should a continent with so much potential and terrestrial resource be deprived of the prosperity it deserves? Well, hopefully the horizon for the African architecture, as one of the most important aspects of any society’s culture and craftsmanship, seems bright and promising.
Here, we want to bring you a group of pioneer projects from across the continent to corroborate the claim that African Architecture styles are helping the Africans take a new path in their so-far mundane role in architecture’s contemporary memory.
But first, before getting to those phenomenal African architecture design marvels, it might be better to know our way around the continent’s diverse background. So, let’s set the scene.
The Islamic and Christian influences, mostly across the northern strip of Africa, have made this region’s architecture vastly different from what you see in sub-Saharan Africa.
For example, the mostly-Arab and Berber design of North Africa in Egypt and other Arab Nations in the region and their mutual culture with Muslim nations around the Red Sea and Persian Gulf has influenced the African architecture styles across Northern Sudan, Libya, Eastern coasts of Kenya, and Tanzania where Muslims have long grown historical roots.
Other examples of such Islamic and Christian impact would be rock-framed churches in Ethiopia and mud-wrought grand mosques in Mali’s Djenné and Mopti.
Apart from what we mentioned, genuine African architecture styles of the natives in central and southern Africa represent another distinct branch of African architecture; almost all of which has been subject to the erosion of climate and time.
Due to their makeshift nature and locally sourced material, the age-long design forms of indigenous Africans have been repeated for their dwellings and their overall built environment for centuries, but no notable landmark has made it to this day from the distant past.
Although there are some stone-made adobes and structures across the continent that still stand and attract archeological interest.
The stone-walled Kraals settlements in Botswana and South Africa are an example.
Except for a few stone-based African architecture styles, the better part of the continent’s native built environment is mostly made of wood or clay structures and walls topped by thatched straw, leaf, or reed roofs.
Although they might seem shabby and rough, but centuries of recurring adjustment and testing according to the indigenous culture and climate has made these buildings well-equipped for their environment.
This quality in design is precisely what today’s protagonists of African architecture promote. They are trying to reach the present day’s modernity on a world-class scale while remaining loyal to African architecture’s domestic values and sustainable solutions.
That’s what David Adjaye, the British-Ghanaian architect calls for, both through his lectures and his buildings in Africa and across the world.
But such a progressive vision has not been easy to find its current mainstream appeal in today’s African architecture.
Decades of debate and yoyoing around after the African nations’ uprising against colonization in the second half of the twentieth century have had to pass for this grand realization to grow in African architecture circles.
Before that, the first modern sparkles of change in the continent were some foreign architect’s efforts to help colonizers show their good intentions in the 1940s and 50s. Mass housing projects in Algeria and Morocco by Le Corbusier and Aldo Van Eyck are some of the early examples.
Other foreign designs and implementations that shaped early modern trends in the African architecture can be characterized by the Bauhaus School of thought that was essensially a functional take on the Modern movement.
Further development scattered across the continent led to the practice of International style that was all the rage back then in the 50s.
But it wasn’t until the early 80s that an outburst of domestic dialogue started in the African architecture communities.
The new African Union of Architects and other national architect associations and action circles like ArchiAfrika, Doual’art, and Adventurers in Diaspora took the contemporary discourse to a whole new level.
Ever since, they have helped create an awareness among younger generations of African architecture enthusiasts, giving birth to a group of fresh eager architects to take the stage.
Figures like Diébédo Francis Kéré with his powerful debut in a primary school design in eastern Burkina Faso, or Pierre Goudiaby Atepa as an early grand figure with a career full of notable projects like the bank of the Economic Community of West African States in Lomé, Togo or Dakar’s Millennium Gate of the Gambia’s Banjul airport in Gambia; and last but not least is Osae-Addo from Ghana.
For you to make sure we’re not exaggerating, let’s take a closer look at the current African architecture design landscape through a handful of exercises that have been practiced over the continent’s recent history.
After all, as the motherland of humanity, it is where all our history started. Maybe it could be the kick-off of yet another marvel. This time, in the architectural arena.
Lideta Mercato in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia
By the Spanish Architect, Vilalta Arquitectura, a revolutionary approach to the shopping malls’ prevalent design in the Ethiopian Capital, Addis Ababa, is implemented here.
Capturing Ethiopia’s traditional forms in the fractal pattern of the building’s outer concrete shell, the architect has not fallen for the overabundant glazing trend in the city that has caused a host of whole lot of other inadvertent problems.
Plus, this outer concrete shell, permits cross-ventilation through the building.
The natural air current is taken in from all sides and then is channeled into the sloped central void where the air is sucked up out of the ceiling.
But that is not all the center’s roof does. It also collects and then directs rainwater toward the basement storage tanks where filtered water is pumped into the mall lavatories.
The roof is also where the installation of photovoltaic panels harbors an elevated urban plaza with controlled natural lighting underneath and generates pollution-free electricity above.
This center is truly one of the best examples where a domestic African architecture design solution is conflated with modern fabrication methods practiced at a world-class stage.
Bosjes Chapel in Witzenberg Municipality, South Africa
Set in the calm landscape of Breederiver Valley in South Africa, Bosjes Chapel’s unorthodox yet soothing form instantly blends with its surrounding.
Coetzee Steyn, the South African born architect who is now based in London, has masterfully captured the serene nature of this swanky district in the southern horn of Africa that’s famous for its flashy Avant-guard African Architecture styles.
A sense of lightness and a soaring divinity have been the essential inspiration for the thin concrete shell of a roof that floats over a simple rectangular plan, elevated to distinguish the church from its surrounding.
The rippled shape of Bosjes chapel is reflected over the still pond next to it; intensifying the sense of lightness altogether.
The same simplicity and lightness are the built-in theme of the interior. The chapel’s internal space visually extended to the breathtaking scenes around this notable African architecture design, reminding the worshippers of the nature God has created.
Laayoune Technology School in Collège Ibn Zohr, Morocco
Jumping all the way up to the northern strip of the continent, you will find Morocco. It is where three Moroccan architects, Saad El Kabbaj, Driss Kettani, and Mohamed Amine Siana have showcased their deep understanding of the country’s culture and climate-oriented African architecture.
The school is built around a central axe that runs straight across the whole complex.
Conforming to the Moroccan government's top agenda toward the dispersion of education centers all over the country, Laayoune Technology School is located away from the capital land; so, the architects have tried to recapture a sense of Urbanite circulation within the school itself.
The simple axial juxtaposition of the school spaces extends to the limited use of material and the primary geometric form of all the units that are interconnected with a consistent set of shaded walkways, colonnades, and open squares.
Magoda Project in the Tanga region, Tanzania
One of the most forward-looking statements in today’s African architecture design atmosphere is a rural project called Magoda.
It is where the Dutch architecture firm Ingvartsen Architects has incorporated a pragmatic approach to a looming epidemic disaster.
To fend off perils of probable disease outbreaks, they have tried to blend Asian and African architecture styles together for a feasible housing solution in Magoda, Tanzania.
Their solution includes residential utilities such as the cooking area and the bathrooms in a semi-open porch, enclosed with eye-level light Asian material like bamboo bundles that allow cross ventilation; while housing the more private sections like bedrooms in a brick and concrete envelope where the thermal mass of the walls frees up the heat it accumulates throughout the day.
Elevated platforms of these housing units help resist flooding with minimum damage.
This mixed form is innately beautiful due to its proper functional response. It also hampers hygiene threats to the community while introducing a new attitude toward a solution for a continent-wide problem that can be further developed by others in the African architecture community.
Community Primary School in Kenema, Sierra Leone
In a country devastated with an 11-year long civil war and then an unfortunate outbreak of Ebola in recent years, a neighborhood in eastern Sierra Leone called Swawou that is on the outskirts of Kenema town, has carried out a communal effort to build a school for its unprivileged girls.
The Kenyan architect, Orkidstudio, has seen to establishing and fostering a free environment for local teenage girls to build up on their dreams on a better and brighter future.
It’s a haven that disentangles the students from all the agony and agitation the outside world poses.
All the school is built with locally composed bricks and mortar on the ground level and heightened light roof panels held by a space frame that helps with cross-ventilating the internal spaces that are hollowed out by assembly courtyards and roofed hallways.
Sacred Heart Cathedral of Kericho in Kericho, Kenya
Let’s stay in Kenya.
In this country’s poverty-stricken but beautiful nature, new progressive African architecture design practices have erected that can sure promise a bright future.
One of these landmarks is the Sacred Heart Cathedral of Kericho by John McAslan + Partners from London.
The design of this cathedral is based on a handful of integral qualities such as the use of local material, furthering a sense of communal congregation that appeals to the locals’ faith, respecting the environment and the efficient use of energy, and honoring and employing the local construction skills.
The ascending wide nave of the cathedral that can shelter a full-scale congregation ceremony underneath, is made of concrete arches that support Kenyan Cypress timber beams and allows natural lighting and ventilation into the building. It is also coated with an outer layer of clay tiles on the outside.
The employment of local material and the energy-wary geometry of the building has made one of the most environment-friendly examples of contemporary African architecture design here.