Architecture has been defined by culture over time, and sometimes the reverse can be said to be true. The difference and significance of the many skylines of various cities can be partly attributed to the cultures in those places.

On some occasions, architecture has been defined as the scientific-artistic activities to create and organise space. Sometimes this involves crystallising a community’s culture over time into buildings, giving a clear image of the society and how it has changed in different periods.

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The different architecture in different places that is largely influenced by culture (image by Dima Stouhi)_

On the other hand, culture has been defined to be a way of life of a group of people, say, the behaviours, beliefs, values, and symbols that they generally accept without thinking about them and that are passed along by communication and imitation from one generation to the next. 

This means that we can see culture influencing different aspects of life for example, art, architecture, urban planning and development, and numerous ways of life which are not exclusive to space and how people in a given society relate to it over time. How we live, and the kinds of spaces we live in are largely influenced by what we have grown accustomed to. Even the values we attach to certain activities can birth specific spaces and a certain kind of architecture which might also be attributed to culture, for example;

The layout of spaces in homes.

Besides their way of dressing before civilisations crossed, Africans have been known to be very private, only carefully choosing what they want to be seen. This can be seen in their vernacular architecture from how the homestead was originally arranged. 

Say the Karamojong, which is found in the northeastern part of Uganda, their villages which are called ‘manyattas’, are enclosed residential areas surrounded by sharp thorns with minor entry points for people and a more extensive entry for cattle since they are cattle-herding people. The kraal is found in the middle of the homestead since cattle are a precious possession to them, but this also offers natural surveillance. The sleeping spaces belong to the wives who take care of the homestead and maybe the unmarried brothers in a similar lineage; these are located on the side while the kitchen and toilet are at the back of the stead. 

A similar arrangement can be seen in other tribes in Uganda, but this is also carried on to the modern houses people are constructing now. Living spaces are at the forefront, while the kitchen and washroom are at the back, ensuring they are kept as private as possible. This has been the arrangement until recently when the concept of open kitchens was introduced, and some people have adapted to it. In contrast, others still prefer keeping kitchens away from the eyes of visitors because, in most African cultures, the kitchen is a private space. Not everyone should have access to it even if it is just visual.

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The Karamojong manyatta homestead (image by Ivan Sebuuma)_

Skylines of African Cities

The architecture of cities, especially those that have been around for a long time, has greatly been influenced by the early cultures of the people. Some cities have had to adopt the design languages of other places due to factors like colonisation and migration of people who, in turn, influence the architecture of the place where they have gone.

As a continent, Africa is characterised by colour, textures, patterns, forms, different scales, and various materials, and this can be seen in their food, fabric, clothing, and people. Then it also comes down to their current buildings. Since these cities have been influenced by several cultures, especially from other parts of the world, we see these cultures that are not initially from there portrayed in the structures that constitute the cities.  The aspect of diversity that is part of the African heritage and culture is not lost even when the individual buildings that make up the skylines of these cities speak a different language. 

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Dar es salaam city signified by many architectural languages that many cultures have influenced over time_

Urban Planning of towns

In Africa, roles in a family were largely dependent on gender, which meant that the men went to work. At the same time, the women stayed at home taking care of the homes and nurturing children. With this, the men either worked in the farms near their homes or went far away from home, but highly commercial work was rarely done from home. Since then, culture has evolved, and now, men and women work either near their homes or far away. Because of this growth, we have places that are referred to as ‘central business districts’ where most of the work happens and then the areas where people retire after a day’s work. This happened until recently when working from home was introduced to people, but the trend of working from the urban centre and living in another area is still prevalent. Working from the urban centres sees people commuting for long hours endured in traffic. An increase in the number of cars, because most African towns and cities are not walkable or cyclable, can also be blamed on the distances they have to move, which could be one of the reasons for climate change. But because this has been the culture initially, people have not embraced the idea of working and staying in the city centre, and this can even be seen among the developers who are only looking to create buildings and structures that house shops and office space for the sites in the urban centres while the housing is pushed to the outskirts of the city which are largely residential areas with a few amenities.

New NSSF tower being constructed in Kampala, Uganda and the spaces are designated for office space and commercial shops (image by Joseph Beyanga) available at


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