MODERN AND VERNACULAR: A SYMBIOSIS FOR THE CENTURIES

Across the world, modern architecture has drawn and will continue to draw from tradition– music, food, language and of course, the local architecture. This marriage of modern sensibilities with the wisdom of old has led many a masterpiece. With an array of vernacular styles from the many varied climates and landscapes of Africa comes a near-inexhaustible supply of inspiration and information. 

Here is a glimpse into the rich world of the African modern vernacular. 

1. GANDO PRIMARY SCHOOL –Kéré Architecture

The Gando Primary School is a symbolic tribute by renowned architect Francis Kere to his native village, addressing its woeful lack of basic infrastructure for students and educators. The school is built in response to the local context of available funds, material and climate, paying homage to the longstanding vernacular traditions of the area. 

Locally available clay is used in conjunction with cement in a modernized version of traditional clay-building techniques to create robust and simple structures. Elevating the tin roof away from the walls allows the hot air to escape and avoid overheating the internal space, while the perforated clay ceiling below the tin roof ensures protection from the elements as well as adding a design element. In keeping with the traditions of rural Burkina Faso, the entire community of Gando came together to build the school, learning new low-tech sustainable techniques of building, while simplifying maintenance and operations.

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Gando Primary School ©www.kere-architecture.com
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Gando Primary School ©www.kere-architecture.com
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Gando Primary School ©www.kere-architecture.com

2. MATERNITY VILLAGE –Mass Design Group

A study in the psychology of healing spaces, the maternity waiting village at Kasungu, Malawi is a successful prototype in healing architecture. Modules accommodate expectant mothers and their family members in hygienic conditions while also being a source of comfort by reminding them of home. 

Local materials and time-tested techniques have been used in the construction of these simple cottage-like structures that are clustered around courtyards, similar to Malawian villages. This creates communities amongst pregnant women and new mothers and facilitates knowledge and experience-sharing. Dedicated areas play host to workshops on pre- and postnatal care as well as handicrafts training to give the women a way to earn money while away from home. 

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Maternity Village ©www.massdesigngroup.org/
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Maternity Village ©www.massdesigngroup.org/
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 Maternity Village © www.massdesigngroup.org

3. SOS CHILDREN’S VILLAGE –Urko Sanchez

A labyrinth of tiny lanes, horseshoe arches, perforated screens and gingerbread-esque homes, the SOS Children’s Village in Djibouti is located in one of the hottest places on the planet. To create fifteen homes on a small site in such inhospitable conditions, Urko Sanchez turned to the vernacular for a solution. 

The village’s narrow winding pedestrian alleys are shaded by the buildings, allowing free movement throughout the day. Small, high windows set in thick clay walls provide diffused sunlight while reducing heat gain. Terraces and courtyards house play areas and nooks for children and adolescents, creating an opportunity for self-expression and creative thought to abound.

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SOS Children’s Village © www.urkosanchez.com
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SOS Children’s Village © www.urkosanchez.com
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SOS Children’s Village © www.urkosanchez.com
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 SOS Children’s Village © www.urkosanchez.com

4. LIDETA MERCATO –Vilalta Studio

The LidetaMercato was designed after a careful study of the empty malls adorning the streets of Addis Ababa – to negate the effect of glass-clad boxes, the Mercato was conceived along the lines of the old souks. A brick building with parametric perforations inspired by the traditional garb of Ethiopian women, the Mercato’s facade drastically reduces the heat within. A large atrium connects the multiple levels visually while also bringing in an abundance of natural sunlight to the interior of the market. 

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Lideta Mercato ©www.vilalta.studio/en/portfolio-item/lideta-mercato/
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Lideta Mercato ©www.vilalta.studio/en/portfolio-item/lideta-mercato/
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Lideta Mercato ©www.vilalta.studio/en/portfolio-item/lideta-mercato/

5. MAPUNGUBWE INTERPRETATION CENTRE –Peter Rich Architects

The Mapungubwe Interpretation Centre is a perfect example for the art of fusion and juxtaposition – it is situated on the border of Zimbabwe and Botswana, at the confluence of the Limpopo and Shashe rivers. The architecture itself is a marriage of ancient craft and technological advancement in the context of a natural environment. 

The rocky landscape provides the raw material for the Centre, which is designed in a similar fashion to the cairn-like route markers commonly found in the indigenous styles of Southern African tribes. Simple vaults create dramatic volumes in an expression of natural forces and materials. 

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Mapungubwe Interpretation Centre © www.peterricharchitects.com/
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Mapungubwe Interpretation Centre © www.peterricharchitects.com/
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Mapungubwe Interpretation Centre © www.peterricharchitects.com/

6. CHEOPS OBSERVATORY – Malka Architecture

The Cheops Observatory is described by its architects as a hyper-contextual and sensorial experience. It is a tribute to the all-pervasive informal architecture of Cairo, and was built in the oral tradition with just a few rough sketches in the sand. 

The Observatory is composed of raw earth bricks, upcycled windows and doors that come from the circular economy of the village and are topped off with a tent-like fabric roof made by an ancestral tribe of the Giza desert. It is a contextual response to the global issue of informal architecture and urban sprawl – with stunningly framed views of the pyramids in its backyard.   

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Image 14 – Cheops Observatory ©www.stephanemalka.com/
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Image 15 – Cheops Observatory ©www.stephanemalka.com/
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Cheops Observatory © www.stephanemalka.com/

7. REYARD HOUSE –Team Bosphorus

A breakthrough innovation in waste management and sustainability, ReYard House is an ode to the wisdom of the past. The term ReYard is a product of two concepts – a circular economy of recycling and reuse, and the traditional Moroccan courtyard home or ‘riad’. 

The structure of the house is composed of clay, like the vernacular architecture of the Moors. It employs techniques such as additive printing to create homes that are sustainable and flexible while incorporating concepts such as zero waste and waste management using microalgae, introducing better options for environmentally conscientious clients.

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Image 16 – ReYard House ©www.sdateambosphorus.com
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Image 17 – ReYard House ©www.sdateambosphorus.com
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 ReYard House © www.sdateambosphorus.com

8. LAAYOUNE HIGHER SCHOOL OF TECHNOLOGY – Saad El Kabbaj, Driss Kettani, Mohamed Amine Siana

A truly contemporary interpretation of vernacular techniques, the Laayoune Higher School of Technology aims to bring the essence of urbanity to a remote educational campus in Morocco. The clear, modern organizational patterns of modern cities are complemented by traditional materials and elements, creating a tasteful expression of tradition that is highly climate responsive. 

With the material and color palette restricted to ochre clay, the minimal nature of the buildings on campus is emphasized by the clean, geometric lines and silhouettes. Various solar protection devices used in traditional Moorish architecture translate over to modernity in the form of courtyards, solar shades, cavity walls, Brise Soleil, and fins. The play of light and shadow adds yet another element of theatricality to the composition.

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Image 18 – Laayoune Higher School of Technology ©www.saadelkabbaj.com/
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Image 19 – Laayoune Higher School of Technology ©www.saadelkabbaj.com/
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Image 20 – Laayoune Higher School of Technology ©www.saadelkabbaj.com/

REFERENCES

http://www.kere-architecture.com/projects/primary-school-gando/

https://massdesigngroup.org/work/design/maternity-waiting-village

http://urkosanchez.com/en/project/19/sos-children-s-village.html

https://vilalta.studio/en/portfolio-item/lideta-mercato/

https://www.peterricharchitects.com/mapungubwe-interpretation-centre

https://www.stephanemalka.com/portfolio/big-pernod-ricard-office-i-rethink-the-workspaces-i-paris-2018-3-2-4-2-2-3-2-3-3-2/

http://www.sdateambosphorus.com/#highlights

https://www.saadelkabbaj.com/ecole-superieure-de-technologie-de-laayoune

Author

Anagha is a 22 year old architecture student with a passion for travel, photography, food, languages, music and literature. She is always looking for new things to learn, be it obscure findings in molecular biology or the latest in space science - talk about a Jack of all trades!

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