Africa is a vast continent, along with being culturally diverse. There are lots of architectural styles that can be observed throughout the continent. Just like other countries, African architecture has been influenced by external cultures throughout history. African architecture has a diversely heterogeneous range of styles and techniques, owing to the diversity in the region right from deserts to coastal areas.
Not just in terms of styles, it also shows great alterations in the materials used in different regions. Also, the indulgence of modernity has given a new shape to fabric in Africa.
When we talk about the ancient traditional architecture of Africa, it’s the Pyramids that primarily come to mind. The pyramids of Egypt were indeed one of the oldest architectural achievements of the world, but there was more to ancient Egyptian architecture. It also comprised these huge ancient temple complexes, which were a marvel in itself.
Along with Egypt, there were also other forms of notable structure emerging across Africa, one of which is Senegambia stone circles. These stone monuments represent the well-organized and prosperously thriving societies, which today has been included as the UNESCO world heritage site.
Other than these notable ancient structures, the vernacular architecture of Africa has a lot to offer too. Vernacular architecture of Africa uses a wide range of local materials like thatch, wood, bricks, rammed earth, and stone. Techniques of building the structures also differed from the Sahara desert region to the coastal areas. African vernacular architecture also responds to sustainability, natural resources, climate, and its overall surroundings.
The continent consists of about 50 different countries, right from the stretch of the Sahara desert to the western Indian ocean. This itself brings a lot of social diversity and multicultural influences. Religion has also played a strong influence on the architecture of Africa. The places of worship have a particular set of features that define them. These are also the places for people to gather and learn, hence these structures are of higher order in the society.
Demographic factors always play an important role in the way cities and neighborhood architecture evolves. From the last century, there has been a heavy migration of masses to the cities, which led to the growth of urban centers and have impacted the city fabric. Due to this huge variation in demographics and culture, the architecture of different places shows different approaches.
External Political Influences
Africa has a history of colonial impositions, which led to the political influence on the continent’s architecture as well. In the northern part of Africa, more Islamic and Christian influence can be noticed. Hence, more magnificent mosques and intricate visual art features can be observed in this province, which further expands to the eastern coast of Africa. One such example is Moroccan architecture which is heavily influenced by Islamic architecture.
While if we observe the sub-Saharan region, it primarily consists of more small villages having housing typology. Other influences have been Baroque, Arab, Turkish, and some of the Indian styles too. These were prominently due to the arrival of the Portuguese, and these influences are majorly seen in Ethiopia.
The boom of colonial architecture can be observed post-independence in Africa, which resulted in the replication of one style in large numbers across the continent. A lot of focus shifted to the omnipresent international architectural style due to globalization.
Invasion by Modernity
Globalization led to an increase in repetitive architecture across the globe. Modern architecture paved its way into Africa in the 1920s and 1930s. Since then, throughout the continent, we could see the blend of traditional African architecture and modernist buildings. Development in the post-colonial era saw a huge wave in west-influenced glass structures. The urban fabric also started taking different shapes. A lot of planning proposals were drafted to design the major cities.
Few examples of the attempts can be taken from Le Corbusier’s several never-built designed schemes for the region of Algeria. Similarly, there were also attempts of combining the styles of the two worlds, western and local, these examples can be observed in Tanzania, Cairo, and some parts of Morocco.
The availability of materials also influenced this shift in the method of building structures. Just like other parts of the world, the availability of materials, new technology, and methods coerced local architecture to take a back seat. Development in the post-colonial period saw an influential shift in the change of the everyday lifestyle of the people and their culture. These changes started to shape the dwelling and social spaces, which remarked on the evolution of regional architecture.
Today, African cities are rapidly growing. The growth happening currently seems to be more inclined towards the modern, westernized way of architecture. But there are a lot of architects doing relentless work in preserving the traditional, local architecture of the continent. There has been persistent effort taken by some to conserve as well as re-invent the architecture and architectural methods in the continent.
African architecture has always been in a state of change and adaptation. Being an expansive continent, there are a lot of segments and influences which have moulded the built form differently in different regions of the continent. One can never get enough of this simple but elaborate style of architecture that has flourished in this continent through the centuries of the past and curiously awaiting the future.
[Accessed on 5 May 2021]
https://www.britannica.com/art/African-architecture [Accessed on 5 May 2021]
https://www.dezeen.com/tag/africa/ [Accessed on 5 May 2021]
[Accessed on 5 May 2021]