“Architecture arises out of our need to shelter the human animal in a spatial environment and to enclose the social animal in a group space. In this sense architecture serves our institutions and expresses the values of our culture.” — Robert L. Geddes

John Locke, in his blank slate theory, stated that the mind is completely blank at birth and is shaped by the knowledge, environment and experiences a  child gathers which leaves a lasting effect on who the child becomes. Since the mind is a “tabula rasa” at birth, it is shaped by different knowledge in the society which creates a perspective for such a mind.

Architecture is the process and product of planning, designing, and constructing buildings or other structures. Architecture is seen within the immediate environment through the layout of an area and the planning of spaces allotted to this area. The formal knowledge of architecture is received in different schools of architecture and a wide range of skills are acquired through it. Architecture shapes our perspective and improves a person’s attention to detail since the building is detail-oriented. 

Culture is the ideas, beliefs, customs and social behaviour of a particular set of people. A good cultural background gives people a sense of who they are and influences their architecture, physicality and social life. Africa possesses a rich history and culture which is so diverse that it varies within regions and countries. This culture is reflected in African architecture which uses a wide range of materials, including thatch, stick/wood, mud, mudbrick, rammed earth, and stone.  

Architecture is an identity of the culture that it is designed for and architects seek to design for the times and the people who can use them. Architecture has also been used as a way of expressing culture and civilizations around the world.

Africa’s colonization from the mid 18th century to the late 19th century came with a range of impacts such as formal education, healthcare and ethnic rivalry. These impacts were easily seen but the psychological effects of colonization such as the negative view of cultural identity, self-rejection and low self-esteem were generally hidden and only visible after some degree of knowledge about them. This view of our cultural identity was strongly reflected in the practice of African architecture which embraced a more Western approach to design with almost a complete abandonment of their building style and building material due to the inferiority perception about them. The study of the history of African architecture and architects who adopted African architecture aided in changing this inferiority perception created. The study of African architectural history facilitated the description of the intuitive use of local building materials, the organization of space, environmental consideration and the beliefs of each tribe.

Yoruba structures

The first case study of African architecture is located in Southwestern Nigeria. Traditional Yoruba structures come in either circular or squares and are usually arranged to form an open courtyard which makes a unit. These courtyards are designed to encourage social contact between family members and for home chores to be carried out.  Local building materials such as laterite and clay were used for building walls while bamboo, raffia palm leaves and woods were used for roofing materials and sand plaster was used for mud walls. Communal efforts were used for the construction of these buildings. The pre-colonial Yoruba people mostly lived in urban clusters that formed a spherical pattern. The king’s palace and central market were located in the town’s centre. While family houses were enclosed with open courtyards. The tribe was classed by the size of land and the number of courtyards with the king having the most followed by the houses of the chiefs and then the houses of the family elders.

Cultural Awareness and Appreciation through African architecture - Sheet1
Yoruba community_©en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Yoruba_people
Cultural Awareness and Appreciation through African architecture - Sheet2
Yoruba structures_©  in.pinterest.com/pin/452822937532217102/

Gando Primary School

Cultural Awareness and Appreciation through African architecture - Sheet3
Gando Primary School_©Erik Jan Ouwerkerk
Gando Primary School_©www.architectural-review.com/today/primary-school-by-diebedo-francis-kere-gando-burkina-faso?tkn=1

A recent example is the Gando Primary School located in Gando, Burkina Faso which was designed by Francais Kere, the architect who brought innovation into African architecture. Gando Primary School was constructed using clay in the brick form to make a structurally better construction. Clay was used due to its thermal insulation properties in the hot climate and its availability in this region making them cheaper. The roof of the building adopted the use of large overhangs to protect bricks during rainfall. Traditionally, the building and repairing of homes was done by the members of a whole village in Burkina Faso. This project adopted a similar approach making the villagers participate in the project in several ways such as stone gathering and water fetching for brick production making the traditional building techniques be used alongside modern engineering methods.

“Architecture belongs to culture, not to civilization” Alvar Aalto

African architecture should be celebrated in high esteem and celebrated by every African since it is an important reflection of our history and culture to the world. African architecture should seek to increase the cultural pride needed to reduce the inferior perception attached to our buildings through research and design. African architecture should stop copying the West and seek to improve their architecture to meet our needs and enhance our cultural identity. The use of local building materials should also be encouraged.

References:

  1. Vlach, John Michael (1976). “Affecting Architecture of the Yoruba”. African Arts. 10 (1): 48–99
  2. Adebayo Mayowa (2020). “Pre-colonial traditional Architectures of Nigeria”
  3. ArchDaily (2016).”Gando Primary School / Kéré Architecture “
Author

Chukwuebuka is an architecture student and an amateur writer using his skills to express his ideas to the world. He has written a few articles for DAPC Uniben and he is adventuring to become a popular writer.

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