African and Diaporan Voices on African Architecture 

During the UK Black History month of October, I’m privileged once again to introduce another guest blog by fellow creative Livingstone Mukusa on his current project celebrating African architects and architecture.

People, locale, environment. These components of a landscape are interrelated, and in the hands of a sensitive practitioner, are approached collectively when considering design intervention. In Sub Saharan Africa, however, this is the exception, rather than the rule.

Colonialism introduced to Sub Saharan Africa new means of construction and building aesthetics. Dominated by industrialized, mass produced materials, this new architectural language spread, permeating rapidly through previously distinct architectural landscapes to creating a region replete with architectural expressions reduced to basic physical attributes that are divorced from their environments, and social meaning of those who inhabit them.

Traditionally, African architecture, much like its art, has always been a verb rather than a noun. It was a language of ritual rather than objectification, a language of climactic response, a language of resource availability.

Patterns, tessellations, fractal designs, and numerous other elements were generally not for the embellishment and decoration that ordinarily meets today’s eye, but carried with them specific meaning and purpose. While the Western tradition of compartmentalized knowledge, combined with the modernist concept of the exploration of each medium in isolation, led to a virtually complete separation of art and architecture. The integration of art or craft and architecture, on the other hand, was and remains an essential part indigenous African cultures— a result of the experience of unity between art and life.

Today, architecture throughout Sub Saharan Africa, and its Diaspora is more of a testament to expressions and materiality borrowed from elsewhere. Occasionally, a nod or two is given to the locality and culture, forms and techniques that speak of the place and the people. Where does this place the idea of an African Architecture? In our attempts to frame, within a modern day context, what African architecture is, how can we bridge the huge chasm of a dichotomy between African architecture of old and new African architectural expressions? What frames African architecture? Should it even be framed?

Sub-Saharan Africa is incredibly diverse in landscape, climate zones, ethnicities, cultures, and economies. And the answers to these questions are as complex, contradictory even, as this diversity. But these are questions worth examining. To this end, I am seeking an assortment of UK and Europe based architects, artists, activists and scholars to lend their thoughts for an upcoming publication.

Interested parties please contact the author.

Livingstone Mukasa

Livingstone Mukasa, founder of Afritecture, a blog focused on the contextual engagement, and exploration of the African vernacular in modern architecture. He can be reached with Twitter: @livmuk, or email: mukasa@yahoo.com

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