African Architecture: Vernacular vs. Spectacular
Africa is the second-largest continent in the world, home to 54 countries, thousands of diverse cultures and languages, and rich in history and influences. It is only natural that all of this inspirational bounty is represented in the continent’s architecture over the ages. Why is African architecture so often overlooked? This Africa month, we reaffirm our love and respect for buildings in this big and beautiful continent.
African diversity inspires remarkable design
Every one of the 54 countries in Africa has a long and winding road of stories to tell. Many tell the story of war and colonialism, but all of them celebrate their own ethnic traditions. This continent is considered to be the oldest inhabited territory on earth, which is why African architecture can never be just one thing. The temples, cathedrals and mosques in Burkina Faso, Senegal, Mozambique, Seychelles and Mali are just as mind-blowing as the religious buildings found in Europe.
Africa’s rich, cultural diversity, its varied landscapes and assortment of modern influences make it a canvas for architectural opportunity.
Intangibility of place (Genius-loci)
In Roman mythology, the intangible, illusive quality that causes a person to be moved or touched by a place is referred to as Genius Loci – the protective spirit of place! The ability to obtain Genius Loci is generally not just one thing either, but a burst of sensory qualities that speak to the heart. This is often found in older buildings and ruins, but it can also be found in newer designs. Buildings that trigger feelings of nostalgia, connect with nature or celebrate African culture, fabrics, prints or materials in their design can become a sensory delight from the onset.
Some of our favourite African buildings that inspire within us a sense of Genius Loci are the Ghardaïa Clay Palace in Algeria, Cairo Citadel in Egypt, Leptis Magna in Libya and Rova of Antananarivo in Madagascar.
Respect, authenticity and honesty of materials and design
African architecture is about more than just the building itself. It is about building something honest, unique and practical. And it is about respecting the natural environment and the community, now and for decades to come in the process. Traditional and natural African building materials like thatch, sticks, wood, mud, mudbrick, rammed earth and stone tick all of these boxes, which is why many of these are still used today.
As their buildings over the years show, every country in Africa has always had its own artistic flair, unique to their own story. African architecture is therefore far more than meets the eye and very deserving of the international spotlight. And at Veld Architects we are, and have always been designing sustainable, authentic, Genius-Loci homes in South Africa that are a testament to this.
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