Perhaps by having a deep analysis of the contributions of Africans to architecture we can continue the long history of innovation, creation, and fusion of our traditions with the modern trends.
Africans, by failing to properly document, record, and replicate or continually use and develop these technologies, have ensured that African architecture remains to be perceived as useless in the modern times.
Our failures have ensured that not many people recognise our architecture for its individual creativity. This makes it difficult for Africans to get credit for their contribution to architecture and denies builders, designers, and architects practising in Africa a chance to produce structures that exemplify our cultural identity.
Indeed, we have allowed our traditional technologies to be suppressed and be altogether drowned and hidden away from the world by Eurocentric standards.
Our easy inclination to adapting Western standards has made our indigenous technologies, form, and designs appear not fit for use in modern Africa, and emerging architects join the field with this attitude.
Whereas it is not wrong to borrow from other cultures to enrich our own, it is wrong for us Africans to allow the foreign ideas in architecture to override our architectural culture with an apparent air of superiority.
As it is now, the invasion is having a devastating effect on creative emergence of African architecture as African architects are forced to wallow in the shadows of their foreign colleagues. It is not a wonder that few Africans get a chance to design major projects in their own cities.
It is also a shame to see that whenever a building of traditional African influence emerges, there is normally a foreigner at the helm. In Kenya, for example, we have the Kenyatta International Conference Centre (KICC), built to replicate a traditional African hut, where Kenyan architect David Mutiso worked with the Norwegian architect, Karl Henrick Nostvick.
In Uganda, Swiss architect Justus Dahinden created the Namugongo National Shrine Catholic Basilica by creatively combining modern building materials with beautifully synthesised traditional architectural forms. He further created Mityana Pilgrims’ Shrine, a successful melding of traditional architecture with Western design.
In Brazzaville, Republic of the Congo, French architect Roger Erell designed St Anne’s Basilica by combining native artistic inspiration and local traditional techniques with European innovations to come up with a church of massive proportions, drawing inspiration from the spear heads of Northern Congo, the mud huts of Chad, and the medieval cathedrals of Europe. The basilica is one of the major monuments in Brazzaville.
All the above examples have a special standing in the countries they belong as touristic attractions and national monuments. This goes to show that traditional African influences can still be put to use in modern-day architecture.
While it is impossible to go back to the architectural styles and methods our forefathers used before the foreign invasion, a rescue of Africa’s dignity and identity is definitely overdue and Africa and Africans must stand up for their space on the globe.
An architectural approach is just one way this can be achieved. Replacing our traditional architecture with foreign models is a negation of the self, which will eventually lead to a tainted worth.
As in the above examples, the foreign technologies and designs can be synthesised with our traditional methods without the latter becoming a junior partner. The old should be seen as a resource for the advancement of the new tradition for the benefit of historical and socio-cultural continuity.
The infiltration and conformity to the foreign ideas has continued to be encouraged, particularly by developers seeking to make quick cash, architects seeking a quick and easy job, and owners seeking to own a Western-like piece of architecture.
Few incentives exist for a traditional-influenced house. It is perhaps for this reason that our architects are getting more inclined to sticking to the easy-to-copy and conventional Western designs instead of coming up with imaginative designs that could set them apart from the crowd.
If this trend continues, no African architect will be confident enough to try a new idea that encompasses our traditional architecture.
The pressures of modern architecture will continue to suppress and hinder the development and evolution of African architecture, and in turn, this will lead to the death of what is essentially African architecture.
African architecture should be an asset to be exploited by Africa. It should evolve, along with other institutions of society, to meet changing needs and to create a tradition that survives modernisation in a sustainable and culturally appreciative way.
Due to the threat of diminishing African heritage, developers should strive to ensure that African architecture is not overshadowed, but strengthened, by new, emerging methods.
In order to build a strong African architectural heritage, it is necessary for all of us to understand and value our past and our African heritage.
Without such an understanding, no genuine African architecture will stand the test of Western influence, neither will any be able to emerge.
We will continue to borrow randomly and at a high price from foreign models and in the process lose our heritage and the ambiguity of what constitutes African architecture will persist.
Does African architecture have a place in the modern world? Send your comments to firstname.lastname@example.org