Every so often I get asked to lead a project at a school of architecture in the United States. At the start of each studio I ask the following question - How many of you can name at least 6 architects? Naturally every hand in the room goes up. I then ask, how many of them can name one modern day African architect? Not a single digit appears.
While public knowledge about current non-western architects is almost non existent and the design media seldom pays attention there is some incredible work emerging throughout the African continent. Jo Noero, founder of Noero Wolff Architects in South Africa has just scooped three architecture prizes in the past seven months including the prestigious Lubetkin Prize - the first time ever outside the EU. These awards all relate to one project, the recently opened $2M Red Location Museum for Struggle located in Port Elizabeth. The museum holds a series of memory boxes all related to the struggle for freedom in South Africa and is located amongst the same unplanned shacks that the struggle emerged.
On the opposite end of the architectural spectrum is a simple school in Burkino Faso. The Gando Primary School was the result of one architect's mission to give the children of his village better educational opportunities that he had as a boy. Designed by Diébédo Francis Kéré this $30,000 structure stands as a true testament of the power of design and the effect architecture can have on a community. Since opening the school has experience a huge increase in attendance and has over 150 children on a wait list. Moreover two surrounding villages are adopting the architects cooperative approach to design to construct schools.
Here are a few others to check out - StudioMAS; Mashabane Rose Architects; Mathews and Assoc.; Neo Dimensions Architects; Slee & Co Architects (sorry that this list is South African centric, not many other African firms have a web presence)
Rather intersting and cognitive article ))
Charles Boccara, Morocco.
The late Hassan Fathy, Egypt.
Lassiné Minta, Mali.
Ramses Wissa Wassef, Egypt.
Serge Santelli, Tunisia.
Mahfoud Zergui, Algeria.
Serge Theunynck, Mauritania.
I don't know any African architects, but could I suggest that one place they might look to find inspiration for non-European architecture that is breathtaking, is the Papua New Guinean Parliament Building?
It is constructed in the style of a haus tambaran, or spirit house, of the Sepik region. (I was born in the Sepik region, and must admit to a certain amount of pride ... ;)
There is no reason for them to copy it, but if they wish to see how indigenous styles can be used with modern materials, that is the best example I can think of.
Then there was a housing venture in the Highlands that replicated with concrete the Highlands huts - the Air Niugini magazine had an article on it during the 1980s, but I've forgotten the year - around 1985-86, I think.
I am looking for one in Tanzania where I plan to built a sustainable house on the slopes on Mt Kilimandjaro. Anobody interested to give me a hand? (contacts/info on materails available there, etc.)
Will be there late august.
Keep up with the good work worldchangers!
Laurent Granier (in Dakar, Senegal)
Very informative, especially for someone like myself who wouldn't be able to name even THREE architects, even ones from here in the Philippines.
The African Architecture Blog (http://www.africanarchitecture.blogspot.com/) has material that might be of interest.
Dear Cameron S.,
this is a fine article of yours, thank you. I am glad to be finding your hint onto a project, the "Gando Primary School", which was launched some many years ago by a fine young colleague, Diébédo Francis Kéré.
You and your friends might be interested to finding the following links and addresses for further research :
Be well, keep up with the good work, "beste",
Knud Joshua EHM Architect MadangWorks©
Yongbi Eochonga (Apt. 1811)
NE-Sudong-6-Bunji Jongro Gu
Tel.: + 82 / .2 / 637 - 11 234
Fax.: + 82 / .2 / 637 - 11 233
Mob.: + 82 / .10 / 712 - 73 561
An unexpected source of expertise in the area-
Jehovah's witnesses. They throw buildings up all over the world quickly and efficiently...and they are pretty interesting. I had the pleasure of spending some time with this group and although I did not join, a video I watched on their temple-building system impressed me...as well as their generally great attitude.
Writing (a little late) recommending the book by Derek Thomas - South African architect - 'Architecture and the Urban Environment.'
http://www.architectafrica.com/ lists dozens of African firms in 10 countries around the continent. Again dominated by SA - about 50%. Possibly a handy source though.