The range of architectural flairs in Africa.

African Architecture


Great buildings that move the spirit have always been rare. In every case they are unique, poetic, products of the heart.

Arthur Erickson
This article is about the architecture of the great continent we all known as Africa. In North Africa, where Christianity and Islam had a momentous influence, architecture preponderates among the pictorial arts. Included here are the splendid mosques built of mud in Mopti in Mali and Djenné, the rock-felled churches of Ethiopia, and the Islamic tributes of coastal eastern Africa. Debates of architecture in sub-Saharan Africa focus mainly on housing in rural mosques, villages and the mélange of colonial and modern inspirations that depict urban areas.

Architecture is a visual art, and the buildings speak for themselves.

Julia Morgan.

By Juan Carlos Molina Giménez

This article expresses the range of architectural flairs in the sub-Saharan Africa. For a practical exploration of architecture as a technique and art, see architecture. For an argument of the visual art of Africa, witness African art.

Of the structures of the continent south of the Sahara, the skeletons of Great Zimbabwe are perhaps the most popular. This compound of stone inclusions, particularly those generally termed the elliptical building and the acropolis, was constructed on sites founded as early as the third century. The first Shona phase of construction was perhaps initiated 6 centuries later and persistent until the 15th century, when, in the supervision of the Mwene Matapa, or Ravager of the Lands, Zimbabwe attained its peak.

The architectural systems of Great Zimbabwe, however, are unusual of much African architectural elegance. The site has an enormous wary wall and, included in the elliptical building is a conical tower of purpose that is unknown. It is also immense in gauge, having worked as a royal citadel, and it has developed into a national sign. While some of these structures can be found in other illustrations of African buildings, they are erratic, and the importance on Zimbabwe has dominated the great variety of materials, purposes, forms, and uses attribute of architecture elsewhere in Africa.


African architecture imitates the collaboration of environmental factors—such as climate, natural resources, and vegetation, with the population and economic densities of Africa’s innumerable regions. As stone is the most hard-wearing of building constituents, some antique stone structures survive, while other ingredients have submitted to rot, rain, or termites. Stone-walled kraals from early Tswana and Sotho settlements (Botswana and South Africa) and stone-lined quarry circles with recessed kraals for pygmy cattle (Zimbabwe) have been the topic of archaeological research. Stone-corbeled circular and shelters huts with thatched rooftops were also documented in the twentieth century among the southern Sotho. Circular and rectangular stone farmhouses, uncommon in being two stories, have been constructed by Sudan and the Tigre of Eritrea for centuries, while in Niger some Tuareg shape square houses in stone.

Mali Timbuktu (submitted by James Dorsey)

Such concessions apart, the prodigious preponderance of Africa’s thousands of peoples in rural areas build in wood, clay and grasses. Because of the ephemerality of many of these resources, existing structures, though based on formulas many centuries old, are of comparatively recent date. Where vegetation is mainly restricted to thin grazing cover, peoples are frequently nomadic, using tents of animal skins and knitted hair for accommodation. In the less-forested and areas, grasses are used as construction material as well, being employed extensively for mat and thatch roof coverings. Hardwoods in forest areas are used for construction, as are raffia palm and bamboo. Clay and earth are also main construction resources. Distinctive soils of the continent include semi desert chestnut earths and laterites (reddish residuals of rock decay), which are frequently low in fertility but easily compressed. Earth-sheltered houses are prepared by the Iraq of Tanzania and a number of folks in Burkina Faso and Mali and have partially recessed dwellings.

(submitted by James Dorsey)

The ultimate goal of the architect…is to create a paradise. Every house, every product of architecture… should be a fruit of our endeavor to build an earthly paradise for people.

Alvar Aalto.


Demographic and Ecological factors play a vital part in structure design. Overgrazing and Soil erosion, as well as weight on land as an outcome of population development, have also added to migratory activities. The growth of urban hubs led to wide-scale relocation in the twentieth and twenty first centuries, and these relocations have had a deep effect on the dispersion of house types.

As a result of their gathering and hunting economy, the San of the Kalahari move recurrently. Some San scherms (shelters) are diminutive more than slumps in the ground, but groups such as the! Kung constructs light-framed accommodations of saplings and sticks enclosed with grass. Other hunter-gatherers, for example the Hadza of Tanzania, live in the dry savanna area, which encompasses a extensive range of game animals. Their domed houses of knotted branches are donated a thick thatch in winter. Many forest dwellers, for example the Bambuti of the Ituri Forest in the eastern part of Democratic Republic of the Congo, are correspondingly hunter-gatherers. Their similarly constructed temporary shelters are interwoven with traversed sticks, over which mongongo leaves are encrusted.

Closer to the coastline of western Africa, some people constructed houses elevated on stilts. Most prominent are those constructed in the lakeside village of Ganvié in Benin. The structures are built of mangrove poles, a material also recycled by coastal Swahili-speaking people in Kenya. In some coastal areas, such as that dominated by the Duala in Cameroon, buildings are built of bamboo, although they are mud-plastered. Bamboo which rises to altitudes of more than 49 feet (15 meters) in Angola, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and certain parts of Central Africa is used by many folks as a construction material. Its traditional stalks, recycled as screen walls, are pounded with thin wood strips to yield crisp rectangular houses with emaciated thatched roofs, as among the Nyakyusa of Tanzania.

African architecture is haven for any person interested in the way structures are built. I could write forever on this topic. If you liked what you read, please share it with your friends and do revisit. Goodbye.


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