African architectures: plural, not singular

July 2007 -

The conference African Architecture Today, held at the Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology in Kumasi, Ghana was drawn to a close on the 8th of June 2007. Speakers and participants from all over the continent, as well as from the United States and Europe, were present to try to define African architecture and the state it is in at present. Via introductions by Paul Oliver (UK) - who has been studying the vernacular architecture world over - and Labelle Prussin (USA) - involved in many building projects in Ghana's early days, whilst teaching at the KNUST in Kumasi - the participants were lead from traditional to the recent architectural developments.


Augustino Neto, recent project by Joe Osae Addo

Many debates were focused on the question whether the architectural practice in Africa should return to its traditional roots and pick up from pre-colonial times, or if the colonial and later developments are to be seen as the continuation of a process. Cordelia Osasona (Nigeria) presented her extensive studies on the contemporary vernacular and proved that indeed there is a modern architectural language evolving in current times which can be classified as African, although she states that this term is too broad. She showed that the mass housing which is so common in Africa - corrugated sheets as roofing material and concrete blocks - and often seen as the loss of the architectural heritage, is containing more culturally embedded elements than one would expect at first glance. Of course there is certain decoration, but it also goes as far as floor planning, layering and organization. Via examples from Nigeria she pointed out how the current blend of cultures - Yoruba, post-colonial and Afro-Brazilian - is incorporated in the contemporary vernacular.


Alikin Compound, subject to research of transformation of traditional Yoruba dwelling by Cordelia Osasona.

The closing lecture by architect Joe Osae Addo was a call towards the future. Osae Addo, born in Ghana but trained in the UK and having practiced for over 20 years in the UK and US, returned to his homeland few years ago and established his practice in Accra. While stating that African architects have to start working on sustainable proposals, bearing in mind local materials, social structures and climatic conditions, he underlined this by showing some of his recent work, like the colourful Tamale street signs and his own residence.


Hilde Heynen's (Belgium) conclusion that it would be better to speak of African architectures, rather than African architecture, due to the wide variety in subjects, styles, approaches, was met with common approval. The search for a body to enhance the debate was met in the conclusive statement; this initiative should be followed by a biannual conference on the subject. Goals were set to make the next conference a true continent-wide experience, since the francophone and lusophone speakers and participants were absent. The organizing team from KNUST soon starts working on the follow up, which preferably will be held at another location. [tambele street sign presentation] Street signs designed for Tambele in Ghana by Joe Osae Addo.