Dreaming of the New African Architecture

may 2010 -

Modern architecture in Africa is inseparably linked to the post-colonial era. The desire that many African countries had to fully and optimistically express their newly acquired independence was accompanied by the idea of the New Architecture. How has modernism influenced the 'original' African architecture?


St. Xaviers Primary School by architect Anthony B. Almeida. (Photo: Thomas Kist)

Architect and urban developer Antoni Folkers attempts to answer this question in his book Modern Architecture in Africa. Folkers can draw from the experience he has amassed on the continent over the last twenty-five years; the fact that he has done just that is clear. He views his theme from a broad cultural and historical context and offers a multi-layered view of modernism. Using many (practical) examples, he demonstrates that the 'new' architecture not only clashed with African traditions, but also blended with them.

Take the theme of sustainability. Because of the extreme climate in African countries, this aspect was generally an intrinsic part of architectural design under modernist pioneers and their imitators. For example, the post-colonialist Charles Dobie built his house in Tanzania based on autarkic principles. He collected rainwater, generated electricity, used solar energy and communicated via satellite.

Folkers does not limit himself to modernism. He also examines current African architecture. Nowadays municipal structures clash with the still predominantly traditional architecture that is characterised by round forms, thatched roofs and mud walls. Thatch is flammable and round buildings do not easily fit into rectangular patterns. Modern devices are frequently rectangular, making them difficult to accommodate in a round structure. As soon as the distances that thatch and clay have to be transported makes their cost comparable to modern materials like cement blocks or corrugated board, people quickly choose the more 'sustainable' materials.

This, and the many other examples that Folkers offers, can serve as an eye opener for the many Dutch architects who have followed the sustainable construction hype and think that this makes them innovative.

Modern architecture in Africa
Antoni Folkers
(Sun Architecture, Amsterdam 2010 | €42,50)
Dutch and English edition
Order at Sun Architecture

On 17 May 2010, the film Many Words for Modern, about the Tanzanian architect Anthony B. Almeida and his African interpretation of the New Architecture, will be shown in the Verkadefabriek in Den Bosch. The executive producer and architect Joep Mol will introduce the film.