How Africa’s History is Changing Its Architectural Landscape

Art School, Burkina Faso

A decade or so ago, Africans who wanted to study architecture would pick and attend a school in Europe or in the US. Then, they’d return home with foreign ideas, techniques and methods and create buildings that closely resembled their foreign counterparts. These buildings would be built by strictly applying all they had learnt without carefully considering the African heritage, climate, local needs or geological terrain. The style was functional and economical — which isn’t bad at all, it’s just that the buildings lacked the architect’s unique fingerprint; they were missing their designer’s cultural history, personality and imagination.

Well, fast forward to the present day. While concrete may still dominate as the primary building material, construction trends are changing across Africa’s landscape with Ghana as a prime example. Now, local architects are just as likely to study within their home country as they are abroad. This new crop of talents are fusing their foreign education with local flare to create buildings that are both sound in structure but distinctly African. Practical yet creative. With this new emerging talent comes architecture that is distinctly Ghanaian in that it’s reflective of the country’s heritage.

Ghana’s architectural colleges share the country’s rich building heritage with students who then get to learn about traditional (or ancient) Ghanaian architecture. This local knowledge then informs their design work — from colour palettes to the types of building materials used — with one major change being the resurgence of wood. Ghana has an abundance of wood and is actually a timber exporter. However, from the colonial era when building with concrete and blocks were introduced, the knowledge of building with wood disappeared.

Now Akosua Obeng, a Ghanaian architect, is reviving these lost skills by designing wooden structures. On one of her projects — a block of townhouses with a wooden facade — the architect is working with a retired German woodworker whom she says is “helping the locals and passing on the knowledge, bringing us back our wood knowledge.”

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Anwuli Okeke is a blogger/vlogger on; a platform sharing stories about Africa at the intersection of innovation, entrepreneurship & the arts.

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