Quick summary of African architectures

Ighayere

Ad Honorem
Jul 2012
2,641
Benin City, Nigeria
There are enough errors in the opening post that it's difficult to know where to begin in order to correct it all. A lengthy correction to all of those mistakes/misrepresentations will be coming later in the week, when I have more time to actually write something detailed.
 
Mar 2012
406
Since pseudo-racist dog whistling trolls are allowed to go unabated in their ingorance in African history forum, Im just gonna take over their nonsense treads and use it for positivity for African History.

The Far-reaching Influence of Songhaï Architecture in West Africa
The Far-reaching Influence of Songhaï Architecture in West Africa

From the 11th to 16th Century, the Songhaï people had an empire that dominated most of the West African Sahel region and became, at its peak, one of the largest empires in African history. Its capital was Gao, but it saw the rise of well known cities such as Timbuktu and Djenné, which were important trading centers for the region. Many kingdoms rose and fell in the area throughout the centuries, rendering it a melting pot of cultures, ideas and influences. And so, it is only normal that such a rich and vibrant region also saw the rise of some of the world's most amazing and enduring architecture in cities like Timbuktu, Djenné or Mopti.

The Songhaïs' mastery of architecture and structure was so widely appreciated that master builders travelled far and wide to lend their expertise to cities that still bear their mark
. Further, their influence was amplified by their appetite for conquest, stretching the empire as far North as the edge of Lybia and as far East as Chad. As a matter of fact, in 1510, the empire's rapid extension led to a Songhaï mason from Timbuktu building the iconic Agadez mosque in Niger.

While the influence of Songhaï architecture is more readily seen in its seat of power - Mali - it has managed to impact architecture in West African more deeply through a most unlikely medium: French Colonization.

France colonized most of North, West and Central Africa from roughly 1830 to 1960. Their architectural exposure to the continent was first through Napoleon's invasion attempt in Egypt in the late 18th century, where they were duly impress with the region's architecture and history. In the early 19th century, they quickly claimed Morocco and made Rabat the new capital of the country because they fell in love with its "oriental-ness". It dimly reminded them of the Moorish esthetic-influenced Spain as well as other mediterranean territories they were familiar with from as early as the 9th century. In short North Africa was excitingly exotic, but familiar, rendering it the part of Africa that could be easily "civilized", as opposed to sub-saharan Africa, which was more unfamiliar and deemed unruly and savage in their imaginary. As a matter of fact, the more "touched" a subsaharan culture was by Islam and architecture from other muslim regions, the more likely it was that said culture would be considered worthy of assimilation, if not respect. This in spite of the fact that their West African territories were home to many successive ancient empires that boasted bustling cities, active economies and region-wide trade. Their architecture was perhaps not as digestible.

This view of subsaharan culture and architecture became a problem for the French as they sought to represent their colonial empire back home through the country's regular Colonial Exhibitions. These exhibitions "displayed all of French territorial holdings at a given moment in time, were three-dimensional maps of the empire, physical cartographies that layed out the entire colonial project for the people of France to experience and embrace."[1] As such they consisted, in part, of full scale "reproductions" of architecture in their colonial territories in Cambodia, Vietnam or Morrocco, which were actually idealized versions loosely based on what they felt the architecture in those regions ought to be. But until 1900, they were at a loss for what to show to represent "l'Afrique Noire". Part of the problem was that subsaharan Africa (and indeed all of Africa) was extremely heterogeneous, but was being considered as one blob of land united in its "blackness", rendering its inhabitants, their culture, languages, and architecture indistinguishable from one another. They had to find a unifying concept.

Enter the Songhaï cities of Timbuktu and Djénné. The French immediately responded to the monumental nature of their mosques, which loosely reminded them of some of the architecture they had seen in Marocco and Egypt. They saw in them something they could finally identify with and swiftly proceeded to make the mosques into an architectural style they deemed appropriate for shaping the african cities they would build from Dakar to Djibouti. Never mind that the buildings they picked as models were all religious in typology. They were to do very nicely for anything from hospitals, city halls, train stations, to markets. The new style was interchangeably called "Style AOF", "Style Neo-soudanais" or "Style Nigérien" and indeed gave birth to edifices in Senegal, Mali, Niger, Burkina faso and others.

After World War II, construction based on this style slowed down considerably as tensions over home-rule were steadily mounting. The 1960's saw the much awaited independence of brand new countries based on the somewhat arbitrary colonial map. They inherited this "local" architecture and used the Neo-sudanese buildings as the French intended them to be used. The architecture somehow became "local" for many West African countries. Its shapes are familiar and thought of as vernacular to each country, even tough they originated in an entirely different culture. It is particularly confounding in countries like Tchad or Benin, which are so very different in character.

Ironically, in Niger, this architecture might have found a relatively valid home. The capital region of the country is predominantly ethnically Zarma, a sub-group of the Songhaï people of neighboring Mali. The Songhaï-ness of Neo-sudanese architecture provides a tangible expression of Zarma culture and architecture in an area where not many traces remain of it (thanks to colonization, ironically.) While the style's application is highly questionable, essentially making any old building look like a mosque, there is a (very) small and entirely accidental silver lining to its implementation in Niamey. Immediately post-independance, modified versions of the style poped up for various official buildings such as the courthouse in the Niger's capital, extending the unusual journey of Songhaï Architecture. Since then, there haven't been many examples of the application of the Neo-Sudanese style in Niger. One notable exception might be the Hotel Gaweye in Niamey, a four-star establishment and icon of the city, designed in the early 1980's by (... drumroll ...) a French architect.

As the African continent seems to be embarking on a renaissance of sort lately, this unusual adventure of Songhaï architecture should perhaps also serve as a cautionary tale. While it is true that many countries in the world have assimilated foreign cultural expressions during their evolutions (as indeed had the Songhaï,) these transformations happened by choice and in complete harmony with the contemporary tastes and needs of those countries at the time. Obviously, Subsaharan Africa has had very little say in how its image has been shaped both locally and for Western consumption over the last two centuries. Perhaps this is why a serious effort is being made by a new crop of African architects to try and redefine their countries and regions's identity, rather than being subservient to their colonial legacy. In Niger, Songhaï architecture has a valid reason for being as it is part of the ethnic identity of the country. Such is however not the case in many of the other West African countries. The challenge is in knowing how local architectural legacy must be analyzed, interpreted and assimilated in our contemporary world, rather than merely copying its forms and esthetics.







 
Feb 2018
94
ohio
Since pseudo-racist dog whistling trolls are allowed to go unabated in their ingorance in African history forum, Im just gonna take over their nonsense treads and use it for positivity for African History.

The Far-reaching Influence of Songhaï Architecture in West Africa
The Far-reaching Influence of Songhaï Architecture in West Africa

From the 11th to 16th Century, the Songhaï people had an empire that dominated most of the West African Sahel region and became, at its peak, one of the largest empires in African history. Its capital was Gao, but it saw the rise of well known cities such as Timbuktu and Djenné, which were important trading centers for the region. Many kingdoms rose and fell in the area throughout the centuries, rendering it a melting pot of cultures, ideas and influences. And so, it is only normal that such a rich and vibrant region also saw the rise of some of the world's most amazing and enduring architecture in cities like Timbuktu, Djenné or Mopti.

The Songhaïs' mastery of architecture and structure was so widely appreciated that master builders travelled far and wide to lend their expertise to cities that still bear their mark
. Further, their influence was amplified by their appetite for conquest, stretching the empire as far North as the edge of Lybia and as far East as Chad. As a matter of fact, in 1510, the empire's rapid extension led to a Songhaï mason from Timbuktu building the iconic Agadez mosque in Niger.

While the influence of Songhaï architecture is more readily seen in its seat of power - Mali - it has managed to impact architecture in West African more deeply through a most unlikely medium: French Colonization.

France colonized most of North, West and Central Africa from roughly 1830 to 1960. Their architectural exposure to the continent was first through Napoleon's invasion attempt in Egypt in the late 18th century, where they were duly impress with the region's architecture and history. In the early 19th century, they quickly claimed Morocco and made Rabat the new capital of the country because they fell in love with its "oriental-ness". It dimly reminded them of the Moorish esthetic-influenced Spain as well as other mediterranean territories they were familiar with from as early as the 9th century. In short North Africa was excitingly exotic, but familiar, rendering it the part of Africa that could be easily "civilized", as opposed to sub-saharan Africa, which was more unfamiliar and deemed unruly and savage in their imaginary. As a matter of fact, the more "touched" a subsaharan culture was by Islam and architecture from other muslim regions, the more likely it was that said culture would be considered worthy of assimilation, if not respect. This in spite of the fact that their West African territories were home to many successive ancient empires that boasted bustling cities, active economies and region-wide trade. Their architecture was perhaps not as digestible.

This view of subsaharan culture and architecture became a problem for the French as they sought to represent their colonial empire back home through the country's regular Colonial Exhibitions. These exhibitions "displayed all of French territorial holdings at a given moment in time, were three-dimensional maps of the empire, physical cartographies that layed out the entire colonial project for the people of France to experience and embrace."[1] As such they consisted, in part, of full scale "reproductions" of architecture in their colonial territories in Cambodia, Vietnam or Morrocco, which were actually idealized versions loosely based on what they felt the architecture in those regions ought to be. But until 1900, they were at a loss for what to show to represent "l'Afrique Noire". Part of the problem was that subsaharan Africa (and indeed all of Africa) was extremely heterogeneous, but was being considered as one blob of land united in its "blackness", rendering its inhabitants, their culture, languages, and architecture indistinguishable from one another. They had to find a unifying concept.

Enter the Songhaï cities of Timbuktu and Djénné. The French immediately responded to the monumental nature of their mosques, which loosely reminded them of some of the architecture they had seen in Marocco and Egypt. They saw in them something they could finally identify with and swiftly proceeded to make the mosques into an architectural style they deemed appropriate for shaping the african cities they would build from Dakar to Djibouti. Never mind that the buildings they picked as models were all religious in typology. They were to do very nicely for anything from hospitals, city halls, train stations, to markets. The new style was interchangeably called "Style AOF", "Style Neo-soudanais" or "Style Nigérien" and indeed gave birth to edifices in Senegal, Mali, Niger, Burkina faso and others.

After World War II, construction based on this style slowed down considerably as tensions over home-rule were steadily mounting. The 1960's saw the much awaited independence of brand new countries based on the somewhat arbitrary colonial map. They inherited this "local" architecture and used the Neo-sudanese buildings as the French intended them to be used. The architecture somehow became "local" for many West African countries. Its shapes are familiar and thought of as vernacular to each country, even tough they originated in an entirely different culture. It is particularly confounding in countries like Tchad or Benin, which are so very different in character.

Ironically, in Niger, this architecture might have found a relatively valid home. The capital region of the country is predominantly ethnically Zarma, a sub-group of the Songhaï people of neighboring Mali. The Songhaï-ness of Neo-sudanese architecture provides a tangible expression of Zarma culture and architecture in an area where not many traces remain of it (thanks to colonization, ironically.) While the style's application is highly questionable, essentially making any old building look like a mosque, there is a (very) small and entirely accidental silver lining to its implementation in Niamey. Immediately post-independance, modified versions of the style poped up for various official buildings such as the courthouse in the Niger's capital, extending the unusual journey of Songhaï Architecture. Since then, there haven't been many examples of the application of the Neo-Sudanese style in Niger. One notable exception might be the Hotel Gaweye in Niamey, a four-star establishment and icon of the city, designed in the early 1980's by (... drumroll ...) a French architect.

As the African continent seems to be embarking on a renaissance of sort lately, this unusual adventure of Songhaï architecture should perhaps also serve as a cautionary tale. While it is true that many countries in the world have assimilated foreign cultural expressions during their evolutions (as indeed had the Songhaï,) these transformations happened by choice and in complete harmony with the contemporary tastes and needs of those countries at the time. Obviously, Subsaharan Africa has had very little say in how its image has been shaped both locally and for Western consumption over the last two centuries. Perhaps this is why a serious effort is being made by a new crop of African architects to try and redefine their countries and regions's identity, rather than being subservient to their colonial legacy. In Niger, Songhaï architecture has a valid reason for being as it is part of the ethnic identity of the country. Such is however not the case in many of the other West African countries. The challenge is in knowing how local architectural legacy must be analyzed, interpreted and assimilated in our contemporary world, rather than merely copying its forms and esthetics.







1550698338927.jpg
 

JpO

Jan 2019
53
Norway
Here are some more examples of West African "Mud" Architecture

Hausa





I am familiar with Tubali architecture, people post it all over the internet. They do use mud bricks, and palmwood frames. I don't really know why you put mud in quotation marks.

Those are some interesting development but it was very late. The earliest references to Hausa vaults and domes seem to come from the nineteenth century, and the Zaria mosque that you posted in particular was constructed around 1824.

It seems that vaults in Hausa architecture of the 19th century came from contact with the Fulani people. According to Professor Labelle Prussin, Hausa vaults are a synthesis of the Fulani tent armature, developed using Hausa skills in using mudbricks. Note that according to Hausa tradition(recorded in Michael Crowder's The story of Nigeria), Islam was introduced to Hausaland in the 15th century, but made slow progress in the Hausa states and wasn't completely adapted until the Fulani conquests of the nineteenth century.

Since pseudo-racist dog whistling trolls are allowed to go unabated in their ingorance in African history forum, Im just gonna take over their nonsense treads and use it for positivity for African History.

The Far-reaching Influence of Songhaï Architecture in West Africa
The Far-reaching Influence of Songhaï Architecture in West Africa
....
Wow, pseudo-racist. That's some creative name-calling you have right there my friend.

Anyway, the article you just linked is full of errors and can't be called reliable. It seems to make tons of assumptions, and calls everything that is Sudano-Sahelian "Songhai architecture" or derived from it. I guess that the author made the assumption that because Songhai was the largest Empire of this region, then the Sahelian architectural style must have come from it, or highly influenced by it. Hence why he automatically call everything from Chad to Senegal "Songhai Songhai Songhai". What the author forgets is that mud architecture in that region predates the Songhay Empire, with some of the earliest evidences being from 250 BC, and that Songhay was a decentralized kingdom.

There are other errors :
"As a matter of fact, in 1510, the empire's rapid extension led to a Songhaï mason from Timbuktu building the iconic Agadez mosque in Niger"
There are no evidences that the Agadez mosque was built by Songhaï masons. According to Suzanne Preston Blier, it seems to date from the 15th century, but has been modified a lot since, especially in 1844.

The rest of the article talks about post-colonial architecture with Sahelian influences, and ethnographic colonial exhibitions, while still making the same stupid error of calling any kind of architecture in the Western Sudan "Songhai", like here :
"Enter the Songhaï cities of Timbuktu and Djénné."
Timbuktu is in no way a "Songhai city". Timbuktu started as a Tuareg settlement, then it was controlled by Malians for a few years, then it became a Tuareg settlement again, then it was controlled by Songhay for a few years, then by Morroccan Arma people for 2 centuries, then by a Fulani jihad state, then by the Tuaregs again, to finally be colonized by the French.(source)

If anything, it would make much more sense to call Timbuktu a Berber city, as people of Berber descent controlled Timbuktu for a much longer period than people of Songhai descent. Calling it a Songhai city is just completely absurd.

Im just gonna take over their nonsense treads and use it for positivity for African History
So you are more concerned with putting African history in a positive light than with putting it under historical and critical accuracy? Interesting.
 
Last edited:
Mar 2012
406
AFRITECTURE: Butabu




For centuries, complex and intricate adobe structures, have
been built in the Sahal region of western Africa, including
the countries of Mali, Niger, Nigeria, Togo, Benin, Ghana, and
Burkina Faso. Made of earth mixed with water, these ephemeral
buildings display a remarkable diversity of form, human ingenuity,
and originality.

In a fascinating book, published in 2003, titled ‘Butabu: Adobe
Architecture of West Africa’, and co-authored by British photographer
James Morris and Harvard professor Suzanne Preston Blier, a stunning
visual array of these structures is displayed.


Follow the links for 48 photos like these 5 (click to enlarge)



Mosques Archives | Afritecture
Butabu | Afritecture
Butabu | Afritecture


In his Preface to the book, Morris writes:

“Too often, when people in the West think of African architecture,
they perceive nothing more than a mud hut—a primitive vernacular
remembered from an old Tarzan movie. Why this ignorance to the
richness of West African buildings? Possibly it is because the great
dynastic civilizations of the region were already in decline when the
European colonizers first exposed these cultures to the West. Being
built of mud, many older buildings had already been lost, unlike
the stone or brick buildings of other ancient cultures. Or possibly
this lack of awareness is because the buildings are just too strange,
too foreign to have been easily appreciated by outsiders. Often they
more closely resemble huge monolithic sculptures or ceramic pots than
“architecture” as we think of it. But in fact these buildings are neither
“historic monuments” in the classic sense, nor as culturally remote as
they may initially appear. They share many qualities — such as
sustainability, sculptural beauty, and community participation in their
conception — now valued in Western architectural thinking. Though
part of long traditions and ancient cultures, they are at the same
time contemporary structures serving a current purpose.

The mud from which these buildings are made is itself a controversial
substance that tests our conventional views of architecture. It is one
of the most commonly used building materials in the world, and yet in
our urban-dominated society it is seen, effectively, as dirt. Buildings
subtly alter in appearance each time they are re-rendered, which can
be as often as once a year. Yet the maintaining and resurfacing of
buildings is part of the rhythm of life; there is an ongoing and active
participation in their continuing existence. If they lost their relevance
and were neglected, they would collapse. This is not a museum culture…”

In this review of the book from The Guardian
Newspaper, journalist Jonathan Glancey writes:

“What these magnificent mosques prove is that mud buildings can be
far more sophisticated than many people living in a world of concrete
and steel might want to believe. Mud is not just a material for shaping
pots, but for temples, palaces and even, as so many west African towns
demonstrate, the framing of entire communities. The very fluidity, or
viscosity, of the material allows the architects who use it to create
dynamic and sensual forms.

Morris’s photographic trips through the region in 1999 and 2000 record
a world of architecture that, sadly, is increasingly under threat. Perhaps
it is mostly poverty rather than culture and memory that keeps this rich
and inventive tradition of building alive…”

This book is a treasure trove of imagery and information to any architecture
enthusiast. Critical elements like space, light, and texture are explored
in intimate detail, revealing a strong argument for this kind of architecture
to be studied, documented, and profiled more wildly. As Morris sums up
his preface: “I am still curious why West Africa’s adobe buildings receive
so little serious consideration. If architecture is a cultural expression,
perhaps it is the culture from which these buildings have evolved, so alien
to the European mind, that keeps it in the academic wilderness, hard for the
commentators to place.

Sadly, the English version of the book is now out of print. There are, however,
used and new copies avaibale from independent outlets via Amazon.com

Photographs and Preface published courtesy of James Morris.

[ © 2011 by Afritecture -- Posted here courtesy of the copyright holder]
 
Mar 2012
406
This will be my only comment to you if nessasary.

I can care less about painting African history as only positive, its really not about that. Its about the fact the only African people are constantly sunjected to constant scruitiny and judgement by people who can care less about understanding African history.

And yes you are a troll, dog whistling with your threads intended to beat down African history. Your cherry picked images and bait posts, and posting to a racist Youtuber etc. So stop pretending you care about representing African history, If you were you'd post pictures of Egyptian and North African etc "Irregular" mud houses and mud architecture.

Yet you didnt...I wonder why..

So you are more concerned with putting African history in a positive light than with putting it under historical and critical accuracy? Interesting.
 

JpO

Jan 2019
53
Norway
And yes you are a troll, dog whistling with your threads intended to beat down African history.
Beat down African history? What does this even mean? You think I have an agenda against African history?

Your cherry picked images
No I didn't. For example the first three images I posted were from 3 regions. Southern Ghana(Asanteman), Central Mali(Djenne) and South-Eastern Nigeria(Igboland). There is no cherry picking, I selected images from various regions to be able to give an accurate but condensed overview of the region's mudbrick architecture, and two of those examples are from regions whose architecture is praised a lot when discussing African architecture. If anything you are the one who is cherry picking since you yourself acknowledged that you weren't trying to accurately give an overview of Africa, but that instead you wanted to tell a "positive" narrative.

And I guess by "bait posts" you are referring to past posts I made a few months ago? How is that relevant in the present thread outside of its use as an ad-hominem?

and posting to a racist Youtuber etc...
I don't know what you are talking about. Maybe you are talking about this post I made sharing a video about the Benin bronzes/brass? Again, how is that relevant in the present thread outside of its use as an ad-hominem? And what is racist about this video? It just cited and screenshot-ed pictures and eyewitness accounts relating to Benin, or maybe you think it's racist because it doesn't paint Benin in a positive light? Hahahaha.

So stop pretending you care about representing African history, If you were you'd post pictures of Egyptian and North African etc "Irregular" mud houses and mud architecture.
I was focusing on Sub-Saharan and Horn of Africa, if you didn't notice... so I don't really understand why you complain that I didn't include North Africa. But yeah, the vernacular architecture of North Africa sometimes resemble sub-Saharan architecture(like with Berber Ksour villages), though it tends to be more elevated and with more storeys. Its elite architecture is an entirely different deal though.

ksour-tataouine-in-tunisia.jpgMud-Brick-City.jpg